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Baku 2015: A showcase for regional cooperation

Dimitris Giannakopoulos

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The 10 most important things you need to know on Caspian Sea Region for Friday, June 12:

1Host of the European Games offers a showcase for regional cooperation. “European Olympic Committee President Patrick Hickey stated that Azerbaijan was the only country that stepped up to host the first European Games. As Azerbaijan’s 25 years of independent history prove, this is not the first time the nation has led the region through real deeds, not just by words and declarations. In 1998, Baku hosted the first summit of a major international initiative — Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia (TRACECA). In 1994, a major international energy deal “the Contract of the Century” was signed in Baku, and by 2006, the strategic Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, one of the largest infrastructure projects in the world and by far the largest in the region, was completed. Today, Azerbaijan is the engine and the source behind the ambitious Southern Gas Corridor, the only feasible source for new natural gas for European markets. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway link will dramatically shorten the transit time along the historic Silk Road by connecting the Asian and European railway systems. Moreover, Baku hosts the regular World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue, a platform for the exchange of ideas among global religious and cultural leaders” writes Elin Suleymanov for the Washington Times.

2Several U.S. officials tell CNN the Obama administration does not doubt reports accusing Israel of using a new virus to spy on the Iran talks, but also do not believe there has been any data breach. “We don’t use unsecure hotel computer systems, so if that is what they infiltrated, they would not be able to get anything from us,” one official said. “We always set up our own secure systems when we hold meetings at hotels, and that is true no matter where we are.” However, the U.S. does believe that Israel has been spying on the U.S. and all of the other participants involved in the talks.”They do it all the time,” another official said. “They did it last year, and they did it again this year. This doesn’t come as any great surprise to anyone.” Elise Labott and Evan Perez for CNN.

3A Machiavellian Plan Against Russia? “To the Kremlin, recent events in its backyard have proved once and for all that the amorphous body known as ‘the West’ – its politicians, institutions, media, diplomats, armies, financial architecture and governance bodies – are not to be trusted. The charge sheet is long and contested: it starts with NATO’s ‘out of theater’ bombing campaign in Yugoslavia in 1999, includes broken promises over eastern European integration into the EU and NATO in the early 1990s, color revolutions in neighboring states, botched interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, destabilization in Libya and Syria, repeated attempts to find common security architecture rebuffed, and leads to the revolution/coup that took place in Kiev in March 2014, breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, subsequent political and economic sanctions against Russia and, most recently, threats to remove Russia’s FIFA World Cup hosting rights in 2018” writes Timothy Stanley for the Forbes.

4Kazakhstan and Africa – Right Time to Build Ties, Seek Mutual Benefit. “Strengthening our links with Africa should be about more than pure economics. The world is going through an unpredictable and challenges phase. The African continent has not been immune from the evil of extremism. Terrorist groups such as Boko Haram have caused fear and immense suffering. The Ebola crisis last year was the source of great worldwide panic. Food and water shortages in Africa cause devastating ripples throughout the world. Kazakhstan is determined to do what is necessary to help. Last year we sent officers to a UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara and Cote d’Ivoire, and consider doing the same in Liberia. We have also donated $300,000 to the “African Union Support to the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa” (ASEOWA) aid program to fight the epidemic that hit the large part of the continent so badly. Last year, Kazakhstan acted jointly with the UN Development Programme to launch a project to support and deliver development assistance to countries in Africa, Oceania and the Caribbean through capacity-building training for young professionals” writes Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan Erlan Idrissov for the AllAfrica.

5Forecast for oil production in Azerbaijan. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has not changed its outlook on oil production in Azerbaijan in 2015. As it was planned, in 2015 oil production in Azerbaijan will decrease by 30,000 barrels per day and reach 0.82 million barrels per day, OPEC’s monthly report on the oil market said June 10. In April, oil production in Azerbaijan amounted to 0.86 million barrels per day, having decreased by 20,000 barrels per day compared to 2014, according to the report.

