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The paper clip, 22 March

Thursday 22 March 2012

Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Federal reserve, has told EU leaders to do more to shore up banks and help southern Europe claw its way back to health, the Daily Telegraph writes. Bernanke told Congress that “full resolution of the crisis will require a further strengthening of the European banking system”.

Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, believes that the worst of the eurozone financial crisis is over. In an interview with Bild Zeitung, he defends the ECB's action in providing three-year loans to the banking sector against criticism from Germany's central bank, saying the move was necessary to prevent a credit squeeze. The interview is picked up by a large number of other German newspapers.

Greece's government will today discuss further reform steps required before the country can hold a general election, writes Kathimerini. It will be the first cabinet meeting attended by Filippos Sachinidis, who was sworn in as finance minister yesterday. Sachinidis took over from Evangelos Venizelos, who stepped down this week to focus on the electoral campaign as new leader of the centre-left Pasok.

The Council of Europe has criticised Hungary's media watchdog as lacking transparency, having excessive powers and being staffed on a political rather than a professional basis, the Financial Times writes. Hungary's Guardian carries an interview with the head of the Council of Europe, Thorbjörn Jagland, in which he carefully expresses his concerns about the sweeping reforms introduced by the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, including its law on religion.

Belarus's President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has reacted angrily to a European Parliament call for Belarus to be stripped of the right to host the 2014 Ice Hockey World Championship. AFP has a report.

Le Monde reports that the man believed to have gone on shooting rampage, killing four French Jews and three soldiers, is still surrounded in his apartment in Toulouse, continuing a siege that has gone on for almost a day. But the French authorities say they have had no contact with him overnight, and two gunshots were heard at 2am. The minister for the interior, Claude Guéant, says he hopes the man is still alive. Le Figaro carries interviews with people who knew the suspect, Mohamed Merah, who describe him as quiet and polite. They say he never expressed any anti-Jewish views. Libération reports that Alain Juppé, France's foreign minister, has called for an investigation into a possible flaw in the intelligence that allowed a man being watched by security services to acquire so many firearms. But Guéant has defended the intelligence services. An opinion piece in the UK's Independent says the Toulouse murders could have “a strong influence” over the remainder of the French presidential race.

The British papers are full of coverage of yesterday's budget. In order to fund a cut in the 50p top rate of income tax, George Osborne, the finance minister, introduced what the Daily Telegraph describes as a “granny tax”, by getting rid of the ‘age-related allowance', which means pensioners start paying tax at a higher income level than workers. The Independent says the budget was “good for footballers and the City, bad for smokers and the old”. A commentator in the Financial Times describes it as a budget without economic significance, arguing that Osborne's influence on whether there will be a recovery by 2014 is now essentially zero. The conservative Daily Telegraph argues that the tax cut for the wealthy and tax hike for pensioners threaten the Conservatives' chances of winning the next election.

The Czech education minister has been sacked – or, he says, resigned – after a series of scandals culminated in the European Commission threatening to suspend funding. Lidové noviny has a report.

A general strike is under way in Portugal, the UK's Guardian writes. Trades unions have called the strike to protest against austerity measures. 

Negotiations are continuing between Italy's parties on reforms to the country's labour laws, writes La Stampa.

Joint action by the EU, Japan and the US challenging China's export restrictions on rare earths is unfair because the restrictions are designed to protect the environment, writes China's People's Daily in a commentary. The US and the EU have failed to step up their domestic production of rare earths – used in many hi-tech products – and are now blaming China for this state of affairs, the paper writes.

De Volksrant reports on the resumption of politically sensitive negotiations on budget cuts between the Dutch coalition government political parties and the extremist Freedom Party (PVV). The PVV is included in the talks because it supports the Liberal-Conservative minority coalition from the opposition benches. The talks have been overshadowed by the defection of a PVV backbencher. The move has left the de facto coalition one seat short of a majority in the parliament.

Štefan Füle, the European commissioner for enlargement, has told Bakir Izetbegovic, the chairman of Bosnia's presidency, that he will seek additional funding for transport projects in the Balkan state, writes Nezavisne novine. Izetbegovic said during a visit to Brussels yesterday that Bosnia intends to file a membership application by June.

De Standaard reports that thousands of people attended a memorial service in the Belgian town of Lommel yesterday for the children who died in a Swiss bus crash on 13 March. The solemn service was also attended by dignitaries including Belgium's King Albert and Queen Paola, and Willem Alexander, the Dutch crown prince, and his wife Maxima. A second service is planned in Leuven today.

The Norwegian government is planning to pass an emergency law that would make sure that Anders Behring Breivik, who has admitted to carrying out a bombing and shooting attack that killed 77 people last July, would stay behind bars for the rest of his life, reports De Morgen. The government wants the Norwegian parliament to pass the bill next month. The court case against Breivik started a few weeks ago. Judges in the case will have to take account of the law if it is passed. 

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet president, has announced plans to re-enter Russian politics, reports the NRC Handelsblad. Gorbachev said he wants to help the Social Democratic Party of Russia in its opposition to President Vladimir Putin. He said he would not take a leadership role in the party but wanted to play a role to unite the centre-left opposition to make it more effective. The newspaper says that his chances of success are next to nil, as Gorbachev remains unpopular. The party has no seats in the Russian parliament.

Ukraine's trade with Poland rose by 30% last year, the Kyiv Post reports.

The German-owned Czech car-maker Škoda has increased profits by 80%, Slovakia's Hospodárske noviny reports.

Doris Schröder, the wife of Gerhard Schröder, a former chancellor of Germany, is standing for election in the regional parliament in Lower Saxony, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports. Gerhard Schröder was minister-president in Lower Saxony before becoming chancellor.

A flamboyant and controversial Romanian MEP, Gigi Becali, intends to stand to be mayor of Bucharest. Jurnalul National has a report.

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