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Posts tagged ‘Alpine Land of Switzerland’

European divisions beyond Brexit on display in Davos

January 24, 2019

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — Europe’s divisions were on display Thursday at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, with key leaders arguing over the region’s big issues, from Brexit to the Italian populist government’s tough approach to the EU.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was particularly pointed, warning of divisions in the European Union beyond Brexit: between the generally richer countries in the north and the poorer south centered on an array of issues including Italy’s stand against the single currency bloc’s debt rules.

The Italian government has decided to ramp up spending far beyond EU expectations and only backed off slightly after the EU threatened legal action. Concerns remain that the Italian government’s spending plans will add to Italy’s huge debt load and potentially rekindle financial jitters that have been dormant since 2015, when Greece was bailed out for a final time.

Speaking at the gathering of political and business elites, Rutte said people in his country are asking him why the Netherlands is implementing measures to abide by the budget rules when others like Italy are not.

The dispute, he said, is “creating distrust between north and south.” The prime minister of Poland, which has had run-ins itself with the EU over its moves to overhaul the judiciary, replied that Italy is not being treated in the same manner as France. France’s relatively high deficit over the past few years was widely seen as being tolerated by the EU.

The EU, he insisted, “should apply the same standards for different member states.” Tensions have grown between Italy and France in recent days over issues including how to handle migrants travelling to Europe by boat. Italy’s interior minister, the head of one of two populist and euroskeptic parties leading the country, this month called the French leader Emmanuel Macron — who is unabashedly pro-EU — “a terrible president.

The diplomatic spats are an unwelcome backdrop for the EU, which is due to lose key member Britain this year. British Prime Minister Theresa May saw her Brexit deal voted down by parliament and is struggling to find a solution. That is raising the possibility that Britain might fall out of the EU without a deal on March 29, which could have huge repercussions for the economy as tariffs and border checks are re-established.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said in Davos that British banks are financially strong enough to survive such a scenario. But he warned that ports and borders will face many logistical problems.

Businesses, he said, are “doing what they can but in many cases they can’t do it.” Further insights into the government’s thinking were expected to come from British Treasury chief Philip Hammond but he canceled a scheduled appearance on a panel at the last minute for reasons that are still unclear. He is due to address U.K. business leaders Thursday, though.

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World Economic Forum hosts Balkan leaders in Switzerland

October 02, 2018

GENEVA (AP) — The World Economic Forum’s president said Tuesday that the organization’s move to bring together leaders from four Western Balkan countries and regional powers aims to fight “complacency” in a region facing lingering tensions on a route used by migrants into Europe.

Borge Brende, a former Norwegian foreign minister, said that lessons from history show that events in the west Balkans tend to have a “huge influence” on the rest of Europe, while pointing to economic opportunities in the region.

“What happens in the Balkans will have huge implications for Europe in the future — and this is too frequently neglected,” Brende said in an interview. “What we have learned during the last years is that complacency is not a good idea.”

He spoke after the WEF hosted the leaders from Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia, as well as key officials from regional players like Croatia, Germany and Turkey. The leaders announced plans to create a regional center on emerging technologies in the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” cooperate with a WEF cybersecurity center and hold a regional summit next year.

The Geneva-based think tank is best known for the annual Davos gathering in the Swiss Alps.

Iran president arrives in Switzerland, nuclear deal in mind

July 02, 2018

ZURICH (AP) — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has arrived in Switzerland for talks expected to focus on salvaging progress from the Iran nuclear deal after the Trump administration’s walkout. Rouhani on Monday began a two-day visit to the neutral Alpine nation, starting in Zurich before heading to Bern, the capital, for deal-signings, talks and a news conference on Tuesday.

Since 1980, shortly after Iran’s Islamic Revolution, Switzerland has held the “protecting power mandate” on behalf of the United States in Iran. It recently became an intermediary between Iran and regional rival Saudi Arabia.

Rouhani is leaving Iran just as protests have erupted in the country’s south, and Trump said he got Saudi Arabia to agree to increasing oil production — which could lower the price of oil, possibly impacting Iran’s economy.

Catalan separatist: Swiss model alternative to secession

March 18, 2018

GENEVA (AP) — Catalonia’s fugitive ex-president says that independence for the Spanish region is not the “only option” for resolving Spain’s worst political crisis in recent decades. Carles Puigdemont says that a moderate alternative could be adopting Switzerland’s canton model, which presumably would give more self-rule to the already ample powers granted to Spain’s regions.

Puigdemont said that “‘is independence the only option?’ Not at all, there are others of course, and perhaps among them, the Swiss model is perhaps the most effective and the most attractive.” Puigdemont was speaking at the University of Geneva where he attended a film festival and forum on human rights Sunday.

This was just his second trip outside Belgium, where he has been residing since fleeing Spain following Catalonia’s unsuccessful declaration of independence in October.

Back to Switzerland for Cyprus peace deal talks

June 26, 2017

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — It’s back to Switzerland for Cyprus peace talks. This time the rival leaders of the ethnically-divided island will be meeting at the secluded Swiss resort of Crans-Montana. Previous summits were held in Mont Pelerin and Geneva.

