Council of Europe (CoE) - European Human Rights Court - founding fathers (1949)

Council of Europe (CoE) - European Human Rights Court - founding fathers (1949)
French National Assembly head Edouard Herriot and British Foreign minister Ernest Bevin surrounded by Italian, Luxembourg and other delegates at the first meeting of Council of Europe's Consultative Assembly in Strasbourg, August 1949 (AFP Photo)

EU founding fathers signed 'blank' Treaty of Rome (1957)

EU founding fathers signed 'blank' Treaty of Rome (1957)
The Treaty of Rome was signed in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, one of the Renaissance palaces that line the Michelangelo-designed Capitoline Square in the Italian capital

Shuttered: EU ditches summit 'family photo'

Shuttered: EU ditches summit 'family photo'
EU leaders pose for a family photo during the European Summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on June 28, 2016 (AFP Photo/JOHN THYS)

Merkel says fall of Wall proves 'dreams can come true'


“ … Here is another one. A change in what Human nature will allow for government. "Careful, Kryon, don't talk about politics. You'll get in trouble." I won't get in trouble. I'm going to tell you to watch for leadership that cares about you. "You mean politics is going to change?" It already has. It's beginning. Watch for it. You're going to see a total phase-out of old energy dictatorships eventually. The potential is that you're going to see that before 2013. They're going to fall over, you know, because the energy of the population will not sustain an old energy leader ..."
"Update on Current Events" – Jul 23, 2011 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) - (Subjects: The Humanization of God, Gaia, Shift of Human Consciousness, 2012, Benevolent Design, Financial Institutes (Recession, System to Change ...), Water Cycle (Heat up, Mini Ice Ace, Oceans, Fish, Earthquakes ..), Nuclear Power Revealed, Geothermal Power, Hydro Power, Drinking Water from Seawater, No need for Oil as Much, Middle East in Peace, Persia/Iran Uprising, Muhammad, Israel, DNA, Two Dictators to fall soon, Africa, China, (Old) Souls, Species to go, Whales to Humans, Global Unity,..... etc.)
(Subjects: Who/What is Kryon ?, Egypt Uprising, Iran/Persia Uprising, Peace in Middle East without Israel actively involved, Muhammad, "Conceptual" Youth Revolution, "Conceptual" Managed Business, Internet, Social Media, News Media, Google, Bankers, Global Unity,..... etc.)


"The Recalibration of Awareness – Apr 20/21, 2012 (Kryon channeled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Old Energy, Recalibration Lectures, God / Creator, Religions/Spiritual systems (Catholic Church, Priests/Nun’s, Worship, John Paul Pope, Women in the Church otherwise church will go, Current Pope won’t do it), Middle East, Jews, Governments will change (Internet, Media, Democracies, Dictators, North Korea, Nations voted at once), Integrity (Businesses, Tobacco Companies, Bankers/ Financial Institutes, Pharmaceutical company to collapse), Illuminati (Started in Greece, with Shipping, Financial markets, Stock markets, Pharmaceutical money (fund to build Africa, to develop)), Shift of Human Consciousness, (Old) Souls, Women, Masters to/already come back, Global Unity.... etc.) - (Text version)

… The Shift in Human Nature

You're starting to see integrity change. Awareness recalibrates integrity, and the Human Being who would sit there and take advantage of another Human Being in an old energy would never do it in a new energy. The reason? It will become intuitive, so this is a shift in Human Nature as well, for in the past you have assumed that people take advantage of people first and integrity comes later. That's just ordinary Human nature.

In the past, Human nature expressed within governments worked like this: If you were stronger than the other one, you simply conquered them. If you were strong, it was an invitation to conquer. If you were weak, it was an invitation to be conquered. No one even thought about it. It was the way of things. The bigger you could have your armies, the better they would do when you sent them out to conquer. That's not how you think today. Did you notice?

Any country that thinks this way today will not survive, for humanity has discovered that the world goes far better by putting things together instead of tearing them apart. The new energy puts the weak and strong together in ways that make sense and that have integrity. Take a look at what happened to some of the businesses in this great land (USA). Up to 30 years ago, when you started realizing some of them didn't have integrity, you eliminated them. What happened to the tobacco companies when you realized they were knowingly addicting your children? Today, they still sell their products to less-aware countries, but that will also change.

What did you do a few years ago when you realized that your bankers were actually selling you homes that they knew you couldn't pay for later? They were walking away, smiling greedily, not thinking about the heartbreak that was to follow when a life's dream would be lost. Dear American, you are in a recession. However, this is like when you prune a tree and cut back the branches. When the tree grows back, you've got control and the branches will grow bigger and stronger than they were before, without the greed factor. Then, if you don't like the way it grows back, you'll prune it again! I tell you this because awareness is now in control of big money. It's right before your eyes, what you're doing. But fear often rules. …

Friday, June 29, 2012

France to say 'oui' to gay marriage

Deutsche Welle, 30 June 2012



It will soon be legal for same-sex couples to marry and adopt children in France, after the new Socialist government announced plans to legalize gay marriage.

French President Francois Hollande is to use the majority he won in parliamentary elections two weeks ago to make good on his campaign promise to legalize gay marriage and adoption.

The president's office issued a statement on Friday pledging to pass the legislation within the next five years, but no specific dates were given.

"The government has made it an objective for the next few months to work on implementing its campaign commitments on the fight against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity," Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Friday.

