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DUP at war




Unionism in Northern Ireland is in turmoil with elected members of the dominant Democratic Unionist Party in open warfare over the election of its new leader Edwin Poots. With the name of the expected new First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly due to be announced in the coming days, subsequent events could see the collapse of the regional parliament and with it, the expected ascent of the pro-Irish unity Party Sinn Féin to become the largest political party in the province, as Ken Murray reports from Dublin.

On 22 June, prominent pro-British unionists will gather at Belfast City Hall for an event to mark the 100th anniversary of the first opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament by King George V.

The institution, was once described by former NI Prime Minister James Craig as being “a protestant parliament for a protestant people” while the sovereign parliament in Dublin served the wishes of the mainly catholic community in the South following the British division of Ireland in 1921.


For 100 years, unionists from the protestant community have viewed Northern Ireland as being as ‘British as Finchley’, the one-time constituency of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

However, turmoil within unionist ranks has meant that what should be a day of glorious celebration on June 22nd to mark the creation of Northern Ireland, is shaping up to be anything but.

The pro-British Democratic Unionist Party, which currently has the largest number of seats in the Assembly, is in open warfare.

A recent rebellion by hard-line elected DUP members of the Northern Ireland Assembly to overthrow leader Arlene Foster saw ultra-conservative Edwin Poots win over Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP by just two votes, with just under half of the parliamentary Party feeling the heave was foolish and unnecessary.

A senior DUP source told The Belfast News Letter paper “that individuals across the Party were considering resignation with some likely to go to the [rival] Ulster Unionist Party.”

At a ratification conference of Party members in a Belfast Hotel last week, a number of senior members in the Party including Lord Nigel Dodds, his wife Diane and MPs, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Gavin Robinson and Gregory Campbell, walked out just as Poots took to the microphone to deliver his victory speech, itself a reflection of the bitterness in the Party.

Arlene Foster, who many observers say has been treated in appalling fashion, is being clearly scapegoated by one-time party friends and colleagues.

As they see it, she failed to prevent the introduction of the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol negotiated by London with Brussels as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

The Protocol sees goods exported from GB to NI checked at ports in Belfast and Larne thus creating a notional border in the Irish Sea which, as unionists see it, now aligns Northern Ireland closer to Dublin and further away from London.

The unfortunate Mrs. Foster is the victim of a deal which Boris Johnson told DUP members would never happen but was subsequently reneged on by him!

Following the heave against Mrs. Foster, she had planned to step down as NI First Minister in dignified fashion at the end of June but the ruthless nature of her removal suggests she will be gone in the coming days.

Speaking to Chris Mason on the BBC Newscast podcast about her humiliating defenestration she said, “……..politics is brutal but even by the DUP standards, it was pretty brutal.

"If Edwin decides that he wants to change that team, I will have to go as well because I can't stay with a new ministerial team of which I have no authority, and that would be wrong."

Poots, who in 2012 as health minister imposed a controversial ban on gay men donating blood and is on record as saying that the earth is only 6,000 years old and has, bizarrely, ruled out appointing himself as First Minister!

Favourite to take the role is Poots loyalist 39-year old Paul Givan. However, if Givan is nominated as First Minister for Northern Ireland, a series of knock-on events could see Edwin Poots reign be a short-lived one!

Under the rules, the appointment of a new Northern Ireland First Minister would also have to see the election of a deputy First Minister from the opposing Irish nationalist side. In this case, that would see the existing holder of the Office, Michelle O’Neill, nominated again by the pro-Irish unity party Sinn Féin.

As it is, there is increasing frustration and growing anger within Sinn Fein over the ongoing delays and failure of Poots’ DUP to approve the introduction of the contentious Irish Language Act.

Granting such a move, as many unionists see it, would result in Northern Ireland becoming more ‘Irish’ and less British with the language being taught in protestant schools and ultimately becoming more visible on road signage and State institution logo designs!

Should Sinn Féin insist as part of a deal to support Givan for the First Minister position that a deadline date must be imposed to introduce the Act in to the Assembly and the DUP refuse, the NI regional parliament is likely to collapse followed by an expected game-changing election!