6Turkmenistan plans to build export gas pipeline. Turkmenistan plans to complete construction of the East-West main gas pipeline by late 2015, the message of the Ministry of Oil and Mineral Resources of Turkmenistan said. This pipeline must unite all the major gas fields of Turkmenistan into a single system, as well as create conditions for the export of Turkmen gas to world markets in either direction.“The commissioning of the pipeline, which will pass through the territory of the whole country, will serve as an additional guarantee for the smooth resource provision not only of domestic demand for “blue fuel”, but also the existing and planned international pipelines,” the message said. The new regional gas pipeline is being laid from Shatlyk to Belek. It is designed to transport natural fuel from the largest fields in the eastern regions to the country’s other gas pipelines, to increase the volumes, to improve the reliability of the gas supplies for export, as well as for the domestic gas supply.

7Moscow Moves to Strengthen Iran in Its Standoff With West. “Iran seems to have powerful friends in Moscow and the Russians’ main argument seems to be: We may lose Iran if we hesitate—a fear Sanai and other Iranian officials are constantly promoting. During the Cold War, Iran was a close US ally until Shah Reza Pahlavi was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Many policymakers in Moscow fear that the Obama administration is anxious to clinch a P5+1 deal with Tehran because it is trying to upgrade the US’s tacit alliance with Iran. Russians worry that the US-Iranian relationship in the region could evolve from jointly opposing the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq into something much bigger—perhaps once again turning Iran into a military and intelligence-gathering base for the United States” writes Pavel Felgenhauer for the Jamestown.

8Baku, Azerbaijan: 10 of the city’s weirdest tourist attractions. With Baku hosting the inaugural European Games, Sophie Ibbotson uncovers 10 of the most unusual things to see in the city [telegraph]

9Iran plans to establish a joint rail transport company with Kazakhstan, said Abbas Nazari, the director for international affairs at the Iranian Railways Company. The proposed company will be established through a joint venture and will carry out rail transport operations for the two sides, Iran’s Fars news agency quoted Nazari as saying on June 10. He referred to a recent visit of the director of Kazakhstan’s railways company to Iran’s Shahid Rajaee Port, saying that Kazakhstan has announced readiness to establish silos in the Iranian port in order to store wheat. 10 million metric tons of Kazakh wheat is transited via Iran, he noted.

1030 under 30: Moscow’s young power list. The ‘fresh-faced’ politicians, hipster editors and radical post-Soviet artists shaping the fabric and the future of Russia’s capital city [the guardian]

Journalist, specialized in Middle East, Russia & FSU, Terrorism and Security issues. Founder and Editor-in-chief of the Modern Diplomacy magazine. follow @DGiannakopoulos

EU Politics

Explainer: Commission adopts new EU Air Safety List

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What is the EU Air Safety List?

The EU Air Safety List (ASL) is a list of air carriers from non-EU countries, which do not fulfil the necessary international safety standards. The carriers on the ASL are banned from operating to, in and from the EU. Also, carriers that do not operate to the EU can be put on the ASL, in order to warn the public travelling outside of the EU about their unsafe status. If the safety authorities of a third country are not able to fulfil their international safety oversight obligations, all the carriers of such country can be put on the ASL.

The EU Air Safety List, while evidently not popular with the affected countries, has developed into a very powerful, and internationally recognised tool to help improve the safety of international aviation. This is the case both for flights to the EU, but also for aviation outside of the EU. The ASL is also seen as a strong preventive tool, because countries, which are under scrutiny, tend to improve their safety oversight to prevent seeing their air carriers on the list.

Which carriers are currently on the EU Air Safety List?

After the update of June 2020, the 35th update, 96 air carriers are banned from EU skies:

  • 90 airlines certified in 16 states*, due to a lack of safety oversight by the aviation authorities from these states;
  • Six individual airlines, based on safety concerns with regard to these airlines themselves: Avior Airlines (Venezuela), Blue Wing Airlines (Suriname), Iran Aseman Airlines (Iran), Iraqi Airways (Iraq), Med-View Airlines (Nigeria) and Air Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe).

An additional three airlines are subject to operational restrictions and can only fly to the EU with specific aircraft types: Air Service Comores (the Comoros), Iran Air (Iran) and Air Koryo (North Korea).

Who is responsible for the updates to the EU Air Safety List?

