New orbiters for Europe's Galileo satnav system

The European Space Agency signed a contract with a German-British consortium Thursday to build eight more satellites for its Galileo satnav system, an alternative to America's GPS, the agency said Thursday.
The deal was signed at the International Paris Air Show with German company OHB as the prime contractor, and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd in charge of navigation systems.
The ESA signed on behalf of the European Commission, which owns and funds the system.
"Europe's Galileo navigation constellation will gain an additional eight satellites, bringing it to completion," the ESA said in a statement.
Eighteen Galileo satellites have been placed in Earth's orbit to date, with four more due for launch later this year.
With the last eight satellites to be built and tested by OHB, the 10-billion-euro ($11-billion) constellation will ultimately comprise 30 orbiters.
Twenty-four will be operational, in three orbital planes, with the rest standing by as spares, in orbit and on the ground.
The European Commission expects Galileo to be fully operational by 2020.
The project has experienced many setbacks, including the placement of two satellites in the wrong orbit.
Galileo went live in December last year, providing initial services with a weak signal, having taken 17 years and more than triple the original budget.
The civilian-controlled service is seen as strategically important for Europe, which relies on two military-run rivals -- GPS and Russia's GLONASS.
Neither provides a guarantee of uninterrupted service.
In January, ESA said the system suffered another setback, with atomic clocks -- claimed by the agency to be the most accurate ever flown for geolocalisation -- failing onboard a number of satellites in space.
Each Galileo satellite has four ultra-accurate atomic timekeepers, but needs just one working clock.
The failure of nine clocks out of 72 launched so far, has not affected operation, the agency said at the time.
But it would necessitate a relook at clock design, meaning further possible delays.
Thursday's statement said the eight new satellites are based on the approved design for the previous ones, but will feature "improvements based on lessons learnt."
Once fully deployed, Galileo aims to pinpoint a location on Earth to within a metre -- compared to several metres for GPS and GLONASS.
Clients of a paying service can get even more accurate readings -- down to centimetres.
It will also offer search-and-rescue services.
© 2017 AFP
Read More

Merkel wants maximum guarantees for EU citizens

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she’d like to see the maximum possible guarantees for European Union citizens living in Britain but is leaving the details to the EU’s Brexit negotiating team.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said going into an EU summit starting Thursday that she will set out how she proposes to protect the rights of EU citizens in Britain while looking for similar protection for Britons living elsewhere in the bloc.
Merkel told reporters in Brussels on Thursday: “as a tendency, I am for security guarantees that go as far as possible for EU citizens.”
She said anything that gives a “high degree of security” to those who live in Britain or want to do so in the future “is of course of great use.” But she stressed that the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, is in charge of the talks.
Britain is leaving the 28-nation bloc and the two sides are negotiating the best way to do that.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is supporting French President Emmanuel Macron in his criticism of eastern European countries, stressing that “we are a community of values.”
Macron warned countries ahead of a European Union summit Thursday against defying Europe’s principles and values as some eastern nations challenge the bloc’s refugee-sharing plan.
Merkel told reporters in Brussels: “I think it is important that Emmanuel Macron stressed this again, because it shows France and Germany are taking entirely the same approach.”
She added that it’s important to talk to European colleagues “if there are difficulties.”
Merkel said: “This is not the day for threats. But we have to speak constantly, and I think we must be able to say so if we do not agree with certain developments.”
Read More

