France ready to block the EU-US mammoth trade deal, Germany asks for a step back from 'Buy American' idea
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) hit last week a new major stumbling block after French PM Manuel Valls warned that the talks between the EU and the US will inevitably fail if their outcome did not guarantee that France's quality of life would be preserved, news wires reported. “I want to be clear: it will not succeed if it does not guarantee that the standards we have in France for our citizens' health and environment will be maintained,” he pointed out last Tuesday at a government-organised environmental conference in Paris. “And today we are too far from that to envisage an agreement.” French Minister of State for Foreign Trade, Matthias Fekl, also expressed scepticism that the deal could be finalised any time soon. “I don't see Europe having to follow the US,” said Fekl, who is leading the negotiations for France.
The president is a subject of a growing mockery in Western media and comedy shows
Turkey has deman­ded that a photo, blaming the death of a Turkish child on Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, be removed from an exhibition in Geneva. The demand bears similarities to the prosecution of German satirist Jan Boeh­mermann and other demo­n­strations of zero-tolerance to criticism by the president, who seems determined to deal with all his critics at home and abroad. The Genevan authorities have confirmed that they have received a complaint from the Turkish Consulate to Switzerland.
 
The Commission released its Action Plan first six months report
Creating more opportunities for investors, connecting financing to the real economy, fostering a stronger and more resilient financial system, deepening financial integration and increasing competition – these are the key principles underlying the Capital Markets Union (CMU) Action Plan.
 
Far-right tsunami looms over Austria
For the first time, Austria's next president will likely be someone who is not officially backed by either of the two parties that have dominated politics since the end of World War II, news wires reported.
Protecting European consumers
More than 2,000 dangerous products triggered EU-wide alerts in 2015, new figures published last Monday by the Commission showed, the EU press service reported.
Three-pillar Arctic policy adopted
The European Union will step up its existing action and engagement in the Arctic with 39 actions focussing on climate change, environmental protection, sustainable development and international cooperation, foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said unveiling a three-pillar plan of the new integrated EU Arctic policy on 27 April.
EU tops global trade marks applications
Exactly 89,420 applications for trade mark protection were received in 2015 by the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) from the EU Member States, the Eurostat pointed out in a report published last Monday.
Electoral Code overhauled
After two hours of tense parliamentary negotiations between Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and the leaders of the parties supporting the government, the ruling coalition members agreed on 26 April to amend or remove some of the controversial texts in the new Electoral Code voted last week. GERB, the Reformist Bloc, the Patriotic Front and Alternative for Bulgarian Revival have reached a consensus on the final amendments to the Electoral Code. For example, the introduction of compulsory voting remains but the only repercussion of not going to the polling stations, i.e. striking off the offender’s name from the electoral lists, will be enforced only after said person has recorded absence in two consecutive elections of the same type.
Northeast region in position to attract over BGN 300m
Bulgaria’s northeast region is in a position to attract more than BGN 300m in targeted investments under the new Operational Programme Regions in Growth, which has a budget of over BGN 3bn, said Minister of Regional Development and Public Works Lilyana Pavlova, cited by BTA newswire. Ms Pavlova took part in a business forum held on 25 April in Varna. According to the minister, the investments will be in several areas – urban development, transport and environment and educational infrastructure.
Migrants in Greece sway between hope and despair
Kirsty Hughes
The 50,000 asylum-seekers who got to Greece before the EU's cut-off date of 20th March may seem to be the lucky ones, compared to those awaiting deportation from Lesbos and other islands. But the desperate conditions in Idomeni, Piraeus and in some camps, and the snail-like pace of the EU’s relocation programme, suggest lucky is the wrong word.
Obama's awkward transatlantic trip
Scott Lucas
Barack Obama’s visit to Britain, brings with it plenty of chatter about the so-called “special relationship” between the US and the UK. Coming as Britain prepares for a referendum on EU membership, the visit has already kicked off a political bunfight about the Americans “ordering” Britons how to vote on 23 June, with Obama to weigh in explicitly on why a Brexit would be a seriously bad idea. But this neurosis about being bossed around by Washington misses the bigger point about how Obama sees Britain and its neighbours. Whenever he swings through Europe, he makes a public show of friendship and unity – but he clearly thinks the US is being exploited by a troublesome continent that relies on American power to shore itself up. This is a misdiagnosis on his part. The issue here is Obama’s imperative to gloss over his own foreign policy failings.
Pro-EU ruling party wins in Serbia
The incumbent pro-EU populists swept Serbia’s parliamentary election in a landslide 24 April, leaving pro-Russia nationalists far behind, the electoral commission confirmed after nearly all the ballots were counted. The triumph of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic's Progressive Party means Serbia will continue on its path toward EU membership despite opposition from right-wing parties, which seek close ties with traditional Slavic ally Russia instead, AP reported.
US President: World needs strong and united Europe
The US President Barack Obama made an impassioned plea for European unity last Monday in Hannover and stressed that “a strong Europe is a necessity for the world.” Obama evoked the European history of banding together to defeat prejudice.
Australia, France defence deal inked
Australia's cabinet decided to commit a 50bn Australian dollars ($40bn) project for new submarine fleet to French state-controlled company DCNS, PM Malcolm Turnbull announced last Tuesday. France's offer was preferred over those of Germany and Japan. DCNS proposed to build a Shortfin Barracuda, a diesel-electric version of its current nuclear-powered vessel, re-designed for Australia.
Saudi Arabia readies for life without oil
Saudi Arabia's cabinet has agreed a broad-based economic reform programme, known as Vision 2030, revealing how the oil-reliant state plans to diversify its economy over next 14 years.
Hannover Fair displays integrated industry world
The world's biggest industrial fair, Hannover Messe, was opened last Monday to show the latest achievements of the leading industrial nations, news wires reported.
Ambassadors of books
Daniel Filipov
Ten years ago, the Czech translator, Da­vid Bernstein, knew enough Bulgarian to read Teodora Dimova’s novel Adriana in original. He was so captivated by the story that he translated it for his 90-year-old grandmother, who was the same age as the heroine of the book. Today, Bernstein is in anticipation of the most prestigious award for translators in the Czech Republic for his work on another of Teodora Dimova’s novels – The Mothers, which won the Special Award for Eastern European Literature in Vienna a decade ago. Whether he will receive the honour bestowed by the Czech community of translators will become clear in September.
Stage makes every single emotion real
Ekaterina Tomova
I founded not only “Fortissimo Family” but also “Fortissimo in Class” and “Fortissimo Fest”. There is already “Fortissimo Academy”, which is for adults, and “Fortissimo Radio” that broadcasts the children’s concerts on Horizont programme of the Bulgarian National Radio, and on the Bulgarian National Television.
Graffiti artists' intimate world
The Red Dot Art Gallery in Sofia has invited Bulgaria’s most renowned graffiti artists to join the Without a Scaffold project, daring them to show a different, more personal side, outside the comfort of their art groups.
In Brief
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No blank cheque for Turkey
 