For the purpose of updating the list, the Commission is assisted by the EU Air Safety Committee (ASC), which is composed of aviation safety experts from all the EU Member States and chaired by the Commission, with the support of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Acting on a proposal by the Commission, the Air Safety Committee adopts its opinion by qualified majority, which is then submitted to the European Parliament before final adoption by the Commission and subsequent publication in the Official Journal. To date, all decisions taken by the Commission to impose or to lift restrictions have always been reached with the unanimous support of the ASC. Equally, every update of the ASL met with the unanimous support of the European Parliament’s Transport Committee.

What is the procedure for updates to the EU Air Safety List?

All Member States and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have the obligation to communicate information to the Commission, which may be relevant in the context of updating the ASL. The European Commission and the Air Safety Committee use a variety of sources of information when assessing whether or not international safety standards are respected. These sources include ICAO, FAA, EASA, SAFA** and TCO*** reports, as well as information gathered by individual Member States and the Commission itself. It is important to note that this assessment is made against international safety standards (and not the EU safety standards, which are sometimes more stringent), and notably the standards promulgated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

To whom does it apply?

The rules establishing the list of banned carriers apply to all air carriers irrespective of their nationality – EU and non-EU ones. The rules apply only to commercial air transport, i.e. to air transport of passengers and cargo for remuneration or hire. The rules do not apply to private and non-commercial flights (e.g. positioning flights for maintenance purposes).

How often is the list updated and what is the timeframe for this? Is there not a risk that it will quickly become obsolete?

The Air Safety List may be updated whenever the Commission deems it is necessary, or upon request of an EU Member State. The ASC normally meets two or three times every year, as necessary. In cases of emergency, a specific procedure is foreseen.

How can an airline be cleared and taken off the list?

It is possible for states and air carriers to be removed from the air safety list. If an airline considers that it should be taken off the list because it complies with the relevant safety standards, it can address a request to the Commission, either directly or through its civil aviation authority. To enable a ban to be lifted, sufficient evidence needs to be provided to the EU to prove that the capacity of the airline and of its oversight authority to implement international safety standards is of a sufficient level. The Commission services will then assess the evidence presented by the airline and/or its oversight authority to substantiate its request for being withdrawn from the air safety list, and if the result of the assessment is positive, the Commission will make a proposal to the EU Air Safety Committee.

Notwithstanding the case of individual air carriers, if the underlying reason for an air carrier being on the ASL is due to the poor level of compliance with ICAO standards by its safety oversight authorities, it will require the state to address the significant non-compliances before that air carrier can be removed from the list.

In practical terms, this involves the air carrier and its state providing written information, attending meetings with the Commission and Member States, sometimes being subject to an on-site visit led by the Commission, and taking part in hearings in front of the Air Safety Committee.

How is an airline added to the list?

If the Commission or a Member State acquires and confirms evidence indicating serious safety deficiencies on the part of an airline or its oversight authority anywhere in the world, the list will be updated to include such airline or all the airlines of such country.

Does the inclusion of an airline in the air safety list always mean that it is no longer allowed to fly in Europe?

YES. As long as the air carrier is subject to a total ban, it cannot operate with its aircraft and personnel in the Union’s airspace. The airline is included in Annex A to the regulation whereby the Air Safety List is updated. Equally, as long as an air carrier is subject to a partial ban it can operate only with the aircraft stipulated in the Regulation. The airline is included in Annex B to the regulation whereby the Air Safety List is updated.

Banned airlines can, however, use the aircraft and personnel of other airlines, which are not on the ASL, on the basis of contracts called “wet-lease agreements”. In this way, passengers and cargo can still be transported on the basis of tickets sold by a banned airline, whereas the actual flight is operated by airlines which fully comply with the safety rules. Furthermore, aircraft which are used for government or state purposes (e.g. transport of the heads of state and/or government, humanitarian flights), do not fall under the safety requirements of ICAO. Such aircraft are considered to be operating “state flights” and they can fly into the EU even if they are banned from operating commercial flights to the EU. However, such flights do need a special authorisation (“diplomatic clearance”) from all the Member States, which the state aircraft overflies, as well as from the state of destination.

In essence, banned airlines cannot enter the sovereign airspace of any Member State and fly over their territory while they are banned (totally or partially).

Does the list prevent EU Member States from taking individual safety measures at a national level?

