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Macron is putting himself back in control by naming Jean Castex prime minister

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French President Emmanuel Macron has named Jean Castex the country's new prime minister after the resignation of former PM Édouard Philippe's cabinet. Rather unknown to the public, Castex came to some prominence in early April when appointed to head the government's strategy for ending coronavirus lockdown measures. “This is about strategy”, Andrew Smith, professor of phRead More – Source

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Air France to cut 7,580 jobs at French flagship carrier and regional unit Hop!

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Air France confirmed plans to cut some 7,500 jobs including 1,000 at sister airline Hop! on Friday, as staff protested over its response to the collapse in travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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The French flag carrier, part of Franco-Dutch group Air France-KLM, said it had lost €15 million a day during the worst part of the crisis, which also saw its revenues plunge by 95 percent. It did not see traffic returning to 2019 levels before 2024.

As a result, Air France plans to cut 6,560 or 16 percent of jobs at the main airline by the end of 2022, more than 3,500 of which will come through natural departures, it said after union talks.

Another 1,020 jobs will go over the next three years at Hop!, representing 42 percent of staff at the regional carrier based in the coastal city of Nantes, which has also been hit by job cuts at plane manufacturer Airbus.

The French government – which granted Air France €7 billion ($7.9 billion) in aid, including state-backed loans, to help it to survive – has urged the airline to avoid compulsory layoffs, though it has conceded Air France is "on the edge”.

"A successful labour reorganisation is one where there are no forced departures," junior economy minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told Sud Radio on Friday.

In its statement, Air France said it would give priority to voluntary departures, early retirement and staff mobility. It did not rule out compulsory redundancies, however.

The reconstruction plan will be presented at the end of July, together with a plan for the wider Air France-KLM Group.

This is not how I wanted to leave

Some 100 union members and employees, from cleaning staff to check-in assistants, demonstrated earlier outside the airline's base at Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris against plans to cut staff after receiving state aid to absorb the pandemic fallout.

Air France employees gather to protest a restructuring plan that includes thousands of job cuts in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis outside the French airline's headquarters in Roissy-en-France near Paris on July 3, 2020. The sign at right reads, "Not born to end up in the dumpster.” © Gonzalo Fuentes, Reuters

"It's scandalous. The government is putting in €7 billion and the compRead More – Source

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French court opens inquiry into former PM Philippe in handling of Covid crisis

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A French court is opening an inquiry into former prime minister Édouard Philippe and two other ministers over their handling of the coronavirus crisis, a prosecutor said Friday.

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The inquiry, which is being opened after nine complaints filed against the ministers were deemed admissable, will be led by the Law Court of the Republic (CJR), which deals with claims of ministerial misconduct, said senior public prosecutor François Molins.

Along with Philippe, who was reRead More – Source

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Germany assumes EU presidency as Merkel pushes for massive bloc-wide recovery plan

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Germany takes over the European Union's six-month presidency Wednesday, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel staking her legacy on a massive economic recovery plan to help the bloc cope with the coronavirus fallout.

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Merkel's last major role on the international stage comes as the 27-member club faces its deepest recession since World War II, triggered by a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 people globally.

The crisis has galvanised Europe's most powerful leader who, with just over a year left in her final term, has ditched her usual wait-and-see approach to call for "extraordinary measures" to weather the storm.

"Europe's future is our future," Merkel said Monday as she stood beside French President Emmanuel Macron to push for a 750-billion-euro ($843 billion) coronavirus recovery fund.

Analysis: German EU presidency brings 'sigh of relief' to coronavirus-ravaged Europe

The proposed fund would controversially be financed through shared EU borrowing and marks a stunning U-turn for Germany after years of opposition to debt pooling.

The EU's rotating presidency is Merkel's "last chance" to make her mark as one of Europe's great leaders, Der Spiegel weekly wrote, adding that it was time for Germany to shoulder more responsibility as the bloc's biggest nation and top economy.

"For years the chancellor put off dealing with the chronic problems of the EU and the euro. Now, towards the end of her political career, she has the opportunity to make up for past mistakes," Spiegel wrote.

There will be no shortage of challenges to tackle in the months ahead.

Post-Brexit negotiations, a more assertive China, rocky transatlantic ties, climate change and the conflicts in Libya and Syria will all be jostling for attention, even if the pandemic promises to dominate the agenda.

'Extraordinary solidarity'

Germany kicked off its EU custodianship by projecting the words "Together for Europe's recovery" onto Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate late Tuesday.

After 15 years in office, Merkel is the bloc's longest-serving leader and held the EU presidency once before, in 2007.

But the stakes are higher this time.

