EU leaders will consider Serbia’s bid for member status, with the country expected to get a green light for accession talks. At a summit Thursday, EU leaders pledged 6 billion euros over two years for youth unemployment.
On the second day of the summit, officials will discuss Serbia’s efforts toward member status. Leaders may also discuss association negotiations with Kosovo, which Serbia has agreed to as a condition to progress toward EU membership. Spain, Slovakia, Cyprus, Romania, and Greece do not recognize Kosovo’s status as an independent nation.
In an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, Martin Schulz, the center-left president of the European Parliament, which has to approve EU enlargement decisions, warned against unrealistic expectations. Schulz told the newspaper that, “in the foreseeable future,” he did not expect any new accessions other than Croatia, set to join on July 1, pointing to “enlargement fatigue” and institutional weaknesses.
Details continue to come out about how much of the savings of Cyprus savers will be confiscated by the government in return for the EU bailout that prevented bankruptcy. Bank accounts containing less than 100,000 euros will remain, although there will remain strict limits on withdrawals. But savings above 100,000 euros in the Bank of Cyprus will lose 60% or more of their savings.
Cyprus may imposes losses of as much as 60 percent on Bank of Cyprus Plc accounts exceeding 100,000 euros ($128,000) as part of an aid deal to stop the country from going bankrupt.
Customers will have 37.5 percent of their deposits above this amount converted into shares with full voting rights and access to any future Bank of Cyprus dividend, the Nicosia-based central bank said in an e-mailed statement. A further 22.5 percent will be temporarily withheld to ensure the lender meets the terms of its recapitalization, as agreed under Cyprus’s loan agreement with international creditors, the central bank said.
President Nicos Anastasiades agreed March 25 to impose losses on Bank of Cyprus’s larger depositors in exchange for a 10 billion-euro bailout after failing to get financial aid from Russia, one of the nation’s biggest investors. The agreement also shuttered Cyprus Popular Bank Pcl (CPB), the country’s second- largest lender.
The deposit-loss plan “will make things worse as small and medium-sized companies will run out of liquidity,” Marios Mavrides, a lawmaker for the ruling Disy party, said in a phone interview from Nicosia. The move “does not help to gain back people’s trust, deposits should be free in order to gain that trust,” he said.
Cypriots vented anger in the streets on Tuesday and were desperate to learn what would happen to their savings, with the government yet to reveal details of controls it will impose to prevent a run when banks reopen after a painful bailout.
A special administrator was appointed to run the country’s biggest bank, which will take over accounts from the second biggest bank as part of the restructuring package designed to bail out and rein in the oversized financial sector.
Cyprus’s banks were ordered to remain closed until Thursday, and even then will operate under as-yet-undisclosed capital controls imposed to prevent depositors from emptying the vaults.
The Central Bank governor said the controls would be “loose” and would apply to all banks in the country. The restrictions would be “temporary” but he would not say what form they would take or how long they would last. Earlier, the finance minister said they could be in place for weeks.
A Cypriot exit from the euro zone has been averted by a last-minute deal in which the government bowed to the demands of international lenders. Rich depositors, including wealthy Russians, will face heavy losses in return for a 10 billion euro bailout, and the island’s banking sector will be radically downsized.
In the end, despite all his pleading, threats and horsetrading, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades had no option but to bow to the terms of international lenders. Early on Monday morning, the Euro Group of euro-zone finance ministers agreed a bailout of €10 billion ($13 billion) for the tiny Mediterranean island. In return, the Cypriot government agreed to radically scale down its oversized banking sector. Bank customers with deposits of over €100,000, including wealthy Russians who had deposited funds in Cyprus, will lose a large part of their assets.
Anastasiades caved in after days of resistance. “We have a deal that is in the interest of the Cypriot people and the EU,” the conservative politician said after the meeting in Brussels. His finance minister, Michalis Sarris, said the agreement would prevent a disastrous exit from the euro zone.
The other 16 euro finance ministers breathed a sigh of relief that the cliffhanger was finally over. “We have a better solution than that reached last week,” said Euro Group Chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said: “This is bitter for Cyprus, but we now have the result that the (German) government always stood up for.”
