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EU expected to extend NI Protocol grace period on chilled meats, with caveats

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The European Union is expected to agree to an extension to a grace period that would allow the continued export of unfrozen meats to Northern Ireland from Britain, a contentious point in the North’s post-Brexit arrangements.

London requested that a grace period set to expire next week be extended until the end of September as a temporary solution to a dispute dubbed the “sausage war” which overshadowed Britain’s post-Brexit debut on the world stage at the recent G7 in Cornwall.

At a meeting on Wednesday the European Commission’s lead on relations with the UK Maroš Šefcovic advised the 27 member states to agree to extend the grace period, which had been agreed last year to give Britain time to implement the so-called Protocol.

The 27 provisionally backed the suggestion, but with caveats that are to be worked out in negotiations with Britain over the coming days, The Irish Times understands.

The issue arose because the EU has no provision for unfrozen meats to be imported into the Single Market from countries that do not follow its rules, because fresh meat is a high-risk item to animal and human health.

Under the Protocol, Northern Ireland has remained in line with EU standards in order to avoid the need for checks across the island, meaning that checks must be imposed on goods arriving there from Britain.

As a condition for agreeing to continue with imports of fresh meats, the member states will insist that Britain must continue to follow EU rules on agriculture for the duration.

In addition, the 27 will insist that the extension can only be granted to allow both sides more time to find a permanent solution.

The EU has proposed that Britain should formally agree to align on plant and animal rules, which it says would make obsolete 80 per cent of checks currently required into Northern Ireland. However, London has ruled this out as contrary to the goals of Brexit as it would require accepting EU standards it has no role in setting.

The European Commission has come under pressure from national capitals to ensure that Britain implements the post-Brexit arrangements agreed last year in order to protect the Single Market from risks or unfair competition if goods enter via Northern Ireland that have not had to conform to EU standards.

But Mr Šefcovic told the member states on Wednesday that there was a need to avoid raising tensions as the peak of the marching season approaches. The issue is of symbolic significance, though major supermarkets in the North have indicated that they are able to source fresh meats locally without problems.

Westminster

The move came as Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis told MPs he is confident that Britain and the EU would agree changes to the operation of the protocol. But Downing Street said it had not yet agreed to align temporarily with EU food standards if a grace period for chilled meats was extended.

Mr Lewis told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that almost every business group he had met in the North said they had issues with the protocol they wanted to see resolved.

“We have been very clear that the current position of the protocol is not sustainable and we need to rectify that and I am optimistic and confident we will get that done in the time ahead,” he said.

“I think it is reasonable for anyone to take the view that there will be changes, there has to be.”

Britain has asked the EU for an extension until the end of this year of a grace period on restrictions on chilled meats from Great Britain entering Northern Ireland. RTÉ News reported on Wednesday that European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic had advised member-states that they should grant the extension quickly.

According to the report, the member-states agreed to grant the request on condition that Britain continues to align with EU food standards for the duration of the extension and that both sides would seek a long-term solution for food consignments crossing the Irish Sea.

Asked if Britain had agreed to such a temporary alignment of food safety standards, Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said that discussions with the EU were ongoing and that no final resolution had been reached.

At the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the DUP’s Ian Paisley told Mr Lewis that any changes to the protocol must be significant.

“I don’t think it should be lost on anyone as to why there is a requirement for significant changes, and I hope that those changes, which you are tempting us with, and putting in front of us, that they are actually significant and they will not be tinkerings, but they will be changes which address this discrimination aspect,” he said.

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Madrid’s Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado granted World Heritage status | Culture

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Madrid’s famous Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado boulevard have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The decision, made on Sunday, brings the total number of World Heritage Sites in Spain to 49 – the third-highest in the world after Italy and China.

Up until Sunday, none of these sites were located in the Spanish capital. The Madrid region, however, was home to three: El Escorial Monastery in Alcalá de Henares, the historical center of Aranjuez and the Montejo beech forest in Montejo de la Sierra.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez celebrated the news on Twitter, saying it was a “deserved recognition of a space in the capital that enriches our historical, artistic and cultural legacy.”

Retiro Park is a green refuge of 118 hectares in the center of the city of Madrid. Paseo del Prado boulevard is another icon of the capital, featuring six museums, major fountains such as the Fuente de Cibeles as well as the famous Plaza de Cibeles square.

For the sites to be granted World Heritage status, Spain needed the support of two-thirds of the UNESCO committee – 15 votes from 21 countries. The proposal was backed by Brazil, Ethiopia, Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Oman and Saudi Arabia, among others.

Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.
Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.Víctor Sainz

Prior to the vote, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the organization that advises UNESCO, had argued against considering the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park as one site, and recommended that the latter be left out on the grounds that there were no “historic justifications” for the two to be paired.

This idea was strongly opposed by Spain’s ambassador to UNESCO, Andrés Perelló, who said: “What they are asking us to do is rip out a lung from Madrid. El Prado and El Retiro are a happy union, whose marriage is certified with a cartography more than three centuries old.” The origins of Paseo del Prado date back to 1565, while Retiro Park was first opened to the public during the Enlightenment.

Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado.
Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado. Víctor Sainz

The ICOMOS report also denounced the air pollution surrounding the site. To address these concerns, Madrid City Hall indicated it plans to reduce car traffic under its Madrid 360 initiative, which among other things is set to turn 10 kilometers of 48 streets into pedestrian areas, but is considered less ambitious than its predecessor Madrid Central.

The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in the Chinese city of Fuzhou and was broadcast live at Madrid’s El Prado Museum. Perelló summed up the reasons to include Retiro Park and El Paseo de Prado in less than three minutes.

“When people say ‘from Madrid to heaven’ [the slogan of the Spanish capital] I ask myself why would you want to go to heaven when heaven is already in Madrid,” he told delegates at the event, which was scheduled to take place in 2020, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Every year, UNESCO evaluates 25 proposals for additions to the World Heritage List. In the case of the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park, the site was judged on whether it evidenced an exchange of considerable architectural influences, was a representative example of a form of construction or complex and if it was associated with traditions that are still alive today. The famous park and boulevard sought to be inscribed on the UNESCO list in 1992, but its candidacy did not reach the final stage of the process.

Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).
Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).Biblioteca Nacional de España

The effort to win recognition for the sites’ outstanding universal value began again in 2014 under former Madrid mayor Ana Botella, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), and was strengthed by her successor Manuela Carmena, of the leftist Ahora Madrid party, which was later renamed Más Madrid. An advisor from UNESCO visited the site in October 2019.

English version by Melissa Kitson.



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Ryanair reports €273m loss as passenger traffic rebounds

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Ryanair has reported a €273 million loss for its first quarter even as traffic rebounded during the period.

The carrier said it carried 8.1 million passengers in the three month period, which cover April to June. This compares to just 500,000 in the same period a year earlier.

Revenues increased 196 per cent from €125 million in the first quarter of 2020 to €371 million for the same quarter this year. Operation costs also rose however, jumping from €313 million to €675 million.

Net debt reduced by 27 per cent on the back of strong operating of €590 million.

“Covid-19 continued to wreak havoc on our business during the first quarter with most Easter flights cancelled and a slower than expected easing of EU travel restrictions into May and June,” said group chief executive Michael O’Leary.

“Based on current bookings, we expect traffic to rise from over five million in June to almost nine million in July, and over 10 million in August, as long as there are no further Covid setbacks in Europe,” he added.

Ryanair said the rollout of EU digital Covid certificates and the scrapping of quarantine for vaccinated arrivals to Britain from mid-July has led to a surge in bookings in recent week.

First quarter scheduled revenues increased 91 per cent to €192 million on the back of the rise in passenger traffic although this was offset by the cancellation of Easter traffic and a delay in the relaxation of travel restrictions.

Ancillary revenue generated approximately €22 per passenger the company said.

Mr O’Leary foresaw growth opportunities for the airline due to the collapse of many European airlines during the Covid crisis, and widespread capacity cuts at other carriers.

“We are encouraged by the high rate of vaccinations across Europe. If, as is presently predicted, most of Europe’s adult population is fully vaccinated by September., then we believe that we can look forward to a strong recovery in air travel for the second half of the fiscal year and well into 2022 – as is presently the case in domestic US air travel,” he said.

However, the airline warned the future remains challenging due to continued Covid restrictions and a lack of bookings and that this meant it was impossible to provided “meaningful” guidance at the time.

“We believe that full0year 2022 traffic has improved to a range of 90 million to 100 million (previously guided at the lower end of an 80 million to 120 million passenger range) and (cautiously) expect that the likely outcome for the year is somewhere between a small loss and breakeven. This is dependent on the continued rollout of vaccines this summer, and no adverse Covid variant developments,” said Mr O’Leary.

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Switzerland’s Credit Suisse settles with star banker over spying scandal

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CEO Tidjane Thiam was forced to resign in February 2020 after admitting the bank had hired investigators to follow Khan, head of international wealth management, because he had opted to move to arch-rival, UBS.

As well as sending shockwaves through banking circles, the case sparked a criminal probe in Switzerland.

“All parties involved have agreed to end the case,” Credit Suisse spokeswoman Simone Meier told NZZ am Sonntag, which revealed the agreement.

Meier declined to comment further when contacted by AFP.

The public prosecutor of the canton of Zurich has also ended his investigation, as the complaints have been withdrawn, NZZ am Sonntag reported.

Thiam’s resignation followed a torrid six-month scandal that began with revelations in the Swiss press that Khan had been shadowed by agents from a private detective company hired after he joined UBS. 

At one point, Khan physically confronted the people following him.

In October, chief operating officer Pierre-Olivier Bouee resigned, acknowledging at the end of an internal investigation that he “alone” had ordered the tailing without informing his superiors.

He had wanted to ensure that Khan was not trying to poach other employees, according to the internal investigation.

The case was reopened in December 2019 when the bank admitted to a second case of espionage, this time involving the former head of human resources, and then in February after media reports that the surveillance had also targeted the environmental organisation Greenpeace.



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