Ukraine nuclear plant: Biden, Macron, Scholz and Johnson urge restraint

Berlin (AFP) – In a telephone call, US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged restraint around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine. According to a spokesperson of Mr. Scholz, the leaders called for a mission of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to be dispatched “quickly” to the site. The resurgence of fighting around this nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine – with both sides blaming one another for the attacks – has the potential to cause a disaster worse than that of Chernobyl.

On Friday, Macron said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed to allow the IAEA to inspect the plant. As part of their talks on Sunday, the four Western leaders “agreed that support for Ukraine in its defense against Russian aggression will be maintained”. (August 21)

Before CETA: Scholz and Habeck want to strengthen economic relations with Canada

Berlin/Montreal (dpa) – With a three-day visit to Canada, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) and his Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck (Greens) aimed to significantly strengthen economic relations with the world’s second-largest country. The focus was on energy and raw material supplies to Germany. However, the talks with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also centered around support for Ukraine, which is under attack from Russia, and on dealings with China.

“We want to create a reliable network of industrial cooperation and use the advantages that Canada and Germany bring to the table. We need concrete action now.”

Olaf Scholz, German Chancellor in an interview with the newspaper Canadian Globe and Mail.

The German business community is hoping that the ratification of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the European Union and Canada by the German parliament, the Bundestag, will significantly boost trade relations. However, there is also strong criticism of the agreement. Over the weekend, a broad alliance of trade unions, environmentalists and human rights groups cautioned the Bundestag against approving CETA. According to them, the treaty unilaterally protects corporate interests and puts obstacles in the way of phasing-out fossil fuels, which is urgently required in light of the climate crisis.

Parts of the trade agreement already came into force in 2017, but only in those areas for which the EU rather than its member states is solely responsible. The other parts are on hold until ratification is completed in all member states. The German government also wants to approve the CETA treaty. Ratification is planned for the fall. (August 21)

Austrian government retains sanctions against Russia

Kyiv/Moscow (APA) – In view of the debate in Austria on sanctions against Russia, the Austrian government reiterated on August 21 that its position in this regard remains unchanged. The sanctions were working, it said, and they were necessary to counter Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine, which was against international law. On Sunday, the oppositional party NEOS also cautioned that anyone who was questioning the sanctions was playing into Russia’s hands. The ruling conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the opposition right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) had recently been calling for a softening of the sanctions.

The Upper Austrian governor Thomas Stelzer (ÖVP) questioned the sanctions on Friday. They should be reconsidered if there are energy shortages in the fall, he said in the “Krone” and the “Kleine Zeitung” newspapers. Tyrol’s ÖVP chairman Anton Mattle, who is currently on the election campaign trail, also said he was “open” to the idea of reviewing the sanctions for “effectiveness”. FPÖ leader Herbert Kickl immediately called for a referendum on the issue.

The Foreign Ministry attempted a balancing act in a statement on Sunday, explaining that the sanctions were “a flexible tool” and could be adjusted at any time. Therefore, the relevant EU Council decision on economic sanctions was also reviewed in Brussels every six months, the Ministry said. At the same time, the department reiterated the effectiveness of the sanctions. “The sanctions are working – a little more each day. The Russian economy will shrink by at least six percent this year, and other forecasts even speak of up to ten percent. For the EU, on the other hand, the EU Commission expects growth of around 2.7 percent.”

“We want a rules-based world order, not the law of the jungle where the strongest can simply take what they want. We cannot and will not allow attempts to create facts and move borders with tanks and missiles in the 21st century.”

Austria’s Foreign Ministry said in Vienna. 

“Putin is counting on us, as pluralist open democracies, to let ourselves be divided, not to have the will to show him red lines. The EU’s greatest strength is unity, and we must preserve that,” the Foreign Ministry added. (August 21)

Croatia announces aid for drought-stricken farmers

Zlatar Bistrica (HINA) – Due to the severe drought, Croatian Minister of Agriculture Marija Vučković announced an extraordinary measure for farmers worth around 200 million HRK (over 26 million EUR) on August 21 in Zlatar Bistrica. Owing to the drought, Croatian farmers had already asked the ministry to issue a moratorium on exports. According to Minister Vučković, it has been decided to deviate from the rules for obtaining aid. This means that farmers will receive direct payment advances at the end of October or the beginning of November of this year.

“Farmers’ claims will get paid out in the areas where a natural disaster has been declared. Counties have already moved forward with declaring a natural disaster due to the extensive damage caused by the drought. Farmers won’t have to fulfill certain criteria for damages, while still being eligible for support,” explained Vučković.

“All farmers who feel an increase in costs and a decrease in income, and who apply good agro-environmental practices – this is one of the basic conditions – will be able to benefit from this measure, which will be worth up to 15,000 EUR for them, as flat-rate support,” she said. Vučković added that the Ministry is considering other forms of assistance as well. (August 21)

EU officials welcome end of enhanced economic surveillance for Greece

Copyright: EFE/Emma Pons Valls/Archivo

Brussels (EFE) – The European Union congratulated Greece for its “commitment” and “determination” to carry out the required economic and labor reforms, on the occasion of the end of the EU’s close monitoring of the country on August 20. An important day for Greece, as it exits the enhanced surveillance framework. The country’s economic, fiscal and financial situation had been monitored since 2018, after the country had had three international bailouts. The termination of the surveillance was the result of the commitment of the Greek population and authorities, as well as European solidarity. Greece is moving forward, said Charles Michel, President of the European Council.

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni noted that the end of enhanced surveillance “also marks the symbolic conclusion of the most difficult period the euro zone has ever experienced”. In June 2018, the Eurogroup closed the third Greek bailout to put an end to eight years of unprecedented aid and reforms for Athens, the most visible face of the financial crisis in Europe. During the preceding eight years, Greece had undertaken profound reforms in its labor, tax, social security, pension, and public administration systems, carrying out privatizations, deep fiscal adjustments, and a reorganization of its banking sector, with great sacrifices of its population now recognized by Europe. (August 20)

This is a compilation of the European coverage of enr news agencies. It is published Wednesdays and Fridays. The content is an editorial selection based on news by the respective agency.