The talks kick off Wednesday and are due to last at least a week. They will likely determine whether a deal to reunify Cyprus, which is divided into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south, is possible or not.

The key issue is how security will be overseen if and when Cyprus is reunified as a federation. Other issues still to be resolved include how much territory the Greek and Turkish Cypriot federated states would be made up of and the process for allowing tens of thousands of displaced people to reclaim lost homes and property.

Here’s a look at what will be at play at the peace summit:

MILITARY MUSCLE

The issue is one of the toughest in the complex negotiations that officials say have made significant headway in the last two years and has been left to be tackled last.

It revolves around the 35,000-plus troops that Turkey has kept in place since 1974 when it invaded Cyprus following a coup aimed at union with Greece. Turkey mounted the military action, invoking intervention rights that were granted under Cyprus’ 1960 constitution to the island’s “guarantors”: Turkey, Greece and ex-colonial ruler Britain.

Cyprus’ Greek Cypriot president, Nicos Anastasiades, and the leader of the Turkish Cypriots, Mustafa Akinci, both tackled the security conundrum in Geneva during January talks. The foreign ministers of the “guarantor” nations also took part.

But that meeting dissolved relatively quickly amid recriminations that neither side was unwilling to put its cards on the table and get down to hard bargaining.

TROOPS, NO TROOPS

The Greek Cypriot side wants military intervention rights expunged and Turkish troops gone to eliminate what is sees as an existential threat and Ankara’s instrument of control over the island. Its argument is that no European Union member country would ever need third-country security guarantees.

Anastasiades has proposed an international police force to oversee post-reunification security with the U.N. Security Council using its clout to back it up.

The minority Turkish Cypriots see Turkey’s troops as their sole assurance of protection in case a peace deal unravels and want them to stay.

Akinci has said a rethink over the need for troops could happen around 15 years after reunification. Turkish Cypriot and Turkish officials insist a Greek Cypriot call for a full troop withdrawal is a non-starter.

An alternative proposal that’s been floated unofficially would see small contingents of Greek and Turkish troops deployed on the island after a deal, while intervention rights would be amended to remove any clause for unilateral action.

GO-BETWEEN

Any compromise on security must pass muster with Greek and Turkish Cypriots who will vote on any peace accord in separate referendums before it would be implemented.

U.N. envoy Espen Barth Eide told The Associated Press in April that the world body has helped put together a compromise formula to overcome the security hurdle. He said the formula was the result of consultation with the Cypriot leaders, the European Union and the “guarantors.”

The Greek Cypriot side has insisted on prioritizing a security deal before other issues are tackled. Turkish Cypriots said all issues must be discussed concurrently as part of an overarching bartering process.

To accommodate both sides, negotiations at Crans-Montana will be split into two rooms — security in one, and everything else in the other.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

The aim at Crans-Montana is for the two sides to achieve a breakthrough on an agreed peace accord framework. More work will be needed over the weeks and months ahead to fill in the gaps and prepare the ground for putting the completed deal to a vote.

Although it’s said the talks will be open-ended, officials say it’ll likely last a week to 10 days. And timing is essential.

The Cyprus government is set to start promising exploratory oil and gas drilling off the island’s southern shore in mid-July amid strong opposition from Turkey, and the Turkish Cypriots who warn of a potential “crisis” if drilling proceeds.

Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots say a “unilateral” Greek Cypriot search for gas flouts their rights to the island’s offshore mineral wealth. The Cypriot government insists drilling is it’s sovereign right and that any hydrocarbon proceeds will be shared after a peace deal is sealed, signed and delivered.

Swiss vote to withdraw country from use of nuclear power

May 21, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — Swiss voters are supporting a referendum to withdraw the country from nuclear power in favor of renewable energy. A projection from Sunday’s referendum shows a majority of cantons (states) voted for the plan. Under Switzerland’s direct democracy system, initiatives need a majority of both cantons and votes to pass.

The projection for SRF public television showed 58 percent of voters in favor and 42 percent against the proposal. The Swiss government wants to ban the construction of new nuclear power plants and decommission the country’s five existing ones at the end of their technically safe operating lives.

The plan would also boost renewable energies such as water and wind and make cars and electronic devices more energy efficient. Opponents warned the initiative would significantly increase electricity bills.

World’s oldest standing army has 40 new Swiss Guards

May 06, 2017

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The world’s oldest standing army has 40 new members after a Vatican Swiss Guard swearing-in ceremony. Each man took a loyalty oath Saturday evening in a ritual-rich ceremony in the St. Damaso courtyard of the Apostolic Palace. The May 6 date commemorates the day in 1527 when 147 guardsmen died while protecting Pope Clement VII during the Sack of Rome.

Earlier Saturday, Pope Francis told the Guards they’re called to “another sacrifice no less arduous” — serving the power of faith. The recruits, who enroll for at least two years, must be single, upstanding Swiss Catholic males younger than 30.

Wearing blue-and-gold uniforms and holding halberds — spear-like weapons — they are a tourist delight while standing guard at Vatican ceremonies. Their main duty is to protect the pope.

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