The conservative UMP, which opposed the measure under former President Nicolas Sarkozy, can do little to stop the Socialists from passing a law granting full marriage rights to gay couples. In doing so, it will join fellow EU members Denmark, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden. Currently France only allows same-sex civil unions.

The government also plans to discuss ways of making life easier for trans-gender individuals, whose legal dealings are often complicated by their change of name and sex.

For Hollande, enabling gay marriage would help boost his image as a man of his word and an agent for progressive social change.

Changing views

Just six years ago, surveys indicated that most French people were opposed to changing the definition of marriage to include same-sex marriage. According to the pollster BVA, this has changed markedly, with more than 60 percent supporting the idea today.

More than two-thirds of French people still describe themselves as Roman Catholic, but church attendance has been dropping in recent years. And fewer Catholics today adhere to strict church teachings on sexual issues.

Conservatives and practicing Catholics, however, are still deeply opposed to enabling gay marriage and adoption.

"We are convinced that young people's development requires the presence of a mother and a father," said Thierry Vidor, head of the Familles de France umbrella group, which represents some 70,000 families, and campaigns for traditional family rights.

"We will take action to try to show that this measure is ultimately dangerous for society."

tm/bk (AFP, Reuters)

Mervyn King tells banks: you can't go on like this

Governor's scathing attack on industry's culture of excess as new scandal erupts

guardian.co.uk, Larry Elliott, Jill Treanor and Nicholas Watt in Brussels, Friday 29 June 2012

Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, says something has
gone 'very wrong' with Britain’s banks that needs to be put right.
Photograph: David Jones/PA

Sir MervynKing, the governor of the Bank of England, has piled the pressure on the scandal-ridden City by saying something has gone "very wrong" with Britain's banks that needed to be put right.

As Barclays and other high street banks became embroiled in a new mis-selling scandal, King launched his most scathing attack yet on the culture of banking in the five-year-long financial crisis.

King refused to say Bob Diamond was a "fit and proper" person to run Barclays as the reputational damage from an interest rate-fixing fine led to another fall in the bank's shares. More than £4bn has been wiped off the value of the bank since the rate-fixing scandal emerged.

"It is time to do something about the banking system," King said. As he warned that the outlook for financial stability had deteriorated as a result of the deepening crisis in the eurozone, he dismissed mounting calls for a Leveson-style investigation into banks, saying that enough was already known to implement root and branch reform of the City.

But Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, said an inquiry was needed. He said: "The governor is right to say that there is a real cultural problem in our banks which these latest scandals expose, and I don't think it is right for government ministers – or for the governor, actually – to say we have had enough inquiries."

King said: "Many people in the banking industry are hardworking and feel badly let down by some of their colleagues and leaders. It goes to the culture and the structure of banks: the excessive compensation, the shoddy treatment of customers, the deceitful manipulation of a key interest rate, and today news of yet another mis-selling scandal."

Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland were ordered by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) to pay redress to small business customers after it found "serious failings" in the way they were sold complex financial products intended to protect them from interest rate rises. The revelations caused outrage among business groups, with the Institute of Directors, the British Chambers of Commerce and the CBI all condemning the fleecing of their business members. John Longworth, director general of the BCC, said the latest scandal would "damage business's perception of banks further".

After 72 hours of sustained attack on Diamond, the Barclays boss made it clear he would not voluntarily step down. The bank's chairman, Marcus Agius, is also in the line of fire and may be forced out in an attempt to show that a boardroom executive is paying the price for the record-breaking £290m fine and damage to the bank's reputation. Barclays shareholders are thought to be considering appointing a figurehead to conduct a review of the culture inside the bank.

The political pressure continued to mount on Diamond. Asked whether he was the right man to lead Barclays, the prime minister said: "I can't say that. He has questions to answer."

David Cameron's remarks mirrored those of King and Lord Turner, chairman of the FSA, who both twice declined the opportunity to say that Diamond was "fit and proper" to run Barclays.

Barclays was on Wednesday fined a record £290m for attempting to manipulate crucial interest rates known as the London interbank offered rate (Libor) and the Euro interbank offered rate (Euribor), both of which are crucial in setting the price at which customers borrow for mortgages, between 2005 and 2009.

The fine was published alongside a series of emails showing how traders helped each other to try to manipulate interest rates with promises of champagne and quips like "this is for you, big boy".

Sir Roger Carr, president of employers' body the CBI, said: "The manipulation of the Libor arrangements is deplorable and undermines international trust in the integrity of the City. The weakness must be addressed and the culprits punished."

King said the question of who ran the UK's banks was a question for another day, insisting that the immediate priority was for the government to implement in full the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Banking, headed by Sir John Vickers, which called for firewalls to be set up between the investment and retail arms of banks. He said the cultures of investment and retail banking were different and needed to be separated.

Turner said that there was a "culture of cynicism and greed that is quite shocking". Andrew Bailey, the top banking regulator at the FSA, said the onus was on bank boards to take action. "If, as we now see, there is a fundamental breakdown in trust, the bank boards have to recognise that trust has to be got back and they have to think very hard about how they do that," he said.

The prime minister agreed with King's calls for a cultural change in banking. "We know what's gone wrong and largely we know what needs to be done to put it right. What you are going to see from the government is an incredibly methodical series of actions to deal with all of these problems," he said as he rejected the call by Balls for a Leveson-style inquiry.

