Brussels wants eID cards to work Europe-wide

The European Commission is running a three-year pilot project to get national identity cards to work in different countries.

The €20m project hopes to make eID cards work in 13 member states. The goal is to find a common set of specifications so different cards will allow access to services in all countries.

The Commission believes there are 30 million eID cards in use across Europe.

Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Information Society and Media, said: “By taking advantage of the development in national eID systems and promoting mutual recognition of electronic identities between Member States, this project moves us a step closer to seamless movement between EU countries that Europeans expect from a borderless Single European Market.”

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Putin Calls U.S. ‘Frightening Monster’

May 31 (Bloomberg) — Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin compared the U.S. to a “frightening monster” and urged France to distance itself from its American ally.

“How can one be such a shining example of democracy at home and a frightening monster abroad?” Putin said in an interview with French newspaper Le Monde transmitted live to journalists in Paris yesterday.

Putin, speaking the day after meeting French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said the U.S. was creating “new Berlin Walls” in Europe by pushing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to expand into ex-Soviet states Georgia and Ukraine.

The Russian prime minister, who passed on the presidency earlier this month to his handpicked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, continues to set the foreign and domestic policy agenda. Under Putin’s eight-year presidency, Russia clashed with the U.S. and the European Union over matters such as NATO expansion and a planned U.S. missile-defense system in eastern Europe.

“France, I hope, will continue to conduct an independent foreign policy,” said Putin, whose interview was embargoed until publication by Le Monde today. “This is in the nature of French people, they don’t want their country tied down, and any French leader will have to respect that.”

The election of Medvedev, 42, a lawyer who has called for more dialogue between the East and West, has raised hopes of an eventual thaw. Still, Sarkozy decided to meet with Putin, breaking with the tradition of Group of Eight leaders of dealing with Russia at a presidential level, showing the 55-year-old former KGB colonel’s dominant influence.

Presidential Power

Under Russia’s constitution, the president is supposed to be solely responsible for foreign policy and has more formal authority than the prime minister, who can be fired by presidential decree and is charged with implementing Kremlin policies.

Putin “remains the pre-eminent power” in Russia, said Michael Emerson, a former EU ambassador to Moscow and an analyst at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels. “The EU has to deal with the people who are there, both of them.”

Putin, who has threatened to point missiles at Ukraine should it host missile bases as a NATO member, said expanding the military alliance deeper into former Soviet territory risked a return to Cold War competition.

“NATO expansion means drawing up new dividing lines in Europe, new Berlin Walls,” he said. “This time we can’t see them, but they’re no less dangerous.”

Military Infrastructure

Putin said Russia sees “military infrastructure coming closer to our borders,” and denounced the U.S. for seeking a “monopoly in world affairs.”

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Crisis talks on global food prices


A child carries a tray of bread in Cairo. Photograph: Nasser Nuri/Reuters

World leaders are to meet next week for urgent talks aimed at preventing tens of millions of the world’s poor dying of hunger as a result of soaring food prices.

The summit in Rome is expected to pledge immediate aid to poor countries threatened by malnutrition as well as charting longer-term strategies for improving food production.

Hosted by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, it will hear calls for the establishment of a global food fund, as well as for new international guidelines on the cultivation of biofuels, which some have blamed for diverting land, crops and other resources away from food production.

The urgency of the meeting follows historic spikes in the price of some staple foods. The price of rice has doubled since January this year, while the cost of dairy products, soya beans, wheat and sugar have also seen large increases.

The world’s urban poor have been hit hardest, sending a wave of unrest and instability around the world. Thirty-seven countries have been hit by food riots so far this year, including Cameroon, Niger, Egypt and Haiti.

The Rome summit is the first of a series of high-level meetings aimed at tackling what many leaders now see as a much bigger threat to international stability than terrorism.

A fortnight after the UN meeting, the EU council will focus much of its time on the food crisis. A ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation in late June will make a last-ditch attempt in Geneva at agreeing the lowering of international trade barriers, with the aim of cutting food prices and making it easier for farmers in poor countries to export their produce.

Food and climate change will also be the twin top themes of the G8 summit in Japan in early July, and then in September a UN summit will attempt to put the world back on course towards meeting the millennium development goals, agreed eight years ago, one of which was the halving of the number of the world’s hungry.

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Eurozone inflation reaches 16-year high

Eurozone inflation surged to the highest rate for 16 years on the back of sharply higher oil prices as consumer spending in the 15-country region showed further signs of weakness.

