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Europe airport chaos slammed as snow misery grows

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2010 at 4:30 am

LONDON (AFP) – The EU lashed out at airports Tuesday for the “unacceptable” disruption caused by freezing weather across Europe as fresh snowfall added to the woes of thousands of stranded Christmas travellers.


Britain said it could use troops to end the disruption at London Heathrow, where passengers have been sleeping in terminals throughout four days of chaos, while Frankfurt and Dublin airports faced severe disruption.

A woman keeps warm in a foil blanket, as she waits with other passengers for flight information, outside of Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 3. AFP

The cold snap chaos also hit Europe’s rail network with long queues snaking outside the London terminal for the Eurostar train link between Britain, France and Belgium.


In Brussels, the European Commission warned snowbound airports they could face regulation unless they “get serious” and provide airlines with enough support during severe weather in future.


“I am extremely concerned about the level of disruption to travel across Europe caused by severe snow. It is unacceptable and should not happen again,” European transport commissioner Siim Kallas said.


Eurocontrol, the continent’s air traffic supervisory body, said about 3,000 flights had been cancelled across Europe on Tuesday, with similar numbers of cancellations for each of the past four days.


At Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, around two-thirds of flights were cancelled but the air hub’s second runway reopened late Tuesday, prompting hopes an end to the crisis was in sight.


British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had offered to use the military to help Spanish-owned British airports operator BAA, but this offer had been refused.


“The people stuck there are having an incredibly difficult time, especially just a few days from Christmas, and everything must be done to either get them on holiday or get them home safely,” Cameron told a press conference.


Despite the opening of the second runway, BAA chief executive Colin Matthews warned people not to expect the situation to return to normal immediately.


“It is good news to see aircraft taking off and landing from two runways but it’s really important that passengers understand that doesn’t mean the full schedule is going to be restored instantly,” he told Sky News television.


Anger was meanwhile mounting among passengers queuing in the cold outside the terminal buildings at Heathrow.


“I think this hurts the reputation of the whole country. The airport is the first experience you have and this is not a good experience,” Gustaf Malmstrom, 23, told AFP as he tried for a fifth day to get a flight to Stockholm.


Most of Heathrow’s five terminals were only letting in people who were flying on Tuesday morning, mainly on flights to Asia, while others had to queue outside. Workers handed out silver foil blankets and set up two heated tents.


Eurostar said it was running a restricted service and asked all customers booked to travel before Christmas to refund or exchange their tickets free of charge if their journey was not essential.


The queue of passengers stretched for more than a kilometre around the imposing St Pancras station, and Eurostar warned the chaos looked set to continue.


“It’s too early at the moment to say when we will get back to normal,” a spokeswoman told AFP.


In Germany fresh snowfall caused gridlock at the country’s main airport Frankfurt with no flights taking off or landing for around three and a half hours in the morning.


By the time it reopened at around 0800 GMT, 300 of the 1,300 daily flights at Europe’s third-largest airport were cancelled, while others were diverted to Munich.


More than 1,000 travellers spent the night at Frankfurt airport, which laid out camp beds and distributed drinks, sandwiches and soft buttered pretzels.


Many internal flights were cancelled because of the arctic conditions, prompting German train company Deutsche Bahn to announce additional services on major routes across the country to help stranded travellers.


Dublin airport grounded all flights until 0800 GMT on Wednesday after Ireland was hit by more than 15 centimetres (six inches) of snow.


In France authorities allowed the two main airports in Paris, Charles de Gaulle and Orly, to remain open around the clock to clear the backlog of delayed flights.


One hundred civil security personnel had been sent on Monday evening with 300 beds and 2,500 blankets for those still stranded at Charles de Gaulle.

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Source: SGGP

Europe airports fight to clear Christmas backlog

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2010 at 4:30 am

LONDON, Dec 22, 2010 (AFP) – European airports fought to clear a backlog of thousands of stranded Christmas travellers on Wednesday as arctic conditions gripped the continent and sparked fresh delays and cancellations.