"People are shocked by the swaggering arrogance of what we have discovered in the last 24 hours. We really need to open this wide open," said Balls. Knowing he was opening himself up to a political backlash as he was City minister for part of the Labour government's time in office, Balls admitted mistakes had been made.

Lord Oakeshott, the Liberal Democrat peer, said Balls and the former prime minister Gordon Brown would need to be the first two witnesses called to give evidence.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

David Cameron turns up the heat on Barclays: 'This must go right to the top'

Prime minister's call for accountability over interest rate fixing intensifies pressure on Bob Diamond

guardian.co.uk, Jill Treanor and Simon Neville, Thursday 28 June 2012

Bob Diamond, the chief executive of Barclays, will be called to give evidence
 to the Treasury select committee. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Barclays' chief executive, Bob Diamond, is fighting to keep his job after the prime minister said accountability for the bank's admission that it had manipulated key interest rates should go right to the top of the bank.

In a letter sent to Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the Treasury select committee, Diamond said the bank's traders who had attempted to rig the rate for their own profit were guilty of "wholly inappropriate behaviour". He said: "They were operating purely for their own benefit" but insisted the rates they had distorted had not had any impact on ordinary savers and mortgage borrowers. He also promised to claw back bonuses, withhold pay and fire those responsible for the scandal.

However, Diamond's position will take yet another hit on Friday as the embattled bank is braced for the details of a new mis-selling scandal to be released.

David Cameron's attack on Barclays – which incurred £290m of fines for its role in fixing rates that affect the cost at which millions of customers can borrow – came as the bank's shares plunged 15%, wiping almost £4bn off the value of Barclays in its biggest one-day fall since March 2009.

"People have to take responsibility for the actions and show how they're going to be accountable for these actions," said Cameron. "It's very important that goes all the way to the top of the organisation."

The intervention by politicians, including the chancellor, George Osborne, who described the rate-fixing as "a shocking indictment of the culture at banks like Barclays", came amid expectations of a criminal investigation and a potential bill for the banking industry that one analyst, Sandy Chen of Cenkos, warned could "run into the billions".

The damage to Barclays' reputation could result in the bank losing its status as premier member of Business in the Community, where Prince Charles is president. A spokeswoman explained that there was a formal removal process, which has not yet been implemented. She added: "The matter is being discussed internally, but it is too early to say whether Barclays membership of the organisation would be formally reviewed."

Sharp falls in the share prices of the bailed-out Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group evoked memories of the darkest days of the banking crisis as the potential scale of the interest rate-fixing scandal emerged and ahead of an announcement by the Financial Services Authority about the mis-selling of financial products to small businesses.

Barclays and RBS are expected to be at the centre of the City regulator's warning that complex interest rates swaps were mis-sold to small businesses and that redress would need to be paid to thousands of out-of-pocket customers.

As the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, called for a criminal investigation into the interest rate manipulation, Osborne told MPs that the Serious Fraud Office was "aware" of the inquiry by the City regulator into the practice.

Barclays was fined for attempting to manipulate crucial interest rates known as the London interbank offered rate (Libor) and the Euro interbank offered rate (Euribor) between 2005 and 2009. They are benchmark rates that play a crucial role in determining the cost of borrowing for households and companies.

Osborne said there were "ongoing discussions" between the FSA and SFO and that he was looking for ways to direct the £59.5m fine levied on Barclays into the hands of taxpayers rather than back to the FSA. US regulators were responsible for the remaining £230m of fines. The regulators' investigations uncovered a wave of damning emails in which Barclays staff were offered bottles of Bollinger champagne as payment or their names printed in "golden letters" for changing interest rates.

In an effort to demonstrate a willingness to clampdown on the City, Osborne promised he would unveil powers for criminal convictions at collapsed banks next week. Even though he made it clear that Barclays was not the only bank caught up in the manipulation of interest rates, he turned up the heat on Diamond.

"As far as the chief executive of Barclays is concerned, he has some very serious questions to answer today. What did he know and when did he know it? Who in the Barclays management was involved and who therefore should pay the price?" said Osborne.

Diamond has been summoned before the Treasury select committee, chaired by Tyrie, who said: "I fear it's not going to be the end of the story, that we are going to find other banks have been involved."

Among the others co-operating with an international investigation are HSBC, RBS, Lloyds and the Swiss bank UBS. They are among 15 banks that submit prices to the benchmark Libor rate.

The British Bankers Association said it was "shocked" at the findings of the FSA and and US authorities, and called for the government to take over the job.

In politically-charged language pointing the finger at Labour for lax regulation of the City during the period of the offences, the chancellor said the interest rate fixing was "evidence of systemic greed at the expense of financial integrity and stability" in 2005, 2006 and 2007. The

business secretary, Vince Cable, told the Business, Innovation and Skills committee that directors could be struck off "if the facts suggested action".

Despite the clamour for a senior executive to take responsibility, executives were said to be determined to hold on to their jobs.

Shareholders appeared to be preparing the ground for the exit of the chairman, Marcus Agius. They want to meet the bank's senior independent director, Sir Michael Rake, to discuss the reputational damage caused by the regulatory action. While the political attention is focused on Diamond, shareholders indicated that Agius could be the first to be forced out after an already turbulent relationship with investors caused by the row over Diamond's £17m pay deal last year.

