Seven Days in Europe

Eurozone finance ministers have finally approved the terms of a second rescue package for Greece worth €130bn (£108bn), which should avert the risk of a Greek default next month. The deal was hammered out in Brussels during more than 12 hours of negotiations. Under the agreement, Greece’s private creditors have agreed to take deeper losses on their Greek debts, helping to cover a new funding gap that threatened to derail the rescue package – Athens’s second since the financial crisis began. But the package is dependent on Greece implementing further austerity measures. The new package follows the Greek parliament’s recent approval of an extra €325m of spending cuts – including deep cuts to pension payments – to fill a gap in the €3.3bn of extra budget savings this year which the EU and IMF had demanded. Under the plan, Greece’s debt pile will drop to 120.5% of its GDP by 2020, only slightly above the long-term debt sustainability target set by the International Monetary Fund.

However, details still remain to be resolved regarding the deal, primarily the lack of a firm commitment from the International Monetary Fund. According to eurozone finance ministers, the IMF is expected to make a “significant” contribution to the €130bn bail-out. But IMF chief Christine Lagarde on Tuesday said “significant means lots of things” and that the contribution will be decided by the board of the institution mid-March. The deal has also angered the Greek public.  Ilias Iliopoulos at the civil servants’ union Adedy said “People are literally hungry and the number of homeless is growing every day … soon they won’t take anymore. There’ll be a popular revolt.”

In the face of mounting public and political pressure, the European Commission on Wednesday asked the Union’s highest court to clarify whether the controversial anti-piracy treaty (ACTA) is in line with EU law. Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, who led the EU’s negotiating team on the treaty, said he wants the court to “cut through a fog of uncertainty” by assessing whether ACTA was “incompatible – in any way – with freedom of expression and information or data protection and the right to property in case of intellectual property.”

Hungary has been given less than a year to lower its public deficit or have a third of its EU subsidies slashed, amounting to €495 million. It is the first time the EU commission takes such an action. “This unprecedented step follows the commission’s repeated warnings to Hungary urging it to step up its efforts to end the country’s excessive government deficit, and its subsequent failure to take appropriate action,” the EU executive said in a statement. Hungary has overshot the EU deficit threshold of three-percent of gross domestic product every single year since it joined the EU, in 2004.

Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands have refused to sign off the EU annual accounts, noting that auditors found too many errors for the seventeenth year in a row. Their no-vote is symbolic, since the accounts were approved by their colleagues by qualified majority. But it does stir up the debate ahead of the European Parliament’s vote later this spring, when MEPs may choose not to sign off on some of the spending.

Simmering tensions between the EU and the group of countries opposed to the bloc’s expansion of its emissions trading scheme (ETS) to include aviation increased further today, after officials signalled a “coalition of the unwilling” had agreed a package of retaliatory measures. Speaking following a meeting in Moscow of the group of 26 countries opposed to the new EU carbon pricing mechanism, Russia’s deputy transport minister Valery Okulov told reporters diplomats had agreed a package of measures the countries could now use to undermine the scheme.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Italy violated the rights of Eritrean and Somali migrants by sending them back to Libya. The 13 Eritreans and 11 Somalis were among a group of about 200 people who left Libya on three boats in 2009. Two of the 24 have since died. The court ordered Italy to pay each migrant in the case 15,000 euros (£13,000; $20,000) in damages.

Finally, Mario Monti’s “grey” government of technocrats and professors in Italy may not be so dull after all. After promising to cut tax evasion and endemic fraud, Monti set an honest example by going public with his cabinet’s wealth. The results were so intriguing the government’s website crashed due to intense traffic when they were published. Apart from the odd Jaguar, motor yacht and the Harley-Davidson owned by 65-year-old foreign minister, ministers favour sensible Japanese and Italian cars. But one vice minister gets around on a Vespa and environment minister Corrado Clini nips around in a Fiat 500. The French government has decreed the honorific Mademoiselle should be phased out from official forms. After a campaign by feminist groups, the French prime minister’s office has issued a circular saying the Mademoiselle option should be removed from all administrative documents in the vast state bureaucracy. Until now, women were required to identify themselves as married (Madame) or unmarried (Mademoiselle) on everything from tax forms to insurance claims and voting cards. What might have been the biggest physics story of the past century may instead be down to a faulty connection. In September 2011, the Opera experiment reported it had seen particles called neutrinos evidently travelling faster than the speed of light. The team has now found two problems that may have affected their test in opposing ways: one in its timing gear and one in an optical fibre connection.

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