EUROPE ““ (BBC) The eurozone crisis will dominate an EU summit on Monday with an emphasis on growth and “smart” budget discipline. The EU has more than 23 million unemployed people and there are fears that wide-ranging budget cuts will harm enterprise and training. Cuts need to be “smart”–well-targeted–to allow room for future growth, the European Commission says. Most member states–but not the UK–are expected to sign up to a new budget treaty, or “fiscal compact.” The goal is much closer coordination of budget policy in the 17-nation eurozone. Greece remains a big question mark hanging over this summit. Complex negotiations with private creditors have not yet produced a deal to prevent Greece from defaulting. The European Commission says it is confident a deal will be reached within days.
GREECE ““ (BBC) Greek officials have reacted angrily to a leaked German proposal for an EU budget commissioner with veto powers over Greek taxes and spending. Under the German proposal, a budget commissioner would have veto powers over Greek budgetary measures if they were not in line with targets set by international lenders. The Greek government said it must remain in control of its own budget. The European Commission says it wants to reinforce its monitoring of Greek finances, but Greece should retain sovereign control. Meanwhile, Greece and its private investors are close to a deal which will pave the way for a second bailout. Greek government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis told the BBC the discussions between the two parties had gone well and they were “close to an agreement.” Greece must reach an agreement in the next few days in order to receive the next set of funds from its first bailout.
ITALY ““ (BBC) Operations to pump fuel from the tanks of the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship lying off the Italian coast have been delayed because of bad weather. Dutch salvage company Smit says it now hopes to begin work next week on pumping more than 2,300 tons of diesel out of the 290m-long vessel. Meanwhile, divers searching the wreck have found the body of a woman, bringing the death toll to 17. The woman was wearing a uniform, indicating she was a crew member. The ship ran aground on January 13th with more than 4,200 people on board. Another 15 people are still missing.
NORWAY ““ (BBC) Norway’s prime minister has apologized for the role the country played in deporting its own Jews as Europe marked Holocaust Remembrance Day. “Norwegians carried out the arrests, Norwegians drove the trucks, and it happened in Norway,” Jens Stoltenberg said in a speech. It is believed to be the first time a Norwegian leader has been so explicit about collusion under Nazi occupation. More than a third of Norway’s 2,100 Jews were deported to death camps. Others fled to neighboring Sweden, which remained neutral during World War II. Norway acknowledged its role in the Holocaust in 1998 and paid approximately $60 million to Norwegian Jews and Jewish organizations in compensation for property seized. However, the payout fell short of a full apology.
RUSSIA ““ (BBC) Russia’s electoral commission has barred the liberal opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky from running in the March presidential election. Officials reported irregularities in more than a quarter of the signatures collected in support of Mr. Yavlinsky. Independent candidates, whose parties failed to get into parliament, have to collect two million signatures to take part in the March 4th poll. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is widely expected to become president again–Mr. Yavlinsky, 59, was not considered a major rival to Putin, who is seeking a third term as president. Mr. Yavlinsky insisted that “all the signatures are authentic.”
SPAIN ““ (BBC) Spain’s unemployment figure passed the 5 million mark in the last quarter of 2011, official figures show. The National Statistics Institute said 5.3 million people were out of work at the end of December, up from 4.9 million in the third quarter. The rate rose from 21.5% in the third quarter to 22.8%–the highest rate in nearly 17 years. Spain already has the highest jobless rate in the 17-nation eurozone and is expected to slide back into recession. The 22.8% rate is more than twice the average unemployment rate of the eurozone, which stood at 10.3% in November, according to data released earlier this month. Spain’s new ruling Popular Party conservative government has pledged labour reforms to try to improve the jobs market.