A first major test will come at a July 17-18 EU summit, where Merkel hopes leaders will reach an agreement on the 750-billion-euro rescue fund put forward by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen — Merkel's former defence minister.

The money is expected to come mainly in the form of grants for countries hardest hit by the pandemic, such as debt-laden Italy and Spain.

But so-called frugal nations including Austria and the Netherlands want to reign in the sRead More – Source

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Russian voters back reform allowing Putin to extend rule

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Russians appeared to have paved the way for Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036 by voting overwhelmingly for a package of constitutional changes which will also boost pensions, partial results of a nationwide vote showed on Wednesday.

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Results, after almost a third of ballots had been counted, indicated that the former KGB officer who has ruled Russia for more than two decades as president or prime minister would easily win the right to run for two more terms. That means he could remain president for 16 more years.

The Central Election Commission said 74% of votes counted across the world's largest country had supported changing the constitution. Just under 25% had voted no of the 30% of ballots counted.

Russians have been encouraged to vote with prize draws offering flats and an ad campaign highlighting other constitutional amendments in the same reform bundle, such as the pensions protection and a de facto ban on same-sex marriages.

One-off payments of 10,000 roubles ($141) were transferred to those with children at Putin's order as people headed to polling stations on Wednesday, the last day of the vote, held over seven days to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

"I voted for the amendments to the constitution," Moscow resident Mikhail Volkov said. "We need radical changes and I'm for them."

Others voted for the changes with less enthusiasm.

"I didn't read about the amendments if I'm honest," another voter, Lyudmila, said. "What's the point of voting if they've already decided for you. It's like that in our country – read something and vote. I voted."

Turnout was around 65%, election officials said. The required turnout is 50% and the amendments will pass if they are backed by a simple majority of voters.

Putin, 67, made no mention of how the changes could affect his own career in an eve-of-vote speech on Tuesday. They would allow him to run for another two six-year, consecutive stints after his current term expires in 2024.

Putin has said he has yet to decide on his future. Critics say they are sure he will run again, but some analysts say he may want to keep his options open to avoid becoming a lame duck.

At 60%, according to the Levada pollster, his approval rating remains high but well down on its peak of nearly 90%.

With Russia reporting thousands of new Covid-19 cases each day, opponents have been unable to stage protests but have mocked the vote online, sharing photographs of polling stations in apartment stairwells, courtyards and the boot of a car.

Small protests

A small group of activists staged a symbolic protest on Red Square on Wednesday afternoon using their prostrate bodies to form the date — 2036 — before being swiftly detained by police, TV Rain reported.

The "No! Campaign," called on supporters to vote against the changes and then discuss the result on Moscow's Pushkinskaya SquarRead More – Source

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End of the line for Fessenheim as France’s oldest nuclear plant shuts down

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France's oldest nuclear plant was switched off on Monday, ending four decades of output that built the local economy but also fuelled cross-border controversy.

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The second and last reactor of the plant at Fessenheim in eastern France — opened in 1977 and three years over its projected 40-year life span — went offline as of 11:00 pm (2100 GMT), said state-owned power company EDF.

The procedure to finally shut down the plant, four months after the first reactor was taken offline, had started hours earlier than scheduled, and will be followed in the coming months and years by the site's dismantlement.

Its closure is welcomed by anti-nuclear campaigners in France, Germany and Switzerland, who for years warned of contamination risks, particularly after the catastrophic meltdown at Fukushima, Japan in 2011.

Then-president Francois Hollande pledged to close Fessenheim — on the Rhine river — but it was not until 2018 that his successor Emmanuel Macron gave the final green light.

After its disconnection from the power grid Monday, it will be months before Fessenheim's reactors have cooled enough for the spent fuel to be removed.

That process should be completed by 2023, but the plant is not expected to be fully dismantled before at least 2040.

'Inhuman'

The closure threatens the livelihoods of 2,500 people in the tiny Alsatian community.

Only 294 people will be needed on site for the fuel removal process until 2023, and about 60 after that for the final disassembly.

At the end of 2017, Fessenheim had more than 1,000 employees and service providers on site.

"What pain, it is inhuman what is happening," the CGT labour union tweeted as the first switches were flicked.

The government has said workers will be transferred to other EDF sites. But many would have to leave their families behind.

There is no legal limit on the life span of French nuclear power stations, but EDF had envisaged a 40-year ceiling for all second-generation reactors, which use pressurised water technology.

France's ASN nuclear safety authority has said reactors can be operated beyond 40 years only if ambitious safety improvements are undertaken.

In the 1990s and 2000s, several safety failures were reported at Fessenheim, including an electrical fault, cracks in a reactor cover, a chemistry error, water pollution, a fuel leak, and non-lethal radioactive contamination of workers.

