Business

PARIS — Muriel Pénicaud has found a way of subduing France’s combative unions without having to call in riot police: Kill them with consultations.

In an interview with POLITICO, the French labor minister said that before unveiling a radical reform of work rules in late August, she presided over 300 hours of closed-door talks with trade union bosses in her office.

The three-month negotiating marathon — which followed a plan that Pénicaud had designed and submitted to President Emmanuel Macron for approval — allowed her to zero in on union concerns, address them individually and head off conflicts before they exploded into public view.

The result was that the law, France’s most far-reaching reform in decades, hit the books in late October without protests bringing the country to a standstill.

“With the labor law, we mixed speed and intensity for the consultations, which are normally seen as opposites. We won seven to eight months because we wanted to have a structural reform whose effects will play out in the medium to long term, all while maintaining our consultations,” said Pénicaud.

French workers union CGT protests Macron’s labor law reforms in Nantes | Loic Venance/AFP via Getty Images

Now Pénicaud, a former HR director for Danone who honed her negotiating skills in the private sector, is training her mind on the next assignment: overhauling France’s job training, apprenticeship and unemployment benefit schemes.

These talks, which aim to modernize the labor market and combat unemployment, involve different players and more complexity. The government will submit a bill to parliament for debate, instead of ramming it through via executive decree as with the labor reform.

But Pénicaud plans to proceed in the same way to get the job done: by holding meticulous, exhaustive negotiations that leave no stone unturned and are carried out in total secrecy.

“There are different methods for each reform but the three trains will enter the station at the same time, in the form of a single bill,” said Pénicaud. Unlike the labor bill, which was passed via decree, this is a “normal piece of legislation. But what it has in common with the labor law is a very deep level of consultations ahead of time.”

Business

LISBON — Surveys often show the Portuguese rivaling Greeks and Bulgarians for the title of Europe’s gloomiest people. Yet since Prime Minister António Costa took office 18 months ago, it feels like the land of fado and saudade has been popping happy pills.

Costa has overseen a return to robust economic growth after a decade of recession and stagnation.

The budget deficit is the lowest since democracy was restored in 1974. Unemployment stands in single figures for the first time since the eurozone debt crisis engulfed the country in 2010. Tourism and exports are booming.

The European Commission last month agreed to remove Portugal from its excessive deficit naughty list, where Lisbon had lingered since 2009.

Adding to the party atmosphere, this football-obsessed country was crowned European champion for the first time last summer; crooned its way to victory in the Eurovision Song Contest after 49 years of failure, and got its man placed at the head of the United Nations.

The latest Eurobarometer poll has 66 percent of Portuguese expressing satisfaction with the life they lead, double the rate four years before.

As the positive data rolls in, the government is coming under pressure from unions and the left to speed up a rollback of austerity measures.

“All this good news is starting to make me feel ill,” columnist Miguel Esteves Cardoso wrote in the daily Público newspaper. “We weren’t built to handle so much happiness.”

Costa too is having some difficulty digesting the surfeit of success.

As the positive data rolls in, the government is coming under pressure from unions and the left to speed up a rollback of austerity measures introduced by Costa’s center-right predecessor during the years of crisis.

Business

For the past seven-plus years, as Greece’s debt crisis plays out in public in painful, blow-by-blow detail, the European body charged with its rescue has conducted its affairs away from prying eyes.

Now there are growing calls to change the way the Eurogroup operates.

Critics of the gathering of finance ministers from the 19 countries in the euro and officials from the European Central Bank and European Commission accuse it of acting like a private club. They want greater transparency in keeping with the influence it wields over issues of vital importance to many of the eurozone’s 350 million citizens.

“The euro crisis changed everything,” said Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm, an advocacy coordinator with the NGO Transparency International. “The Eurogroup should be institutionalized, with proper rules of procedure, document handling and a physical address with actual spokespeople. We can no longer be governed by an informal club.”

