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EUROPEAN UNION

UK PM cancels Paris visit after Thatcher death

British Prime Minister David Cameron has cancelled his planned visit to Paris on Monday evening, after the death of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He had been set to discuss EU reform over a "working dinner" with French President François Hollande.

UK PM cancels Paris visit after Thatcher death
Photo: AFP

British Prime Minister David Cameron has cancelled his scheduled visits to Paris and Berlin this week, and cut short his ongoing visit to Madrid, following the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  

"Yes he is cutting short his trip. He's returning from Madrid, he's expected back later today," a Downing St spokesman told AFP.

Cameron had been expected to press his case for reform of the European Union ahead of a referendum on his own country's membership of the bloc.

Before leaving for the trip on Monday he said he expected the 27-nation grouping would have to submit to treaty change despite top EU officials previously saying there was no appetite for it.

Before Monday afternoon's cancellation, Cameron had been set to discuss the civil war in Syria during planned talks with Spanish premier Mariano Rajoy, French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, his office said.

His tour began early on Monday with his first official visit to Madrid since taking office in 2010, but Cameron cut short the remainder of his European tour, including a working dinner with Hollande, which had been set to take place in Paris on Monday evening.

Cameron had also been preparing to visit Berlin at the end of the week for "further discussions about taking forward his (EU) reform agenda," Downing Street said.

Cameron sent shockwaves through the EU in January when he set out plans to wrest back powers from Brussels and to then put Britain's reshaped membership to an in-out referendum by the end of 2017.

In an interview with five European newspapers being published on Monday, Cameron called on the EU to bring in "change that all of Europe can benefit from".

"We are a major European power, a major European player. But do we think that the European Union has sometimes overreached itself with directives and interventions and interferences? Yes, it has. And that needs to change," he said.

"I think this organisation is ripe for reform. I think we're in a global race where we have to compete with (countries like) India, China, Indonesia and Malaysia," he said.

He cited the agreement by EU leaders in February to cut its 2014-2020 budget as an example of recent reformist moves by the bloc.

Cameron also told the journalists from France's Le Monde, Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung , Italy's Il Sole 24 Ore, Spain's El Mundo and Poland's Gazeta Wyborcza that he believed alterations to the EU's treaties would also be likely.

EU president Herman van Rompuy warned in February there was no appetite among EU leaders for any major treaty change, insisting the focus in coming years would be on shoring up the eurozone — the 17 countries that use the single currency that Britain is not part of.

But Cameron insisted: "I think there will be treaty change."

"The eurozone in my view needs to have further treaty change, and just as eurozone countries will argue that it's necessary to have treaty change, I think it's perfectly legitimate to argue that non-eurozone countries might need to have treaty changes that suit them," he added.

The British premier had also been ready to discuss Syria with the three EU leaders and was "keen to find ways to advance a political solution and to up the pressure on (President Bashar al-) Assad to make him realize there is no military solution," Downing Street said.

Cameron had also been expected to discuss his priorities this year for the G8 group of industrialized nations, of which Britain holds the rotating chairmanship, including EU-US trade, tackling tax avoidance and greater transparency, Downing Street said.

Britain hosts a meeting of G8 foreign ministers this week.

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EUROPEAN UNION

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary

The euro on Saturday marked 20 years since people began to use the single European currency, overcoming initial doubts, price concerns and a debt crisis to spread across the region.

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary
The Euro is projected onto the walls of the European Central Bank in Brussels. Photo: Daniel Rolund/AFP

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called the euro “a true symbol for the strength of Europe” while European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde described it as “a beacon of stability and solidity around the world”.

Euro banknotes and coins came into circulation in 12 countries on January 1, 2002, greeted by a mix of enthusiasm and scepticism from citizens who had to trade in their Deutsche marks, French francs, pesetas and liras.

The euro is now used by 340 million people in 19 nations, from Ireland to Germany to Slovakia. Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are next in line to join the eurozone — though people are divided over the benefits of abandoning their national currencies.

European Council President Charles Michel argued it was necessary to leverage the euro to back up the EU’s goals of fighting climate change and leading on digital innovation. He added that it was “vital” work on a banking union and a capital markets
union be completed.

The idea of creating the euro first emerged in the 1970s as a way to deepen European integration, make trade simpler between member nations and give the continent a currency to compete with the mighty US dollar.

Officials credit the euro with helping Europe avoid economic catastrophe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Clearly, Europe and the euro have become inseparable,” Lagarde wrote in a blog post. “For young Europeans… it must be almost impossible to imagine Europe without it.”

In the euro’s initial days, consumers were concerned it caused prices to rise as countries converted to the new currency. Though some products — such as coffee at cafes — slightly increased as businesses rounded up their conversions, official statistics have shown that the euro has brought more stable inflation.

Dearer goods have not increased in price, and even dropped in some cases. Nevertheless, the belief that the euro has made everything more expensive persists.

New look

The red, blue and orange banknotes were designed to look the same everywhere, with illustrations of generic Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance architecture to ensure no country was represented over the others.

In December, the ECB said the bills were ready for a makeover, announcing a design and consultation process with help from the public. A decision is expected in 2024.

“After 20 years, it’s time to review the look of our banknotes to make them more relatable to Europeans of all ages and backgrounds,” Lagarde said.

Euro banknotes are “here to stay”, she said, although the ECB is also considering creating a digital euro in step with other central banks around the globe.

While the dollar still reigns supreme across the globe, the euro is now the world’s second most-used currency, accounting for 20 percent of global foreign exchange reserves compared to 60 percent for the US greenback.

Von der Leyen, in a video statement, said: “We are the biggest player in the world trade and nearly half of this trade takes place in euros.”

‘Valuable lessons’

The eurozone faced an existential threat a decade ago when it was rocked by a debt crisis that began in Greece and spread to other countries. Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus were saved through bailouts in return for austerity measures, and the euro stepped back from the brink.

Members of the Eurogroup of finance ministers said in a joint article they learned “valuable lessons” from that experience that enabled their euro-using nations to swiftly respond to fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic.

As the Covid crisis savaged economies, EU countries rolled out huge stimulus programmes while the ECB deployed a huge bond-buying scheme to keep borrowing costs low.

Yanis Varoufakis, now leader of the DiEM 25 party who resigned as Greek finance minister during the debt crisis, remains a sharp critic of the euro. Varoufakis told the Democracy in Europe Movement 25 website that the euro may seem to make sense in calm periods because borrowing costs are lower and there are no exchange rates.

But retaining a nation’s currency is like “automobile assurance,” he said, as people do not know its value until there is a road accident. In fact, he charged, the euro increases the risk of having an accident.

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