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NATO names first deputy chief from former eastern bloc

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NATO on Wednesday named a Romanian ex-minister as its new deputy chief, the first official from the former Soviet-dominated eastern bloc to rise to such a position in the alliance.



Mircea Geoana will take over as deputy secretary general, the number two to Jens Stoltenberg, in October. He replaces Rose Gottemoeller of the United States.



While the role is less prominent and influential than the secretary general, appointing an official from a country which once faced off against NATO through the Iron Curtain is something of a landmark for the alliance.



“I am happy to announce the appointment of Mircea Geoana as the next Deputy Secretary General. He is a staunch advocate of the transatlantic bond and will bring long experience as a statesman and diplomat to this post,” Stoltenberg said.



Romania was one of a wave of seven eastern European countries that joined NATO in 2004 as the alliance expanded into territories once in the Soviet sphere following the collapse of communism.



NATO‘s eastward expansion has sometimes ruffled feathers in Moscow, which objects to the alliance gaining influence in areas it regards as its own “sphere of influence”.



The 61-year-old Geoana, who served as Romania’s foreign minister in the early 2000s and narrowly lost the country’s 2009 presidential election, tweeted that he felt “truly honoured to be the first Romanian to be appointed to this key post”.



New EU chief faces battle for stable majority
Brussels (AFP) July 17, 2019 -
EU president-elect Ursula von der Leyen may have won a narrow majority in the European Parliament, but to lead the divided bloc she must build a stable support base.



The outgoing German defence minister will not take office until November, but she already faces a clamour of demands from the factions she will need to unite behind her.



“She gave a very good speech, very pro-European, but the result was disappointing, and the majority very small,” former Italian premier Enrico Letta told AFP after Tuesday’s vote.



Von der Leyen was nominated to become the first female president of the European Commission by the bloc’s 28 national leaders, but backed by only 383 MEPs, a 51 percent majority.



A win, certainly, but far short of the 422 votes her predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker won five years ago, and a weak foundation from which to unite an increasingly fragmented Europe.



Worse, von der Leyen failed to unite the pro-integration centre ground — Greens boycotted her, along with around a third of the centre-left and many mainstream conservatives.



The parliamentary vote was a secret ballot, but her majority appears to have included eurosceptic Poles, populist Italians and many British MEPs who are due to leave the chamber.



“It could hang over the whole parliamentary mandate. She needs to win over the Greens and the rest of the socialists,” said Letta, now president of the Institut Jacques Delors.



– Tough Greens –



Von der Leyen addressed it in the immediate aftermath of her narrow victory, admitting that many in parliament had been annoyed to see her foisted on them by national leaders.



“There was a great deal of resentment, and I understand it,” she said, referring to the manner in which the parliamentary groups’ candidates for president were rejected.



But she continued: “I’m very pleased that after just two weeks — not even two weeks, 13 days — that we’ve been able to find a pro-European majority.



“It’s a good base to start from, I want to work constructively with this parliament. We need to find answers to overcome the divisions between east and west, north and south.”



In her immediate camp, aides were clear-eyed about the chances of expanding her support base. “It’s going to be difficult, the Greens are playing hard,” one told AFP.



Green group co-president MEP Philippe Lamberts confirmed this, demanding that no less than four members of the commission that von der Leyen will form must come from his party.



“I have reason to think she’ll come round to us, it’s an untenable situation, there’s no majority without the Greens,” he said. “If she wants to negotiate, we won’t be cheap.”



The team forming around von der Leyen knew the vote wold be close, but — aides said — they decided to forge ahead “by force” rather than entertain more demands for policy concessions.



On paper, the conservative EPP, socialist S&D and liberal Renew Europe groups could field a comfortable pro-European majority of 444 between them, but on the night many withheld their support.



Von der Leyen will next need their support in October when her team of 27 commissioners — one from each member state — is presented to the Strasbourg parliament for approval.



“If she can expand her majority, she’ll win,” a senior European diplomat told AFP.



But, as another senior envoy added: “If she doesn’t secure a stable majority in parliament, we’ll have a tough five years.”



Other observers are less pessimistic, arguing that resistance to von der Leyen’s appointment was mainly due to the way she was chosen and that once in office her agenda would find support.



“A lot of the negatives had nothing to do with her personality or her programme,” said Eric Maurice of the Schuman Foundation.



“The election vote isn’t automatically indicative of how parliament is going to work.”


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37 countries defend China over Xinjiang in UN letter

Geneva (AFP) July 12, 2019


UN ambassadors from 37 countries released a letter Friday defending China‘s treatment of Uighur and other minorities in the Xinjiang region, in direct response to Western criticism earlier this week.

Envoys from across the EU – along with Australia, Canada and Japan and New Zealand – had earlier co-signed a text denouncing China‘s conduct in Xinjiang, where one million people, mostly ethnic Uighurs, are reportedly being held in internment camps.

On Friday a diverse group of states – includin … read more






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