The National Association of Pension Funds also indicated its frustration with the bank. David Paterson, head of corporate governance, has asked the bank to claw back bonuses and other long-term incentive plans that cover the period of the rate fixing, but has yet to get a response.

The high pay of Diamond's pay - who has taken home nearly £100m since 2006 - prompted the former chairman of Royal Bank of Scotland to tell the Today Programme that there were "very high expectations of him" in the light of the fines.

Although the FSA does not have powers to impose criminal sanctions for manipulating interest rates, leading lawyers said that the Barclays traders may have broken the law. Andrew Oldland QC, a former SFO prosecutor and now a partner at City law firm Michelmores, said: "It has got the potential for fraud. The key thing with fraud versus the regulatory rules is it requires proof of a dishonest intent and if the authorities think they can prove that the chances are they can select a whole host of charges."


Barclays bank chairman Marcus Agius to resign


What We Can Learn From Iceland









The President Of Iceland Tells Us How He Had The Balls To Stand Up To Britain



“… Your nation of Iceland is being used as a testing ground for the rolling out of financial strategies for the betterment of your planet. It would be wise to follow their progress in this respect, as it will be the fate of all nations in a very brief period of time. We have always advised you that such an action would never come from the larger powers and nations of the world, but they will follow in lockstep once the actions begin their domino effect…..” 

US media hooked on eurozone crisis

Deutsche Welle, 28 June 2012



Examining US media reports on Europe’s economic crisis for DW's Transatlantic Voices column, Julian Jaursch argues that today's coverage has to be viewed in the context of the previous global economic downturn.

Julian Jaursch is a freelance journalist based in Berlin. He holds an MA in Political Science/TransAtlantic Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Why for Zeus' sake does the American media even care so much? It is Greece, after all: A country with an economy roughly the size of Washington's and about as diverse and interesting as Idaho's. A country with an economic output 50 times smaller than that of the US. A country that prior to the global economic crisis was virtually non-existent in American economic news.

Since then, papers and TV shows have been full of Greece. The New York Times ran articles on the country's financial situation as early as 2008, the Wall Street Journal has been covering every bailout since then, NPR tried to explain what happens if Greece defaults and CBS recently aired a piece on how the European debt crisis sent the Dow Jones plummeting. Even Stephen Colbert, the outspokenly patriotic and US-centered TV character whose international coverage is called "Un-American News," took on the Greek debt crisis. Discussing the dismal situation of Greece's economy in May 2010, he joked that the Greeks had laid off the oracle of Delphi and that she had never seen it coming.

Cause and effect

The examples give some of the reasons for the strong media interest. Precisely because of the global economic downturn, the news media cares. The crisis has shown quite plainly that the economies around the world are interconnected. What happens in one country has repercussions for citizens in many others, for instance via fluctuations on the stock markets or effects on the banking sector. Moreover, it is not just Greece that is making headlines today: Because Spain, Portugal and the rest of the eurozone are struggling as well, the effects are even bigger.

According to news value theories, events gain a certain news value if they have some intrinsic characteristics. Europe's economic woes did just that for the US: While the continent is geographically not very close to the US, it is still intimately connected to the US for historic, political and economic reasons (news factor proximity) and its troubles are bad news (negativity) that in some way affect the US economy (relevance). Add to that the already heightened sensitivity to economic topics due to the global financial crisis (established topic) and it becomes clear why US media and its recipients paid so much attention to Europe. Egotistical, yet genuine, concern about the US economy might have led to the increased coverage.

Playing the blame game

But is it really just that? Or could the coverage also try to mask the US' own economic weaknesses? After all, US reporting, especially some opinion pieces in print and television media, has been quite harsh. There was talk of European "grandiosity" and the "fiction" of the European economic model. European pension systems were closely scrutinized along with the continent's demographic problems. The very values and work ethic of Greeks, Spaniards or Portuguese were questioned. A "Eurosocialist" system that instituted a single currency, but no fiscal union was lamented. Generally, Europe's debt problems and the inherent issues of the euro system were pointed out, repeatedly and vigorously, along with some well-meant pieces of advice from afar. 

Julian Jaursch
Such foreign reporting comes at a time when America's own economy is not exactly doing well, either. Memories of bank and auto bail-outs are still fresh in people's minds, the unemployment rate is at roughly eight percent (eurozone: 11 percent), the economy is only growing moderately and, most importantly, the country's debt-to-GDP ratio is much higher than the EU's, according to Eurostat and the IMF. Still, President Barack Obama has not grown tired of referring to Europe's struggles when talking about the reasons for the slow recovery in the US.

Focusing on the eurozone's failures certainly leaves less time to discuss the US' own debt problems, social security systems or demographic development. It also leaves less time to investigate whether downgrades by American rating agencies - or mere threats thereof - were always justified. Moreover, the fact that an American bank helped obscure Greece's sovereign debt issues in the first place is but a footnote today.

Europe on their mind

Yet, despite American media's intense coverage of Europe's economic misery, there is no distraction campaign to conceal domestic economic problems. Surely, on a political level, Obama will continue to subtly blame the eurozone's struggles for some of America's own hardships. It might even be a standard item of his reelection campaign strategy - anything to take the wind out of the Republicans' sails who say that Obama alone messed up the economy.

Two circumstances lead to the conclusion, however, that coverage is driven by concern rather than by efforts to mask US problems: One regarding the quantity of reporting, the other regarding the quality.

