Regional policy fails to close EU wealth gap

first_imgIt is also likely to suggest that advances amongst the Union’s poorer countries in terms of increased Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and better infrastructure have been counterbalanced by continued lack of success in the fight against unemployment.What this will mean for future regional funding still remains unclear.Officials hope to present a first draft of the report by the end of this month to the ‘Cohesion’ Commissioners: Monika Wulf-Mathies, Franz Fischler, Pádraig Flynn, Erkki Liikanen and Anita Gradin.They will decide to what extent the report should launch an active debate on the merits of different cohesion policies, and recommend specific courses of future action. They will not, however, attemptto set financial targets for the new millennium at this stage.A final draft of the report should be ready for presentation to the full Commission by the end of October, for eventual action by regional policy ministers in March 1997.Under current arrangements, three ingredients make up the Union’s cohesion policy. The draft report, which is keenly awaited as a first signpost to the future direction of EU regional policy, will analyse the results of efforts to reduce inequality since 1990 and suggest how best to proceed beyond 1999, when the current arrangements for the Structural and Cohesion Funds expire.Work on the report is still at an early stage, but initial drafts do not paint an encouraging picture for the Union’s regions. Whilst at a national level countries have made considerable progress in narrowing the gap between the EU’s richest and poorest member states, regional disparities within individual countries have actually grown.And while the report will praise progress in the Iberian peninsula and Ireland, it will express concern over developments in Greece and the Mezzogiorno region of Italy. But perhaps the biggest debate will be over whether the funds should continue to benefit large swathes of the Union (currently more than 50%), or should concentrate on a smaller number of poorer regions (about 30%).This issue is especially important in the run-up to EU enlargement, amid mounting concern over the potential cost of admitting the countries of Central and Eastern Europe into the Union.Regional Commissioner Monika Wulf-Mathies recently enticed member states with the ‘Holy Grail’: a regional strategy for Central and Eastern Europe without increased member state contributions. But exactly how that will be achieved remains unclear.The Irish presidency expects to organise a meeting in mid-November to hold a first discussion of the report.Until the final draft is released, however, DGXVI, the Directorate-General for regional policy is declining to make any comment on its contents.center_img The Structural and Cohesion Funds are the most high-profile element. Structural Funds are governed by six objectives, and aim to help regions with low GDP, high unemployment, industrial and agricultural decline, or low population density.The Cohesion Fund focuses more specifically on the Union’s poorest countries – Spain, Greece, Portugal and Ireland – with under 90% of the EU’s average GDP.But while spending on regional and social policies between 1994 and 1999 will reach almost 150 billion ecu, a third of the EU’s total budget, officials stress that other measures are equally important.These include applying regional considerations to other Commission policies (such as competition) and high-level coordination of macroeconomic policy.The Cohesion Report will judge the success of all these elements by examining macroeconomic convergence, employment statistics, infrastructure, human resource development and productivity.It could then determine whether the present objective-led approach is an effective way of organising funding.last_img read more

Flights of fancy strand MEPs

first_imgSure enough, waiting on the runway at Nantes was a plane. But – oeups! – the bird in question was a mere 15-seater. Van Orden, Deva and others managed to get on board, leaving the other half of the party stranded in Nantes.Some time later, Air France diverted the remaining not-so-merry-band (some via Toulouse and some via Bordeaux) before finally delivering them to Strasbourg at 11pm – 12 hours and no less than three flights since their jaunt began.President Cox, meanwhile, had mysteriously managed to land at Strasbourg several hours in advance of his grumbling colleagues.Sources told EN that ‘Pat’s People’ got onto the British Foreign Office which, it transpired, had a nine-seater plane waiting at Biggin Hill military airport to ferry two Strasbourg-bound government representatives. Cox duly managed to cadge a lift.Despite his own late arrival, at least British Tory Heaton-Harris wasn’t too jealous ofCox’s preferential treatment: “Oh well,” he said, “that’s just the luck of the Irish…” Cox, Christopher Beazley, Geoffrey Van Orden, Nirj Deva, Chris Heaton-Harris, Elspeth Attwooll and Claude Moraes, among others, were booked on an Air France flight from London Gatwick airport to the French town.Well, that was the plan…but the flight was cancelled at short notice.The French operator, which has recently upped its prices as carrier between the two venues, eventually flew the 30-strong group to Nantes, promising seats on an ongoing flight from there to Strasbourg.last_img read more