Commission’s VP Frans Timmermans insisted on 28 April that the Commission would not lower its standards to offer visa-free travel to Turks. Photo: EPA

Chernobyl disaster 30th anniversary
 
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko lays flowers at the monument wall in front of Chernobyl nuclear power plant during a ceremony in Chernobyl, Ukraine, 26 April.

German workers go on strike
 
German trade union Verdi staged last Wednesday a warning strike to up pressure on employers ahead of the third round of collective wage negotiations. Photo: EPA

Austria will reject asylum seekers right at the border
 
The Austrian parliament last Wednesday adopted a tough asylum law, which allows the government to declare a "state of emergency" if migrant numbers suddenly rise and reject most asylum seekers directly at the border, including those from war-torn countries like Syria. MPs also voted to place limits on the length of asylum granted to migrants and making it harder for their families to join them. Austria received around 90,000 asylum requests in 2015, the second-highest in the bloc on a per capita basis. The massive arrivals prompted Vienna to announce plans to reinstate border controls and to set up a 370-metre fence at the Brenner pass in the Alps, a key transport corridor between northern and southern Europe. The move sparked protests at the checkpoint (pictured) and was strongly condemned by Italy. The EC last Thursday expressed concern about Austria's plans  and said President Jean-Claude Juncker will meet Italian PM Matteo Renzi in Rome next week.

German law to limit social benefits for EU-foreigners
 
EU foreigners living in Germany may soon have to wait 5 years before qualifying for social benefits in reference to a new proposed law from German Labour Minister Andrea Nahles. Should the law pass, foreigners from EU Member States will be excluded from social assistance if they do not work in Germany. With those same conditions, they would also be shut out from Germany's benefit system for the unemployed.

Bulgarian city votes to ban burqas in all public places
 
Wearing religious headdress that hinders the person’s identification has been banned in all government and municipal institutions, public transport and leisure locations, retail outlets and other public spaces in the city of Pazardzhik, Bulgaria. The change was introduced with an amendment to the municipality’s public order regulation adopted with 39 votes in favour and two opposed at a session of the local parliament on 27 April.

Dijsselbloem wants simpler budget rules for Eurozone
 
The budget rules for countries in the Eurozone need to be simpler, more predic­table and easier to explain, according to Eurogroup chief Jero­en Dijsselbloem. He was speaking during the informal meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (Ecofin) in Amsterdam, where finance ministers from all 28 Member States discussed not only the Eurozone budget rules but how to make the fight against VAT fraud more productive. Ministers discussed ways to improve information-sharing and cooperation between the tax authorities of individual Member States. In Dijsselbloem's words, the meeting had been productive and had led to important decisions, which are further to be formalised. The EU presidency also urged Member States to take more joint action and use innovative methods to combat criminal gangs.

Happy Easter!
 
Children between the age of 7 and 15 participate in the Coloured Egg competition in Pernik. This year the Eastern Orthodox Church will celebrate Easter on 1 May. Photo: BTA 

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