If the American media reported from Europe as a distraction, this would require very little coverage of the US economy and its problems. This is not the case - quite the contrary. Reports about the jobless numbers, poverty rates, the debt ceiling, gas prices or the stock market abound not only in financial news outlets. Therefore, the fact alone that there is a lot of coverage on Europe's problems does not mean that the US media ignores domestic issues. Still, a closer look at America's own pension system or demographic development could not hurt, either.

Concerning the quality of reporting, those stereotypical and hyperbolic, sometimes even flat-out wrong, articles on the European economy are offset by a much larger number of rather dry economic coverage. For the most part, reports try to make sense of what is happening, explain economic jargon or introduce the American audience to those affected across the pond. It is remarkable here that economic journalism might become much more widely consumed because of the crisis. Similarly noteworthy is the fact that US media cannot get around including EU actors in their reporting anymore. Before the crisis, the Union was mostly shunned in US media due to its complex and seemingly distant and dull nature.

It's the economy, stupid

The global financial crisis, which began and played out largely in the US, has arguably intensified the American public's awareness of economic topics. From bailouts to financial reforms, people around the nation were affected by that downturn. So if the collapse of a single investment bank can be the start of a downward spiral for the US economy, what will happen if an entire currency area collapses? Such economic concerns rank highest among Americans' worries and what worries the people, worries the papers.

Editor: Rob Mudge


“…. The coffers of the United States, which is erroneously considered the most fiscally sound nation in the world, have been empty for some time. The national debt, in large part due to the skullduggery of the Illuminati-owned Federal Reserve System and its IRS collection agency, will become manageable when that System is dissolved.  The various currencies, especially dollars, have no foundation—daily transactions involving billions of dollars and other currencies are merely information passed from one computer to another and they far exceed the money to back them.  The “new” foundation for currencies will be a return to an old one, where precious metals was a set standard for exchange, and “old fashioned” bartering once again will be an excellent way for nations and communities to conduct some business. ….”


Ron Paul’s Federal Reserve audit approved by House committee

Big banks craft "living wills" in case they fail

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Belfast handshake: after years of fiery rhetoric came rapprochement

The Queen and Martin McGuinness's handshake didn't last long, but it underlined how far we have come since the Troubles

guardian.co.uk, Caroline Davies, Wednesday 27 June 2012

Queen Elizabeth approaches Northern Ireland first minister Peter Robinson
(centre) and his deputy, Martin McGuinness. Photograph: Pool/Reuters

When it came, it was substantial: no light brushing of fingers, rather a firm, sustained grip fully worthy of the import it carried. At least, that was thehandshake we saw in public between the Queen and the former IRA commander, SinnFéin's Martin McGuinness, now Northern Ireland's deputy first minister, in Belfast on Wednesday.

After the anticipation, agonising and protracted negotiations over when and where, we eventually got two for the price of one – one public handshake, one private.

The first historic encounter between the Queen, pre-eminent symbol of British rule in Ulster, and McGuinness, die-hard republican dedicated to unseating her as head of state, was in the private McGrath suite at Belfast's Lyric theatre. Sparsely furnished, and normally used for creative learning workshops, there were four chairs, a sofa and a circular table, with bottled water to ease any nervous, dry throats.

Despite there being no cameras and no photographic record, this was the theatre's most significant production, and playing to its tiniest ever audience. Just seven people were in the room: the two main principals, plus the Duke of Edinburgh, Irish president Michael Higgins, his wife Sabina, Northern Ireland's first minister Peter Robinson, and the Queen's private secretary Sir Christopher Geidt.

Cameras were later allowed to record the handshake at the end of the event – an art exhibition organised by cross-border charity Co-operation Ireland, which works to bring divided communities together. There, McGuinness stood second in the lineup as the Queen, in "apple green", as described by Buckingham Palace, worked her way down. He did not, as others, bow his head as they shook hands. The handshake, however, lasted three times longer than the others. Then that was it. Long unthinkable, the moment that marked a milestone in the tortured history of British-Irish relations, that drew a further line under the peace process to a conflict that claimed more than 3,600 lives in 30 years of the Troubles, was over.

"Martin, are you still true to your convictions?" yelled a journalist as a smiling McGuinness emerged shortly after the Queen's departure. "I'm still a republican," was the response. "How did it go?" "It was good, it was nice." And with those anodyne words, in such contrast to the fiery rhetoric of the past, rapprochement seemed to have been reached between the erstwhile commander of the Irish Republican Army, and the Queen, head of the British armed services.

Originally the whole event was to be private. Eventually a media pool – one photographer, one TV camera and one reporter – were invited to record the dignitaries viewing the exhibition and meeting the 50 artists and guests. But no conversations were allowed to be recorded.

There may have been no microphones, but cameras did capture the body language. Prince Philip – whose uncle Lord Mountbatten, the Queen's second cousin, was assassinated by the IRA who blew up his fishing boat in County Sligo in 1979 – appeared to move swiftly away as McGuinness leaned towards him while the group viewed the art exhibition, though he did shake his hand later. Little else betrayed the complex emotions surely harboured by both sides.

McGuinness had greeted the Queen in Irish: "Maidin mhaith. Cead mile failte." ("Good morning. A hundred thousand welcomes.") And bade her "Slan agus beannacht" – "Goodbye and farewell" – on departure.

