EUROPE ““ (BBC) All but two of the EU’s 27 leaders have signed a new treaty to enforce budget discipline within the bloc. The “fiscal compact” aims to prevent the 17 eurozone states running up huge debts like those which sparked the Greek, Irish, and Portuguese bailouts. To take effect, the pact must be ratified by 12 eurozone states. UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who with the Czechs refused to sign, said the summit had accepted his ideas for cutting red tape and boosting growth. On Thursday, he had complained that his ideas, contained in a joint letter signed by 12 EU leaders, were being ignored. After the talks, he said “our letter really did become the agenda for this meeting. We now have a plan that we must stick to in the months ahead.” The newly reappointed President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, said the British proposals were being taken seriously and he had sought to redraft the summit’s conclusions accordingly. German Chancellor Angela Merkel described it as a “great leap,” a first step towards stability and political union. The leaders put off until the end of March a decision on its size. There are calls to combine the 250bn euros ($333bn) left in the temporary bailout fund ““ the EFSF ““ with the 500bn-euro ESM.
EUROPE ““ (BBC) The European Commission says it may legislate to get more women into top management jobs in Europe because companies are too slow to improve the gender balance. The EU’s Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, said, “self-regulation so far has not brought about satisfactory results” for women. A year ago, Ms. Reding invited European firms to sign a voluntary pledge to appoint more women to their boardrooms. But only 24 firms signed it, she said. Ms. Reding launched a public consultation on Monday to generate initiatives aimed at redressing the gender imbalance. “I believe it is high time that Europe breaks the glass ceiling that continues to bar female talent from getting to the top in Europe’s listed companies. I will work closely with the European Parliament and all member states to bring about change.” Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain are among the countries that have introduced gender quotas for companies.
ICELAND ““ (BBC) The trial of former Icelandic Prime Minister Geir Haarde, on charges of negligence over the 2008 financial crisis, has begun in Reykjavik. Mr. Haarde is thought to be the first world leader to face criminal charges over the crisis. He rejects the charges as “political persecution” and has said he will be vindicated during the trial. The country’s three main banks collapsed during economic turmoil and the failure of Icesave hit thousands. The collapse led to a dispute over compensation between the UK and Iceland, which remains unresolved. Some Icelanders see the trial of Mr. Haarde as scapegoating, while others argue that public accountability is essential following the country’s financial collapse.
POLAND ““ (BBC) Two trains have collided in southern Poland, leaving 16 people dead and 58 hurt, local officials say. The accident occurred on Saturday evening on the Warsaw-Krakow mainline at the small town of Szczekociny, according to Polish TV. Two express trains, one of which was on the wrong track, collided head-on, a senior railway official said. Prime Minister Donald Tusk called the accident Poland’s “most tragic train catastrophe”¦in many years.” President Bronislaw Komorowski has said he will announce a period of national mourning once emergency teams have completed their work to remove the wreckage from the track. “The rescue is difficult and complicated,” firefighter Jaroslaw Wojtasik told Polish television.
RUSSIA ““ (BBC) Vladimir Putin has declared victory in Russia’s presidential elections, returning for a third term after spending the last four years as the country’s prime minister. Exit polls and preliminary results gave him about 60% of the vote. Putin told supporters at a rally in central Moscow they had won in an open and honest battle. But opposition groups have reported widespread fraud, with many people said to have voted more than once. They have called for mass protests in central Moscow, which began Monday. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Putin’s supporters gathered with Russian flags and banners outside the Kremlin to celebrate his victory. Making a brief appearance with current President Dmitry Medvedev, Mr. Putin thanked his supporters from “every corner” of the country. “I promised you we would win, and we won,” he said. “Glory to Russia!” The electoral commission showed preliminary results, with returns from more than half the polling districts, showing Mr. Putin gaining over 64%, enough to give him a first-round victory over nearest rival Gennady Zyuganov, with about 17%.