In 2007, the same year a Swiss study found that seismic risks in the Alsace region had been underestimated during construction, the ASN denounRead More – Source

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‘Build, build build’: UK’s Johnson unveils plan to beat Covid-19 slump

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to shake Britain's economy out of its coronavirus-induced crisis on Tuesday by fast-tracking infrastructure investment and slashing property planning rules.

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As Britain emerges from lockdown, Johnson is looking to move past criticism of his government's handling of the pandemic with a plan to repair the economic damage and reshape the country.

"We cannot continue simply to be prisoners of the crisis," Johnson said. "We must work fast because we've already seen the vertiginous drop in GDP and we know that people are worried now about their jobs and their businesses."

His message, delivered at a college in the central English town of Dudley, was overshadowed by the announcement of a new lockdown in Leicester, just 50 miles away, where Covid-19 infections are surging.

Nevertheless, with an exhortation to "build, build, build", Johnson announced plans to speed up government infrastructure spending and cut through the red tape around planning to make private sector property development easier..

"We will build the hospitals, build the schools, the colleges. But we will also build back greener and build a more beautiful Britain," he said.

Promising not to cut spending, he compared his plan to then US President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1930s "New Deal", which included job-creating public works projects to help the United States recover from the Great Depression.

"It sounds like a prodigious amount of government intervention, sounds like a new deal … If that is so, then that is how it's meant to sound," Johnson said.

Spent sooner

Tuesday's headline spending announcement of 5 billion pounds ($6 billion) amounts to around 5% of gross public sector investment last year. Most had already been announced and is only being spent sooner than planned.

"It's not enough," Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer told the BBC. "The prime minister promised a new deal — well there's not much that's new and it's not much of a deal."

Kate Forbes, finance secretary for the devolved Scottish govRead More – Source

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Greek Brothels Suffer from COVID-19 Crisis

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ATHENS, GREECE – Businesses across Greece have been slowly reopening, scrambling to make up for lost work after a shutdown of more than two months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The relaunch isn’t easy, especially for those in marginalized professions, such as sex workers, who say they are among the hardest hit.

In the small city of Larisa, north of the Greek capital, Soula Alevridou operates one of the region’s top brothels.

For years, she said, business was booming. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Now, times are tough.

“There is very little work,” Alevridou said. “Almost nothing. This industry has been hurt badly, and it feels as if its workers are coming out of a war, all of them injured. Those who manage to recover will survive, but it is tough.”

Under a new set of government health and safety regulations, brothels must now implement new protective measures to prevent coronavirus infections.

They require sex workers to wear masks, keep their heads a distance from customers and take on appointments of no more than 15 minutes, all measures the industry has agreed to.

Names and contact numbers

However, orders to register clients names and contact numbers, as well as to keep them in orderly lines outside brothels, have prostitutes balking, saying the measures strike at the very foundation of their service: anonymity.

“Keeping records of clients, their names and contacts may be right,” Alevridou said. “It assists health authorities in tracking and tracing potential cases.” Sex workers, though, she said, cannot play the role of police officers. The sex trade is a different business altogether, she said.

Cashless payments, now required, are also proving a problem.

A married man, Alevridou said, cannot go to a brothel and pay with his cash or credit card. His family probably shares the same card and he’s bound to have problems once his wife or son or daughter get a whiff of the bordello charges, she said.

Critics say the measures will be impossible to impose.

“It’s highly unlikely that these measures will be observed,” said Thanos Askitis, a leading sex therapist in Greece. Ultimately, he said, they will add no further protection to the industry. It will all boil down to luck or lack of it in containing the crisis on this front, he said.

So far, no cases have been recorded nationwide involving Greek sex workers.

However, the financial beating the industry has suffered in recent months, plus the new measures imposed, have many sex workers returning to the streets, branching out online or just going underground to eke out a living.

800 brothels

The crisis is much more prevalent in big cities, such as Athens, where most sex workers are already operating illegally. Authorities said they count about 800 brothels, but only a third of them are legally listed.

While the Greek government has offered financial assistance to those who have lost their income because of the COVID-19 crisis, no adequate provisions have been made for the sex industry.

To qualify for the aid payments, workers must show they are operating legally and have been paying taxes. That is impossible, though, for the uncounted numbers of unregistered sex workers here, mainly migrants, who cannot do so because they lack legal status.

Unlike other countries across Europe and beyond, sex workers here have received little, if any, support from local charity groups.

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Greek Brothels Suffer from COVID-19 Crisis

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ATHENS, GREECE – Businesses across Greece have been slowly reopening, scrambling to make up for lost work after a shutdown of more than two months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The relaunch isn’t easy, especially for those in marginalized professions, such as sex workers, who say they are among the hardest hit.