Musicians sing out for protection

first_imgCliff Richard, Charles Aznavour, Status Quo and U2 are all pushing for Europe to join other nations, including the US, Australia, Singapore and Brazil, that offer at least 70 years copyright for performers. The US term of protection is 95 years.“Artists often rely on royalties for their pension but in Europe they see their work become publicly available when they are not that old,” said Frances Moore, European director at the EU recording industry association IFPI. Moore also argues that the EU term of protection hits online distribution companies because they will not be able to market an entire back catalogue. “Europe is always talking about competitiveness but this hits the economy,” she says.The Commission is reviewing all EU copyright laws and is expected to make a decision on extending the term of protection next year. A Commission official says that no decision has yet been taken, but points out that although the US term is 95 years, the musicians’ rights to their performances are not exclusive, as they are in Europe, but usually linked to their contracts with record companies. “Granting 95 years’ protection in Europe is not the same as granting it in the US,” he says. James Galway, the Irish flautist, is the latest artist to write to Charlie McCreevy, the EU’s internal market commissioner, to demand that his performances should be protected under copyright for more than 50 years. Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel and James Brown’s Please Please Please are two examples of golden oldies that after this year people will be able to sell or use recordings of, without paying the performers a cent.Over the next five years, the public will gain access to millions of early tracks in this way, and the artists are beginning to fight back.last_img read more

The single market they hate to love

first_imgHere, as elsewhere, the Commission is taking the heat for the member states. Twenty years ago, the expectation was that companies would effectively police the single market and blow the whistle on rivals and governments which cheat. But the policeman’s devotion to duty is weakened by the fear of many businesses, particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises and their political allies, that a fully open national market will let in damaging competition. Too many governments continue to sustain unfair and protectionist barriers through faulty transposition and implementation of directives and through national rules and administrative practices. Consumers tend to foot the bill for this laxity, to the apparent unconcern of those whose mission is to defend their interests. It is difficult to assess the impact and the costs of residual national protection on the free circulation of goods. But clearly protectionism is alive and well in the EU and not just aimed at third countries. Supporters of economic growth through market opening looked on with dismay at the watering down of the services directive as consumer interests were put to the sword by sectoral interests acting with the ruthless determination of medieval corporations.The single market is also suffering from the perception among the economically insecure (present in all income groups) that it is the antechamber of globalisation. Essentially, this view pits the French vision of Europe as a global economic and political heavyweight ready to build protectionist barricades against third country competitors, against the Anglo-German preference for a liberal world trading system. France has not lost this battle over the last 25 years, although it has had to concede some ground. The struggle will probably be resumed after next year’s French presidential elections against the background of rising anti-business sentiment in the EU. Since Germany is one of the member states where this is becoming most apparent, it is quite possible that a Franco-German axis will focus the Union’s attention more closely on issues such as security in the workplace and restrictions on the freedom of companies to relocate to regions where labour costs are low.The present Commission’s ‘business-friendly’ reputation will be tested by its strategy for reshaping the single market. Consultations have revealed predictable support for its unexceptional priorities: “market dynamism and innovation” and better everything – regulation, implementation, enforcement, awareness of the global context and communications. But more ambition is called for so as to extend the four freedoms more securely into new areas such as retailing and energy. There is much to be done, too, on removing tax disparities that hobble the single market. The Commission will probably set its sights quite high. But there will be a powerful group of member states lying in its path to ensure that the future single market will not be too different from the present one.John Wyles is a partner in the Brussels consultancy GPlus Europe. After it all began in 1985, we were famously warned by Jacques Delors that “it is difficult to love the common market”. Yet he and his commissioner colleagues, notably Britain’s Lord Cockfield, did manage to stir up some enthusiasm across a broad front. The media embraced the (quite misleading) concept that the passage of 293 pieces of legislation would remove all crippling non-tariff barriers that were blocking progress towards faster growth and more jobs. Contemporary spin maintained that the member states of the European Community would be set free to prosper and compete with the economic titans, the US and Japan. Business bought into this ambition and pushed up investment at a rare pace as companies prepared for the brave new world of 1992. Trade unions were contentedly drawn into Delors’ inclusive vision that the benefits to business must be counterbalanced by enhanced rights and protections for workers. Even Margaret Thatcher approved of the single market and its trappings, at least for a time.More than 20 years on, the reality is a great deal more complex than was prefigured by the 1980s blueprint. The single market we experience now is at the same time good, bad and indifferent. For the moment at least, the political focus is very much on the bad and indifferent. Commissioner Günter Verheugen misses no opportunity to attach astronomical sums (€600 billion) to the cost to business of EU ‘red tape’, businesses accuse member states of playing protectionist games and fragmenting the market, trade unions say too many of the benefits are pocketed by the multinationals and too few by employees. And consumers ask: “What single market?” as they observe wide variations in new car prices from one member state to another. These and other criticisms are regularly emitted by opinion polls and most recently supported by a public consultation exercise conducted by the Commission as a prelude to recommendations, due next year, for a “future” single market policy. The Commission’s summary of the 1514 responses to questions posed in its consultation gives the picture of an angry soccer crowd protesting at the home team’s performance. Respondents express “overall support” for the single market, says the Commission, but many say that it is still very incomplete, complain of problems with implementation and enforcement and regret the lack of a “social dimension”. Some of these problems are already being confronted: the package of financial services directives plus the services directive are attempts to plug obvious gaps in the single market. At the same time, the current Commission has been notably strenuous in its determination to enforce single market rules. Nonetheless, market users charge the Commission with lacking an overall vision and the proposals and communications strategy to go with it.last_img read more