Weary passengers faced another day stuck in terminals amid fresh snowfalls and continued freezing temperatures which have hit airports in Britain, Germany, France and Ireland.

People skate on a rink in the western German city of Essen on December 21, 2010. AFP

Britain has offered to send in troops to end the disruption at London Heathrow, while Frankfurt and Dublin airports faced severe disruption.


Eurocontrol, the continent’s air traffic supervisory body, said about 3,000 flights had been cancelled across Europe on Tuesday, with similar numbers of cancellations for each of the past four days.


The cold snap chaos also hit Europe’s rail network with long queues snaking outside the London terminal for the Eurostar train link between Britain, France and Belgium.


There was a glimmer of hope for angry passengers who have spent four nights sleeping under foil blankets at Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, as its second runway reopened late Tuesday.


But the huge backlog at one of the busiest times of year meant services will not immediately return to normal, and the airport planned to run about two-thirds of flights Wednesday.


“It is good news to see aircraft taking off and landing from two runways,” Colin Matthews, chief executive of airport operator BAA told Sky News.


“But it’s really important that passengers understand that doesn’t mean the full schedule is going to be restored instantly.”


Airport officials were under increasing pressure to resolve the crisis Wednesday after the EU lashed out at the “unacceptable” disruption caused by the heavy snows.


“I am extremely concerned about the level of disruption to travel across Europe caused by severe snow. It is unacceptable and should not happen again,” European transport commissioner Siim Kallas said.


British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had offered to use the military to help BAA resolve the crisis at Heathrow, but this offer was refused.


“The people stuck there are having an incredibly difficult time, especially just a few days from Christmas, and everything must be done to either get them on holiday or get them home safely,” Cameron told a press conference.


Anger was meanwhile mounting among passengers queuing in the cold outside the terminal buildings at Heathrow.


“I think this hurts the reputation of the whole country. The airport is the first experience you have and this is not a good experience,” Gustaf Malmstrom, 23, told AFP as he tried for a fifth day to get a flight to Stockholm.


Most of Heathrow’s five terminals were only letting in people who were flying on Tuesday morning, mainly on flights to Asia, while others had to queue outside. Workers handed out silver foil blankets and set up two heated tents.


Eurostar said it was running a restricted service and asked all customers booked to travel before Christmas to refund or exchange their tickets free of charge if their journey was not essential.


The queue of passengers stretched for more than a kilometre around the imposing St Pancras station, and Eurostar warned the chaos looked set to continue.


“It’s too early at the moment to say when we will get back to normal,” a spokeswoman told AFP.


In Germany fresh snowfall caused gridlock at the country’s main airport Frankfurt with no flights taking off or landing for around three and a half hours in the morning.


Many internal flights were cancelled because of the arctic conditions, prompting German train company Deutsche Bahn to announce additional services on major routes across the country to help stranded travellers.


Dublin airport grounded all flights until 0800 GMT on Wednesday after Ireland was hit by more than 15 centimetres (six inches) of snow.


In France authorities allowed the two main airports in Paris, Charles de Gaulle and Orly, to remain open around the clock to clear the backlog of delayed flights.

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Source: SGGP

Snow hits flights, strands drivers in Europe

In Uncategorized on December 19, 2010 at 8:26 am

 Heavy snow disrupted European air travel over the weekend and stranded hundreds of drivers in their cars as far south as Italy as a white Christmas appeared increasingly likely for many places.


Britain was hit by more blizzards that shut its biggest airports on the busiest weekend for travellers before Christmas and hit road and rail traffic.


London Heathrow, the world’s busiest international passenger airport, closed both runways until at least Sunday morning to clear the snow, while London Gatwick also closed its runway for several hours.


British Airways cancelled all short-haul departures from both airports Saturday, with all long-haul flights from Heathrow scrapped for most of the day.

People walk past snow covered chairs and tables at a restaurant in Berlin.

Gatwick airport said it was providing beds and cots, distributing thousands of blankets, bottles of water and food and making showers and washing facilities available free of charge.


Flights were also grounded at Stansted and Luton airports near London, at Birmingham airport in Britain’s second city and Southampton airport for at least part of the day.