This should give the EU reason enough to finally declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
LIMASSOL, Cyprus — A Hezbollah operative who worked as a courier for the group in Europe said at his trial Thursday that he had instructions to record the arrival times of passenger flights from Israel to Cyprus, prompting Israel to press the European Union to formally declare the militant group a terrorist organization.
During a cross-examination, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub described himself as “an active member of Hezbollah” with the code name “Wael,” and that he had received a salary of $600 a month since 2010. Asked why he had a code name, he answered through an interpreter, “In general, the party is based on secrecy between members. We don’t know the real names of our fellow members.”
Mr. Yaacoub said that his handler, a shadowy figure known only as Ayman, told him to track the landing times for an Arkia Israel Airlines flight between Tel Aviv and Larnaca, Cyprus. Ayman also asked him to look into the rental prices of warehouses, he said.
Mr. Yaacoub, 24, who holds Lebanese and Swedish passports, described himself as a pawn, following orders but not involved — or at least not knowingly involved — in planning an attack. But prosecutors say that is exactly what he was doing. Intelligence experts in the United States and Israel say that Mr. Yaacoub was one small player in the covert war that has pitted Israel against Iran and the militant group.
Mr. Yaacoub’s testimony, which began here on Wednesday, has provided an unusual look inside the operations of the secretive group. Mr. Yaacoub on Thursday described the weapons training he had received as a member of the group.
German Intelligence Report Warns Cyprus Not Combating Money Laundering
The EU is likely to bail out the banks of tiny member state Cyprus with 10 billion euros of credit. But a secret German intelligence report reveals that the main beneficiaries of the aid would be rich Russians who have invested illegal money there. It’s a big dilemma for Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Last Friday, the sun was shining in this paradise for Russians. The sky was a deep blue and the palms along the beach promenade swayed in a light breeze as the the temperature climbed to 29 degrees Celsius (84 degrees Fahrenheit) before noon. No doubt Limassol offered a welcome relief from the cold and wet autumn weather of Moscow. Russians appreciate this spot on the southern coast of Cyprus.
The boutiques sell sable coats even in summer, the restaurants serve salted herring and vodka, apartments near the pier cost upwards of €300,000 ($383,000) and there’s no shortage of luxurious villas priced at millions of euros.
The city park has a bust of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, there’s a Russian radio station, Russian newspapers, a Russian Orthodox church, private schools offering Russian diplomas and signposts in Cyrillic writing. The mayor of Limassol himself speaks fluent Russian and studied in Moscow during the Soviet era.
There’s one drawback, however: all the yachts, however luxurious they may be, are moored in the rather dreary old port. But relief is in sight. The new Limassol Marina will be finished soon, and if you you put your name down soon for one of the 650 available berths, you can get a special rate: €150,000 per year, depending on the size of your boat.
There’s something else that is probably a greater cause for concern for the Russians of Limassol, though. They are at risk of losing their paradise because Cyprus is virtually bankrupt. The island’s economy has been dragged down by the recession ravaging Greece, with which it has close business ties. In addition, Cypriot banks bought billions of euros in Greek government bonds that are practically worthless now. The banks have already had to write off large portions of their investments, and are in trouble as a result.
A Swedish national of Lebanese descent arrested in Cyprus on suspicion of plotting to attack Israeli tourists in the country will stand trial on Sept. 12, authorities said on Friday.
The man, who has not been identified, faces nine charges of security-related offenses related to tracking the movements and areas frequented by Israeli visitors to the holiday island. He was arrested on July 7 as a suspected security threat.
Israel has said the man was planning an attack similar to a suicide bus bombing in the Bulgarian city of Burgas on July 18 that killed seven people, five of them Israelis. Israel has blamed the attack on Hezbollah and Iran, which has denied any involvement.
Just months after an enormous discovery of natural gas off the coast of Israel, a local company has reported another potentially big strike — an estimated 1.4 billion barrels of oil, in addition to more natural gas. The company, Israel Opportunity Energy Resources, says it will start drilling by the end of the year. All of a sudden, Israel has found itself a focus of the world’s hydrocarbon interest.
Energy experts are tittering about a prodigious new golden age of oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean, where Israel and Cyprus could become substantial oil and natural gas exporters, in addition to some other surprising places including French Guiana, Kenya, North Dakota, and Somalia. All in all, say increasingly mainstream projections, the world is moving into a period of petroleum abundance, and not the scarcity that most industry hands embraced just months ago. Plus, the United States, or at least North America, may be on the cusp of energy independence while OPEC’s days of über-influence are numbered.
