Europe should do its best to benefit fully from the digital age, Commission Vice President Ansip urged
Maria Koleva, Brussels
The Juncker Commission wants to remove all fences and walls that block the digital market, closing it within national borders and depriving European citizens and businesses from normal access to many goods and services. One of the objectives of the strategy, which will be presented in May, is creating a European digital economy and society with long-term growth potential. At its meeting on Wednesday, 25 March, the College of Commissioners agreed that action is needed in three main areas.
Germanwings crash probe turns on 'depressed' co-pilot, a suicide or a mass murder
Investigators were scouring for clues to help solve the mystery of why Andreas Lubitz, a 27-year-old German co-pilot, apparently slammed Germanwings Flight 9525 into a mountainside in the French Alps on purpose, killing all 150 on board. Prosecutors are examining several theories, including whether the crash was a suicide or a mass murder. The co-pilot sought psychiatric help for "a bout of heavy depression" in 2009 and was still getting assistance from doctors, German Bild daily reported on 27 March, quoting documents from Germany's air transport regulator.
 
Athens will present a list of measures in order to unlock aid
Greece promised last week to present a package of reforms to its Eurozone partners by Monday in hopes of unlocking aid and reaching a deal to avoid default.
 
Propping up regions for better use of EU funds
Maria Koleva, Brussels
In the current programming period that will end in 2020, Member States, as well as their regions and cities, can use more than €351bn under the Cohesion Policy for their programmes and projects. These funds are still the main source of public funding for many EU countries and it is extremely important that the money is invested and managed well.
Blue economy of the Black Sea
New opportunities for a smart and blue economy were the topics of discussion at the 2nd Black Sea Stakeholders’ conference, held on 24 March in Sofia, Bulgaria.
ECA red flagged risks for youth jobs scheme
Maria Koleva, Brussels
On Tuesday, 24 March, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) published its special report entitled "EU Youth Guarantee: first steps taken but implementation risks ahead".
2014: very bad year for road safety in EU
Following two years of solid decreases in the number of people killed on Europe's roads, the first reports on road deaths in 2014 are disappointing.
Keeping consumers unharmed
In 2014, nearly 2,500 products, ranging from toys to motor vehicles, were either stopped before they entered the EU or removed from markets because they were dangerous for EU consumers, new data released by the Commission last Monday showed.
One euro store
Tuesday, 24 March. Journalists swarm into one of the conference halls of Sofia's Hilton Hotel. They are all curious to see in person the representatives of the mysterious European Union investor, desperate to assume €900m euro of debts in Bulgaria. At 11 a.m. sharp, the almost entire managerial body of Luxembourg Investment Company 33 enters the hall: founder and chairman Pierre Louvrier, managing director Bruce Bower, senior adviser Bertrand Cavallier and senior independent adviser Jean-Joseph Jacober. The only one absent is the second managing director Anatoly Kairo.
The Vassilev-Louvrier friendly connection
According to the website of the Luxembourg Investment Company 33 (LIC33), Pierre-Michel Louvrier is a Franco-Belgian entrepreneur and investor. He founded his own IT company at the age of 26, which he later sold, and began using his managerial experience to handle 'special situations' in Eastern Europe mainly. He invests his own capital and is independent. “You have never read my name in the papers,” he told journalists by way of explanation as to why there is no evidence of himself or his sole propriety company LIC33 (as he claims) in European media. However, his name turned out to be far more familiar to Russian media. According to Russian media, quoted by the Bulgarian press and news wires over the past week or so, in November 2014 Louvrier made an agreement for a joint venture with Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, which envisaged investments in the IT sector worth over €2bn.
Unavoidable crude fall
Ivan Mastagarkov
The price war that producers of crude oil have been engaged in has pushed oil prices down over the past year. The time when a barrel of oil was trading for $100 or more now seems like a distant memory. Some producers still hope that prices will settle at about $70 a barrel, but they are bound to be disappointed because the downward trend is not over.
What is needed to avoid Grexit
Nikitas Konstantinidis
The recent negotiations and the agreement to extend the Master Financial Assistance Facility Agreement between Greece and its institutional creditors (the IMF, ECB and Eurozone) highlight a range of issues pertaining to European monetary, fiscal, and political integration.
Saudi Arabia bombs Yemen
Warplanes from Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies struck Iran-backed Shiite Muslim rebels last Thursday fighting to oust Yemen's president, news wires reported. In a gamble by the world's top oil exporter to check Iranian influence in its backyard, Saudi warplanes bombed the main airport and the nearby Al-Dulaimi military air base of the Houthi-held capital Sanaa in an apparent attempt to weaken the Houthis' air power and ability to fire missiles. Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV reported that the kingdom was contributing 100 warplanes to the operation.
Ukraine fights for survival
While the Ukrainian government is trying to secure a restructuring of the country’s debt and to avoid the emerging default, US congressmen urged US President Barack Obama last week to arm Ukraine against whatever Russia is using to lead a hybrid war.
New global code to tame forex markets
Banks must ensure that traders stop sharing order information under a new global code of conduct that bans traditional slang usages and gives dealers more guidelines for what they can and cannot say about the world's biggest financial market, news wires reported. The document, seen by Reuters, is part of efforts to head off abuses after two years of scandal over market manipulation.
EU slaps duties on China, Taiwan steel
The EU imposed anti-dumping duties from 26 March on imports of cold-rolled flat stainless steel from China and Taiwan, according to a notice in the EU's Official Journal. The decision is the latest in a series of rows between Brussels and Beijing over alleged dumping of products ranging from wine to solar panels.
Kraft Foods in Brazilian hands, merges with Heinz
Kraft Foods Group is in talks to be acquired by Brazilian private equity firm 3G Capital, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters last Tuesday.
Marks of genius
Did you know that the world-acclaimed master of the fantasy saga about the hobbits, J. R. R. Tolkien, had drawn the illustrations to his novel The Hobbit himself? And even more, he was against any artist attempting to do the job instead of him “genius or no genius”. That is how Tolkien’s own drawings and the map of the made-up world of The Lord of the Rings ended up in the book’s first edition in 1937.
The delicate emissary
Mariana Parvanova
An elegant Bulgarian woman can often be spotted in the company of French ambassadors and cultural attaches in Sofia – at events of the French Cultural Institute or just concerts and exhibitions. Throughout the years we have become used to seeing her make television appearances.
Bad boy of organ to play in Sofia
The world’s most famous and only Grammy-nominated organist will give his first concert in Bulgaria on 14 June at Hall 1 of the National Palace of Culture in Sofia.
Architectural gem huddled in mountain
Adelina Lozanova
An architectural gem of Bulgaria, the town of Koprivshtitsa is located a mere 100km east of Sofia, in the heart of the Sredna Gora Mountain. The town has been an architectural reserve ever since the 19th century, preserving the spirit of the Bulgarian National Revival period.
In Brief
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VP Bachvarova in the US
 