Meanwhile Eurostar, which operates high-speed passenger trains linking London with Paris and Brussels, was operating with speed restrictions that added up to an hour on journey times.


National rail routes and trunk roads were also affected.


Four people were killed in traffic accidents across Britain caused by the weather. In Lancashire, northwest England, hundreds of people had to spend the night in their cars after an accident blocked the main north-south motorway.


Temperatures dropped as low as minus 17 degrees Celsius (one degree Fahrenheit) north of Norwich in eastern England. Gatwick registered minus 11 Celsius (12 Fahrenheit).


Sporting events were also hit, with several top flight football matches postponed, including Sunday’s big English Premier League clash between title rivals Chelsea and Manchester United. Saturday’s games at Arsenal, Wigan, Liverpool and Birmingham were also called off.


Frankfurt airport, Germany’s busiest, cancelled about 170 flights on Saturday because of the severe winter weather across Europe, an airport spokesman said.


German carrier Lufthansa advised passengers to take the train rather than fly, saying tickets for flights could be used on the railways.


But German rail operator Deutsche Bahn warned that the snowfall would also lead to delays and cancellations.


Dozens of flights were also cancelled at Amsterdam’s Schiphol, the press office said.


In Italy, the Tuscany region was hardest hit, with hundreds of cars stuck on highways around Florence, where up to 20 centimetres (eight inches) of snow fell.


High-speed trains between Milan, Florence and Rome were also cancelled, leaving some 5,000 passengers sheltering in a conference hall in the Tuscan capital.


Florence airport closed until mid-afternoon, while the airport at Pisa, which is used by low-cost airlines, was likely to remain closed until Sunday.

About a quarter of flights from the main Paris Charles de Gaulle hub will be cancelled on Sunday between 0700 and 1500 GMT, while 60 percent of flights were delayed on Saturday, the French civil aviation authority said.

Some 5,200 passengers were rerouted to the airport on Saturday, largely due to Heathrow’s closure, a transport official told AFP. Half of them were put up in hotels while others were given lodgings in gymnasiums near the airport.

In the Bordeaux region five people were hurt on a motorway when a 38-tonne truck ploughed into two vans whose drivers had lost control on black ice, and then caught fire. A fourth vehicle then crashed into the wreckage.

Up to 4,000 people were blocked late Saturday at Brussels airport, which had to accept passengers from other European airports closed by the snow, airport spokesman Jan Van der Cruysse said.

He told Belga news agency: “The flights for London come from everywhere in the world… China, South Korea, Kuwait, the United States, etc. Given that their destination is outside the Schengen zone (for passport-free travel within Europe) not all these travellers have a visa valid for Belgium, so they must spend the night at the airport.”

The snowfall even reached as far south as Algeria, where two people died in a road accident and traffic ground to a halt on several major roads.

The snowstorm that has brought the chaos is moving slowly south over Europe, but the cold weather is expected to continue across much of the continent on Sunday and into next week.

Source: SGGP

Europe throws euro fresh lifeline

In Uncategorized on December 17, 2010 at 8:56 am

BRUSSELS, Dec 17, 2010 (AFP) – European leaders signalled a willingness to grant troubled nations a fresh financial lifeline, ring-fencing the euro in a bid to fend off market vultures once and for all.


With Portugal and even Spain predicted to need aid like Greece and Ireland, European Union president Herman Van Rompuy said they were “ready to do whatever is required to ensure the financial stability of the eurozone.”

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates (L) and French President Nicolas Sarkozy talk prior to a working session of the EU summit at the European Council headquarters in Brussels. AFP

While a Brussels summit stopped short of meeting myriad calls for a new injection of rescue funding, the “political will” of the 27 national leaders is “beyond doubt,” Van Rompuy insisted.


“It’s their way of saying they are prepared to put lots of money on the table,” explained a senior EU diplomat.


Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme also spoke of “a joint will to put in as much money as needed,” while a French governmental source said Paris certainly “is absolutely inclined to increase the size of the fund as much as necessary,” in a significant change of mood.