Eight reasons to sanction Guinea

first_imgOne month ago, over 150 people were gunned down by soldiers in the West African country of Guinea. Women were stripped and raped on the streets, bodies of the dead were disappeared and opposition leaders were locked up. This was the response of a brutal military junta to a group of brave citizens who dared to hold a peaceful pro-democracy rally. On Monday, the European Union has the chance to impose targeted sanctions on this military regime. Here are eight reasons why it is the right thing to do.First, sanctions will send a strong message that the EU and its member states reject the brutal repression of citizens, wherever they are in the world. It will make clear that the EU strongly opposes regimes that practice sexual violence as a tool of repression of voice and stands with the brave Guinean women who are determined to continue to fight for justice and democracy. The last reason is that in the past few days over 125,000 citizens from across the world, including tens of thousands of Africans and Europeans, have signed an petition calling for targeted sanctions. The petition shows a public demand for action, and was delivered this week to the EU’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Foreign Ministers Carl Bildt of Sweden and Bernard Kouchner of France. Too often, the world has stood by and watched as countries have collapsed into violence and chaos, necessitating long and costly interventions to rebuild peace. Just next door to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are still recovering from the consequences of international neglect. We should not make the same mistake again.Ricken Patel is the executive director of the global campaigning network Second, Europe must show that it stands with those that peacefully demand democratic and accountable government. The Guinean people are clamouring for democracy after nearly 50 years of repressive regimes.Democratic leaders in Africa have taken immediate, decisive action to denounce the violence and isolate the regime. The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) sent a mediator and has imposed an immediate arms embargo, while the African Union (AU) announced political sanctions. Supporting strong African leadership is the third very good reason for EU sanctions. Good reason number four is simple: It must be crystal-clear to would-be dictators who are closely watching the response from the international community that Europe is not in the business of promoting or propping up repressive leaders or looking away while they undermine Africa’s hard-fought road to democracy.Reason five is the tinder-box history of violence and repression in West Africa. The tense situation in Guinea threatens to spiral into inter-factional fighting or a counter-coup. Any further violence could spill over and destabilise the region. Years and countless lives have been spent establishing a fragile peace in neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia. If Guinea blows, these fledgling democracies could also be at risk. Six: In spite of moves to encourage Guinea’s military leaders to step down, the junta is still clinging to power, warning ominously that the army is acting beyond the chain of command. Its leader, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, says he will co-operate with the investigation into the violence called for by the United Nations, but the AU deadline has passed for him to pronounce if he will allow a democratic transition and make good on his initial pledge not to stand in presidential elections slated for January 2010. While the regime is weighing up whether to hold on in isolation or step aside with an exit strategy, targeted EU sanctions could be the piece that tips the balance, without hurting Guinea’s people. AU and ECOWAS sanctions have heavy political weight, but it is in Europe that the elite love to travel, bank and shop. By freezing financial assets and invoking travel sanctions on the ruling elite and their families, certain spoils of power are removed.Although mineral wealth makes Guinea potentially one of Africa’s richest countries, its people are among West Africa’s poorest. Profits from gold, diamonds and bauxite – the raw material used to make aluminium – have been systematically siphoned off. The seventh very good reason is that, with the $7 billion (€4.7 bn) bauxite mining deal struck with China just days after the massacre, the EU has little economic influence over Guinea’s military government. So support to AU, Ecowas and UN initiatives plus targeted sanctions are the best cards that the EU can play to push for an end to the bloodshed and a peaceful democratic transition.last_img read more