Annual inflation in the eurozone reached 3.6 per cent in May, according to official data released on Friday, up from 3.3 per cent in the previous month. That appeared to rule out any chance of an early cut in interest rates by the European Central Bank, which aims to keep inflation “below but close” to 2 per cent.

Evidence also emerged that higher prices were wreaking economic damage by forcing households to retrench. Germany reported a surprise 1.7 per cent drop in April retail sales, extending a 2.2 per cent fall in March.

This week, the European Commission reported eurozone consumer confidence had plunged in May to its lowest level for almost three years.

As well as driving inflation higher, the soaring cost of fuel has led to Europe-wide protests this week – with fishermen blocking ports in France and on Friday giving out fish free in Madrid.

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Big Brother CCTV Cameras In Airplanes

CCTV cameras are bringing more and more public places under surveillance – and passenger aircraft could be next.

A prototype European system uses multiple cameras and “Big Brother” software to try and automatically detect terrorists or other dangers caused by passengers.

The European Union’s Security of Aircraft in the Future European Environment (SAFEE) project uses a camera in every passenger’s seat, with six wide-angle cameras to survey the aisles. Software then analyses the footage to detect developing terrorist activity or “air-rage” incidents, by tracking passengers’ facial expressions.

The system performed well in tests this January that simulated terrorist and unruly passenger behaviour scenarios in a fake Airbus A380 fuselage, say the researchers that built it.

Systems to analyse CCTV footage – for example, to detect violence (with video) or alert CCTV operators to unusual events – have been designed before. But the SAFEE software must cope with the particularly challenging environment of a full aircraft cabin.

Threat indicators

As crew and passengers move around they often obscure one another, causing a risk the computer will lose track of some of the hundreds of people it must monitor. To get around this, the software constantly matches views of people from different cameras to track their movements.

“It looks for running in the cabin, standing near the cockpit for long periods of time, and other predetermined indicators that suggest a developing threat,” says James Ferryman of the University of Reading, UK, one of the system’s developers.

Other behaviours could include a person nervously touching their face, or sweating excessively. One such behaviour won’t trigger the system to alert the crew, only certain combinations of them.

Ferryman is not ready to reveal specifically which behaviours were most likely to trigger the system. Much of the computer’s ability to detect threats relies on sensitive information gleaned from security analysts in the intelligence community, he tells New Scientist.

Losing track

But Mohan Trivedi of the University of California, San Diego, US, is sceptical. He has built systems that he says can track and recognise individual people as they appear and disappear on different floors of his laboratory building.

It correctly identifies people about 70% of the time, and then only under “optimal conditions” that do not exist inside an airplane cabin, he says.

“[Ferryman’s] research shows that a system detects threats in a very limited way. But it’s a very different thing using it day in and day out.” Trivedi says. “Lighting and reflections change in the cabin every time someone turns on a light or closes a window shade. They haven’t shown that they have overcome these challenges.”

Ferryman admits that his system will require thousands of tests on everyday passengers before it can be declared reliable at detecting threats.

The team’s work is being presented this week at the International Conference on Computer Vision Systems in Greece.

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Europe fuel protests spread wider

Flemish fishermen protest in Brussels outside European Parliament
Belgian fishermen have been protesting directly to the EU

Fuel protests triggered by rising oil prices have spread to more countries across Europe, with thousands of fishermen on strike.

Union leaders said Portugal’s entire coastal fleet stayed in port on Friday, while in Spain, 7,000 fishermen held protests at the agriculture ministry.

French fishermen have been protesting for weeks, with Belgian and Italian colleagues also involved.

UK and Dutch lorry drivers held similar protests earlier this week.

The strike reflects anger at the rising cost of fuel, with oil prices above $130 (83.40 euros; £65.80) a barrel.

Trade unions say the cost of diesel has become prohibitively high, after rising 300% over the past five years.

Wholesale fish prices, meanwhile, have been static for 20 years.

Fishermen’s leaders from France, Spain and Italy have been meeting in Paris to co-ordinate strikes and protests over the next three weeks in the run-up to a European Union fisheries ministers’ meeting.

The protesters are calling for direct immediate aid for the fisheries industry, coupled with increased subsidies.

The European Commission said in a statement it was willing to show flexibility towards the industry but it has ruled out subsidies to offset rising fuel costs.