The moment had not yet come to talk of specific figures, with Ireland having tapped less than four percent of existing capacity put up by euro partners, but European Central Bank head Jean-Claude Trichet appeared less than excited.


After shelling out more than 72 billion euros since May on iffy eurozone bonds, Trichet said pointedly: “I relayed my messages.”


He has recently agitated for governments to take back the initiative after heavy criticism they were being enslaved by markets — echoed on Thursday by International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.


A permanent emergency rescue fund will be established from mid-2013, to replace an existing trillion-dollar joint EU-IMF facility, with a rewrite of the EU rule-book ordered by 31 December 2012.


The latest EU stance is intended to draw a line under a year in which the bloc looked like being torn apart by wolves on international money markets after Greece secured a 110-billion-euro bailout in May.


Used to seeing trillions of dollars change hands in the blink of an eye, traders and analysts — less than impressed — simply mounted pressure on other weak points in the euro chain.


Nevertheless, the deal on the new permanent umbrella comes amid hopes the holiday season will offer respite similar to that leaders experienced during the World Cup.


The EU stressed that new loans and guarantees will only be made available if judged “indispensable” by peers, and as with Greece or Ireland, in exchange for painful cuts and other changes.


That tweak came at Germany’s insistence, although Europe’s paymaster made no discernible progress in a similar push for future bailouts to need unanimous backing — which many oppose as it would grant Berlin an absolute veto.


“Euro countries need to coordinate economic policy” more, Chancellor Angela Merkel said afterwards, describing that process as an “interesting but difficult task.”


Pending any fresh assault from Berlin, aid will be activated “by mutual agreement,” after choreographed legal manoeuvres by the 27 states over the next two years.


Thursday’s stance represents the birth pangs of shared cross-border governance 12 years after experts said the creation of the euro was flawed due to the absence of a central government to control economic policy.


However, a call to debate the introduction of E-bonds — pooled financial guarantees allowing each and every euro nation to borrow funds for national use at common rates — was left for another day.


Merkel insisted the plan “would not rid Europe of its weaknesses, it would simply transmit them across the board.” 

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Source: SGGP

Can cash-strapped Europe pay for NATO’s grand ambition?

In Uncategorized on November 22, 2010 at 10:10 am

Europe heads for Irish bank rescue

In Uncategorized on November 18, 2010 at 6:27 am

Europe clamps down on debt in bid to banish Spanish blues

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2010 at 4:27 am

 Europe clamped down on debt on Thursday with decisions to sanction countries that overspend, to publish banks’ solvency levels and introduce a new bank levy in a bid to banish dark clouds over Spain.


The 27 leaders laid foundations for cross-border EU economic governance, especially across the troubled eurozone, as Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero slammed “unfounded rumours” about bailouts and bust balance sheets.


European Union president Herman Van Rompuy said that “stricter supervision of budgets and competitiveness,” with both “preventive and corrective” measures, “may seem a small step, but will prove a leap forward”.

From L: Spain’s President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, European Council president Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso give the closing press conference of an European Council gathering EU’s heads of state in Brussels.

He added that a move to police the “overall sustainability” of debt, widening the focus of surveillance, covered “a lot of parameters including private debt”, meaning banks and household borrowings as well as public deficits.


But differences remained on how far to go in the creation of new penalties, intended for application after Van Rompuy produces a definitive report on economic governance in October.


These will apply only to those countries that share the euro currency, and are likely to steer clear of withdrawing voting rights from the worst offenders for fear of opening a Pandora’s box in treaty change negotiations.


“We already have the solutions and the measures needed,” said Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, pointing out that existing sanctions have never been used.


The decisions were taken after Madrid successfully auctioned off a major tranche of its sovereign debt, at only moderately higher interest rates.


“There is nothing better than transparency to demonstrate solvency,” Zapatero said in order to “leave all these unfounded rumours behind”.


International Monetary Fund chief Dominque Strauss-Kahn will visit Zapatero in Madrid on Friday, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy leading widespread expressions of support by insisting there was “no problem” with Spain’s finances, after strong demand for government bonds at auction.


