EUROPE – (BBC) The eurozone group has backed Greece’s second bailout of 130 billion euros ($171 billion) pending a contribution from the International Monetary Fund. Finance ministers from the 17-strong currency bloc had been meeting in Brussels to approve the package. The meeting followed Greece swapping most of its privately-held bonds with new ones worth less than half their original value. Greece’s debt-to gross domestic product ratio is also expected to fall to 117%. The chairmain of the eurozone group of finance ministers, Jean-Claude Juncker, who is also the prime minister of Luxembourg, made the prediction after the meeting, saying it would reach that level in 2020. Mr. Juncker said: “We welcome the [IMF’s] proposal to recommend a 28 billion euros [contribution] to the Greek facility. We look forward to the discussion and the decision by the IMF board on March 15.” He said he was confident the IMF would agree the money but that he was “still dependent on that decision.” Juncker was also quoted as saying, “Against this background, we approved the launch of the second program, pending the completion of the national procedures.”
EUROPE ““ (BBC) The European Parliament has backed calls for quotas to put more women into company boardrooms, if member states are deemed too slow to act. The EU Commission wants the proportion of female board members at big companies to rise to 40% by 2020, from the current average of 12%. The Commission has said it may legislate to make quotas compulsory. The Euro MPs in Strasbourg also called for EU-wide measures to boost female representation in politics. Last week the EU’s Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, launched a public consultation to generate initiatives – including possible legislation – aimed at redressing the gender imbalance. Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain are among the countries that have already introduced gender quotas for companies. A majority of MEPs backed two resolutions aimed at tackling gender inequality – one targeting companies, initiated by Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in “˜t Veld, and another targeting political parties, by Finnish center-right MEP Sirpa Pietikainen. “After decades of stagnation, it is high time to act,” Ms. In “˜t Veld said. “I don’t think there is anyone who is really in favor of quotas. It is a necessary evil, because voluntary measures have got us nowhere.”
FRANCE ““ (BBC) French President Nicolas Sarkozy has threatened to withdraw from Europe’s open border zone unless more is done to stop illegal immigration. Speaking at a Paris campaign rally, the president said that reform was the only way to avoid the “implosion” of Europe. He said that unless there is progress in the next 12 months, then France would suspend participation in the Schengen agreement. The accord allows passport-free travel among 23 European nations. Three other countries are not yet fully-fledged members of the area. Illegal immigration has been a key issue ahead of the presidential election.
TURKEY ““ (BBC) Four Turkish journalists accused of involvement in a plot to topple the government have been freed. Ahmet Sik, Nedim Sener, Coskun Musluk, and Sait Cakir were accused of being part of Ergenekon, allegedly a secret military-backed organization. A court in Istanbul released the four because of the time they have spent in jail and the fact that the charges against them might be changed. The case is being seen as a test of media freedom in Turkey. The four were among 13 defendants in the case, six of whom remain in jail. The journalists had been accused of acting as the media wing of the Ergenekon plot. Their supporters say the trial is based on fabricated evidence and aims to silence government opponents. The case has sharply divided opinion in Turkey, putting the government’s human rights record under international scrutiny at a time when it is actively promoting democratic values in the rest of the Muslim world.
UNITED KINGDOM ““ (BBC) Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks has been arrested on suspicion of conspiring to pervert the course of justice. Five men were also detained, including Mrs. Brooks’ husband, Charlie. All have since been freed on bail until April. The arrests took place in Oxfordshire, London, Hampshire, and Hertfordshire. Police said six people were arrested as part of Operation Weeting, the Metropolitan force’s investigation into phone-hacking. The Metropolitan Police said the arrests were carried out after consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service. It brings the total number of people arrested in Operation Weeting and its linked inquiries to 44. The other investigations are Operation Elveden into corrupt payments to police officers and Operation Tuleta into computer hacking.