Basque separatist group says ceasefire called four months ago will be permanent and verifiable by international observers


The armed Basque separatist group Eta has declared that a ceasefire it called four months ago is now “permanent and general” and open to verification by international observers.

In a statement released to the media the group said: “Eta has decided to declare a permanent and general ceasefire which will be verifiable by the international community.

“This is Eta’s firm commitment towards a process to achieve a lasting resolution and towards an end to the armed confrontation.”

The statement gives no details of how the ceasefire could be confirmed by observers.

The group calls for “dialogue and negotiation” which it says should end with some sort of vote among Basques. It also calls for a Basque right to independence to be formally recognised.

The solution to Basque independence “will come through the democratic process with dialogue and negotiation as its tools”, the statement says.

Three masked members of Eta, which is classified as a terrorist group by the European Union, have also recorded a video statement.

Rumours that Eta would take a step like this had been circulating for weeks.

There was no immediate comment from the government of socialist prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Madrid is sceptical about Eta’s intentions and has demanded that the group simply declare it has given up violence once and for all.

Observers warn that Eta has called permanent ceasefires before and has later called them off. A previous ceasefire in 2006 ended with the bombing of Madrid’s Barajas airport in which two people were killed.

More than 800 people have died in Eta violence since the group was founded in 1968, but it declared a halt to “offensive armed actions” in September.

The group was believed to have been severely weakened by hundreds of arrests in recent years.


Greece’s day of destiny takes bizarre turn with phantom eurozone summit


Athens’ fate may soon be determined regardless as despite no breakthrough and another wrong paper fiasco, proposals were welcomed as ‘detailed and credible’



Alexis Tsipras is welcomed by the European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Monday. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters


Greece’s date with destiny started with its upstart prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, being slapped on the face. It is the customary gesture of endearment from Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European commission. It means the two men are friends, despite Juncker saying at the weekend he no longer trusted Tsipras.

And the day that was supposed to arrest Greece’s collapse into bankruptcy, and prevent the euro’s diminution, ended more than 12 hours later on Monday evening with the bizarre spectacle of a phantom summit.

Monday’s hotly awaited emergency gathering of eurozone leaders, called last Thursday evening to fix the Greek crisis or at least to attach sticking plasters to Greece’s bleeding wounds, had nothing to decide and no real agenda to discuss.

For that to happen, the finance ministers of the single currency bloc who gathered earlier in the afternoon had to assess the chances of a deal and make their recommendations to the leaders. They could not do that, said Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chaired the session, because they did not have enough time to study what Athens was proposing. Their minions would have to negotiate hard and come back later in the week.

“The leaders are always free to have a different opinion,” the Dutchman smiled.

The leaders flew in from Paris and Berlin, Madrid and Vienna, Dublin and Bratislava in any case, perhaps to teach Tsipras a lesson.

“There is no question of cancelling the summit,” said an EU official. “The idea is to remove from Tsipras the illusion he can get a better deal at the summit, or that a decision can be taken at the summit level. The point is to have Tsipras learn the position of the other leaders. No negotiation, no technical discussion. Make sure everybody understands where the others are.”

It was Tsipras who wanted a summit in the first place, insisting that Greece’s pain and the eurozone’s troubles could only be sorted at the highest political level. The answer to Tsipras on Monday evening from the chancellors, presidents, and prime ministers was an ultimatum: “You can have your summit, but you’re not getting a negotiation.”

Behind the confusion and the last-minute improvisation lay a weekend of frantic communication and crossed signals over a Greek proposal that was not really a proposal. Or was it?

Negotiations collapsed in Luxembourg last Thursday with Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, memorably complaining there was no point in engaging in dialogue with the Greeks unless there were “adults in the room”.

Tsipras, a neophyte prime minister, then spent much of Sunday on the phone to the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, President Hollande of France, and Juncker, trying to prove he was an adult. Following a long list of rejected economic reform offers aimed at securing bailout cash, he promised new proposals.

The number crunchers from the creditors – the commission, the IMF, and the European Central Bank – assembled in the Berlaymont building in Brussels at 5pm on Sunday to receive the Greek offer.

They waited. And waited. At midnight the lights were still burning on the 13th floor of the Berlaymont. It was already Monday when the Greek paper arrived just after midnight. The technocrats got to work on the arithmetic that would determine whether a deal was doable: VAT rates, pension costs to GDP ratios, fiscal targets and primary budget surpluses.

Martin Selmayr, the German christian democrat and Juncker’s powerful chief of staff, tweeted that it might be tricky, but for the first time an agreement could be discerned. “Ein Zwangsgeburt,” he predicted – a forceps birth.

The commissioner for the euro, France’s Pierre Moscovici, instantly took to the French airwaves to talk up the chances of a deal. But as he slapped Tsipras playfully on the cheek, Juncker started sounding worried.

The Financial Times reported that the document the technocrats had been working on was the “wrong” one. The Greeks had sent the wrong piece of paper and only supplied the right one on Monday morning. Not for the first time. In February at a crucial stage in the bailout negotiations, Athens also sent the wrong set of proposals to Berlin. The weekend before last, the Greeks showed up in Brussels for negotiations without any proposals on the Saturday afternoon. They were asked to document their intentions and came back 24 hours later with nothing new.

The latest “wrong paper” fiasco on Monday morning gave eurozone finance ministers cause to dismiss the chances of any breakthrough on the grounds that Tsipras was playing for time and seeking to avoid detailed technical negotiations. The German, Finnish, Irish, and Austrian finance ministers voiced contempt. The Greeks maintained their habit of tardiness when Yanis Varoufakis, the outspoken finance minister, turned up 45 minutes late for the session. Dijsselbloem said the meeting could not decide anything because they did not have enough time for their aides to check whether the Greek sums added up.