Although it can impose tough conditions for bailing out struggling member countries or rescuing banks, it publishes no official minutes, has no headquarters, and the people who function as its secretariat have other day jobs. Its public face is a eurozone finance minister, who works for no salary: The current president is Jeroen Dijsselbloem, a Dutch Socialist with conservative views on fiscal matters.

Legally, it is governed by a single sentence in Article 137 of the EU treaty which says “arrangements for meetings between ministers of those Member States whose currency is the euro are laid down by the Protocol on the Euro Group.”

Emily O’Reilly, the EU’s ombudsman, is among those calling for reform. While she credits Dijsselbloem for his efforts to peel back the curtain on Eurogroup proceedings, she said: “It is obviously difficult for Europeans to understand that the Eurogroup, whose decisions can have a significant impact on their lives, [isn’t] subject to the usual democratic checks and balances.”

If minutes of its meetings were made public, outsiders might not like what they saw.

Indeed, when a group of citizens from Cyprus who disagreed with the terms of the 2013 Cypriot bank bailout took their case to the European Court of Justice, the court’s responsewas that the Eurogroup is not “capable of producing legal effects with respect to third parties” because it is just a discussion forum.

Last year, Dijsselbloem used the ECJ ruling to justify the Eurogroup avoiding standard EU transparency rules, though he did commit to individual transparency requests on an informal basis.

Business

Happy 10th birthday, iPhone

You may never have to plug in your iPhone again.

Apple has joined an industry group devoted to wireless charging, strengthening existing rumors that the next iPhone will charge without a cord. The Wireless Power Consortium, which is made up of some 200 organizations that promote a single wireless charging standard, confirmed to CNNTech that Apple joined the group last week.

IPhone rumors swirl months before each new version is announced, and hype around the so-called 'iPhone 8" is particularly high: Apple(AAPL) is expected to unveil a major redesign of the this fall to mark the 10-year anniversary of the smartphone.

The company has already shown interest in doing away with cumbersome cords. The Apple Watch charges wirelessly, provided consumers spend $79 on a magnetic charging dock. And the latest MacBook now comes with only one USB port.

Related: Apple stock nears a record high

Apple would also create another iPhone revenue stream by selling a wireless charging station separately. The feature would simplify charging for smartphone owners. Rather than plugging in one's phone, a user would only need to place it on the charging dock.

Apple said in a statement Monday it was joining the Wireless Power Consortium to contribute its ideas as wireless charging standards are developed.

As for the speculated possible features of the next iPhone, other rumors include an edge-to-edge display, a glass body and the removal of the home button.

Original Article

Business

Anti-Trump protests take place across Mexico

Mexico is ready to hit the U.S. where it hurts: Corn.

Mexico is one of the top buyers of American corn in the world today. And Mexican senator Armando Rios Piter, who leads a congressional committee on foreign relations, says he will introduce a bill this week where Mexico will buy corn from Brazil and Argentina instead of the United States.

It's one of the first signs of potential concrete action from Mexico in response to President Trump's threats against the country.

"I'm going to send a bill for the corn that we are buying in the Midwest and…change to Brazil or Argentina," Rios Piter, 43, told told CNN's Leyla Santiago on Sunday at an anti-Trump protest in Mexico City.

He added: It's a "good way to tell them that this hostile relationship has consequences, hope that it changes."

American corn goes into a lot of the country's food. In Mexico City, from fine dining restaurants to taco stands on the street, corn-based favorites like tacos can be found everywhere.

Related: Mexican farmer's daughter: NAFTA destroyed us

America is also the world's largest producer and exporter of corn. American corn shipments to Mexico have catapulted since NAFTA, a free trade deal signed between Mexico, America and Canada.

American farmers sent $2.4 billion of corn to Mexico in 2015, the most recent year of available data. In 1995, the year after NAFTA became law, corn exports to Mexico were a mere $391 million.

Experts say such a bill would be very costly to U.S. farmers.

Business

What is an H-1B visa?

America is great because of its willingness to accept talented immigrants.

That's what Nandan Nilekani, the billionaire co-founder of Infosys Technologies, would tell President Trump if he had the opportunity.

