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EU and UK step up N. Ireland talks as EU continues legal action

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A truck drives past a defaced 'Welcome to Northern Ireland' sign on the Ireland and Northern Ireland border reminding motorists that the speed limits will change from kilometres per hour to miles per hour on the border in Carrickcarnan, Ireland, March 6, 2021. Picture taken March 6, 2021. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

The European Union said on Friday (16 April) that Britain should not change trading rules in Northern Ireland on its own and that the bloc would continue its legal case over unilateral British action in the province for as long as necessary, write Philip Blenkinsop and Michael Holden.

European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic, who hosted UK negotiator David Frost for talks on Thursday evening, said only agreements by joint bodies established by the Brexit divorce deal could provide stability in Northern Ireland.

The British-ruled province has remained in the EU single market for goods since Brexit to ensure an open border with EU member Ireland and so requires checks on goods coming from other parts of the United Kingdom.

Britain in March unilaterally extended a grace period on certain checks to minimise supply disruption, a move Brussels said breached the Brexit divorce deal known as the Withdrawal Agreement and the specific protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. Read more.

Sefcovic said in a statement on Friday there was no space for unilateral action. He said both sides had to agree on how to comply fully with the protocol, including "clear end-points, deadlines, milestones and the means to measure progress".

Frost said the British government was committed to working through joint bodies and that all solutions had to respect the Good Friday peace agreement "in all its dimensions" and to ensure minimal disruption to everyday lives in Northern Ireland.

Both agreed that Thursday's discussion took place in a constructive atmosphere, that talks needed to intensify and that they would jointly engage with business groups, civil society and others in Northern Ireland.

Frost said some "positive momentum" had been established.

"But a number of difficult issues remained and it was important to continue to discuss them," the British government said in a statement.

Austria

Austria's Kurz expects to be charged but cleared in perjury case

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Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (pictured) expects to be charged but eventually cleared in an investigation into whether he gave false testimony to a parliamentary commission, he told Sunday newspapers, ruling out the idea of resigning if indicted.

The investigation by anti-corruption prosecutors, made public, last week poses a stiff political challenge for the conservative Kurz, 34, who governs in coalition with the Greens.

Kurz has painted himself as the victim of opposition parties trying to trap him into saying something that could be construed as perjury before the commission, which is looking into possible corruption under his previous coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) which collapsed in 2019. read more

"After every word of mine on 58 pages (of testimony) is put on the scale, I certainly expect a criminal complaint, that's right," he told the Krone newspaper in an interview, adding he had not yet been questioned by prosecutors.

But he said he was confident he would be exonerated in the case, which centres on whether he answered truthfully when asked about appointments to state holding company OBAG.

"I have spoken to numerous lawyers and several university professors. The tenor was always the same: no one can imagine that there will be a conviction here," he told the paper.

In a separate interview with the Oesterreich paper, he rejected the idea of stepping down if indicted.

"I definitely rule that out. Like many people, I have made many mistakes, both privately and professionally. But what I definitely know is that I went into the commission with the intention of answering the questions truthfully," he said.

An opinion poll published by Oesterreich showed Kurz's conservatives winning 35% support should parliamentary elections be held now, down 1 point from a week earlier and 2.5 points from its showing in 2019 elections.

Its Greens partners were on 12%, in fourth place behind the Social Democrats on 22% and the FPO at 17%.

The commission has looked into the appointment in 2019 of a conservative loyalist as chief executive of OBAG, which manages Austria's stakes in companies including oil firm OMV. Text messages examined by the commission showed Kurz telling the candidate before then he would get "everything you want".

The investigation is looking at whether Kurz discussed the appointment with the candidate beforehand and whether the chancellor was involved in selecting members of OBAG's supervisory board, both of which Kurz denied at the commission.

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Budapest mayor launches bid to challenge Orban next year

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Budapest mayor Gergely Karacsony (pictured) on Saturday (15 May) announced his bid to become the prime minister candidate for Hungary's six opposition parties which are trying to forge an alliance to take on Prime Minister Viktor Orban in national elections next year.

Earlier this week, the Hungarian opposition said it would hold the country's first ever primary elections this year to pick joint candidates to contest the 2022 ballot, a move that could threaten Orban's more than decade-long grip on power. Read more

Hardline nationalist Orban and his Fidesz party have scored three successive landslides since 2010 largely due to an election system that favours large parties as, until now, the opposition has been fragmented and unable to cooperate.

"Full of faith and hope, accepting the backing of the parties supporting me ... I can declare that I will run for prime minister candidate in the opposition primaries," Karacsony said in a video on Facebook.

"I have made this decision as I feel that my country is in grave danger," he said. "We feel less and less that Hungary is one and indivisible," the 45-year-old Karacsony said, adding that he would aim to reunite the country.

Karacsony, as the candidate of a small green liberal party, unseated the Fidesz incumbent in municipal elections in 2019. He has said that the opposition cooperation in those elections could serve as a blueprint to unseat Orban.

A survey by the pollster Median published earlier this week put support for Orban's ruling Fidesz party at 40% of all voters, while the joint opposition party list was backed by 36% of the electorate.

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Ex-Golden Dawn member extradited to Greece to start jail term

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A former member of Greece's extreme right Golden Dawn party, Ioannis Lagos (pictured), was extradited to Athens on Saturday from Brussels, where he was a member of the European parliament.

EU lawmakers stripped Lagos of his immunity last month, paving the way for his arrest and extradition to Greece where he is to serve a prison sentence alongside other party members.

"For Orthodoxy and Greece, every sacrifice is worth it," Lagos shouted at reporters as he was brought handcuffed before an Athens prosecutor.

The leaders of Golden Dawn, who were often seen giving Nazi-style salutes, were sentenced to prison in October by a Greek court for running a criminal gang linked to hate crimes during the country's economic crisis.

Government spokeswoman Arostotelia Peloni said Greece had "fought and eliminated the toxic poison of Golden Dawn. The rule of law stood firm against criminals".

Six former lawmakers, including Lagos and Golden Dawn leader Nikos Mihaloliakos, were given 13-year jail terms.

Lagos had escaped arrest in October by leaving for Brussels the day the verdict was announced.

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