France wants EU expansion freeze amid Balkans war warning

French President Emmanuel Macron laid it on the line for the European Parliament when he stated: “I don’t want a Balkans that turns toward Turkey or Russia, but I don’t want a Europe that, functioning with difficulty at 28 and tomorrow as 27, would decide that we can continue to gallop off, to be tomorrow 30 or 32, with the same rules.” (Reuters)
Updated 18 April 2018
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France wants EU expansion freeze amid Balkans war warning

  • Accession to the 28-nation EU has been a powerful driver of political and democratic reform in countries like Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro — which recently joined NATO — Serbia and its former territory of Kosovo.
  • EU and Balkans leaders will meet in Bulgaria on May 17, but no country in the region is likely to be invited to join, even though some are involved in membership negotiations.

Brussels: French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday ruled out any expansion of the European Union until the bloc is reformed, as a top EU official warned that the volatile Balkans could face a return to war if countries in the region have no hope of joining.
The Balkans spiraled into conflict in the 1990s as former Yugoslavia broke apart, but ethnic and nationalist tensions continue to simmer more than 20 years on.
EU member states must agree unanimously for any country to become a member. Accession to the 28-nation EU has been a powerful driver of political and democratic reform in countries like Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro — which recently joined NATO — Serbia and its former territory of Kosovo.
But with Britain set to become the first country to leave the bloc next year, Macron told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, France that “I will only support an enlargement when there is first a deepening and a reform of our Europe.”
“I don’t want a Balkans that turns toward Turkey or Russia, but I don’t want a Europe that, functioning with difficulty at 28 and tomorrow as 27, would decide that we can continue to gallop off, to be tomorrow 30 or 32, with the same rules,” he said.
But European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, whose institution recommends whether countries should be allowed in, insisted that Europe’s door must remain open.
“If we remove from these countries, in this extremely complicated region, I should say tragically, a European perspective, we are going to live what we already went through in the 1990s,” Juncker said. “I don’t want a return to war in the Western Balkans.”
When he took over at the European Commission four years ago, Juncker vowed that there would be no EU enlargement during his term.
EU and Balkans leaders will meet in Bulgaria on May 17, but no country in the region is likely to be invited to join, even though some are involved in membership negotiations.
Turkey is also a candidate for membership and has been promised fast-track accession negotiations in exchange for ensuring that tens of thousands of migrants — many of them Syrian refugees — don’t enter Europe from its territory. However, the talks are at a virtual standstill.
Countries like France, Germany and Austria would prefer some kind of “privileged partnership” with Turkey to letting it join.


Trump fan to plead guilty to 2018 package bombs

Updated 12 min 20 sec ago
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Trump fan to plead guilty to 2018 package bombs

  • The package bombs’ intended recipients included billionaire philanthropist George Soros, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, former president Barack Obama
  • Cesar Sayoc’s criminal record dates back to 1991

NEW YORK: A fan of US President Donald Trump who mailed parcel bombs to prominent Democratic figures last October was set to appear in court Thursday, where he was expected to plead guilty to some of the 30 charges against him.
Cesar Sayoc, 57, who was arrested in Florida on October 26 following a massive manhunt, was due in federal court in New York at 4:00 p.m.
Although it was not known which charges he would plead guilty to, all relate to the 16 package bombs he is accused of mailing from a Florida post office to several well-known people who oppose Trump, as well as the Manhattan offices of CNN. He previously pleaded not guilty to all counts.
The packages’ intended recipients included billionaire philanthropist George Soros, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, former president Barack Obama, former vice president Joe Biden, actor Robert De Niro and several Democratic lawmakers, including 2020 presidential hopefuls Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.
None of the packages exploded or even reached their targets and authorities questioned the actual danger they posed.
But by targeting Democrats, Sayoc — who also goes by the alias Cesar Altieri and was identified by DNA recovered from the packages — helped contribute to heightened tensions during the US midterm election campaign season.
Sayoc’s partial guilty plea Thursday could help mitigate the severity of a sentence if he is convicted on all counts.
As his trial loomed, information from Sayoc’s past began to filter into the public sphere, fueling the debate about extremism in the age of Trump and social media — a debate that grew more urgent as 11 people were shot dead at a Pittsburgh synagogue later in October.
Estranged from his family and in financial distress, Sayoc lived in a white van plastered in stickers proclaiming his admiration for the US president.
His criminal record dates back to 1991, peppered with convictions for theft, fraud, violence and a threat to bomb his electric utility company.
A former strip club manager and an adept bodybuilder and martial arts practitioner, Sayoc discovered a passion for Trump just as his political star was rising.
His social media posts took a politically radical turn: he’s seen wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, sharing pro-Trump images and posting articles from ultra-conservative and conspiracy-driven websites such as Infowars and Breitbart.
“He was very angry and angry at the world, at blacks, Jews, gays,” recalled Debra Gureghian, the general manager of a Florida pizzeria where Sayoc worked as a delivery driver for several months.
Lawyer Ron Lowy, who defended Sayoc in 2002 and remained close to his family, described him on NPR in October as someone whose “intellect is limited, and who is “like a little boy in a man’s body.”