Germany ends state funding for far-right NPD party

German lawmakers voted Thursday to cut off public financing for extremist parties, a measure targeting the far-right NPD after two failed attempts by parliament to ban it.
Under German law, every political party receives funding from the state. The sum is partly determined by how well it is represented in the state, national and European parliaments, as well as by the amount it raises on its own.
The NPD received 1.3 million euros ($1.5 million) from public coffers in 2015, and 1.4 million euros in 2014.
But the lower house of parliament on Thursday voted 502-57 to end financing for "parties hostile to the constitution".
"Tax receipts for the NPD are a direct investment in far-right incitement," said Justice Minister Heiko Maas, stressing that "enemies of democracy must not be financed by the state".
Welcoming the move, the Central Council of Jews in Germany said: "It is intolerable that parties can use taxpayers' funds to spread propaganda that is hostile to democracy... or, in the case of the NPD, that is Nazi related.
"The law can finally put a stop to this."
The decision for the legal change came after Germany's upper house of parliament lost a court case seeking to ban the NPD.
The country's highest court threw out the case in January, ruling that the xenophobic fringe outfit was too insignificant to spell a real threat to the democratic order.
The drafters of Germany's post-war constitution set high hurdles for banning a party, mindful of the elimination of dissent in Hitler's Germany.
Only two political parties have been outlawed since 1945 -- the SRP, a Nazi successor party, in 1952, and the West German Communist Party (KPD) in 1956.
The NPD, founded in 1964 as a successor to the neo-fascist German Reich Party, calls for "the survival and continued existence of the German people in its ancestral central European living space" -- or as their slogan says, "Germany for the Germans".
With around 6,000 members, the NPD, which at the height of its movement had seats in several state parliaments, now only has one representative, Udo Voigt, in the European Parliament.
© 2017 AFP
Read More

France outlines tough new anti-terrorism law

French President Emmanuel Macron's government on Thursday set out a tough new anti-terrorism law that has already faced protests from civil rights groups.
The proposals presented to the first meeting of a reshuffled cabinet appointed Wednesday are designed to allow the lifting of the state of emergency that has been in place since the November 2015 attacks in Paris.
The state of emergency has been extended five times since it was introduced by the then Socialist government in response to the gun and bomb rampage that left 130 people dead.
The current provision expires in mid-July, when Macron's new centrist government is expected to extend it again until November 1 while the new law is prepared.
The legislation has received the go-ahead from France's top administrative court despite concerns from rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that it will enshrine into law draconian powers allowed under the state of emergency.
Amnesty complained last month that French authorities were abusing anti-terrorism measures by using them to curb legitimate protests.
France has faced a string of jihadist attacks since 2015, with the threat underlined on Monday when a man rammed a car laden with guns and gas canisters into a police van on Paris' Champs-Elysees avenue.
The driver of the car, 31-year-old Adam Djaziri, died in the attack but no one else was injured.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins told a press conference Thursday that all evidence suggested Djaziri had intended the car to explode.
He had mailed a letter to his family just before the attack saying he had wanted to travel to Syria and complaining he had been stopped from doing so "by apostates against the Islamic State".
Djaziri had been on a watchlist for radical Islamists after attracting the attention of authorities by making several trips to Turkey -- a route used by many European jihadist fighters heading to Syria in recent years.
Authorities have launched a review of gun ownership after it emerged that Djaziri, who practised shooting as a sport, had been legally allowed to possess firearms despite being on the watchlist since 2015.
Four members of his family, who lived in the Paris suburbs, were detained for two days before being released on Wednesday.
- 'Strikes right balance' -
The new anti-terror law would give French authorities greater powers to act to protect an event or location thought to be at risk from attack, without first seeking permission from the courts.
Local authorities could, for example, decide to put in place a security cordon and carry out bag checks and searches using private guards without seeking approval beforehand.
The draft law would also allow places of worship thought to be promoting extremism to be shut down for up to six months.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe argued it struck the "right balance" between respecting freedoms and reinforcing security.
"We want to guarantee security and we want to do so while respecting the law and the constitution," he told French news channel TF1 on Wednesday.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, who retained his job in Wednesday's government reshuffle, said the Champs-Elysees attack was a timely response to those questioning the necessity of the new law.
"You can see that the state of France today necessitates it," Collomb said, speaking on Monday.
"If we want to effectively ensure the security of our citizens, we must be able to take a certain number of measures."
Since the large-scale attacks in Paris in 2015 and in Nice the following year, which were both claimed by the Islamic State group, France has seen a series of smaller jihadist assaults, mostly aimed at security forces.
A known extremist shot dead a policeman on the Champs-Elysees in April, just days before the first round of the presidential election.
© 2017 AFP
Read More