NO. The general principle is that whatever measure is considered at national level must be also examined at Union level. When an air carrier is considered unsafe and therefore banned in one Member State, there is an obligation to examine this measure at EU level with a view to applying it throughout the European Union. Nevertheless, even where a ban is not extended to the EU, there is scope for Member States to continue to act at national level in certain exceptional cases, particularly in emergencies or in response to a safety issue specifically affecting them.

What are airlines’ “rights of defence”?

Airlines that have been banned, or that are being investigated in view of a potential ban, have the right to express their points of view, submit any documents, which they consider appropriate for their defence, and make oral and written presentations to the Air Safety Committee and the Commission. This means that they can submit comments in writing, add new items to their file, and ask to be heard by the Commission or to attend a hearing before the Aviation Safety Committee, which then formulates its opinion based on these proceedings and the materials submitted prior to or during the hearing.

Is the Commission approach a punitive one?

The Commission’s sole aim is to improve aviation safety, which is in everyone’s interest, and in no way to affect a country’s economic or social development. Countries affected can put in place technical assistance measures to help airlines achieve a satisfactory level of aviation safety. While in the past the focus has been to put countries and carriers on the ASL, the Commission is now also focusing on working with affected states to help them improve their safety situation, in order to allow them to be released from the EU Air Safety List once the necessary safety levels have been reached.

How is the public informed about the EU Air Safety List?

The latest version of the list is made available to the public online at https://ec.europa.eu/transport/modes/air/safety/air-ban_en. The Commission also liaises closely with European and international travel agent associations each time that any changes are made to the list in order that they may be in the best possible position to aid their clients – the passengers – in making informed decisions when making their travel arrangements. Moreover, the “Air Safety List” regulation also obliges national civil aviation authorities, EASA and airports in the territory of the Member States to bring the ASL to the attention of passengers, both via their websites and, where relevant, in their premises.

In what way does the EU Air Safety List provide rights to European travellers?

The Air Safety List Regulation establishes the right of any passenger to know the identity of every airline they fly with throughout their trip. To this effect, the contracting carrier is required to inform passengers of the identity of the operating air carrier or carriers when making a reservation, whatever the means used to make the booking. The passenger must also be kept informed of any change of operating carrier, either at check-in or, at the latest, when boarding. The Regulation also gives passengers the right to reimbursement or re-routing if a carrier with which a booking has been made is subsequently added to the Air Safety List, resulting in cancellation of the flight concerned.

In what way does the publication of the EU Air Safety List help European citizens travelling beyond EU territory?

The ASL does not only ban unsafe airlines from operating to, from and in the EU. The publication of the list also provides useful information to people wishing to travel outside the European Union, in order for them to avoid flying with these airlines. The list also safeguards the rights of consumers who have bought a trip at a travel agent, which includes a flight operated by an airline on the ASL.

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Central and South America now ‘intense zones’ for COVID-19 transmission

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Greater solidarity must be shown to Central and South American countries which have become “the intense zones” for COVID-19 transmission, a top official with the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.

Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO Executive Director, was speaking to journalists listening in to the UN agency’s regular virtual update on the pandemic.

He reported that the Americas are home to five of the 10 countries with the highest number of COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours: Brazil, the United States, Peru, Chile and Mexico.

The biggest rise in caseloads can be found in Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Mexico, Haiti, Argentina and Bolivia.

“While the numbers are not exponential, in some countries we are seeing a progressive increase in cases on a daily basis”, said Dr. Ryan.

“And countries are having to work very hard to both understand the scale of infection, but also health systems are beginning to come under pressure across the region.”

Countries vary in response

The Americas offer a mixed picture of COVID-19 responses on a national level, Dr. Ryan continued, with some countries taking what he described as an “all-of-government, all-of-society, inclusive, scientific-driven approach” to tackling the disease, and others struggling.

Factors that drive virus transmission across the region include complexities in population structure and urban poverty.

“I would certainly characterize that Central and South America in particular have very much become the intense zones of transmission for this virus as we speak, and I don’t believe that we have reached the peak in that transmission. And at this point, I cannot predict when we will”, he said.

Dr. Ryan called for support and international solidarity for countries in the region.

WHO is particularly concerned about the situation in Haiti due to the inherent weakness of the country’s health system.

Last month, an advisory group with the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) warned that the pandemic could trigger a humanitarian catastrophe in the Caribbean island nation, where six million people already live below the poverty line.