Spain led the way with a decision on Wednesday to publish the results of “stress tests” on its banks that fellow leaders followed.


The assembled leaders also agreed to introduce a system of bank levies, although London insisted it would only ever function as a collection of coordinated national taxes, and not to prop up ailing eurozone banks.


New British Prime Minister David Cameron, at his first EU summit, said Downing Street would announce its own bank levy in an emergency budget due on Tuesday.


“We don’t want to have some sort of European-determined bank levy with a specific use of the funds,” he said.


By the time specific changes come in next year, Estonia will have become the 17th country to switch to the euro, after a green light was also given to their entry on January 1.


Ballooning debt levels in countries such as Greece, which recently required a 110-billion euro bailout from the EU and the IMF, have pushed leaders to think more of the effect of their decisions on their neighbours.


Berlin and Paris also wanted to see a tax on financial transactions proposed at a G20 summit in Toronto, but unlike the bank levies, which the EU will put to G20 leaders as a bloc-wide proposal in Canada next weekend, this idea will only be taken forward for discussion.


As a senior EU official said, a transaction tax is “in the pipeline, but I wouldn’t be able to answer where exactly it is in the pipeline”.

Put bluntly by one diplomat, London simply “doesn’t want it”, for fear of banishing its lucrative finance industry to Switzerland or other non-EU offshore centres.

Deals were also cut to allow Brussels to vet the grand lines in member state budgets and open EU entry negotiations with Iceland despite anger in both countries over withheld compensation to savers with a collapsed Icelandic bank.

Source: SGGP

As Europe burns, Merkel feels the heat

In Uncategorized on May 30, 2010 at 5:17 am

BERLIN, May 30, 2010 (AFP) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to Forbes magazine, is the most powerful female on the planet. But lately, she has also looked one of its loneliest.


Barely half a year into her second term at the head of Europe’s biggest economy, the 55-year-old has found herself under fire at home and abroad over a whole range of issues, with the Greek debt crisis top of the list.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brandenburg’s State Premier Matthias Platzeck inspect the flood water from the banks of the River Oder on the Polish border on May 29, 2010. AFP photo

But her actions are largely explained by severe political pressure at home, commentators say.


With Greece teetering on the edge of financial meltdown a few weeks ago, Merkel was accused of foot-dragging over riding to the rescue together with Germany’s European Union partners and the International Monetary Fund.


Similar charges were levelled when it came to arming Europe with a trillion-dollar fire extinguisher to stop the flames spreading to other debt-ridden eurozone members such as Portugal and Spain.


“When Germany finally agreed to contribute to a bailout fund — under threat of a Continentwide crash — Europe’s economic problems were far worse, and Germany and others had to ante up a lot more cash,” a New York Times editorial said.


Then came Germany’s surprise ban on naked short selling — risky investment bets — that together with an alarmist warning about the euro’s future from Merkel wiped billions off stock markets and sent the single currency tumbling.


Like so much of Merkel’s recent behaviour, this short-selling ban, and plans to widen it by law, have “a domestic political background,” said Ralf Jaksch from the Centre for European Politics (CEP).


“A majority of lawmakers in the government coalition only voted in favour (of the eurozone bailout) with great pains and were far from convinced it was the right thing to do,” he said.


Germany’s response to the eurozone crisis, pressing for tighter EU budget rules, has hit choppy waters too, with the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, slamming Germany as “naive.”


Much to Merkel’s annoyance, others have also lashed out at Germany’s export prowess, the fruit in part of government efforts not mirrored elsewhere in Europe to keep wages down, calling on her to boost consumer spending instead.


US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner made a pointed comparison with China in Berlin last week, saying Beijing was “recognising that imperative” to boost domestic demand. He did not repeat the compliment for Germany.


Bild, the mass-circulation daily, has treated Merkel to a roasting over Greece, screaming in mid-May: “Yet again, we are the mugs of Europe.”


Broadsheets have scarcely been kinder, and the German public is even showing growing signs of falling out of love with the European project because of the recent turmoil.


