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Fishing row a test of UK’s credibility – Macron

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bbc– Emmanuel Macron has raised tensions with Britain by warning that the dispute over fishing rights is a test of the UK’s global credibility.

The French president spoke out ahead of the G20 summit in Rome, which sets the stage for the COP26 climate summit.

France and the UK are embroiled in a dispute over post-Brexit fishing rights and licences for French boats.

Mr Macron told the Financial Times that UK backpedalling on Brexit commitments “is not a big sign of… credibility”.

He was referring to the fishing row and disputes over Northern Ireland.

The argument, which began when the UK and Jersey denied fishing licences to dozens of French boats last month, is essentially over how many French fishing boats are allowed to fish in UK waters.

Mr Macron said: “Make no mistake, it is not just for the Europeans but all of their partners.

“Because when you spend years negotiating a treaty and then a few months later you do the opposite of what was decided on the aspects that suit you the least, it is not a big sign of your credibility.”

  • Who really owns UK fishing rights?
  • What does the Brexit deal mean for fishing?
  • How serious is summoning the French ambassador?

France has said it could stop UK boats landing in its ports if the row over licences is not resolved.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he fears the EU-UK trade agreement may have been breached.

He added that the UK government would do “whatever is necessary to ensure UK interests”.

Meanwhile, the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg says she has seen a letter that appears to show the French Prime Minister Jean Castex appealing to the EU to demonstrate there is “more damage to leaving the EU than to remaining there”.

Jean-Marc Puissesseau, president and chairman of the ports of Calais and Boulogne, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the dispute concerned only about 40 boats, “a drop of water in an ocean”.

He said that these boats had been unable to prove their history of fishing in British waters either because they had been unable to take part in a monitoring survey or because the fisherman had replaced their boats with newer models.

If the French sanctions go ahead, “it will be terrible for both sides of the Channel, for you, for us, for the ports, for the fishermen in your country, for the fishermen in our country – and that’s only for 40 little boats that are not allowed to fish in your country”, he said.

Analysis

By Damian Grammaticas

At the heart this is about whether a few dozen small French boats get licences for waters around Jersey based on their history fishing the area.

It’s a technical issue and should be relatively easily to deal with.

That it’s escalated so the French president and the British prime minister are weighing in tells us much.

Brexit has meant renegotiating old arrangements.

There’s not yet a new equilibrium, but plenty of opportunities for friction. Access to fishing waters is particularly emotive for both sides.

Mr Macron has stressed that he sees fishing alongside the Northern Ireland Protocol as issues that go to the heart of the UK’s “credibility”, suggesting that the UK is not honouring the deals it has done.

And France in particular is prepared to retaliate if its interests are threatened.

Boris Johnson, by saying he’s “puzzled” at France’s irritation, seems not to want things to escalate over fishing.

But will the UK grant more licences? The tensions are clear. And it all comes just as the UK and the EU need to find agreement on the far bigger, more difficult issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

France was angered by a decision from the UK and Jersey last month to deny fishing licences to French boats, arguing it was a breach of the Brexit deal.

The country then warned it would block British boats from landing their catches in some French ports next week and tighten checks on UK boats and trucks if the dispute was not resolved by Tuesday.

On Friday morning, Environment Secretary George Eustice said if necessary the UK would respond in turn, saying “two can play at that game”.

The government also said it was considering launching “dispute settlement proceedings” with the EU if France goes ahead with the “unjustified measures”.

Tensions escalated further when a British trawler was detained on Friday in Le Havre and another one fined.

The French people are deeply attached to their fishing industry, suspicious of the British government, and share the general confusion about why some French boats are being given licences and others refused.

They take at face value their own government’s claim that it is all grossly unfair, and that the planned retaliation against the UK is simply a defence of the national interest.

Which is not to say there aren’t also worried voices urging caution.

The big fish and seafood traders based in Boulogne-sur-Mer depend heavily on British produce either unloaded at the quayside or brought in by lorry.

If those imports dry up, hundreds of jobs could be at stake – not to mention the valuable Christmas market for coquille saint-jacques and other shellfish.

It’s commonplace in the UK to hear that by acting tough President Macron is merely playing to the gallery with an eye on next April’s presidential elections.

And it’s commonplace in France to hear that Boris Johnson is merely playing to his political gallery by baiting the oh-so-baitable French.

Suffice to say that right now neither side seems particularly inclined to do the other any favours.

Europe

Heidelberg shooting: One dead in gun attack on German students

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A lone gunman has killed one person and seriously injured three others inside a lecture hall at Heidelberg University in the south-west of Germany, before shooting himself dead.

He was an 18-year-old German student.

German police said the shooter, who was armed with two guns, had used a “long gun”, and fired shots around the amphitheatre “wildly”.

The bloodshed triggered a large operation at the university’s campus in the Neuenheimer Feld area.