In 2016, Paul Givan, then a Communities Minister, laid down a marker as to where he stands on the language when he cut funding for a project that would have seen school children attend an Irish-speaking district in the Republic of Ireland, a sectarian decision that contributed to the collapse of the Assembly in 2017.

This emerging scenario leaves the DUP in something of a political snooker! The Party, which has shown no enthusiasm for the Irish Language Act, currently has 28 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly with Sinn Féin on 27.

It is an almost certainty that Sinn Féin will emerge as the largest Party for the first time since the creation of Northern Ireland in 1921 following the next Assembly election due to changing demographics.

Any loss of power or reduction in DUP seats would then see a move from the Jeffrey Donaldson wing of the Party to remove Poots thus increasing division within its ranks even more so!

Unionism in Northern Ireland is in deep trouble, a scenario which, 100 years on from creating the “the protestant parliament for the protestant people” currently gives it little to celebrate!

According to Arlene Foster in an interview with The Financial Times, "I think we are regressing and becoming more narrow,” she said.

“It’s quite nasty, frankly. If the union is to succeed, we need to be a bigger tent . . . The plea I would make to the party is that, if they want to secure the union, then they have to have a wide vision for the union.”

In the meantime, SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon is expected to up the pressure in the coming months for an independence referendum in Scotland, the outcome of which could put Northern Ireland’s position within the UK in to even further peril.


Cars and pavements washed away as Belgian town hit by worst floods in decades




The southern Belgian town of Dinant was hit by the heaviest floods in decades on Saturday (24 July) after a two-hour thunderstorm turned streets into torrential streams that washed away cars and pavements but did not kill anyone, writes Jan Strupczewski, Reuters.

Dinant was spared the deadly floods 10 days ago that killed 37 people in southeast Belgium and many more in Germany, but the violence of Saturday's storm surprised many.

"I have been living in Dinant for 57 years, and I've never seen anything like that," Richard Fournaux, the former mayor of the town on the Meuse river and birthplace of the 19th century inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, said on social media.

A woman works to recover her belongings following heavy rainfall in Dinant, Belgium July 25, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron
A woman walks in an area affected by heavy rainfall in Dinant, Belgium July 25, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

Rainwater gushing down steep streets swept away dozens of cars, piling them in a heap at a crossing, and washed away cobbles stones, pavements and whole sections of tarmac as inhabitants watched in horror from windows.

There was no precise estimate of the damage, with town authorities predicting only that it would be "significant", according to Belgian RTL TV.

The storm wreaked similar havoc, also with no loss of life, in the small town of Anhee a few kilometres north of Dinant.

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Czech Republic

NextGenerationEU: European Commission endorses Czechia's €7 billion recovery and resilience plan



The European Commission has today (19 July) adopted a positive assessment of Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. This is an important step towards the EU disbursing €7 billion in grants under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). This financing will support the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. It will play a key role in helping Czechia emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The RRF is at the heart of NextGenerationEU which will provide €800bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across the EU. The Czech plan forms part of an unprecedented co-ordinated EU response to the COVID-19 crisis, to address common European challenges by embracing the green and digital transitions, to strengthen economic and social resilience and the cohesion of the Single Market.

The Commission assessed Czechia's plan based on the criteria set out in the RRF Regulation. The Commission's analysis considered, in particular, whether the investments and reforms set out in Czechia's plan support the green and digital transitions; contribute to effectively addressing challenges identified in the European Semester; and strengthen its growth potential, job creation and economic and social resilience.


Securing Czechia's green and digital transition  

The Commission's assessment of Czechia's plan finds that it devotes 42% of its total allocation to measures that support climate objectives. The plan includes investments in renewable energy, the modernisation of district heating distribution networks, the replacement of coal-fired boilers and improving the energy efficiency of residential and public buildings. The plan also includes measures for nature protection and water management as well as investment in sustainable mobility.

