Greece has said it has received enough backing to push through the largest restructuring of government debt in history. Holders of 85.8% of debt subject to Greek law and 69% of its international debt holders have agreed a debt swap. Take-up was high enough for the government to force unwilling investors to consent to the deal. The European Union and International Monetary Fund have said that if the debt swap does not go through then Greece will not get its latest bailout of 130bn euros (£110bn; $173bn). However, while there may be optimism within the higher financial and political echelons, the economic crisis in Greece has seen the numbers of unemployed and homeless grow week by week, leaving many Greeks deeply pessimistic about the future. It is estimated that a third of Greeks now live below the poverty line.
The EU commission has given Hungary a one-month deadline to change its controversial laws or face court cases in Luxembourg, just as Budapest is struggling to secure a loan from international lenders. Reassurances by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban that his government is not trying to expand political control over judges, data protection authorities and the central bank were deemed insufficient for the commission to drop its case, a commission spokeswoman said.
Poland has signalled its opposition to an EU plan for deeper carbon emission cuts. Denmark, currently steering EU negotiations, is backed by the UK in calling for a 25% cut in CO2 emissions by 2020. Previously the target was 20%. But Poland, reliant on coal for more than 90% of its electric power, fears the move would make energy more costly. Poland’s position is supported by the Czech Republic, Romania and one of the Baltic countries. The EU’s new climate ambitions are contained in a European Commission Roadmap for moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said there are too many foreigners in France and the system for integrating them is “working worse and worse”. In a TV debate, Mr Sarkozy defended his plan to almost halve the number of new arrivals if re-elected next month.Mr Sarkozy is trailing in the opinion polls behind the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande. He is also competing for conservative voters with the far-right National Front party led by Marine le Pen. Allies of centre-left French presidential candidate Francois Hollande have spoken out against a reported pact by centre-right EU leaders to harm his image. The remarks came after German magazine Der Spiegel reported that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the UK’s David Cameron made a verbal agreement with incumbent French President Nicolas Sarkozy to snub Hollande ahead of the 22 April elections.
Iceland’s former Prime Minister Geir Haarde has become the world’s first leader to be put on trial on charges of negligence over the 2008 financial crisis. Haarde, who was a premier from 2006 to 2009, is being accused of “gross negligence” in failing to prevent the collapse of Iceland’s top three banks – Glitnir, Kaupthing and Landsbanki – all heavily involved in risky investments on the US real estate market. He faces a sentence of up to two years in prison if found guilty.
The European Commission was left red-faced on last week after a video clip meant to promote the benefits of enlargement was interpreted by several viewers as being xenophobic and depicting other cultures in a racist manner. The video, based on the film ‘Kill Bill’ shows a yellow suited woman (representing the EU) being threatened by various martial arts fighters.
Norwegian prosecutors on Wednesday indicted Anders Behring Breivik on terror and murder charges for killing 77 people in a bomb and shooting rampage on 22 July 2011 but said the confessed mass killer was unlikely to go to prison for the country’s worst peacetime massacre. Prosecutors said they considered the 33-year-old rightwing extremist to be psychotic and would seek a sentence of involuntary commitment to psychiatric care instead of imprisonment unless new information about his mental health emerged during the trial, due to start in April.
Jean-Claude Mas, the Frenchman who sparked a global health scare by selling substandard breast implants, has been jailed after not paying his bail, according to a judicial source. Mas was released from police custody on 27 January on bail of €100,000 (£83,000), and was banned from leaving the country or meeting former executives of his now defunct company, Poly Implant Prothese (PIP).
Russian punks Pussy Riot have been arrested over their February protest at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour cathedral. Beginning on 3 March, the day before the presidential election that saw Vladimir Putin return to power, six band members were charged in connection with hate crimes and violations of public order. Two of the musicians remain in custody, where they have begun a hunger strike.
Irish police are hunting for a thief who stole the heart of a saint. The burglar sneaked into Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin on Friday night and ignored valuable gold chalices and candlesticks, choosing instead to take the preserved heart of Laurence O’Toole, the city’s 12th-century patron saint. No alarm was triggered and there was no sign of a break-in, said the spokesman, adding that three valuable gold chalices and gold candlesticks in the chapel were not stolen. “It’s completely bizarre. They didn’t touch anything else. They specifically targeted this, they wanted the heart of St Laurence O’Toole,” the spokesman said. Since last autumn four ancient holy relics have been stolen from churches in Dublin and Tipperary.
Finally, the folk group the “Buranovo Grannies” will represent Russia in the Eurovision Song Contest, after winning a televised contest in Moscow. The six grandmothers beat 24 other acts with song Party For Everybody. Their winning song features the refrain, “party for everybody, come on and dance”. Buranovskiye Babushki, from the Udmurt Republic, say they will use any cash raised to build a church in Buranovo. The group became known in Russia with covers – sung in Udmurt – of classics including the Beatles’ Yesterday and the Eagles’ Hotel California. In 2010, they came third in the Russian Eurovision qualifying contest with their song Dlinnaya-dlinnaya beresta i kak sdelat’ iz neyo aishon, which translates as “long, long birch bark and how to make a hat of it”. Meanwhile, Armenia has pulled out of the 2012 Eurovision show over new tensions with Azerbaijan related to the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.