Seven Days in Europe

EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy has said in a letter to outgoing Russian President Dmitri Medvedev that Russia’s internatioinal reputation is at stake over the murder of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. “The case of Mr Magnitsky has come to symbolise the state of the rule of law and judiciary in the Russian Federation for Russia’s friends and observers abroad.” It comes one week before Russian investigators on 24 April are to say if a prison doctor caused Magnitsky’s death in custody in 2009 by “negligence.” Magnitsky was jailed, starved of pancreatic medication and beaten to death when he exposed a tax-embezzling mafia involving top people in the interior ministry and the state security service, the FSB.

It has not been a good week for the Eurozone. International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde on Thursday warned of “dark clouds” hanging over the global recovery, with the eurozone at the heart of the problem. Her comments come ahead of the IMF’s spring meeting, which is to decide on increasing its own resources – part of which could also be used to fund further eurozone bail-outs. Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti has announced that Italy would need extra time to reaching its deficit target amid a deepening recession. The Italian government had pledged to balance its budget in 2013, but it now expects the economy to shrink by 1.2 percent of GDP this year, the cabinet said in a statement. It added that the deficit of 0.1 percent previously estimated for 2013 would not be reached until 2014, while a balanced budget would be reached only in 2015. Legal challenges in Germany, Ireland and Estonia, as well as political uncertainty in the Netherlands, may delay the setting up of a permanent eurozone bail-out fund. Citing democratic concerns, an Irish MP has  lodged a constitutional complaint against the European treaties establishing the permanent eurozone bail-out fund – the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) – and the ‘fiscal compact’ on budget discipline required by Germany to agree to future bail-outs.

The United Kingdom is obstructing attempts by European Union institutions to accede to the European Convention of Human Rights, British centre-left MEP Richard Howitt has said. Howitt, the assembly’s rapporteur on human rights said that “The United Kingdom in a working group in the council for the past year has at every stage dragged out and tried to delay recommendations on the accession.”

MEPs voted in favour of a new air data agreement with the United States on Thursday. After a lengthy debate where many speakers acknowledged that the agreement was not ideal, 409 voted in favour of it and 226 against. The new set-up allows the US authorities to continue to gather an array of details, including names, addresses, credit card details, luggage and transfer flight details, from all air passengers coming from Europe – but under tighter conditions.

France’s presidential candidates have needled each other over the euro and the dire state of the French economy before Sunday’s first-round vote, as the Socialist challenger François Hollande kept his lead over President Nicolas Sarkozy in most polls. With the election shaping up as a referendum on Sarkozy’s personality, bling style and contested record in office, the president told French radio he had helped steer the eurozone through the worst of its debt crisis, styling himself as the only one with the experience to protect France. Hollande in turn blamed him for mismanaging France’s strained public finances.

Russian police have detained at least 13 people demonstrating outside a court against the arrests of three members of a women’s punk rock group, witnesses say. The court was to decide whether to extend the detention of the three women, part of the Pussy Riot group that performed a protest song against the president elect, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February. About 60 of the group’s supporters chanted: “Freedom! Freedom!” outside the beige brick Moscow courthouse, and some released green, pink and yellow balloons with Pussy Riot’s trademark masks drawn on them.

Ukraine has begun a new trial against jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko on charges of tax evasion. The opposition leader is already serving a seven-year prison term after being convicted last year of abuse of office in a case the west condemned as politically motivated. Prosecutors have also charged Tymoshenko with evading tens of million of hryvna in taxes while heading an energy company in the mid-1990s.

Spain’s king has publicly apologised for a hunting trip to Africa that saw him fly off to shoot elephants in Botswana while ordinary Spaniards struggled with one of the worst economic crises in living memory. “I am very sorry. I made a mistake and it won’t happen again,” King Juan Carlos told television cameras as he left hospital after an operation to a hip that he damaged during his expensive hunting holiday in the Okavango Delta. The director of an art museum in Naples has started to burn museum artworks in a protest intended to draw official attention – and funds – to his institution. Antonio Manfredi of the Casoria Contemporary Art Museum (Cam) said the privately sponsored institution risked closure unless it received cash from the regional, national or European authorities.

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