A Jewish state is crucial to peace

first_imgBrussels I was struck to read that some EU diplomats criticise US President Barack Obama for calling Israel the homeland for the Jewish people, which supposedly “no one has seriously questioned” but complicates efforts to revive the peace process (“Internal follies leave the EU hamstrung in the Middle East,” 20-27 July). If no one has seriously questioned Israel’s character as a Jewish state, why has this then become a “main stumbling block?” The fact is that the Arab refusal to accept a Jewish state is at the heart of the conflict. The Arabs launched their first war against Israel after rejecting the 1947 UN plan to divide the British Mandate for Palestine into “independent Arab and Jewish states”. To insist that the Palestinians finally acknowledge Israel as a state for the Jewish people, the way successive Israeli leaders, including current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, have backed the creation of a state for the Palestinian people, is not just of symbolic value. Any realistic peace deal will require compromises from both sides. While Israeli compromises will be tangible – land and strategic depth – the Palestinian compromises will largely consist of a promise: to end the conflict. That promise will lack credibility if the Palestinians refuse to accept the Jewish right to self-determination in the region. As long as Palestinians think they can negate and perhaps alter the Jewish character of Israel, no enduring peace will be possible. Palestinian leaders insist that even after the creation of a Palestinian state, the millions of descendants of the Palestinian refugees must be able to “return” to Israel. This would lead to the demographic destruction of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people. It is a “two-state solution” all right, albeit with both of them Palestinian. Palestinian leaders may privately acknowledge Israel’s Jewish character or that a “return” of descendants of refugees will not happen. But they will not dare to say so publicly to their people. This failure to prepare their own population for the basic elements of a settlement goes a long way to explain why Palestinian leaders refused three serious Israeli peace offers over the past ten years, which, whatever Israel’s failings, would have given them all of Gaza and most of the West Bank, with East Jerusalem as their capital. Since failing to accept former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2008, President Mahmoud Abbas has refused even to negotiate with his successor. The EU has been quick to endorse those aspects of Obama’s May speech that address the compromises Israel will have to make. If Europeans want to be taken seriously as mediators and really advance peace, they should do the same for the other side. Spelling out the Palestinian compromises necessary for a deal would finally start the process of preparing the Palestinian public for a realistic peace. Daniel Schwammenthal Director, American Jewish Committee, Transatlantic Institutelast_img read more