What these experts have not said, however, is that while this new golden age may indeed shake up the currently rich and powerful and create new regional forces, it could also accelerate the swamping of the planet in melted Arctic ice. So much new oil may flood the market that crude and gasoline prices might moderate and lessen consumer incentives to economize. “In the absence of U.S. leadership, I tend to agree with NASA’s James Hansen that it is ‘game over for the planet,’” Peter Rutland, a professor at Wesleyan University, told me in an email exchange.
This unspoken flaw in the golden-age scenario suggests it might not unfold so smoothly. The projected turnaround of oil’s sagging fortunes may indeed herald economic salvation for the U.S. and global economies. But the environmental consequences could also trip up its full realization.
Scenes of carnage and upheaval have been playing out for so many decades in the Middle East - car bombings, terrorist attacks, wars, intifadas, and the slightly more optimistic images associated with the Arab Spring - that they are by now well familiar.
But there is another revolution in the Mideast, presently underway, that is not being televised. It centers on the all-important area of energy production, and it might be called, “the Battle for Leviathan.”
At issue is the recent discovery of huge untapped natural gas fields in the Levant Basin, the section of the eastern Mediterranean Sea that abuts Israel to the East, and Cyprus to the North.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that this underwater area holds 123 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas. In simpler terms: That’s equal to 20 billion barrels of oil, more than twenty times what the United States maintains in its Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Through “exclusive economic zones” finalized under prevailing laws of the sea, Israel and Cyprus have laid internationally recognized claims to these fields, which analysts suggest could be worth $130 billion to the Israeli economy.
This is why in February, Benjamin Netanyahu became the first Israeli prime minister ever to visit Cyprus, and why the two nations have inked a number of unprecedented pacts with each other.
Led by Texas-based Noble Energy, the Israelis have already identified two gas fields south of Cyprus, code-named “Leviathan” and “Tamar,” that offer a combined 24 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas. Talks are underway between Jerusalem and Nicosia to build underwater pipelines, refineries, air bases, and other critical infrastructure to facilitate — and protect — these ventures.
If successful, they could serve not only to make the Jewish state energy-independent but allow it to become an energy exporter.
This, in turn, would give Jerusalem increased clout over energy-hungry states like India and China.
The latter, in particular, has repeatedly voted on the U.N. Security Council to protect Iran; but Beijing may be persuaded to abandon that stance if Israel becomes a significant supplier of Chinese gas imports.
Syria’s Bashar al-Assad continues to strike a defiant tone against the ongoing protests and violence that has wracked his country for more than nine months. Thousands have died at the hands of his security forces, and he vows to use an iron hand to stop the violence (aka the protests).
Nor is it surprising that Russia continues backing the Syrian regime, and a weapons shipment destined for Syria was intercepted in Cyprus when a Russian flagged ship dropped anchor and inspectors impounded the shipment of tons of weapons.
The Arab League mission was hailed as a way to reduce the violence, but it is a farce - so says a former mission observer who quit when he saw how Assad was manipulating the mission for his own purposes even as security forces continued murdering Syrians and engaging in propaganda. Using the Arab League as propaganda was what I had warned when the mission was announced - Assad would use it as cover to continue his bloody crackdown, and that’s precisely what has happened.
Anwar Malek told al-Jazeera TV that he had resigned because of what he had witnessed in Syria, including a series of war crimes.
He said the government had “fabricated” most of what the monitors had seen to stop the Arab League taking action.
The monitors are tasked with verifying the implementation of a peace plan.
Mr Malek said he had resigned because what he had seen, and asserted that the observer mission had fallen apart.
“The mission was a farce and the observers have been fooled,” he added. “The regime orchestrated it and fabricated most of what we saw to stop the Arab League from taking action against the regime.”
He said that security forces had not withdrawn their tanks from the streets - as mandated by the Arab League peace initiative - but had just hidden them and then brought them back out after the observers had left.
Mr Malek also said imprisoned protesters who were shown by state television being freed last month as part of an amnesty were actually people who had been detained at random four or five days earlier.
Let that sink in - we’ve got a former member of the Arab League saying that Assad is engaging in war crimes, all while manipulating the mission for his own purposes and the mission is going along with this.