Police asked people to avoid the area so rescue workers and emergency services could move around freely.

German media reported that the gunman appeared to have no religious or political motive.

Police have searched his flat in the city of Mannheim, and found a WhatsApp message he had sent shortly beforehand, in which he spoke of punishing people.

Heidelberg is a university town with about 160,000 inhabitants.

The country has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe, and school shootings are rare. Anyone under 25 is required to pass a psychological evaluation before getting a gun licence.

Police initially said four victims had been wounded, with a later update confirming one had died in hospital.

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Ukraine crisis: Why Russia-US talks may prove crucial

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Senior diplomats from the US and Russia are meeting in the Swiss city of Geneva for the first of a series of crunch talks aimed at defusing tension over Ukraine.

The stakes for these talks on Monday are high. But both sides hold wildly different expectations. The US and other Western powers want to dissuade Russia from invading Ukraine.

But Russia wants to talk about its maximalist demands for Nato to retreat from eastern Europe. It’s calling for Nato to pull its forces out of former Soviet countries, end any eastern expansion and rule out Ukraine joining the alliance.

Some US officials fear these demands are deliberately unrealistic, designed to be rejected and used as a pretext for military action. Other diplomats believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is aiming high to squeeze concessions out of a Western alliance that is willing to give ground to avoid war.

They say the Russian president is effectively demanding an end to Europe’s post-Cold War security architecture and the establishment of a Russian “sphere of influence”.

A high price

Given this, the US and Nato have dismissed most of Russia’s demands as “non-starters”. And the US has categorically denied reports it is considering possible troop reductions.

But American officials have said they are willing to look at curbs on military exercises and missile deployments.

One idea is a partial revival of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that the US abandoned in 2019 after Russia was accused of breaching its provisions. Other ideas are more measures to build confidence and greater transparency between Russia and the US.

The fear among some European allies is that even this would be too much of a reward for Russia, too high a price for trying to avoid conflict in Ukraine.

They fear the US might be willing to concede too much so it can focus more on China and domestic challenges, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the economy.

The US is aware of these fears and repeatedly insists it will not agree anything about Ukraine or European security without those countries involved.

Either way, President Putin has already made some gains, winning a platform this week to air his grievances and force the US and Europe to engage with his agenda of Nato reform.

Both sides are playing down expectations of an immediate deal. But that does not mean this week’s talks are not important.

A crucial staging post

At best, the talks could shed more light on Mr Putin’s intentions and reveal if he is serious about engaging in diplomacy.

At worst, a breakdown could lead to war, allowing Mr Putin to claim to his domestic audience that the West was not willing to talk and agree to his demands, and he was thus forced to act to ensure Russia’s security.

Western diplomats say they are ready for what they see as this false narrative: hence the Nato Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, insisting the alliance is ready for any Russian military action, and the firm warnings from the US and Europe that any invasion would be met with massive economic sanctions.

So, this week’s talks could prove a crucial diplomatic staging post, with the fate of Ukraine and Europe’s post-Cold War security architecture in the balance.

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Europe

Russia fines Google over illegal content breach

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bbc– A Moscow court has fined Google 7.2bn roubles ($98m; £73m) for repeated failure to delete content deemed illegal in Russia.

Details of the offending content were not specified in the announcement by the court’s press service.

This is the first time in Russia that a technology giant has been hit with a fine based on their annual turnover.

Google told AFP news agency that it would study the court ruling before deciding on further steps.

Russian authorities have increased pressure on tech firms this year, accusing them of not moderating their content properly, and interfering in the country’s internal affairs.

Hours after the Google verdict was announced, a 2bn rouble fine was handed to Meta, the parent company of Facebook, for similar content-related offences.

Earlier this week, Twitter was also handed a 3m rouble fine for similar charges.

This is not Google’s first brush with Russian authorities over content laws. In May, Russia’s media watchdog threatened to slow down the speed of Google if it failed to delete 26,000 instances of unlawful content, which it said related to drugs, violence and extremism.

President Vladimir Putin has pushed for development of a so-called sovereign internet, which would give the government more control over what its citizens can access.

Critics have accused Russia of using the campaign to clamp down on free speech and online dissent.

The country’s media regulator has blocked dozens of websites linked to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whose campaign groups have been labelled “extremist”.

Google and Apple were also forced to remove an app dedicated to Navalny’s “Smart Voting” campaign, which gave users advice on tactical voting to unseat Kremlin-aligned politicians.

Websites like LinkedIn and Dailymotion have already been blocked for refusing to co-operate with authorities, and six major providers of Virtual Personal Networks (VPNs) – which help users to conceal their online activities – have been banned.

Earlier this year, Russia also introduced a new law requiring all new smartphones, computers and smart devices sold in the country to be pre-installed with Russian-made software and apps.

The government said the move would help Russian tech firms compete with foreign rivals.

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