In the bleak midwinter

first_imgThe choice of the darkest day of the year – 21 December – as the date for an EU-Russia summit is presumably purely a matter of scheduling, but it seems a fitting reflection of the mood. There is barely a bright spot in relations (though that bright spot is important: Russian gas continues to light European homes). Run down the list of topics on the agenda and there is little reason to expect anything constructive to emerge from the summit. The agenda of these summits makes the notion of déjà vu inadequate. Visa liberalisation, a partnership for modernisation, discussions about a long-term agreement to replace a partnership and co-operation agreement that is five years past its expiry date, an airing of concerns about trade and human rights…the list rolls on, and repeats itself every six months. This time, as is usually the case, progress is hard to spot. Apparently, there might be some on visa liberalisation. But that seems more like wishful thinking. Last December, there seemed to be some advance: a programme of ‘common steps’ was agreed. But what has happened since then? Russia has inserted a demand that holders of ‘service passports’ to be allowed visa-free access to the EU. The Russian media suggest 100,000 government employees have ‘service passports’; Kremlin material says there are 15,000 such passports. Even if the Kremlin is prepared to cap its demand (as EU officials say it is), it is trying to dictate in a visa-liberalisation process that is partly supposed to be about confidence-building – and trying to force down the EU’s throat a particularly unpalatable option: EU member states have security concerns about uncontrolled access for government officials. (In passing, the usual rationale for visa liberalisation is to make travel easier for ordinary people. In this, as in other matters, the Kremlin is saying that state officials matter more than citizens.) The Kremlin is also pushing a timeline for visas to be removed for everyone. It wants them lifted in time for the winter Olympics – and if not, as its visa negotiator, Anvar Azimov, said in November “the strike [back] will be adequate and asymmetric”. It makes one wonder whether Russia is prepared ‘to cut its nose off to spite its face’ – to ensure that the process of visiting Russia is kept annoyingly slow and complex even for visitors to the Olympics, with the result that attendance will be depressed. Then again, Russia shows little obvious desire to attract foreigners. It certainly does not want foreign organisations working in civil society (the United States Agency for International Development was forced out in September), and it does not want foreign money to support Russia’s small civil society (organisations that receive EU cash now need to state on their publications and websites that they are ‘foreign agents’). It is easy enough, then, to see why the Kremlin is trying to limit the amount of time spent talking with the EU about human rights. The EU has two ‘human-rights consultations’ a year with Russia; the Kremlin tried to cancel the second. (The consultation eventually went ahead on 7 December.)This time, conversation about human rights may be made additionally uncomfortable – for both sides – by the knowledge that pressure is mounting on the EU to follow the US Congress’s example and bar Russian officials implicated in the death, after 11 months in prison, of Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old Russian accountant whose crime was to have accused a group of officials of embezzling $230 million of state money. (Presumably some of the Russian officials on the ‘Magnitsky list’ have ‘service passports’, which would add spice to Russia’s visa demands.) But the Magnitsky case is becoming increasingly difficult to keep out of debate, in part because Magnitsky’s former employers are pushing Cyprus – arguably Russia’s best friend in the EU – to investigate whether its banks laundered the money that Magnitsky says was embezzled. In another sign of the bad climate of relations, a previously bilateral issue may force its way onto the agenda because of perceived Russian obstructionism. On 11 December, Poland’s foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, asked the EU to press Russia to return the wreckage of the plane in which Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski died in Smolensk in April 2010. “Poland is hoping that Russia will finally recognise the wreck is no longer needed for examination and can be handed over to Poland,” Sikorski said. And then, of course, there is the issue that may eventually produce the headlines of the summit: the EU is moving towards referring Russia to the World Trade Organization for, in its view, Russia’s failure to abide by the rules of the world trade club – a club that it only joined in August.It all makes one wonder why EU-Russia summits happen twice a year (and why Putin, who has barely travelled in recent months, did not skip this get-together). With other major partners, summits are an annual affair. And they are not entirely automatic: a few years ago, it seemed for a time that the US would not hold its annual summit with the EU, and this year there has been no annual summit with Japan because Tokyo was waiting for progress on a free-trade deal. Most leaders like to have something to show from a high-profile event. By those standards, there is no reason for one Russia summit a year, let alone two a year. But perhaps that logic does not apply to Putin: he may want, rather than dislike, a lack of progress. And where does that leave the EU? The abnormal frequency of summits becomes an awkward symbol – a symbol of its willingness to accede to Russia’s constant demands for special treatment, in the hope that this twice-yearly wrestle will one day turn into a warm embrace.last_img read more