The Commission's assessment of Czechia's plan finds that it devotes 22% of its total allocation to measures that support the digital transition. The plan provides for investments in digital infrastructure, the digitalization of public administration, including the areas of health, justice and the administration of construction permits. It promotes the digitalisation of businesses and digital projects in the cultural and creative sectors. The plan also includes measures to improve digital skills at all levels, as part of the education system and through dedicated upskilling and reskilling programmes.

Reinforcing Czechia's economic and social resilience

The Commission considers that Czechia's plan effectively addresses all or a significant subset of the economic and social challenges outlined in the country-specific recommendations addressed to Czechia by the Council in the European Semester in 2019 and in 2020.

The plan provides for measures to tackle the need for investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, sustainable transport and digital infrastructure. Several measures aim at addressing the need to foster digital skills, improve the quality and inclusiveness of education, and to increase the availability of childcare facilities. The plan also provides for improving the business environment, mainly through extensive e-government measures, a reform of the procedures of granting construction permits and anti-corruption measures. Challenges in the area of R&D shall be improved by investment geared at strengthening public-private cooperation and financial and non-financial support to innovative firms.

The plan represents a comprehensive and adequately balanced response to Czechia's economic and social situation, thereby contributing appropriately to all six pillars referred to in the RRF Regulation.

Supporting flagship investments and reform projects

The Czech plan proposes projects in all seven European flagship areas. These are specific investment projects which address issues that are common to all member states in areas that create jobs and growth and are needed for the twin transition. For instance, Czechia has proposed €1.4bn to support the energy efficiency renovation of buildings and €500 million to boost digital skills through education and investments in upskilling and reskilling programmes for the entire labour force.  

The Commission's assessment finds that no measure included in the plan does any significant harm to the environment, in line with the requirements laid out in the RRF Regulation.

The arrangements proposed in the recovery and resilience plan in relation to control systems are adequate to prevent, detect and correct corruption, fraud and conflicts of interests relating to the use of funds. The arrangements are also expected to effectively avoid double funding under that Regulation and other Union programmes. These control systems are complemented by additional audit and control measures contained in the Commission's proposal for a Council Implementing Decision as milestones. These milestones must be fulfilled before Czechia presents its first payment request to the Commission.

President Ursula von der Leyen said: “Today, the European Commission has decided to give its green light to Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. This plan will play a crucial role in supporting a shift towards a greener and more digital future for Czechia. Measures that improve energy efficiency, digitalize public administration and deter the misuse of public funds are exactly in line with the objectives of NextGenerationEU. I also welcome the strong emphasis the plan places on strengthening the resilience of Czechia's health-care system to prepare it for future challenges. We will stand with you every step of the way to ensure that the plan is fully implemented.

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Czechia's recovery and resilience plan will provide a strong boost to the country's efforts to get back its feet after the economic shock caused the pandemic. The €7bn in NextGenerationEU funds that will flow to Czechia over the next five years will support a wide-ranging programme of reforms and investments to build a more sustainable and competitive economy. They include very sizeable investments in building renovation, clean energy and sustainable mobility, as well as measures to boost digital infrastructure and skills and the digitalisation of public services. The business environment will benefit from the promotion of e-government and anti-corruption measures. The plan will also support improvements in healthcare, including reinforced cancer prevention and rehabilitation care.”

Next steps

The Commission has today adopted a proposal for a Council Implementing Decision to provide €7bn in grants to Czechia under the RRF. The Council will now have, as a rule, four weeks to adopt the Commission's proposal.

The Council's approval of the plan would allow for the disbursement of €910m to Czechia in pre-financing. This represents 13% of the total amount allocated to Czechia.

An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “This plan will put Czechia on the path to recovery and boost its economic growth as Europe gears up for the green and digital transitions. Czechia intends to invest in renewable energy and sustainable transport, while improving the energy efficiency of buildings. It aims to roll out greater digital connectivity across the country, promote digital education and skills, and digitalize many of its public services. And it places a welcome focus on improving the business environment and justice system, backed by measures to fight corruption and promote e-government – all in a balanced response to the Czech economic and social situation. Once put properly into practice, this plan will help to put Czechia on a sound footing for the future.”