Minister of Interior Rumiana Bachvarova met with FBI officials and DEA administrator Michele Leonhart (L) during an official visit to the US to discuss anti-terrorism efforts and the fight against drug trafficking. Photo: Ministry of Interior

Juncker welcomes Atambayev
 
President of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev (L) is welcomed by EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (R) prior to a meeting at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels on 27 March. Photo: EPA

German public sector workers on strike
 
Public service employees staged a full-day warning strike in Hamburg, Berlin, and the state of Brandenburg last Thursday increasing pressure on the government ahead of pay negotiations at the weekend. Photo: EPA

ECB supports central banks' assessment in western Balkans
 
The European Central Bank (ECB) announced on 27 March that, together with national central banks of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB) and the European Commission, they had completed a cooperation programme with the central banks of Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. The programme, which was launched on 17 April 2014, aimed to support the three central banks in implementing the central banking standards of the European Union. The EU allocated €500,000 to the programme from its Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance. The programme contributed to the preparations by the three central banks for joining the ESCB, once the respective economies have qualified for EU membership.

US and China remain EU's top trading partners in 2014
 
In 2014, the United States (15% of total EU trade in goods) and China (14%) continued to be the two main goods trading partners of the EU, well ahead of Russia (8%) and Switzerland (7%), according to data issued by Eurostat on 27 March. The share of the US records a significant and almost continuous fall, from 24% in 2002. In contrast, the share of China has doubled, rising from 7% in 2002.

EU 'drives people mad', says British PM as campaign opens
 
While British PM David Cameron was pledging a referendum on EU membership, his opponent and opposition leader Ed Miliband insisted that the UK stay in the bloc during the back-to-back live televised interviews as the general election campaign kicks off six weeks before the vote on 7 May. “I think the problem with the EU is that it’s got some good aspects, but too many things that drive people mad,” Cameron said.

Spanish parliament approves controversial security laws
 
The Spanish parliament's lower house approved new controversial security laws last Thursday which are likely to restrict the right to protest and freedom of the press, news wires reported. One law will change Spain's criminal code by reviving the possibility of life imprisonment for heinous crimes, such as acts of terrorism, and the murder of a child or handicapped person. According to the other law, up to €600,000 in cash fines may be handed down to those charged with public order offences, even without standing a trial. The bills were approved two weeks after the Senate voted to push forward with the changes which include hefty fines for people taking part in violent anti-austerity protests across the country. The new laws will come into force on 1 July.

2015 Paris Art Fair
 
Visitors pass by a sculpture by Singaporean artist Chen Sai Hua Kuan entitled `Ling Ting 2` during the press and VIP opening of the 2015 Paris Art Fair in Paris, France, on 25 January. With Singapore as a guest of honor, the Paris Art Fair presented 145 art galleries from 20 different countries. Photo: EPA

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