"If you really want to keep the U.S. … globally competitive, you should be open to overseas talent," Nilekani said on the sidelines of CNN's Asia Business Forum in Bangalore.

Infosys(INFY) is India's second-largest outsourcing firm, and a major recipient of U.S. H-1B visas. The documents allow the tech firm to employ a huge number of Indians in U.S. jobs.

The Trump administration is now considering significant changes to the visa program. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in January that Trump will continue to talk about reforming the H-1B program, among others, as part of a larger push for immigration reform.

Curbs on the visas could hit Indian workers hardest.

India is the top source of high-skilled labor for the U.S. tech industry. According to U.S. government data, 70% of the hugely popular H-1B visas go to Indians.

Shares in several Indian tech companies — including Infosys — plunged spectacularly two weeks ago amid reports of an impending work visa crackdown.

Related: Tech industry braces for Trump's visa reform

Nilekani said it would be a mistake for the administration to follow through.

Middle East

Mohammed bin Salman visit will mark 'new era in bilateral relations', according to Theresa May's spokesman (AFP)

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will visit Britain on 7 March for talks with Theresa May that will include topics such as extremism and societal reform, the British prime minister's spokesman said on Tuesday.

"The visit will usher in a new era in bilateral relations focused on a partnership that delivers wide-ranging benefits for both the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," the spokesman said.

"The visit will also provide an opportunity to enhance our co-operation in tackling international challenges such as terrorism, extremism, the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen and other regional issues such as Iraq and Syria."

The announcement was followed almost immediately by plans for protests against his presence. The Stop the War coalition announced it would picket the talks, and appealed to supporters to make clear the "chief architect of Saudi Arabia's brutal war in Yemen" was not welcome in London.

In just over a week Mohammad bin Salman, chief architect of Saudi Arabia's brutal war on #Yemen will be vising #TheresaMay in @10DowningStreet. Join us to make clear that he's not welcome in #Londonhttps://t.co/8aR66my7iupic.twitter.com/SZFInDok1h

— Stop the War (@STWuk) February 27, 2018

In a separate statement issued after the meeting with her cabinet, May said the crown prince's visit – his first since his appointment in June 2017 – would allow Britain to talk "frankly and constructively" about areas of concern, including Yemen and security in the Middle East.

Original Article

Middle East

Supporters of Syrian Kurdish leader Saleh Muslim hold up posters with his portrait as they celebrate his release in front of the municipal court (AFP)

The Czech Republic on Tuesday released Syrian Kurdish political leader Salih Muslim from custody, days after he was arrested on an Interpol "red notice" issued by Turkey.

Muslim, who is the former co-leader of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the Syria, was arrested in Prague on Saturday after his meeting with politicians and journalists.

Interpol red notices are issued by the organisation either at its own initiative or following requests from Interpol member states to alert others that an individual's arrest is sought.

After three days of custody, however, a court ordered Salih's release.

The move has angered Turkey who had said they expected Czech to extradite Muslim to Turkey, where he is currently on a most-wanted list for his involvement in the PYD, which the Turkish government regards as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

"We are saddened to see Salih Muslim released. We are unhappy," said Ahmet Necati Bigali, Turkey's ambassador to the Czech Republic, who warned the move could harm Turkish-Czech relations.

"Unfortunately, the Czech court has taken a decision opposite to our bilateral and allied relationship. This decision might effect negatively our bilateral relations."

Bekir Bozdag, a Turkish deputy prime minister, also hit out at the Czechs, accusing them of making a "decision supporting terrorism", according to Anadolu Agency.

As #Czech Republic frees #SalihMuslim, refusing #Turkey's extradition request, a sign yet again of no international confidence in Turkey's judiciary, right to a fair trial or humane detention. It'll prompt furious bluster in Ankara but this was inevitable.

Middle East

At a recent UN Security Council meeting, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was set to deliver what was billed by his aides as an important speech outlining his peace plan after a tumultuous end to 2017, when US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the US embassy there.