Brexit, trade dominate EU leaders' meeting

European Union leaders are meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday to discuss a broad range of issues from defence and security, to Brexit, trade, climate and migration.
Below please find comments by the leaders arriving for talks on Thursday.
"The Brexit negotiations started 3 days ago. It is a most difficult process, for which the EU is well prepared."
"Some of my British friends have even asked me whether Brexit could be reversed, and whether I could imagine an outcome where the UK stays part of the EU. I told them that in fact the European Union was built on dreams that seemed impossible to achieve. So, who knows? You may say I'm a dreamer, but I am not the only one."
"That was a very constructive start to those negotiations, but it's also about how we will build a future special and deep partnership with our friends and allies in Europe."
"What I'm going to be setting out today is clearly how the United Kingdom proposes to protect the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and see the rights of UK citizens in Europe protected."
"That's been an important issue, we've wanted it to be one of the early issues that was considered in the negotiations. That is now the case. That work is starting."
"I want to state clearly that the shaping of the future of the 27 has priority over the negotiations with Britain over its exit.
"We will conduct these talks in a good spirit. But the clear focus has to be on the future of the 27."
"As far as I know the British government is firmly committed to translating into reality the wish of the British people. We are starting negotiations. They will be pursued in a normal way."
"What's much more important than the timetable is the outcome. I would much rather that we have a good deal for Ireland in time than one that doesn't work for is in a shorter period."
"When it comes to issues related to the border, the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, it will be difficult to determine the final shape of that until we know what the new trade arrangements are between the United Kingdom and the EU."
"Our objective is a very clear one, it's a very simple one - that there should not be an economic border between Northern Ireland the Republic of Ireland."
"While Britain says that they want to leave the customs union and intend to leave the single market, they also say that they want a free trade agreement and many of the elements of free trade agreement, while not being the same as the customs union, may not be that far from it."
"We will deal with anybody who will come from Britain because for us Britain stays a friend and an ally and we will negotiate with Britain as with a friend and an ally."
"It's a pity that this decision was made but we cannot turn and look only backwards. We need to think about the future and the sooner we settle the future, the better for both."
"For us it's important to respect the rights, including social rights, of our citizens in Britain, the same as we would like to reciprocally guarantee for British citizens in the European Union, the same rights they have today."
"For us the cut-off date is not so important, we would like to have no discrimination neither before nor after the cut-off date."
"We would like to have a different situation, but it's the right of Britain to decide on how much they will be involved and use the European judiciary."
"She (Theresa May) is not stronger but it was a choice to organise elections and now they have internal fights."
"This is a question to be resolved in London, not here in Brussels. For the moment we have one partner here, it's Theresa May, and I hope that we will be able to continue the work."
"The UK decision is something we have to respect, we regret it, the door is still open. If they want, if the government wants to, when they see now all the consequences of Brexit."
"I am not dreaming about situations but it's the decision of the UK government to take. Maybe when they see now all the consequences... What was so "easy" and without consequences is not the story. So we are waiting now."
"It's time for action and certainty. Not for dreams and uncertainty."
"I am not a dreamer and I'm not the only one. I consider we have to respect the choice of the UK and we have to negotiate and we will see how it is possible to keep smart cooperation on the different issues, for development, for trade, but also of course for security."
"I realise Theresa May is in a very difficult situation in terms of leadership so we will have to see what position Great Britain will defend in the coming months but it is for Great Britain to make its decision about its membership of the EU and we should not just speculate on this. We can speculate, but it is a waste of time."
DUTCH PRIME MINISTER MARK RUTTE"Two days ago, the British negotiator was supporting a hard Brexit but I'm not naive. There are some in her own camp who are for a soft Brexit. We must see how the situation develops."
"It is crucially important now that we know what Great Britain wants from Brexit. I hope obviously that we will come to some form of continued membership or relation with the internal market, with the customs union."
"I think it's in the interest of jobs in the United Kingdom. I am absolutely convinced United Kingdom will be hit, it's economy, the position of the pound, very hard."
"It will have a huge economic impact. I think if there is a continued link to the internal market, to the customs union in one form or another - including accepting that it also means courts in Luxembourg, the four freedoms - if we could come to something like that, I am hopeful."
"But it all depends of course on what Theresa May and her team will decide."
"My dream would be that in this Brexit process we would come to this end state, or maybe an intermediate end-state for the coming years, in which the United Kingdom will stay connected to the internal market."
"I hate Brexit from every angle. But this is a sovereign decision by the British people and I can't argue with democracy."
"I hope that in this area we can also have a Europe that is open to free trade and our values, but that protects when others do not respect certain rules."
"The control of certain foreign direct investments in sensitive areas is mentioned. We are asking the Commission to work on it. The issue of modernisation of our trade instruments is made very clear. That's something I really care about."
"There is also a reference to fair reciprocity, in particular on the opening of certain markets. All this goes in the right direction, that of an opening, but a reasoned opening."
"I expect from the leaders to give a further impules to our work, especially on establishing the Permanent Structured Cooperation on the European defence, and the use of our battlegroups."