Short-term aid packages were acceptable as long as they were used to address structural deficiencies in the fleets, it said.

‘Ruin for fishermen’

Several thousand fishermen marched on the agriculture ministry in Madrid, where they handed out 20 tonnes of fresh fish to members of the public in an attempt to draw attention to their ailing industry.


Fishermen held protests in Brussels and Madrid

Many blew whistles and klaxons, and let off firecrackers producing red smoke.

The BBC’s Steve Kingstone at the protest said he could see flags from Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia.

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European Parliament to ban Eurosceptic groups

Plans to eliminate Eurosceptics as an organised opposition within the European Parliament are expected to be agreed by a majority of MEPs this summer.

The European Union assembly’s political establishment is pushing through changes that will silence dissidents by changing the rules allowing Euro-MPs to form political groupings.

Richard Corbett, a British Labour MEP, is leading the charge to cut the number of party political tendencies in the Parliament next year, a move that would dissolve UKIP’s pan-European Eurosceptic “Independence and Democracy” grouping.

Under the rule change, the largest and most pro-EU groups would tighten their grip on the Parliament’s political agenda and keep control of lavish funding.

“It would prevent single issue politicians from being given undue support from the public purse,” said Mr Corbett.

“We want to avoid the formation of a fragmented Parliament, deeply divided into many small groups and unable to work effectively.”

Mr Corbett’s proposals will also give the President of the Parliament sweeping powers to approve or reject parliamentary questions.

Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, claimed that the move goes hand in hand with the denial of popular votes on the new EU Treaty.

Welcome to your future. This shows an EU mindset that is arrogant, anti-democratic and frankly scary,” he said.

“These people are so scared of public opinion they are willing to set in stone the right to ignore it. Freedom requires the governing elite to be held to account. They must be getting very worried if they are enacting such dictatorial powers for themselves.”

(Dictatorship & Fascism for the EU – The Infinite Unknown)

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Prime Minister Gordon Brown warns of global oil ‘shock’

Related video: The Energy Non-Crisis by Lindsay Williams

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned Wednesday that the world faced an era-defining oil “shock” that required urgent action, as European leaders struggled to contain growing protests over soaring fuel prices.

“It is now understood that a global shock on this scale requires global solutions,” Brown wrote in The Guardian newspaper.

Record oil prices of around 135 dollars a barrel have contributed to protests worldwide over the rise in fuel and food costs, with fishermen and truck drivers taking the lead in Europe, blocking ports and road access to oil depots.

“However much we might wish otherwise, there is no easy answer to the global oil problem without a comprehensive international strategy,” Brown said, adding that the problem should be made a “top priority” at the EU summit next month and the gathering of G8 leaders in July.

“The way we confront these issues will define our era,” he said.

Brown’s warning came a day after French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged a Europe-wide cut in consumer taxes on fuel and Portugal’s economy minister Manuel Pinho called on the Slovenian head of the European Union to hold an urgent debate on the crisis.

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Palestinian police get training in riot control

JERICHO, West Bank (AP) – Palestinian police officers in riot gear trained under the desert sun Tuesday as part of a European Union-sponsored public order course begun after a deadly clash between police and demonstrators last fall.

Palestinian instructors barked commands at a squad of men who stamped their boots and rapped their clubs on their shields as they advanced on an imaginary demonstration – a tactic designed to intimidate without bloodshed.

Next week, the 64 graduates of the 12-day course will report for duty in their hometown of Jenin, an unruly hotbed of militants and heavily armed gangs.

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French fishermens’ fuel strikes set to go Europe-wide

Fishermen across western and southern Europe are threatening an open-ended strike from Wednesday in protest at rising fuel costs. Several ports in France have remained blocked for more than a week despite a government aid deal, and fishermen in the Spanish region of Catalonia began strike action yesterday.

Their colleagues across Spain, Portugal and Italy plan to join them tomorrow. The industry has seen marine diesel prices almost double in six months. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he’ll look for a cap in fuel sales tax across the EU. He told a French radio station this morning: “I will ask our European partners: if the price of oil continues to rise, shouldn’t we suspend the VAT tax part of oil prices?” For that to happen, all 27 EU members would need to agree.

However the European Commission has responded negatively to Sarkozy’s proposal, saying modifying tax levels on oil products to fight inflation would be sending a bad message to oil producing countries.

The French haulage industry has joined the fishermens’ protest, leading to some fuel depot blockades and fears of petrol shortages.

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