But commission sources, keen to strike a deal, believed the hawks on the creditor side were trying to wreck the agreement or at least make it more difficult. Juncker’s spokesman said they had received the Greek proposals just after midnight, signed by Tsipras (a first), and that the Greek plan had been passed to the ECB and IMF. The “new” version on Monday morning contained only minor and cosmetic changes. Dijsselbloem admitted that and conceded the confusion over the two papers was not much of a problem.

And despite the ministerial dissing of the Greeks, officials on the creditor side not normally known for being lenient towards Athens agreed that the Greek proposals were the first “detailed and credible” policy shifts they had seen from Tsipras in his five months in office.

Merkel, as usual, hedged her bets and noted that there were several days in a week – a week being the time remaining until Greece’s bailout lapses and a €1.6bn (£1.15bn) payment is due to the IMF.

The ministers will be back in Brussels on Wednesday or Thursday, the leaders on Thursday and Friday. And there will be no phantoms.

Eurozone crisis Europe Greece European commission European Union


I am an adjunct professor who teaches five classes. I earn less than a pet-sitter | Lee Hall [haha]

Here’s how much corporations paid US senators to fast-track the TPP bill

Critics of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership are unlikely to be silenced by an analysis of the flood of money it took to push the pact over its latest hurdle


Demonstrators protest against the legislation to give Obama fast-track authority to advance trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

A decade in the making, the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is reaching its climax and as Congress hotly debates the biggest trade deal in a generation, its backers have turned on the cash spigot in the hopes of getting it passed.

“We’re very much in the endgame,” US trade representative Michael Froman told reporters over the weekend at a meeting of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum on the resort island of Boracay. His comments came days after TPP passed another crucial vote in the Senate.

That vote, to give Barack Obama the authority to speed the bill through Congress, comes as the president’s own supporters, senior economists and a host of activists have lobbied against a pact they argue will favor big business but harm US jobs, fail to secure better conditions for workers overseas and undermine free speech online.

Those critics are unlikely to be silenced by an analysis of the sudden flood of money it took to push the pact over its latest hurdle.

Fast-tracking the TPP, meaning its passage through Congress without having its contents available for debate or amendments, was only possible after lots of corporate money exchanged hands with senators. The US Senate passed Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) – the fast-tracking bill by a 65-33 margin on 14 May. Last Thursday, the Senate voted 62-38 to bring the debate on TPA to a close.

Those impressive majorities follow months of behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing by the world’s most well-heeled multinational corporations with just a handful of holdouts.

Using data from the Federal Election Commission, this chart shows all donations that corporate members of the US Business Coalition for TPP made to US Senate campaigns between January and March 2015, when fast-tracking the TPP was being debated in the Senate:

  • Out of the total $1,148,971 given, an average of $17,676.48 was donated to each of the 65 “yea” votes.
  • The average Republican member received $19,673.28 from corporate TPP supporters.
  • The average Democrat received $9,689.23 from those same donors.

The amounts given rise dramatically when looking at how much each senator running for re-election received.

Two days before the fast-track vote, Obama was a few votes shy of having the filibuster-proof majority he needed. Ron Wyden and seven other Senate Democrats announced they were on the fence on 12 May, distinguishing themselves from the Senate’s 54 Republicans and handful of Democrats as the votes to sway.

  • In just 24 hours, Wyden and five of those Democratic holdouts – Michael Bennet of Colorado, Dianne Feinstein of California, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Patty Murray of Washington, and Bill Nelson of Florida caved and voted for fast-track.
  • Bennet, Murray, and Wyden – all running for re-election in 2016 – received $105,900 between the three of them. Bennet, who comes from the more purple state of Colorado, got $53,700 in corporate campaign donations between January and March 2015, according to Channing’s research.
  • Almost 100% of the Republicans in the US Senate voted for fast-track – the only two non-votes on TPA were a Republican from Louisiana and a Republican from Alaska.
  • Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who is the former US trade representative, has been one of the loudest proponents of the TPP. (In a comment to the Guardian Portman’s office said: “Senator Portman is not a vocal proponent of TPP – he has said it’s still being negotiated and if and when an agreement is reached he will review it carefully.”) He received $119,700 from 14 different corporations between January and March, most of which comes from donations from Goldman Sachs ($70,600), Pfizer ($15,700), and Procter & Gamble ($12,900). Portman is expected to run against former Ohio governor Ted Strickland in 2016 in one of the most politically competitive states in the country.
  • Seven Republicans who voted “yea” to fast-track and are also running for re-election next year cleaned up between January and March. Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia received $102,500 in corporate contributions. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, best known for proposing a Monsanto-written bill in 2013 that became known as the Monsanto Protection Act, received $77,900 – $13,500 of which came from Monsanto.
  • Arizona senator and former presidential candidate John McCain received $51,700 in the first quarter of 2015. Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina received $60,000 in corporate donations. Eighty-one-year-old senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who is running for his seventh Senate term, received $35,000. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who will be running for his first full six-year term in 2016, received $67,500 from pro-TPP corporations.

“It’s a rare thing for members of Congress to go against the money these days,” said Mansur Gidfar, spokesman for the anti-corruption group Represent.Us. “They know exactly which special interests they need to keep happy if they want to fund their reelection campaigns or secure a future job as a lobbyist.

“How can we expect politicians who routinely receive campaign money, lucrative job offers, and lavish gifts from special interests to make impartial decisions that directly affect those same special interests?” Gidfar said. “As long as this kind of transparently corrupt behavior remains legal, we won’t have a government that truly represents the people.”

  • This article was amended on 28/5/15 to include a comment from senator Rob Portman.