Before his speech, Abbas tested the readiness of a number of stakeholders in the peace process to see if they would take a more prominent role. He met with the EU's foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and Russian President Vladimir Putin, among others, calling for a broader group to oversee international negotiations and ensure the recognition of a Palestinian state.

While both Mogherini and Putin rejected Trump's Jerusalem move, neither indicated a willingness to see the US sidelined in any future peace initiative.

Criticism from ambassadors

In his speech, Abbas relayed his vision for the future and asked to whom the Palestinians could turn to realise their rights if the UN Security Council fails them. "This Security Council is the highest entity to which the peoples of the world seek sanctuary and protection; after this council, we rest our issue to the Almighty. For, if justice for our people cannot be attained here, then to where should we go?" he asked.

Abbas called for several things, including an international peace conference by mid-2018 that would recognise Palestine as a state; the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative; and the refraining of all parties from taking any unilateral actions during the negotiation process.

The agreed package would need to be endorsed by the Security Council.

Hope in the holy land has been in short supply in the past few decades, and Trump has turned the tap off entirely

The Israeli and US ambassadors subsequently ridiculed Abbas, who left the stage immediately after his speech, for running away from hard "truths". Israeli ambassador Danny Danon said he had "expected Mr Abbas to stay for a dialogue, but once again he has run away instead of listening to what we have to say", and accused him of being “no longer part of the solution. You are the problem."

US ambassador Nikki Haley was also heavily critical, noting: "There is the path of absolutist demands, hateful rhetoric, and incitement to violence. That path has led, and will continue to lead, to nothing but hardship for the Palestinian people. Or there is the path of negotiation and compromise.”

'Deal of the century'

If the Palestinian president expected to leave the stage to rapturous applause from the Security Council, he was badly disappointed. If this is the body that he expects to endorse his plan, convene an international conference this summer and recognise Palestine as a state, then he might as well have saved himself the journey.

Middle East

At a recent UN Security Council meeting, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was set to deliver what was billed by his aides as an important speech outlining his peace plan after a tumultuous end to 2017, when US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the US embassy there.

Before his speech, Abbas tested the readiness of a number of stakeholders in the peace process to see if they would take a more prominent role. He met with the EU's foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and Russian President Vladimir Putin, among others, calling for a broader group to oversee international negotiations and ensure the recognition of a Palestinian state.

While both Mogherini and Putin rejected Trump's Jerusalem move, neither indicated a willingness to see the US sidelined in any future peace initiative.

Criticism from ambassadors

In his speech, Abbas relayed his vision for the future and asked to whom the Palestinians could turn to realise their rights if the UN Security Council fails them. "This Security Council is the highest entity to which the peoples of the world seek sanctuary and protection; after this council, we rest our issue to the Almighty. For, if justice for our people cannot be attained here, then to where should we go?" he asked.

Abbas called for several things, including an international peace conference by mid-2018 that would recognise Palestine as a state; the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative; and the refraining of all parties from taking any unilateral actions during the negotiation process.

The agreed package would need to be endorsed by the Security Council.

Hope in the holy land has been in short supply in the past few decades, and Trump has turned the tap off entirely

The Israeli and US ambassadors subsequently ridiculed Abbas, who left the stage immediately after his speech, for running away from hard "truths". Israeli ambassador Danny Danon said he had "expected Mr Abbas to stay for a dialogue, but once again he has run away instead of listening to what we have to say", and accused him of being “no longer part of the solution. You are the problem."

US ambassador Nikki Haley was also heavily critical, noting: "There is the path of absolutist demands, hateful rhetoric, and incitement to violence. That path has led, and will continue to lead, to nothing but hardship for the Palestinian people. Or there is the path of negotiation and compromise.”

'Deal of the century'

If the Palestinian president expected to leave the stage to rapturous applause from the Security Council, he was badly disappointed. If this is the body that he expects to endorse his plan, convene an international conference this summer and recognise Palestine as a state, then he might as well have saved himself the journey.