Ukraine gives strong mandate to Poroshenko

first_imgA desire by parties to regroup after the presidential election may determine whether parliamentary elections are set for November – the date usually talked about – or for later. Another influence on the date of the election is the passage of constitutional reforms. The EU, the United States and Russia called for constitutional reforms when they held four-way talks with Ukraine in Geneva on 17 April. The government’s aim is for the draft proposals, which were passed to parliament on 15 May, to be read and amended by the Verkhovna Rada before the summer break, enabling the reforms to be pushed through in September.The debate about constitutional reform will also be shaped by an ongoing series of national roundtables championed by the EU and the US. The reforms under discussion centre on political decentralisation, reform of the judiciary and the balance of power between the presidency and parliament. Russia had pushed for the separatists to be included, and has repeatedly called for the country to adopt a federal system. Ukraine’s presidential election were won decisively in the first round on Sunday (25 May) by Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire businessman and politician.His victory, though not yet officially confirmed, has already been accepted by his principal rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, who had threatened during the election campaign that she would launch a “third round of the revolution” if Poroshenko won.The European Union and the United States had warned Russia, in light of its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March, that disruption of the elections would trigger economic sanctions. In the event, disruption was limited to districts in Donetsk and Luhansk controlled by separatist militia for much of the past three months. Turnout nationally was 60%, rising to 78% in the western region of Lviv.Poroshenko now needs to address two immediate challenges: to Kiev’s control of Ukraine, and to Ukraine’s energy supply. Immediately after his victory, Poroshenko called for the separatist threat in eastern Ukraine to be crushed within “hours”, lending his authority to a military operation launched shortly before the election.The chances that the election might help to ease the tensions with Russia have been improved by a decision by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin – reiterated on Monday (26 May) by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – that Russia would recognise the election result. However, there is as yet no sign of a resolution of a dispute over gas supplies, which Russia has threatened to cut off or reduce from 1 June if Ukraine does not agree to pay for gas in advance.The European Union has welcomed the conduct of the election – judged to be free, fair and largely in line with international standards by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) – but, in their official response, the presidents of the European Council and Commission, Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Barroso, refrained from mentioning an EU-Ukraine trade deal, which is ready for signing but which has been a major bone of contention in relations with Russia.Poroshenko’s overwhelming victory, with 54% of the vote, has swept aside talk of an unbridgeable east-west divide in Ukraine, since he came out on top almost everywhere. One district in the Kharkiv region was carried by Mykhailo Dobkin, a former governor of the region, and polling was impossible in most districts in Donetsk and Luhansk.The election dispelled notions of a significant far-right dimension to Ukrainian politics, with the candidates of the far-right gaining just over 2% of the vote. The result also suggests that the Party of Regions – the party of the former president, Viktor Yanukovych – will have great difficulty rebuilding itself. The election could in addition lead to fissures within the leading party in the interim government, Batkivshchyna (Fatherland), which was created by Tymoshenko. Balázs Jarábik of the think-tank FRIDE predicts that Arseniy Yatsenyuk will remain prime minister, but that Poroshenko will remove several of Tymoshenko’s allies.last_img read more

France PM aims to revive Middle East peace process

first_imgThe initiative is unlikely to succeed, although it may garner some badly needed support on the left for the unpopular Socialist Party and President François Hollande ahead of French presidential elections, scheduled for May and June 2017.According to a 2015 poll by the Institut Français d’Opinion Publique, 24 percent of voters on the left, are sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians in the occupied territories. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls will head to Israel and the Palestinian territories later this month in a bid to revive the Middle East peace process, his office said in a statement.Valls will travel to the region May 21-24 in hope the two sides can reach “a peace agreement on the basis of a two state solution,” according to the statement that was released late Tuesday. The announcement comes as France is preparing to host a meeting of 20 world leaders on May 30 to discuss ways of restarting the long-stalled negotiations.Palestinians have welcomed the French government’s initiative and a statement from the office of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Israel remains committed to its position that direct bilateral negotiations are the best way to resolve the conflict.”last_img read more