During their private conversation, we were told, he acknowledged her speech in the Irish Republic last year referring to "all the victims" of the conflict, and of being able to "bow to the past but not be bound by it".

A Sinn Féin source said: "He said people had suffered on both sides. He emphasised the need to acknowledge the pain of all the victims of the conflict and their families. And she agreed with him." McGuinness had told her their meeting was "a powerful signal that peace-building requires leadership".

"Let the images speak for themselves. It has been a good, cordial, positive meeting," said the source. The only protests against it had been from "a tiny minority with paintbrushes and a pot of paint".

The Queen, meanwhile, "has always been very open to this", said a royal source, who described her as "relaxed". This was a delicately choreographed 40-minute operation, conducted amid the strictest security, with surrounding roads made sterile, sniffer dogs let loose on every piece of shrubbery, and marksmen on the theatre's roof.

It was also an occasion designed to meet Sinn Féin's sensitivities. Buckingham Palace described it as a "patronage" visit – by the Queen as patron of the charity – stressing it was not connected to the diamond jubilee tour. Peter Sheridan, the chief executive of Co-operation Ireland, said the theatre event "had a neutral, independent feel to it". He had offered it as a venue, but it was only on Friday that Sinn Féin's ruling council accepted, though not unanimously.

Since the Queen's Dublin visit, which Sinn Féin boycotted to wide criticism, there had been a will, but no acceptable way, to engineer such an encounter. The Lyric presentred Sinn Féin with a "doable" opportunity – and one away from jubilee hysteria.

McGuinness, who claims to have left the IRA in 1974, though British and Irish intelligence believe he was active for longer, had acknowledged the difficulties for both himself and the Queen. In an interview before the meeting, he said: "I represent people who have been terribly hurt by British state violence over many years. I also recognise I am going to meet someone who has also been hurt as a result of the conflict, and someone who is very conscious that in many homes in Britain there are parents, wives, children, brothers and sisters of British soldiers who were sent here who lost their lives in the conflict."

After the handshake, there was praise – and grumblings. Dissident republicans claimed Sinn Féin had sold out, ardent unionists claimed Sinn Féin had "hijacked" the jubilee visit. Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland secretary, said: "This will move Northern Ireland on to a whole new plane. After all the trauma of Northern Ireland, everyone is looking forward."

Tony Blair, who oversaw the Good Friday agreement ratified in 1998, acclaimed it as "a magnificent gesture" by the Queen. For the Queen, it was business as usual, as she made her way to a huge jubilee party for 22,000 people at Stormont. It was business as usual, too, for Sinn Féin, with all of its 29 members of the Northern Ireland assembly boycotting the event. "Nobody expects Martin McGuinness would be at an event with 10,000 union flags being waved," a Sinn Féin spokesman was quoted as saying.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Jersey threatens to break with UK over tax backlash

Island should be ready to become independent, says senior minister after political attacks on finance industry 

guardian.co.uk, Simon Bowers in St Helier , Tuesday 26 June 2012

St Helier, the capital of Jersey, where the controversial financial industry has
 come in for criticism from politicians in the UK. Photograph: Martin Argles
for the Guardian

A barrage of regulatory clampdowns and political attacks on the Channel Islands' controversial financial industry has prompted one of Jersey's most senior politicians to call for preparations to be made to break the "thrall of Whitehall" and declare independence from the UK.

Sir Philip Bailhache, the island's assistant chief minister, said: "I feel that we get a raw deal. I feel it's not fair … I think that the duty of Jersey politicians now is to try to explain what the island is doing and not to take things lying down.

"The island should be prepared to stand up for itself and should be ready to become independent if it were necessary in Jersey's interest to do so."

In a Guardian interview, he said strained relations with the UK over the past five years had made it "very plain" that Jersey's interests were not always aligned with those of Britain.

"I hope that the constitutional relationship with the UK will continue. But if it becomes plain that our interests in fact lie in being independent it doesn't seem to be that we should bury our head in the sand and say we're not going to do that."

For decades Jersey's tax, legal and regulatory framework has been structured to draw in the financial activities of multinational businesses and wealthy individuals. But a growing backlash has seen politicians in the UK and elsewhere lashing out at aggressive schemes leeching tax revenues from the increasingly stretched public wallets.

François Hollande swept to power in France last month with a manifesto pledge to stop French banks operating in tax havens.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama has introduced draconian anti-avoidance laws that from next year will require financial companies around the world to report to US tax authorities the details of assets owned offshore by wealthy Americans. Failure to comply will result in punitive taxes.

David Cameron took the unusual step last week of condemning the personal tax affairs of the comedian Jimmy Carr, who was found to be using a controversial avoidance structure involving a Jersey trust company. The prime minister said it was "morally wrong".

Jersey's chief minister, Ian Gorst, has attempted to distance the island from this type of activity: "There is no wish or need to accommodate or give encouragement to those who seek to involve Jersey in aggressive tax planning schemes to avoid UK tax."

But his views are understood to have sparked heated debate among the islands' senior politicians, with the Treasury minister, Philip Ozouf, later tweeting: "I don't think it's the place of our government to comment on the moral application of activity which is legal."

Ozouf has always said he supported the chief minister's statement.

In his March budget, George Osborne announced measures designed to claw back tax revenues leaking from Treasury coffers. "I regard tax evasion – and, indeed, aggressive tax avoidance – as morally repugnant," he declared as he outlined initiatives on stamp duty avoidance, offshore pensions and VAT-free websites.

