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Italy arrests 18 for illegal fishing of protected shellfish

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A general view of underwater damaged rocks after scuba divers used hammers to illegally harvest date mussels at Tyrrhenian Sea as seen in this screengrab taken from a video released on July 28, 2021. Italian Coast Guard/Handout via REUTERS
A view of the Faraglioni giant rocks off the coast of Capri, where the surrounding seabed has been devastated by illegal fishing of valuable shellfish known as date mussels, in Capri, Italy, April 28, 2021. REUTERS/Yara Nardi/File Photo

The Italian coastguard arrested 18 people on Wednesday (28 July) for illegal fishing of a rare mollusc, breaking up what police said was a criminal organisation that had been destroying a stretch of protected coastline south of Naples, writes Gavin Jones, Reuters.

The arrests followed a three-year investigation into the group which had allegedly been harvesting date mussels, a protected species, using hammers to get them out of the rocks near the seaside beauty spot of Sorrento.

Fishing for date mussels has been illegal in Italy since 1998, because they are an endangered species and the invasive methods used to get them out of the rocks they bore into are destructive for the marine ecosystem.

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The valuable shellfish, considered a delicacy, are longer than common mussels and have a browner shell. They sell at up to 200 euros ($235) per kilo on the black market.

The people arrested are accused of numerous crimes including illegal fishing, destroying the marine habitat and selling unsafe foods, said a statement from the prosecutors' office of Torre Annunziata which led the investigation.

The "criminal organisation," which had allegedly operated since 2016, was also responsible for collecting and selling clams from a "highly polluted" area near the mouth of a river carrying hydrocarbons and heavy metals, the statement said.

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Less than three months ago on the nearby island of Capri, a glamorous tourist destination, police broke up two other organisations for date mussel fishing. read more

A police video showed the holes in the three "Faraglioni" rock formations, a symbol of Capri, caused by the drills and hammers the fishermen had used to extract the molluscs.

($1 = €0.8471)

European Commission

REACT-EU: € 4.7 billion to support jobs, skills and the poorest people in Italy

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The Commission has granted €4.7 billion to Italy under REACT-EU to encourage the country's response to the coronavirus crisis and contribute to a sustainable socio-economic recovery. The new funding is the result of the modification of two operational programs of the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD). The Italian national ESF program ‘Active employment policies' will receive €4.5bn to support employment in the areas most affected by the pandemic.

The additional funds will increase the hiring of young people and women, allow workers to participate in training and support tailor-made services for job seekers. In addition, they will help protect jobs in small businesses in the regions of Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily and Sardinia.

Employment and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said: “The European Union continues to help its citizens overcome the COVID-19 crisis. The new funding for Italy will help create jobs, especially for young people and women, in the regions most in need. Investments in skills are another priority and are essential to master the ecological and digital transitions. We are also paying special attention to the most vulnerable people in Italy by strengthening the funding of food aid."

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Cohesion and Reform Commissioner Elisa Ferreira (pictured) said: “Regions are at the heart of Europe's recovery from the pandemic. I am delighted that member states are using the Union's emergency aid to tackle the pandemic and initiate a sustainable and inclusive recovery for the long term. REACT-EU funding will help Italians in the worst-hit regions recover from the crisis and create the foundations for a modern, forward-looking economy. As part of NextGenerationEU, REACT-EU is providing additional funding of €50.6bn (at current prices) to cohesion policy programs during 2021 and 2022 to support labor market resilience, jobs, small and medium-sized businesses and low-income families."

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Hungary

Pope urges Hungary to be more open to needy outsiders

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Pope Francis (pictured) said on Sunday (12 September) that Hungary could preserve its Christian roots while opening up to the needy, an apparent response to nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban's stand that Muslim immigration could destroy its heritage, write Philip Pullella and Gergely Szakacs.

Francis was in Hungary for an unusually short stay that underlined differences with the anti-immigrant Orban, his political opposite.

Closing a Church congress with a Mass for tens of thousands of people in central Budapest, Francis used the imagery of a cross to show that something as deeply rooted as religious belief did not exclude a welcoming attitude.

