EU boss Juncker scolds empty parliament as ‘ridiculous’

Jean-Claude Juncker, known for his sharp wit, was angry to find only a handful of MEPs present at the assembly in Strasbourg to hear a report on Malta’s just-completed EU presidency.

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But his remarks drew a sharp response from parliament head Antonio Tajani, who said his colleague was out of order and should mind his tongue.

“The European Parliament is ridiculous, totally ridiculous,” Juncker told the chamber, which seats 751 deputies.

“I salute those who made the effort to turn up but the fact that only about 30 deputies are here for this debate clearly shows that parliament is not serious!” he said.

Tajani interrupted from the podium: “You can criticise the parliament but it is not the Commission which controls parliament.”

“It is parliament which controls the Commission!” Juncker retorted: “There are only a few members in the plenary to control the Commission. You are ridiculous!”

“Mr President, I ask you, please use different language. We are not ridiculous,” Tajani said.

Juncker begged to differ and signed off with a blunt admonition: “I will never again attend a meeting of this kind.” It is a courtesy for the head of the country holding the EU’s rotating presidency, in this case Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, to present parliament with a report on their work during the country’s six-month leadership.

Juncker, a former long-serving Luxembourg premier, became head of the Commission in 2014 promising a more political approach.

He also has a reputation for sometimes undiplomatic language which tends to amuse and infuriate in equal measure.

Italy’s Tajani became president of the parliament in January and served as EU transport commissioner from 2010 to 2014.

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Turnbull says he won’t be reshuffling cabinet

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has indicated he is unlikely to bow to calls to reshuffle his cabinet to bring in more conservatives.

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“My cabinet reflects all traditions in the Liberal party and indeed the National Party. It is a very, very talented and capable cabinet,” he told Fairfax Media when asked if he had enough conservatives.

There have been reports that some senior Liberals are agitating for moderate cabinet ministers to be dumped in favour of conservatives to end dissension in the ranks.

Tensions in the Liberal party have been rising since a recording of senior cabinet minister Christopher Pyne boasting of the moderates’ influence in the government nearly a fortnight ago.

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Former prime minister Tony Abbott has stepped up his criticism of the direction of the government, and he said on Wednesday that he would not stop.

He’s told his local newspaper, The Manly Daily, that he doesn’t want a job back in cabinet.

“I am very happy being a backbench member of the government because it gives me the freedom to speak as I think best, and it gives me more time to be a very conscious local member.”

He said he had done nothing wrong by talking publicly on policy issues.

“Obviously I support the government, I support the prime minister,” he said.

“I am a member of the government and it has always been the Liberal Party tradition that backbenchers can speak their mind on policy issues.”

Fellow Liberal MPs and National colleagues have called on Mr Abbott to ease up.

Nationals senator John Williams on Tuesday said the public divisions in the Liberal Party were taking away from the government’s achievements.

“That is very frustrating, it is very annoying and I’m just fed up with it,” he told ABC radio.

Northern Ireland executive still stalled

The leaders of Northern Ireland’s two main political parties say talks on a new power-sharing executive in the British province have broken down and no agreement is expected in the near future.

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Northern Ireland’s political scene has been in crisis since the collapse in January of the coalition mandated under a 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of sectarian Protestant-Catholic violence.

The Irish Catholic nationalist Sinn Fein and the Protestant pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) have been in talks since a March election to form a new power-sharing government.

The British government, which is overseeing the talks alongside Ireland’s government, warned on Monday it would have to step in to manage public spending in the province, and might call new elections unless a deal was reached soon.

Both parties said on Tuesday that no deal had been agreed and that progress was not expected in the near future.

“Obviously we are disappointed that we don’t have an agreement this afternoon and indeed we’ve been disappointed for quite some time that we haven’t been able to reach an agreement,” DUP leader Arlene Foster told reporters.

“However we are going to keep working at it over the summer and hopefully we can come to an agreement later on in the year.”

Sinn Fein blamed the impasse on British Prime Minister Theresa May, who struck a separate deal last week with the DUP to support her minority government in the British parliament – something they say has compromised the government’s neutrality.