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Explainer: rescEU and Humanitarian Aid under the new MFF

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Why is the Commission proposing to strengthen the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and rescEU?

The EU Civil Protection Mechanism is a crisis management structure that allows Member States and Participating States[1] to strengthen their cooperation in the field of civil protection, to improve prevention, preparedness and response to disasters. It is based on voluntary contributions of Member States, with the European Commission playing a key coordinating and co-financing role.

The need for a more flexible, faster and reactive system to respond to large-scale emergencies is one of the lessons learnt from the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

The rapid spread of the virus exposed some limitations in the current crisis management framework. At times when Member States are hit by the same emergency simultaneously and unable to offer each other assistance, the EU is currently unable to help quickly enough to fill these critical gaps as it does not have its own assets and has to rely on voluntary support from Member States.

A reinforcement and upgrade of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism – as requested by the European Council in March 2020 – is therefore necessary to avoid situations where Member States are left alone during crises.

What is the main objective of the proposal?

The Commission’s proposes to allow the EU and its Member States to be better prepared for and able to react quickly and flexibly to crises, in particular those with a high-impact given the potential disruption to our economies and societies.

Under the Commission’s proposal, the EU will be able to;

  • directly procure an adequate safety net of rescEU capacities;
  • use its budget more flexibly to be able to prepare more effectively and react faster in times of exceptional needs
  • dispose of the logistical capacity to provide multi-purpose air services in case of emergencies and to ensure timely transport and delivery of assistance;

These strategic capacities will be supplementary to those of the EU Member States. They should be strategically pre-positioned in such a way as to ensure the most effective geographic coverage in response to an emergency.

In this way, a sufficient number of strategic assets will be available in order to support Member and Participating States in situations of large-scale emergencies and offer an effective EU-response.

What kinds of action will be financed under the proposal?

The upgraded EU Civil Protection Mechanism will equip the European Union with assets and logistical infrastructure that can cater for different types of emergencies, including those with a medical emergency dimension. This would allow the EU to:

  • Acquire, rent, lease and stockpile identified rescEU capacities;
  • Fully finance the development and the operational cost of all rescEU capacities as a strategic European reserve in case national capacities are overwhelmed;
  • Enhance the funding for national capacities deployed under the European Civil Protection Pool to increase their availability for deployment;
  • Ensure timely transport and delivery of requested assistance. This also includes internationally deployable experts, technical and scientific support for all types of disasters as well as specific medical equipment and personnel such as ‘flying medical experts’, nurses and epidemiologists.

Humanitarian Aid

How will EU humanitarian aid be enhanced under the new MFF?

The Commission proposes €14.8 billion for humanitarian aid, of which €5 billion come from the European Union Recovery Instrument to reinforce the humanitarian aid instrument.

The increased budget reflects the growing humanitarian needs in the most vulnerable parts of the world. The Humanitarian Aid Instrument will provide needs-based delivery of EU assistance to save and preserve lives, prevent and alleviate human suffering, and safeguard the integrity and dignity of populations affected by natural hazards or man-made crises.

A significantly enhanced Solidarity and Emergency Aid Reserve will reinforce EU action in response to all aspects of the health crisis, as well as other emergencies. Funds can be channelled to provide emergency support as and when needed through EU instruments such as humanitarian aid in cases where funding under dedicated programmes proves insufficient.

Why is the Commission proposing to increase humanitarian aid budget?

Humanitarian crises in the world are increasing: In 2020, nearly 168 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection, a significant increase from 130 million people in 2018 (OCHA humanitarian needs overview 2020). The needs are stemming from the conflicts, global refugee crisis, worsening natural disasters due to climate change.

The coronavirus pandemic further increases already existing humanitarian needs. It has a major health, social and economic impact on societies around the globe, in particular on the poorest countries. It is estimated that up to 265 million people worldwide could be under severe threat of hunger by the end of 2020 due to the effects of the pandemic (OCHA humanitarian needs overview 2020). This requires strong reinforcements to the humanitarian aid budget to meet the growing needs.

The EU adapted its humanitarian response in light of the needs stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. However, the impact of the pandemic and the economic fall-out, are compounding existing needs, making it all the more important that the Union is equipped to demonstrate solidarity with the rest of the world.

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