NATO will show unity despite differences: Stoltenberg

NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg attends a press conference in Berlin. (AFP)
Updated 20 June 2018
0

NATO will show unity despite differences: Stoltenberg

  • Stoltenberg said NATO hopes to start accession talks with Macedonia at the summit, which will be held in Brussels on July 11 and 12
  • The US leader has also complained that the transatlantic defense alliance is more useful for Europe than it is for the United States

BRUSSELS: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg voiced confidence Tuesday that Alliance members will demonstrate unity at a summit next month despite “important differences” between the United States and European members of the transatlantic Alliance. US President Donald Trump has called on fellow members to shoulder a bigger share of the NATO budget. The US leader has also complained that the transatlantic defense alliance is more useful for Europe than it is for the United States. However Stoltenberg remained decidedly upbeat on Tuesday, while acknowledging the differences. “I’m absolutely confident that the NATO summit will demonstrate the transatlantic unity, that Europe and the United States stand together despite important differences on important issues like trade, the Paris (climate) agreement or the Iran nuclear deal,” the NATO leader told the France 24 television channel. “I met president Donald Trump recently in the White House and he reconfirmed his strong personal commitment to NATO and he also recognized that European allies are investing more in defense.” Trump caused dismay in Europe during his presidential campaign when he said that NATO was “obsolete” and failing to meet the challenge posed by Daesh terror groups. “He has a strong message about the need to do more (on defense spending) and I agree with him and the European allies also agree with him,” said Stoltenberg. Stoltenberg also said NATO hopes to start accession talks with Macedonia at the summit, which will be held in Brussels on July 11 and 12, after the small Balkan nation reached a deal with Greece to be renamed the Republic of North Macedonia.


Regional ‘burqa ban’ up for vote in Switzerland

Updated 5 min 22 sec ago
0

Regional ‘burqa ban’ up for vote in Switzerland

  • Switzerland’s government last year opposed an initiative aimed at creating a nationwide burqa ban
GENEVA: A second Swiss canton will vote Sunday on whether to introduce a regional “burqa ban,” a controversial law that would prohibit all face-covering garments in public spaces.
The ballot in northeastern St. Gallen is to be held as voters across the country also determine whether a moratorium on genetically modified crops should become a full-out ban.
St. Gallen is expected to follow the example of the southern canton of Ticino, where a law was introduced two years ago which appeared to be aimed at burqas and other Muslim veils.
A text stipulating that “any person who renders themselves unrecognizable by covering their face in a public space, and thus endangers public security or social and religious peace will be fined” was adopted by lawmakers in St. Gallen late last year.
That law passed the regional parliament with support from the populist right and center parties — but the issue is being put to the people after the Green Party and Young Socialists demanded a referendum.
The text, first drafted following uproar in the canton over a girl who wore a full-face veil to school, is problematic, according to Fredy Fassler, a socialist in charge of security and justice in St. Gallen.
It does not define when a woman wearing a burqa constitutes a danger, and critics “worry the sanctions will be unpredictable and arbitrary,” he told daily newspaper Le Temps.
Switzerland’s government last year opposed an initiative aimed at creating a nationwide burqa ban, saying it should be up to the regions to determine if such measures are appropriate.
All Swiss voters will eventually cast ballots on the issue after the populist right-wing Swiss People’s Party gathered the 100,000 signatures needed to put any subject to a referendum as part of Switzerland’s famous direct democratic system.
At the national level, the Swiss will vote Sunday on two schemes linked to agriculture and food security, urging a shift toward more environmentally friendly and Swiss-based food production.
The “Fair Food” and “Food Sovereignty” initiatives appear set to fail and are opposed by the canton of Bern, which warns they could send prices skyrocketing and might violate Switzerland’s international trade obligations.
Stefan Legge, an international trade expert at the University of St. Gallen, agreed with the government’s opposition to the initiatives.
“The agricultural lobby is trying hard to isolate itself from the rest of the economy and international competition,” he said.
The “Food Sovereignty” initiative, which has the backing of Switzerland’s powerful farmers’ union, calls for a range of measures, including turning a moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMO) into a total ban.
That moratorium was introduced after a 2005 referendum and has been extended three times to date. It is due to expire in 2021.
Polls indicate people widely oppose GMO use in the country, but despite early signs of support, the initiative looks doomed to fail, according to a survey published this month by the Tamedia group.
Observers put the initiative’s shrinking popularity down to another element baked into the text: the call for imports to be limited to food produced under the same social and environmental norms as those applicable in Switzerland.
“No serious analyst can say it is the GMO ban that is sinking the initiative,” Michelle Zufferey of the Uniterre union said.
She pointed out that the GMO aspect had barely been mentioned.
“It is the fake arguments about massive price hikes and a lack of choice and about efforts to isolate Switzerland that have hurt our initiative,” she insisted.
Swiss President Alain Berset himself warned in a recent interview with Le Temps that if the initiatives were to become law, it would “lead to a price hike.”
“For now, unfortunately, everyone cannot afford organic,” he said.
He also warned that “imposing Swiss standards on imported food goods would violate agreements reached with our trading partners as well as World Trade Organization rules.”