His comments echo those of Treasury chief secretary, Danny Alexander, who last week repeated his claim that "people who aggressively avoid tax are the moral equivalent of those who cheat the benefit system". He claimed the coalition was doing "more than any previous government" to crack down on avoidance and evasion.

The chancellor has ordered a Treasury team led by Graham Aaronson QC to work up proposals for a general anti-avoidance rule designed to deter the most artificial tax schemes. Action to create fresh avoidance-busting laws was spurred by the court of appeal's reluctant decision last summer to wave through one of the most egregious tax schemes in recent years.

The scheme, known as SHIPS 2, involved transactions through Jersey and other tax havens, generating a tax loss that 70 wealthy UK residents were able to offset against income and capital gains tax bills.

It was marketed by the Mayfair firm Matrix Tax Solutions, a now defunct arm of the financial conglomerate Matrix Group. The group's co-founder and chairman, David Royds, has given £110,000 in donations to the Conservative party since 2008.

Lord Justice Toulson said the ruling to back the structure was made despite knowing "it instinctively seems wrong". Lord Justice Thomas noted the beneficiaries "received benefits that cannot possibly have been intended and which must be paid for by other taxpayers".

Matrix told the Guardian: "SHIPS 2 was marketed almost 10 years ago, and attitudes have changed." But Aaronson has singled it out as a prime example of a scheme that "shows the inadequacy of the existing means of combating highly artificial tax avoidance schemes".

Not everyone shares the moral outrage at legally permitted tax schemes, particularly in the Channel Islands.

"Every state in the world has a different tax regime which every individual, wherever they sit, has a right to take advantage of," said Julian Winser, head of Schroders' Channel Islands private banking arm and president of Guernsey Chamber of Commerce.

"The principle of the free market is that it [legal tax avoidance] is available to all – even if some of them can't reach it. You could argue exactly the same thing from a job perspective by dint of the fact someone didn't have the right education. Ultimately the politics of envy creeps in to it."

Bailhache is equally robust in defending tax structures. "I think this idea that there is some kind of grey area where things are within the law but you shouldn't do them is potentially quite difficult … People have to ask themselves: 'If you feel strongly [about] something people ought not to be doing, why don't you change the law to make it unlawful?'"

In an interview before Carr's tax arrangements were condemned last week by Cameron, Bailhache said Jersey's financial industry had to deal delicately with moral outrage in the UK at legal tax avoidance.

Another senior Channel Islands politician, who asked not to be named, said there was much private frustration at suggestions a Jersey trust company should be blamed for Carr avoiding UK tax.

He said: "The UK tax code is horrifically complicated. It has all sorts of exemptions and allowances and schemes – and that's fertile ground for tax avoiders."

In the face of ferocious political attack, Jersey is for the first time opening an office in London and frantically building lobbying contacts in Washington in an effort to repair relations. It has hired a top London public relations firm, Brunswick.

"We want to educate. We want to explain what the island is doing," said Bailhache, who is also the minister in charge of Jersey international relations. "We understand that the movement is towards collecting as much tax as the UK legitimately can do and it's not part of our function to help UK citizens to avoid paying their dues in the UK."

Previously relying on Britain to look after its international interests, Jersey last year began forging its own relations in Brussels.

Meanwhile, the island's powerful finance lobbying arm, Jersey Finance, is looking at ways to reduce the heavy dependence on UK and continental Europe, recruiting representatives in Abu Dhabi, China and are considering a new bureau in Brazil.

Lord McNally, the UK minister responsible for dealing with the Channel Islands, said he was well aware of disgruntlement. "The Crown Dependencies [the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man] are quick to point out their rights. A couple have independence movements and talk about going completely independent. I think it would be rather ill-advised of them to do so."

Back from a tour of the islands this month, McNally told the Guardian he had left them in no doubt the days of Britain turning a blind eye to aggressive loophole industries in the Channel Islands were over. "Treasuries all over are making tough decisions in these difficult times," is his message to the Channel Islands. Following a series of tough measures in the budget, he recalls being asked: "Is this the last time [the UK] Treasury is going to come stopping us doing things?"

His reply was firm: "No. The Treasury will continue to do its job."


Monday, June 25, 2012

Cyprus seeks eurozone bailout

Cyprus becomes fifth eurozone country to ask for outside financial help after it is caught in backwash of Greek crisis

guardian.co.uk, Larry Elliott and Giles Tremlett, Monday 25 June 2012

Vassilis Rapanos, the man appointed to be finance minister in Greece's new
 coalition government, quit without formally taking up his office. Photograph:
AFP/Getty Images

Cyprus has become the fifth eurozone country to seek outside financial help to shore up its ailing economy after a day of heavy selling on financial markets prompted by fear that this week's European summit will end without a blueprint to rescue the single currency.

The government in Nicosia admitted that it had been caught in the backwash from the crisis in neighbouring Greece as it formally applied to Brussels for assistance.

On a day when Fitch cut Cyprus's credit rating to junk, a statement said: "The purpose of the required assistance is to contain the risks to the Cypriot economy, notably those arising from the negative spill-over effects through its financial section, due to its large exposure in the Greek economy."

The news followed an announcement in Athens that Vassilis Rapanos, the man appointed to be finance minister in the new coalition government, had quit without formally taking up his office, while the prime minister Antonis Samaras was not fit enough to travel to the Brussels summit after an eye operation.