In the small city of Larisa, north of the Greek capital, Soula Alevridou operates one of the region’s top brothels.

For years, she said, business was booming. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Now, times are tough.

“There is very little work,” Alevridou said. “Almost nothing. This industry has been hurt badly, and it feels as if its workers are coming out of a war, all of them injured. Those who manage to recover will survive, but it is tough.”

Under a new set of government health and safety regulations, brothels must now implement new protective measures to prevent coronavirus infections.

They require sex workers to wear masks, keep their heads a distance from customers and take on appointments of no more than 15 minutes, all measures the industry has agreed to.

Names and contact numbers

However, orders to register clients names and contact numbers, as well as to keep them in orderly lines outside brothels, have prostitutes balking, saying the measures strike at the very foundation of their service: anonymity.

“Keeping records of clients, their names and contacts may be right,” Alevridou said. “It assists health authorities in tracking and tracing potential cases.” Sex workers, though, she said, cannot play the role of police officers. The sex trade is a different business altogether, she said.

Cashless payments, now required, are also proving a problem.

A married man, Alevridou said, cannot go to a brothel and pay with his cash or credit card. His family probably shares the same card and he’s bound to have problems once his wife or son or daughter get a whiff of the bordello charges, she said.

Critics say the measures will be impossible to impose.

“It’s highly unlikely that these measures will be observed,” said Thanos Askitis, a leading sex therapist in Greece. Ultimately, he said, they will add no further protection to the industry. It will all boil down to luck or lack of it in containing the crisis on this front, he said.

So far, no cases have been recorded nationwide involving Greek sex workers.

However, the financial beating the industry has suffered in recent months, plus the new measures imposed, have many sex workers returning to the streets, branching out online or just going underground to eke out a living.

800 brothels

The crisis is much more prevalent in big cities, such as Athens, where most sex workers are already operating illegally. Authorities said they count about 800 brothels, but only a third of them are legally listed.

While the Greek government has offered financial assistance to those who have lost their income because of the COVID-19 crisis, no adequate provisions have been made for the sex industry.

To qualify for the aid payments, workers must show they are operating legally and have been paying taxes. That is impossible, though, for the uncounted numbers of unregistered sex workers here, mainly migrants, who cannot do so because they lack legal status.

Unlike other countries across Europe and beyond, sex workers here have received little, if any, support from local charity groups.

Read from source

Election exit poll shows victory for incumbent Polish President Duda

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Poland's nationalist incumbent Andrzej Duda won the first round of a presidential election on Sunday but will have to face the centrist mayor of Warsaw in a run-off on July 12, in a race that could transform the nation's ties with the European Union.

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Poland's nationalist incumbent Andrzej Duda won the first round of a presidential election on Sunday but will have to face the centrist mayor of Warsaw in a run-off on July 12, in a race that could transform the nation's ties with the European Union.

The re-election of government ally Duda is crucial if the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party is to implement further its socially conservative agenda, including judiciary reforms the EU says contravene democratic standards.

An exit poll showed Duda winning 41.8% of ballots on Sunday, against 30.4% for Rafal Trzaskowski from the Civic Platform party. Final results could differ slightly but any changes are not expected to affect who will compete in the second round.

Two opinion polls conducted late on Sunday for private broadcaster TVN and the state-run TVP showed Duda having a lead of less than 2 percentage points over Trzaskowski in two weeks.

PiS has cast Duda as the guardian of its generous welfare programmes, which have helped it win national elections in 2015 and 2019, and of its pledge to protect traditional family values in predominantly Catholic Poland.

A devout believer himself, Duda had campaigned on a promise to ban classes about gay rights in schools, saying LGBT "ideology" was worse than communist doctrine.

"The campaign goes on because Poland needs it," Duda told jubilant supporters in the central town of Lowicz. "Some people have a complex and think we are not Europeans. We are, and have been… since we converted to Christianity."

But his long-held lead crumbled in the weeks ahead of the election, after a late entry by Trzaskowski who appears to have galvanised many voters keen to end Poland's isolation within the EU or angry over Duda's allegiance to PiS.

Fragile majority

The Civic Platform, a party once led by former EU Council president Donald Tusk, replaced its flagging candidate with Trzaskowski after the election was postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic by seven weeks.

A former EU emissary for his party, Trzaskowski has promised to work towards repairing relations with Poland's European allies, and to oppose any government efforts to tighten already restrictive abortion rules.

The election is being closed watched in Brussels.

Under PiS, Poland became the only EU state to refuse to commit to the bloc's 2050 climate goal in December 2019, which critics said could undermine its aRead More – Source

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