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Brussels blog by some wire service journalists

2 science projects win up to $1.3 billion each

Graphene

Graphene


By DON MELVIN

BRUSSELS — Two European science projects — one to map the intricacies of the human brain, the other to explore the extraordinary carbon-based material graphene — won an EU technology contest Monday, getting up to €1 billion ($1.34 billion) each over the next decade.

The projects were selected from 26 proposals.

“European’s position as a knowledge superpower depends on thinking the unthinkable and exploiting the best ideas,” European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes said in a statement. “This multi-billion competition rewards home-grown scientific breakthroughs and shows that when we are ambitious we can develop the best research in Europe.”

The Human Brain Project will use supercomputers 1,000 times more powerful than those today to create the most detailed model ever of the human brain. Then the project plans to simulate the effects of drugs and treatments on the brain, for a better understanding of neurological diseases and related ailments.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

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EU Chides Iran Over Nuclear Talks Venue Proposals

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

By DON MELVIN and GEORGE JAHN

BRUSSELS _ The European Union rebuked Iran on Wednesday in unusually direct language, suggesting it was willfully delaying new nuclear talks with six world powers by changing venues and setting preconditions on how the negotiations should be conducted.

The criticism appeared provoked by an announcement by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi that his country was now proposing Cairo as the host city of the next meeting. Salehi said Egypt welcomed the proposal and was in contact with the six powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — on the issue.

Diplomats from some of those world powers have expressed frustration in recent weeks about what they say are Iran’s tactics of proposing several venues but not committing to any single one. But the comments Wednesday by the spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton were the first to voice that sentiment on record.#

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

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WHY IT MATTERS: The EU budget debate

By DON MELVIN

Europe’s leaders will gather in Brussels on Thursday to decide on how much the European Union, the political and economic partnership between 27 of the region’s countries, will spend in the next seven years.
Compared to the size of the governments of its member states, the EU is very small. Yet it wields broad power, and that’s why this week’s fight over its spending is important.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

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As Europe plots closer ties, Britain mulls split

By DON MELVIN

BRUSSELS — Goodbye Britain?

For the European Union, a once-unthinkable question is looking more like a real possibility with each new grinding week of economic crisis. The reason is that bad times are forcing the 17 EU nations that use the euro currency to move ever closer toward some kind of United States of Europe – one that could make decisions about how much member countries spend and how much tax they collect.

If ever Britain had a nightmare, that’s it.

The British public shows no interest in moving closer to the rest of Europe, and most can’t even seem to stomach the status quo. The real question these days appears to be whether to drift away or break away abruptly.

After a 2015 election, Britain – among 10 of the 27 EU nations that don’t use the euro – is likely to hold a referendum on whether to leave the EU. Even if it doesn’t hold a vote, the country is already unpicking its ties with Europe, a movement that has unsettled Germany, which is eager to retain the U.K. as an important economic driver of the bloc.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

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ExxonMobil executive gunned down in Belgium

Nicholas Mockford

By DON MELVIN

BRUSSELS — So far, it’s still a mystery.

A British oil executive gunned down in front of his wife in the Belgian capital of Brussels. Helmeted assailants escaping on a motorcycle. No arrests. A driver of a white van who has not been found. A court order for police not to reveal the details.

Was the killing of Nicholas Mockford, a 60-year-old executive for ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company, a car-jacking gone wrong? A muffed purse-snatching? Or was it a cold-blooded professional hit for reasons yet unknown?

Mockford, a British national living in Belgium, was shot dead on Oct. 14 as he left an Italian restaurant in Neder-over-Heembeek — a village in medieval days that has since been swallowed up by the expanding capital. He died in the street as his wife cradled him in her arms and a neighbor tried to resuscitate him.

In the beginning, the investigating judge imposed an order on police preventing them from releasing any detail on the case, which police said was not unusual in a serious murder case. As a result, initial news reports were sparse. But on Thursday, authorities switched course and decided to enlist the public’s help, releasing a brief description of the crime.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

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Wine experts: worst grape harvest in half century

By RAF CASERT

BRUSSELS — Drought, frost and hail have combined to ravage Europe’s wine grape harvest, which in key regions this year will be the smallest in half a century, vintners say.

Thierry Coste, an expert with the European Union farmers’ union, said Wednesday that France’s grape harvest is expected to slump by almost 20 percent compared with last year. Italy’s grape crop showed a 7 percent drop — on top of a decline in 2011.

“Two big producing nations, France and Italy, have not known a harvest so weak in 40 to 50 years,” Coste said. “All the major producing nations have been hurt.”

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

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Royal wedding gives Luxembourg turn in spotlight

By DON MELVIN

LUXEMBOURG – (AP) — The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg doesn’t get a lot of turns in the spotlight.

It’s an independent country tinier than Rhode Island, the smallest U.S. state, and it would fit inside Germany, its neighbor to the east, 138 times with room to spare. It won no medals at the 2012 London Olympics — in fact it hasn’t won a medal at the summer Games since 1952.

But this week is Luxembourg’s turn to shine. Prince Guillaume, the heir to the throne — the grand duke-to-be — will marry Belgian Countess Stephanie de Lannoy. It will be a two-day affair, including fireworks, concerts, a gala dinner at the grand ducal palace, and two marriages between the betrothed — a civil wedding Friday afternoon and a religious ceremony Saturday morning.

A glittering array of European royalty has been invited. The guest list for the religious ceremony includes kings, queens, princes and princesses from European countries including, among others, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Lichtenstein, Denmark, the Netherlands, Romania and Britain, which is sending Prince Edward, Queen Elizabeth’s youngest child, and his wife, Sophie.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

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Turkey’s long effort to join EU deferred

 

 

By DON MELVIN

BRUSSELS — Turkey’s longtime goal of joining the European Union, like a mirage in the desert, seems to fade further into the distance as time goes by. On Wednesday, the goal receded a little further as the EU issued a report that was scathing toward Turkey’s regard for fundamental rights and freedom of expression — bedrock values for any country wishing to join the European club.

Turkey slammed the report, calling it a biased attempt by the crisis-burdened EU to delay Turkish membership.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

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EU wants $12B a year from US over Boeing aid

By DON MELVIN

BRUSSELS — The European Union said Thursday it is asking the World Trade Organization to impose up to $12 billion per year in sanctions on the U.S. as part of a long-running dispute involving government subsidies to plane-makers Airbus and Boeing.

The EU said in a statement the amount was “based on estimates of the damages suffered by the EU due to unfair and biased competition from the U.S. industry,” which received U.S. government subsidies.

The action marks the latest salvo in a seven-year dispute between the EU and the U.S. over subsidies to the two plane-makers.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

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The great chestnut trees of Europe are dying

By RAF CASERT

GHENT, Belgium (AP) — Visit the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris and chestnut trees greet you as you wander among graves of luminaries such as Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison.

When Anne Frank was in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam, the view of a monumental chestnut tree was one thing that cheered her up.

In Cambridge, England, the two-century-old chestnut standing outside King’s College chapel has become a beloved icon.

In all those places — and over much of Europe — the horse chestnut tree is under threat.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

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