Seven Days in Europe

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has accused the EU of colonialism and meddling in his country’s domestic affairs. His words come after Budapest was hit with a €500 million EU funds freeze for its continued budget deficit and with legal action over constitutional changes limiting the independence of media, judges and the central bank. “We will not be a colony. Hungarians won’t live according to the commands of foreign powers, they won’t give up their independence or their freedom,” Orban told over 100,000 people gathered outside the parliament in Budapest on the anniversary of the country’s 1848 revolution against Hapsburg rule.

Five American Nobel-winning economists and 21 other US academics and businessmen have urged President Barack Obama to support the EU’s CO2 tax on airlines.  The group-of-26 in an open letter to Obama dated 14 March accused the White House of “selfish inaction” which “pushes increased costs onto future generations, and dangerously increases the probability of extreme events with major impacts on their welfare.” The letter was signed by Nobel laureates Kenneth Arrow, William F. Sharpe, Eric Maskin, Thomas Sargent and Christopher Sims, two hedge fund managers from the New-York-based Kepos capital and professors from top US universities, such as Columbia, MIT, Princeton and Stanford.

The International Monetary Fund has agreed to extend Greece a €28bn loan over the next four years. The IMF will give Athens €1.65bn straight away. In a statement from IMF managing director Christine Lagarde she said, “Greece has made tremendous efforts to implement wide-ranging painful measures over the past two years, in the midst of a deep economic recession and a difficult social environment. The fiscal deficit has been reduced markedly and competitiveness has gradually improved. However, the challenges confronting Greece remain significant, with a large competitiveness gap, a high level of public debt, and an undercapitalized banking system. The new Fund-supported program will enable Greece to address these challenges while remaining in the Eurozone.”

MEPs from across the political spectrum have united against an anti-immigrant internet hotline set up by the party of controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders. Deputies from all political groups – aside from the nationalist EFD group – backed a resolution on Thursday  describing the website as an “ill-intentioned initiative aimed at creating divisions within the society and obtaining political gains to the detriment of workers from Central and Eastern Europe.” Wilders launched the “Meldpunt Midden en Oost Europeanen” hotline in February.

Meanwhile, Sarkozy has threatened to pull France out of the EU’s borderless Schengen agreement unless action is taken to reduce the number of illegal immigrants. Speaking at an election rally on Sunday Sarkozy said some EU member states are too lax with their borders, enabling unwanted migrants to enter France and causing a heavy burden on its social welfare system. Sarkozy’s election campaign is not going smoothly, as claims have emerged about the funding of Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign and his links with former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The French investigative website Mediapart claims to have seen a confidential note suggesting Gaddafi contributed up to €50m (£42m) to Sarkozy’s election fund five years ago.

Business between the EU and China is running as usual, despite highly-public trade differences between the two economic powerhouses, the Danish trade minister has said. “I wouldn’t say that [EU-China trade relations] are deteriorating, I think they are just more in the open now,” Pia Olsen Dyhr, whose country currently holds the rotating EU chairmanship, said in an interview on Thursday. Her comments come two days after the EU joined the US and Japan in a fresh complaint to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over China’s restrictions on the export of so-called rare earth elements, used in the manufacture of high-tech devices. The complaint over rare earth exports came on top of a delay last week of a multi-billion-euro Chinese order of European-made Airbus jets, seen as retaliation against a new EU tax on airlines’ carbon emissions.

The Belgium-based firm which handles international wire transfers, Swift, has said it will block transactions by all EU-sanctioned Iranian banks at 5pm Brussels time on Saturday “Disconnecting banks is an extraordinary and unprecedented step for Swift. It is a direct result of international and multilateral action to intensify financial sanctions against Iran,” the company’s CEO, Lazaro Campos, said in a statement. EU countries ordered Swift to act earlier on Thursday, following pressure from the US, Iran’s main antagonist on the world stage.

Putin allegedly came face to face with wild tiger four years ago, but bloggers now say it was set up using a zoo animal. Putin allegedly saved the day on a trip to a wildlife reserve when a tiger attacked Putin and his accompanying TV crew. But now environmentalists and bloggers are presenting evidence that the tiger Putin shot was no wild tiger at all – and that the animal died as a result of the stunt. The scandal is the latest to show the cracks in the president-elect’s carefully crafted image, as his popularity continues to fall despite a recent election win that critics say was manipulated by fraud.

Voters in Switzerland have rejected a proposal to give themselves more annual leave in a national referendum. The plan would have given workers six weeks off a year, but business groups warned about the cost to the economy. In other referendums, voters in Geneva agreed to tighten restrictions on street protests. The United Nations Human Rights Council, the International Committee of the Red Cross and numerous other major international organisations are based in the city, making it a focal point for protesters.

Pope Benedict has ordered a custom-blended eau de cologne just for him. The fragrance, which mixes hints of lime tree, verbena and grass, was concocted by the Italian boutique perfume maker Silvana Casoli, who has previously created scents for customers including Madonna, Sting and King Juan Carlos of Spain. Casoli said she had a “pact of secrecy” with her most illustrious client to date, and refused to release the full list of ingredients that had gone into his scent – but she did reveal that she had created a delicate smelling eau de cologne “based on his love of nature”.

An earless baby rabbit that became a rising star on Germany‘s celebrity animal scene had its 15 minutes of fame brought to an abrupt end when it was accidentally stepped on and killed by a television cameraman. The fate of 17-day-old Til, a male bunny with a genetic defect, was plastered across German newspapers on Thursday, the same day a small zoo in Saxony was to have presented it to the world at a press conference. The cameraman told Bild newspaper he hadn’t seen Til, who had buried himself in hay, when he took the fateful step back on Wednesday.

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