Seven Days In Europe

The Fitch ratings agency has downgraded Spain to close to bail-out territory due to its banking troubles, uncertainty surrounding Greece and “policy missteps at European level.” Fitch cut the Spanish rating by three notches to “BBB,” just one level above so-called non-investment grade status which indicates a high risk of default. The New York-based agency said the downgrade came as the cost of rescuing Spain’s troubled banks is now estimated at between €60-€100 billion, compared to previous estimates of €30 billion. Spain is expected to become the fourth eurozone country to seek international help for its debt crisis when Europe’s policy leaders agree a package to bail out its crippled banking sector.

EU countries have given themselves more freedom to block passport-free travel, causing outrage among MEPs. Member states can close their borders for up to 30 days if there is a serious threat to internal security (such as major sporting events), up to 10 days in urgent cases (terrorist attacks) and up to six months if persistent problems exist at external borders. Under the old system, in place since 2006, member states were allowed to impose border controls in urgent cases for only up to five days.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she will use the gathering of EU leaders at the end of the month to push ahead with plans for a political union, including more sweeping powers to Brussels. “We do not just need a currency union but also a so-called fiscal union – more common budget policy,” she told Germany’s ARD television early Thursday (7 June).She emphasised that a political union was also necessary: “That means that step-by-step in the future we have to give up more powers to Europe and grant Europe more oversight possibilities.”

Ireland has voted in a favour of the fiscal discipline treaty but the Yes vote is seen as grudging and the country is now expecting EU “solidarity” in return. With all votes counted, 60.3 percent voted in favour of the Germany-inspired document enshrining balanced budgets into national law while 39.7 percent vote against. Turnout was 50.6 percent. Irish politicians reacted by saying that voters should be rewarded with support at EU-level for initiatives that stimulate economic growth and for a better deal on Ireland’s banking debt.

The European Commission has said EU freedom of information rules should be tightened up because corporate lawyers and NGOs abuse the system. Its spokesman, Antony Gravili, told EUobserver on Wednesday (6 June) that most requests to see internal EU documents come from “lawyers for big corporations” and “nutty NGOs” instead of concerned EU citizens.

The European Network Against Racism (Enar), an NGO based in Brussels, has condemned a Flemish nationalist for offering a reward of €250 to anybody who reports Burqa-wearing women to the Belgian police. Filip Dewinter, from Belgium’s right wing Vlaams Belang party, announced the initiative on Tuesday after police arrested a 24-year old Burqa-clad woman in Brussels for refusing to remove her veil. Belgium, like France, banned the full face veil last year, with offenders facing up to €150 in fines. Belgian authorities say the law applies to anyone who partly or entirely covers their face in a public area whether using an Islamic veil or any other mask.

The prospects of the EU ratifying the controversial anti-counterfeit treaty, Acta have been dealt another blow after MEPs on three European Parliament committees voted to reject the deal. MEPs on the civil liberties, legal affairs and industry committees came out against the treaty, which critics claim threatens internet freedom, although MEPs from the centre-right EPP group voted in favour in the legal affairs body. Under the parliament’s rules, committees have the right to issue a non-binding opinion on a file to be considered by the lead committee.

The Foreign Office has  confirmed that no ministers would attend England’s three group-stage matches. England plays its first game against France on Monday in the eastern city of Donetsk. There will be no official British presence at England’s two other qualifying games, against Sweden on 15 June in Kiev, and against the hosts Ukraine in Donetsk on 19 June. A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “The government fully supports England’s participation in Euro 2012. We hope this is a successful tournament for the England team, the fans, and the people of Ukraine and Poland.”

Four men have been found guilty of plotting to kill staff at a Danish newspaper in revenge for its publication in 2005 of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Three Swedish citizens and a Tunisian were convicted of terrorism over the plot against Jyllands-Posten. One pleaded guilty to illegal possession of weapons, and two were acquitted of the same charge for technical reasons, court officials said. The judge, Katrine Eriksen, told the court in Copenhagen that the goal was to kill as many people as possible. “The accused … are guilty of terrorism. [They] agreed and prepared acts to kill people,” she said.

The upper chamber of Russia’s parliament has voted 132-1 to approve a bill that raises fines 150-fold for people taking part in unsanctioned rallies. The much-debated legislation now needs only the president’s signature to become law. The bill raises fines from the current 2,000 rubles (£40) to 300,000 rubles (£5,970). The legislation has been seen as a response to a series of anti-government protests and aimed at discouraging further street protests challenging Vladimir Putin.

Greek prosecutors have issued an arrest warrant for the spokesman of the far-right Golden Dawn party after he slapped a left-wing politician in the face on live television. Ilias Kasidiaris, who was elected to Greece’s parliament in last month’s elections, was debating with two female politicians on a chat show. Video footage shows him throwing a glass of water at one of the women. When the other intervened, he slapped her in the face three times. Mr Kasidiaris appeared to have been provoked when Rena Dourou of the radical left-wing Syriza party mentioned his alleged involvement in an armed robbery in 2007.

Any farmer worth their salt knows cows can predict the weather, but can cattle divine the outcomes of sporting events? German football fans hope they cannot after a celebrity cow prophesied defeat in their team’s opening match at Euro 2012. Yvonne the runaway cow has made an unpopular start to her career as successor to Paul the psychic octopus by predicting that Germany will lose to Portugal on Saturday night. Germany has been in mourning since the demise in 2010 of Paul, who became an international star two years ago after successfully predicting the outcomes of World Cup games, and a Bavarian radio station has decided to turn to Yvonne for guidance. The cow became a media sensation after bolting from a cattle shipment on the way from Austria to Bavaria in May 2011. The people of Guijo de Galisteo, a small municipality in western Spain, have turned their back on austerity and voted in a referendum for town hall money be spent on bullfights rather than jobs.In a vote last weekend, residents in the three villages that comprise the region were asked to decide whether the town hall should spend €15,000 on hiring bulls or paying local people to carry out odd jobs. The socialist mayor Francisco Javier Anton had decided to put half the money the town hall usually spends on its summer bull festivals to the vote. Although unemployment in Cáceres province is 31%, the bull option won by 242 votes to 181.

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