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"The cross, planted in the ground, not only invites us to be well-rooted, it also raises and extends its arms towards everyone," he said in his remarks after the Mass.

"The cross urges us to keep our roots firm, but without defensiveness; to draw from the wellsprings, opening ourselves to the thirst of the men and women of our time," he said at the end of the open-air Mass, which Orban attended with his wife.

"My wish is that you be like that: grounded and open, rooted and considerate," the pope said.

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Francis has often denounced what he sees as a resurgence of nationalist and populist movements, and has called for European unity, and criticised countries that try to solve the migration crisis with unilateral or isolationist actions.

Orban, by contrast, told the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia last week the only solution to migration was for the European Union to "give all rights back to the nation state".

Pope Francis arrives to meet with representatives of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, Hungary, September 12, 2021. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
Pope Francis greets people as he arrives in Heroes' Square in Budapest, Hungary, September 12, 2021. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
Pope Francis arrives at Budapest International Airport in Budapest, Hungary, September 12, 2021. Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS   ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

The pope has called for migrants to be welcomed and integrated to tackle what he has called Europe's "demographic winter". Orban said in Slovenia that today's migrants "are all Muslims" and that only "the traditional Christian family policy can help us out of that demographic crisis."

Francis, 84, who spent only around seven hours in Budapest, met Orban and President Janos Ader at the start of his visit.

The Vatican said the meeting which was also attended by the Vatican's top two diplomats and a Hungarian cardinal, lasted about 40 minutes and was cordial.

"I asked Pope Francis not to let Christian Hungary perish," Orban said on Facebook. Hungarian news agency MTI said Orban gave Francis a facsimile of a letter that 13th century King Bela IV sent to Pope Innocent IV asking for help in fighting the Tartars.

Later on Sunday Francis arrived in Slovakia, where he will stay much longer, visiting four cities before returning to Rome on Wednesday.

The brevity of his Budapest stay has prompted diplomats and Catholic media to suggest the pope is giving priority to Slovakia, in effect snubbing Hungary. Read more.

The Vatican has called the Budapest visit a "spiritual pilgrimage". Orban's office has said comparisons with the Slovakia leg would be "misleading".

The trip is the pope's first since undergoing major surgery in July. Francis told reporters on the plane taking him to Budapest that he was "feeling fine".

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Banca Monte dei Paschi

Banca Monte dei Paschi is a 'huge problem', Italy's League says

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Italy's Banca Monte dei Paschi (BMPS.MI) is a "huge problem", the head of the right-wing League party said on Sunday, voicing concerns over a potential sale of the Tuscan bank to bigger rival UniCredit (CRDI.MI), writes Francesca Landini, Reuters.

Having taken control of Monte dei Paschi (MPS) in 2017 after a €5.4 billion ($6.3bn) bailout, the Italian Treasury has committed to returning the world's oldest bank to private hands by mid-2022, with Rome now trying to broker a merger with UniCredit.

"The solution could be a merger, but not a sell off to UniCredit," the League's Matteo Salvini told reporters on the sidelines of an annual business conference in Cernobbio on Lake Como.

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The Treasury should take time and push for a tie-up with Italian banks that are focused on lending to small and medium-sized enterprises instead of rushing to sell it to UniCredit, Salvini said.

"MPS and other local banks could create a third banking group," Salvini said, hinting at a potential tie-up with Banca Carige (CRGI.MI) and other regional lenders in southern Italy.

The leader of the League party, which is part of the governing coalition, said a tie-up between UniCredit and MPS could trigger 7,000 job cuts and the closure of 300 branches.

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MPS last month posted better than expected second-quarter results but said it still planned to raise 2.5 billion euros in cash next year if it failed to secure a buyer.

Salvini said it would make sense for the Treasury to inject additional funds into MPS if it needed to put the bank back on the market in the medium term.

The bank's home town of Siena, like the rest of the central region of Tuscany, is a traditional bastion of the centre-left PD party, which has often been criticised for contributing to the Tuscan lender's troubles.

Salvini repeated his previous harsh criticism of PD and said the party should take responsibility for the lender's woes.

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