Markets were also unsettled by comments by Angela Merkel which doused hopes that this week's talks would agree to radical proposals for a full eurozone banking union, common eurobonds and the use of Europe's bailout funds to recapitalise banks directly. The German chancellor said sharing debt liability would be "economically wrong".

Although the German finance ministry believes a euro collapse could result in a 10% contraction in Europe's biggest economy, Berlin is insisting that eurozone member states must give up full autonomy over their budgets and the running of their banks in return for a deal.

In London, the FTSE 100 index closed down 63 points at 5451, the French CAC dropped 64 points to 3027 and Germany's Dax finished 112 points lower at 6152. The biggest falls on European bourses were in Milan, where the FTSE MIB slid 549 points to 13,114 and in Madrid, where the Ibex shed 252 points to 6624. With rumours that Moody's was poised to downgrade Spain's banks for the second time in a month, Wall Street's Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by more than 160 points in morning trading, while the price of Brent crude dropped below $90 a barrel due to concerns that the global economy is heading for a synchronised slowdown.

Cyprus is one of the smallest of the 17 members of monetary union and is expected to need a bailout of several billion euros to finance its debt payments and rescue its banks. It follows Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain in seeking formal help from the bailout funds set up by Brussels in response to the sovereign debt crisis.

Spain finally made its formal request for bailout money from the European Union on Monday, with a letter that failed to mention the amount needed and left markets guessing many of the details of how the country's troubled banks will be rescued.

The slow process of putting together the bailout of up to €100bn should see a memorandum signed at a meeting of eurozone finance ministers on 9 July.

Spain asked for the money to go to its FROB bank rescue fund, increasing the national debt.

But the country's foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, added to confusion about the bailout process on Monday, saying Spain had not given up on its battle to have the money go directly to banks, without adding to the national debt. "The question of whether the money will go directly to the banks or to the state is still open," he said.

It was unclear how much of the €100bn bailout money Spain would finally ask for, and when it would be needed. El País newspaper suggested on Mondayyesterday that the government would ask for money as the needs of each bank became clear.

With a further round of stress tests on individual banks not due until September, some of the money might not be requested until after that.

Officials from the Spanish government and the Bank of Spain have repeatedly said the bailout funds are not needed urgently. They have also stressed that the €62bn top figure provided last week by two independent auditors of Spain's banking system would cover against a severe downturn in the next three years – suggesting their request may not go much higher than that.

Monday's letter requesting the loan said the amount "would be sufficient to cover capital necessities as well as an additional margin of security".

Analysts warned Spain against aiming too low. "It is essential that the loan provided exceeds by a certain margin the estimated capital requirements for the banks," said Vincent Forest of the Economist Intelligence Unit. "Anything too far from the announced €100bn could fail to reassure investors, and create further volatility and instability."

EU commissioner Olli Rehn said a deal on loan terms could be concluded within weeks.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

London 2012 Olympics: Saudis allow women to compete

BBC News, by Frank Gardner, 24 June 2012

Related Stories 

Showjumper Dalma Rushdi Malhas is
 currently the only Saudi female competitor
at Olympic standard
Saudi Arabia is to allow its women athletes to compete in the Olympics for the first time.

A statement issued by the Saudi Embassy in London says the country's Olympic Committee will "oversee participation of women athletes who can qualify".

The decision will end recent speculation as to whether the entire Saudi team could have been disqualified on grounds of gender discrimination.

Women's sport is still fiercely opposed by many Saudi religious conservatives.

There is almost no public tradition of women participating in sport in the country.

Saudi officials say that with the Games now just a few weeks away, the only female competitor at Olympic standard is showjumper Dalma Rushdi Malhas.

But they added that there may be scope for others to compete and that if successful they would be dressed "to preserve their dignity".

In practice this is likely to mean modest, loose-fitting garments and "a sports hijab", a scarf covering the hair but not the face.

For the desert kingdom, the decision to allow women to compete in the Olympics is a huge step, overturning deep-rooted opposition from those opposed to any public role for women.

As recently as April, the indications were that Saudi Arabia's rulers would accede to the sensitivities of the religious conservatives and maintain the ban on allowing women to take part.

But for the past six weeks there have been intense, behind-the-scenes discussions led by King Abdullah, who has long been pushing for women to play a more active role in Saudi society.

'Subtle reform'

In secret meetings in Jeddah, officials say a consensus was reached in mid-June between the king, the crown prince, the foreign minister, the leading religious cleric, the grand mufti and others, to overturn the ban.

An announcement was ready to be made but then had to be delayed as the country marked the sudden death of Crown Prince Nayef.

"It's very sensitive," a senior Saudi official told the BBC. "King Abdullah is trying to initiate reform in a subtle way, by finding the right balance between going too fast or too slow.

"For example, he allowed the participation of women in the Shura council [an advisory body] so the Olympic decision is part of an ongoing process, it's not isolated."

The official acknowledged that to refuse to let women take part would have looked bad on the international stage.

"Partly because of the mounting criticism we woke up and realised we had to deal with this. We believe Saudi society will accept this," the official said.

It is not the first time a Saudi monarch has backed a controversial reform against domestic opposition.

King Faisal, who introduced television in the 1960s and was eventually assassinated, insisted on introducing education for girls.

Today, Saudi women graduates outnumber their male counterparts.


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