The Commission will authorize further disbursements based on the satisfactory fulfilment of the milestones and targets outlined in the Council Implementing Decision, reflecting progress on the implementation of the investments and reforms. 

More information

Questions and answers: European Commission endorses Czechia's recovery and resilience plan

Recovery and Resilience Facility: Questions and answers

Factsheet on Czechia's recovery and resilience plan

Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Czechia

Annex to the Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Czechia

Staff-working document accompanying the proposal for a Council Implementing Decision

Recovery and Resilience Facility

Recovery and Resilience Facility Regulation

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Death toll rises to 170 in Germany and Belgium floods



The death toll in devastating flooding in western Germany and Belgium rose to at least 170 on Saturday (17 July) after burst rivers and flash floods this week collapsed houses and ripped up roads and power lines, write Petra Wischgoll,
David Sahl, Matthias Inverardi in Duesseldorf, Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt and Bart Meijer in Amsterdam.

Some 143 people died in the flooding in Germany's worst natural disaster in more than half a century. That included about 98 in the Ahrweiler district south of Cologne, according to police.

Hundreds of people were still missing or unreachable as several areas were inaccessible due to high water levels while communication in some places was still down.


Residents and business owners struggled to pick up the pieces in battered towns.

"Everything is completely destroyed. You don't recognise the scenery," said Michael Lang, owner of a wine shop in the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler in Ahrweiler, fighting back tears.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Erftstadt in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the disaster killed at least 45 people.

"We mourn with those that have lost friends, acquaintances, family members," he said. "Their fate is ripping our hearts apart."

Around 700 residents were evacuated late on Friday after a dam broke in the town of Wassenberg near Cologne, authorities said.

But Wassenberg mayor Marcel Maurer said water levels had been stabilising since the night. "It's too early to give the all-clear but we are cautiously optimistic," he said.

The Steinbachtal dam in western Germany, however, remained at risk of breaching, authorities said after some 4,500 people were evacuated from homes downstream.

Steinmeier said it would take weeks before the full damage, expected to require several billions of euros in reconstruction funds, could be assessed.

Armin Laschet, state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and the ruling CDU party's candidate in September's general election, said he would speak to Finance Minister Olaf Scholz in the coming days about financial support.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected to travel on Sunday to Rhineland Palatinate, the state that is home to the devastated village of Schuld.

Members of the Bundeswehr forces, surrounded by partially submerged cars, wade through the flood water following heavy rainfalls in Erftstadt-Blessem, Germany, July 17, 2021. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen
Austrian rescue team members use their boats as they go through an area affected by floods, following heavy rainfalls, in Pepinster, Belgium, July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

In Belgium, the death toll rose to 27, according to the national crisis centre, which is co-ordinating the relief operation there.

It added that 103 people were "missing or unreachable". Some were likely unreachable because they could not recharge mobile phones or were in hospital without identity papers, the centre said.

Over the past several days the floods, which have mostly hit the German states of Rhineland Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia and eastern Belgium, have cut off entire communities from power and communications.

RWE (RWEG.DE), Germany's largest power producer, said on Saturday its opencast mine in Inden and the Weisweiler coal-fired power plant were massively affected, adding that the plant was running at lower capacity after the situation stabilized.

In the southern Belgian provinces of Luxembourg and Namur, authorities rushed to supply drinking water to households.

Flood water levels slowly fell in the worst hit parts of Belgium, allowing residents to sort through damaged possessions. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited some areas on Saturday afternoon.

Belgian rail network operator Infrabel published plans of repairs to lines, some of which would be back in service only at the very end of August.

Emergency services in the Netherlands also remained on high alert as overflowing rivers threatened towns and villages throughout the southern province of Limburg.

Tens of thousands of residents in the region have been evacuated in the past two days, while soldiers, fire brigades and volunteers worked frantically throughout Friday night (16 July) to enforce dykes and prevent flooding.

The Dutch have so far escaped disaster on the scale of its neighbours, and as of Saturday morning no casualties had been reported.

Scientists have long said that climate change will lead to heavier downpours. But determining its role in these relentless rainfalls will take at least several weeks to research, scientists said on Friday.

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