A disastrous election result on May 9 in North Rhine-Westphalia robbed Merkel’s governing coalition of its majority in the upper house, constricting her ability to pass legislation in the future.


The parlous state of Germany’s public finances have forced Merkel to rule out delivering on her re-election promises to slash taxes, and there is speculation now that taxes might even rise.


And with 2011 “super election year,” with six of Germany’s 16 states going to the polls, domestic considerations are set to continue to dictate Merkel’s behaviour for the foreseeable future.


“If all these elections go the same way as North Rhine-Westphalia … then Merkel is going to find things even tougher,” Gerd Langguth, political science professor at Bonn University, told AFP.

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Source: SGGP

French protest as Europe implements austerity

In Uncategorized on May 28, 2010 at 5:12 am

European governments on Thursday pressed ahead with radical cost-cutting plans in a bid to tackle a debt crisis, as financial markets rallied and thousands protested in France against pension reforms.


The Spanish parliament passed by just one vote an unpopular raft of austerity measures to contain overspending, including a reduction in pay for civil servants, a freeze on most pensions in 2011 and a cut in child benefits.


It was feared that a government defeat could have forced new elections and added to jitters among investors over the poor state of public finances in Spain, which just scraped out of a long recession in the first quarter.


Meanwhile in France, tens of thousands of people turned up for rallies across the country called by trade unions in protest against the government’s plans to raise the official retirement age from 60 in a bid to cut debt.

A person holds a banner of CGT trade-union during a demonstration in Lille, during a nationwide day of strike called by unions to protest against the pension overhaul.

And during a visit to Germany on Thursday, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Europe should follow China’s lead and boost economic growth since US consumers can no longer support the global economy alone as in the past.


“If the world is going to grow at its potential then we are going to have a more balanced pattern of growth globally,” Geithner said, following talks with his German counterpart Wolfgang Schaeuble in Europe’s biggest economy.


Referring to the current debt crisis, he added: “We all understand and we all agree that part of global recovery… is to commit to clear objectives for reducing our fiscal positions to sustainable levels over the medium term.


“We are going to get there at somewhat different paces, the magnitude of adjustment will differ, as we all come to this from different positions, with different underlying growth rates, different overall debt burdens,” he added.


Alongside Greece, Portugal and Spain — all of whom have seen their borrowing costs rise sharply in recent months as investors fret over their solvency — other EU members like Italy and Britain are slashing spending.


Germany and France are preparing to follow suit. Plans announced by the French government to raise the official retirement age to 60 brought tens of thousands of people into the streets of Paris on Thursday.


On average French men retire even earlier at 58.7 years and women at 59.5 — lower than in other developed nations — and as France has one of the world’s longest life expectancies, workers can spend a quarter century in retirement.


Europe’s deficit-cutting drive had a visible effect on financial markets on Thursday, with London’s FTSE-100 index jumping up 3.12 percent, the Frankfurt Dax rocketing 3.11 percent and the Paris CAC rising 3.42 percent.


Market sentiment was also helped by optimistic US and a positive outlook for the world economy from the OECD, as well as China’s sharp rebuttal to a report that it might reduce its holdings of eurozone government debt.


But high deficits and debt in some of the weaker EU economies remained centre stage on the world economic map, with Padhraic Garvey, a debt analyst at Dutch bank ING, warning: “We remain in a very difficult set of circumstances.”


Also causing some concern was new data from the United States showing the US economy — the world’s largest — grew slightly less than initially estimated in the first three months of the year at 3.0 percent from the previous quarter.


The earlier estimated had put growth at 3.2 percent. The downward revision surprised most analysts, who predicted gross domestic product — a broad measure of the country’s goods and services output — had expanded 3.3 percent.


“This is a fairly tepid recovery that is fighting a lot of headwinds,” said Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors.


“It will be hard to grow rapidly when the economy has to overcome limited credit availability, a modest recovery in housing, high unemployment rates and as a consequence depressed consumer confidence … and uncertainty in Europe.”

Source: SGGP

Divided Europe spreads contagion fears in U.S.

In Uncategorized on May 25, 2010 at 5:19 am
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