“What this constitutes is a monumental failure on behalf of Theresa May. She has set back decades of work that has been done here throughout the years,” said Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader, Michelle O’Neill.

Britain’s Northern Ireland minister, James Brokenshire, signalled he would be prepared to wait for a deal and the overriding priority was to reach an agreement on restoring the executive.

Canada to compensate ex-Gitmo inmate

Canada’s Liberal government will apologise to former Guantanamo Bay inmate Omar Khadr and pay him around $C10 million ($A10 million) in compensation, two sources close to the matter say, prompting opposition protests.

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A Canadian citizen, Khadr was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 at age 15 after a firefight with US soldiers. He pleaded guilty to killing a US Army medic and became the youngest inmate held at the military prison in Cuba.

Khadr later recanted and his lawyers said he had been grossly mistreated.

In 2010, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that Canada breached his rights by sending intelligence agents to interrogate him and sharing the results with the United States.

The case proved divisive: defenders called Khadr a child soldier while the then-Conservative government dismissed calls to seek leniency, noting he had pleaded guilty to a serious crime.

“Meet Canada’s newest multi-millionaire – Omar Khadr,” said the Conservatives as they unveiled a protest petition.

Tony Clement, the Conservative Party’s public safety spokesman, said “it is one thing to acknowledge alleged mistreatment, but it is wrong to lavishly reward a convicted terrorist who murdered an allied soldier who had a wife and two children”.

Khadr spent a decade in Guantanamo before being returned to Canada in 2012 to serve the rest of his sentence. He was released on bail in 2015 and lives in Edmonton, Alberta.

The Canadian government and Khadr’s lawyers agreed on the compensation deal, said the sources, who asked to remain anonymous given the sensitivity. Canada has reached a series of expensive settlements with citizens imprisoned abroad who alleged Ottawa was complicit in their mistreatment.

Khadr, 30, had sued Ottawa for $C20 million on grounds of violating his human rights. News of the settlement was broken by the Globe and Mail newspaper.

A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale declined to comment.

Khadr was taken to Afghanistan by his father, an al-Qaeda member, who apprenticed the boy to a group of bomb makers. The father died in a battle with Pakistani forces in 2003.

French PM urges end to spending addiction

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe says it’s time to end France’s addiction to easy public spending, promising to cut expenditures over the next five years and rein in debts he says are at an unacceptable level.

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New president Emmanuel Macron regards taming spending and reducing its budget deficit as key to winning the trust of European Union partner Germany and persuading Berlin to embark on reforms to shore up the bloc.

“The French are hooked on public spending. Like all addictions it doesn’t solve any of the problems it is meant to ease. And like all addictions it requires willpower and courage to detox,” Philippe told the National Assembly to applause on Tuesday.

Philippe said that for every 100 euros Germany raised in taxes it spent 98 euros, while France spent 125 euros for every 117 euros levied in taxes.

“Who really believes this situation is sustainable?”

The government and its program comfortably won a vote of confidence. The lower house, dominated by Macron’s Republic on the Move party, voted 370 in favour of the government with only 67 voting against – mostly far-left and far-right lawmakers.

Some 129 people abstained, with a large number of conservatives from the Republicans party not opposing the government.

Philippe’s talk of austerity comes just as other major economies such as Germany, the United States and even Britain are signalling an easing of fiscal policy to underpin growth.

But last week France’s independent auditor revealed a more than 8 billion euro funding shortfall in this year’s budget, forecasting a deficit once again above the EU cap of 3 per cent of national income.

Philippe, a relatively unknown conservative before he was picked by Macron, said his objective was still to haul the deficit below the EU’s cap this year and he would target cuts in spending by three per cent of national income over five years.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of the far-left party France Unbowed, and far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen accused Philippe of ignoring the anger of voters with measures they said would hurt their spending power.

Philippe acknowledged that a record high abstention rate in June’s parliamentary election meant his government would have to tread carefully with its social and economic reform agenda, but that France could not ignore its problems.

On Europe, Philippe stressed Macron’s stance that any talks with Britain over its future relationship with the EU would only come after orderly negotiations over its exit from the bloc.

“Conducting orderly negotiations over the United Kingdom’s exit will be a prerequisite for the future relationship’s framework,” Philippe said.