7 dead in London terror attack

first_img— Jean-Claude Juncker (@JunckerEU) June 3, 2017 Not ‘cowered’Saturday’s attack was the third in a series of recent similar incidents, including a suicide bombing that killed 22 people in Manchester May 22 and an attack that claimed five victims and injured dozens outside the British parliament in central London on March 22.Britain raised its terror threat level to severe, the highest possible, immediately after the Manchester attack, then lowered it after several days to the second-highest level, critical, meaning authorities believed another attack was highly likely but not expected imminently.In a press conference early Sunday, London Mayor Sadiq Khan denied authorities made a mistake downgrading the threat level.Khan also said people should not be “cowered” by the attack.“One of the things that these terrorists want to do is to disrupt our way of life, they want to stop us enjoying the freedoms that we have, enjoying mingling and mixing on a Saturday night in the heart of London having a good time, they want to stop us voting on Thursday in the general election and enjoying the democracy that we have,” Khan said. “We can’t allow them to do that. We can’t be cowered by terrorism.”Khan said he was not in favor of the election being postponed. Police opened a casualty bureau for those concerned about relatives and friends who may have been injured in the attack. The numbers are: 0800 096 1233 and 020 7158 0197. Authorities also asked those in the area to let loved ones know they are safe to relieve pressure on the bureau.London’s Guy’s Hospital, St. Thomas’ Hospital and Evelina London children’s hospital were “on lockdown” in the early hours of Sunday morning.British Home Secretary Amber Rudd said in a statement that the “horrific attack in the heart of our capital city” intentionally targeted those “enjoying their evening with friends and family.”Baron Paddick, a Lib Dem peer and former deputy assistance commissioner with the Met Police offered people caught up in the incident somewhere safe to stay. “10 minute walk from #LondonBridge if you need somewhere safe to stay. DM me,” he wrote on Twitter.French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted his condolences. “In the face of this tragedy, France is more than ever at the side of the United Kingdom,” he wrote.The French government in a statement on Sunday confirmed French citizens were among those injured in the “abominable and cowardly attack against our free society.” My heart and mind are in London after another cowardly attack. Europe stands by UK in fight against terrorism.— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) June 4, 2017Developing story. Following latest #London incidents with horror. Thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. Please stay safe. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel also tweeted in support of Britain, writing: “A new tragedy in #London, we all stand with #UK.”The European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he was following the developing situation: “Following latest #London incidents with horror. Thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. Please stay safe.” European Council President Donald Tusk also tweeted his support, writing: “My heart and mind are in London after another cowardly attack. Europe stands by UK in fight against terrorism.”Face à cette nouvelle tragédie, la France est plus que jamais aux côtés du Royaume-Uni. Mes pensées vont aux victimes et à leurs proches.— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) June 4, 2017 LONDON — Authorities in central London said seven victims have been killed, at least 48 hospitalized, and three attackers shot dead by police in a terror attack Saturday night. Twenty-one of the victims are in a critical condition.ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack via its Amaq news agency.It is the third terrorist attack in the U.K. this year, and the second in London, and comes less than a week before the country votes for a new parliament. The major parties suspended their campaigns through the end of Sunday, as they did after a suicide bomber killed 22 people on May 22 outside an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. Also On POLITICO British parties briefly suspend campaigning By Tom McTague ISIS claims responsibility for London attack By Zoya Sheftalovich Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking outside Number 10 Downing Street late Sunday morning, said the election would go ahead as scheduled on Thursday, but indicated that the country would have to alter its response to terrorism.“When it comes to taking on extremism and terrorism things have to change,” she said, indicating potential changes to sentences for terrorism offences; a crackdown on what she called “safe spaces” for extremist attitudes in U.K. society; and measures to stop extremists from recruiting people online.“There is, to be frank, far too much tolerance of extremism in our society,” May added.Eight minute responseJust before 10:08 p.m. local time, a white van mounted the pavement on London Bridge at speed, hitting a number of pedestrians, said Assistant Police Commissioner Mark Rowley. The van then drove to Borough Market, an area with many bars and restaurants on the south side of the river Thames and very close to London Bridge. There, the attackers jumped out of the van and stabbed a number of people. One of those injured was a British Transport Police officer.Armed officers responded, shooting dead three male suspects in what Rowley described as an “unprecedented” hail of over 50 rounds within eight minutes of receiving the first emergency call. The assailants were wearing what looked like explosive vests, but Rowley confirmed these were fake.“We are reviewing and planning to strengthen our policing stance across London over the forthcoming days, and there will be additional police and officers deployed across the capital,” Rowley said. The Counter Terrorism Command is leading the investigation into the attack, and has asked anyone with images or film of the incident to upload it online.The latest attack occurred as campaigning for Britain’s June 8 snap election entered its final stages. The Conservative Party announced in a statement Sunday it would postpone national campaigning for the day, and all the other parties but far-right UKIP followed suit.International responseAs news of the attack emerged, U.S. President Donald Trump retweeted a story about the incident, then added: “We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety.” He also mocked London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s call for calm tweeting: “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed.’”The full quote from Khan read: “You will see an increased police presence today, including armed officers and uniformed officers. There is no reason to be alarmed by this.”His spokesperson issued a statement Sunday pointing out Trump had taken the phrase out of context and saying that the mayor, “has more important things to do than respond to Donald Trump’s ill-informed tweet.”A readout of a phone call between Trump and May sent out by the White House said Trump “offered his condolences for the brutal terror attacks on June 3 in central London. He praised the heroic response of police and other first responders and offered the full support of the United States government in investigating and bringing those responsible for these heinous acts to justice.” Separately, police reported they were responding to an incident in the Vauxhall area — around 2km to the south west. Vauxhall tube station later reopened, and police confirmed a stabbing that occurred there was not connected to the Borough Market and London Bridge incidents.#Londonbridge #boroughmarket #vauxhall— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) June 3, 2017The Met Police issued its “Run, Hide, Tell” advice via Twitter.Journalists at the Sun, whose office is near the scene, reported hearing three explosions from 1:23 a.m. Sunday in the area. “Just had confirmation explosions in London Bridge area are controlled and police monitored,” tweeted James Cox.last_img read more