"This is one of the areas where our European Union project can be relaunched and I expect strong leadership from our heads of states and governments to give a further impulse."
Read More

Wizz Air opens first western European base at Luton

Budapest-based airline Wizz Air (WIZZ.L) has opened a new base at Luton airport, its first in western Europe, part of plans to expand its capacity.
Luton was the destination for Wizz Air's first ever flight in 2004, and the airline said that the base would help to serve its routes from the airport more effectively. It will allow the airline to keep aircraft at Luton overnight and will create 36 jobs.
"London Luton has been a very important part of our story, and it remains so," Owain Jones, chief operating officer at Wizz Air, told Reuters.
"We've got 30 percent growth (in traffic) here this year, and having the aircraft based here, having the local crew, it will enable us to keep that strong growth going."
Wizz Air already flies about a third of the flights from Luton, and some months it has more flights from the airport than rival easyJet (EZJ.L), which is headquartered there.
CEO Jozsef Varadi has said the new base reflected the size of the Luton operation, where it served 5 million passengers last year, making it the second largest airline there behind easyJet.
The two airlines generally compete on different routes, with Wizz Air focused on Central and Eastern Europe, while easyJet's focus is more towards western Europe and the Mediterranean.
"We have limited overlap with easyJet from Luton," he said. "easyJet has a very different business model and a very different network from us."
Goodbody analyst Mark Simpson said that while Wizz only competes directly with easyJet on the Split and Tel Aviv routes, he currently favoured Wizz Air as an investment over easyJet.
"Exposure to growth and improving cost structure are the two core reasons to be buying Wizz Air," Simpson said.
Jones said that Wizz keeps costs down because of its young fleet, which flies primarily from secondary airports and avoids doing connecting flights. Wizz Air said on Wednesday that it had ordered 10 new Airbus A321ceo planes.Wizz Air's rapid expansion has been helped by its niche in the growing central and eastern European market and its low cost base.
Wizz Air reported record profit last month and said it saw few signs of a hit from Britain's decision to leave the European Union.
Jones said that the decision to have a base at Luton showed that the airline was backing its British business.

"This is really a vote of confidence in our British business. Following the (Brexit) vote last year ... we're continuing to fill our aircraft to the same extent as we were before," Jones said.
Read More

Polish lawmakers legalise medicinal marijuana

Poland's lower house of parliament, which is controlled by the conservatives, on Thursday voted to make medicinal marijuana legal under certain circumstances.
The EU member follows in the steps of the Czech Republic, Finland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, as well as 23 US states and Uruguay, which in 2013 became the first country to make cannabis entirely legal.
Four hundred and forty lawmakers voted in favour -- with two against and one abstention -- of legislation to allow prescription-only cannabis-based medicine to be made at pharmacies using imported ingredients.
The law, which still needs to be approved by the senate and the Polish president to come into force, excludes the recreational use of cannabis.
Lawmakers rejected the possibility to cultivate marijuana for medicinal purposes in Poland, which had been included in the draft legislation.
The bill was tabled last year by Piotr Marzec-Liroy, a rapper-turned-politician who at the time belonged to the Kukiz'15 anti-establishment movement and is now an independent.
An opinion survey conducted in January found that 78 percent of Poles believe access to marijuana should be legal.
Public debate of medicinal pot usage in Poland intensified in 2015 after the controversial firing of a doctor at a Warsaw children's hospital who had administered marijuana to his young epileptic patients on an experimental basis without notifying his superiors.
The debate was then revived last year by the leftist lawmaker Tomasz Kalita, who suffered from brain cancer and later died in January 2017.
Last year the health minister yielded to public pressure and approved refunds of certain specialised treatments involving cannabis-based medicine imported solely at the request of the patient and following special authorisation from the ministry.
© 2017 AFP
Read More