Rpt-update 2-eu And France Play Down Tensions Over Reforms

There are an estimated 20,000 Roma in France, a population that has remained stable over several years despite repeated attempts by both Socialist and conservative governments to persuade them sometimes forcibly to return home. Many French blame the Roma for a rise in petty crime and an influx of street beggars, especially in tourist areas of Paris, where crime rings involving children have been broken up, and where subway announcements warn every few minutes against pickpockets. In Sweden, police this week acknowledged compiling a secret, illegal registry of more than 4,000 Roma, including children, coming under criticism from politicians who said it was unconstitutional to register people by ethnicity. French Interior Minister Manuel Valls provoked anger Tuesday for saying the Roma migrants had a duty to return to their homeland and despite a wave of criticism, refused to back down Wednesday. Valls said the Roma had failed to integrate and that France had no responsibility to them. We dont have the obligation to welcome these populations, we need to say it clearly and calmly. It is not about stigmatizing a population, but facing the truth, he said. John Dalhuisen, Amnestys Europe and Central Asia program director, offered a different interpretation. The Roma have a duty to live in misery. Thats how the comments of the interior minister should be translated, Dalhuisen said. The EU justice chief, Viviane Reding, shot back Wednesday at the French government, accusing it of holding Romania and Bulgaria hostage to domestic French politics. Immigration is a sensitive issue amid campaigning for upcoming municipal elections across France.

France threatens Google over data protection breaches

Relations between Brussels and Paris have been tense since the European Commission, the EU executive, told France to cut spending and reform its pension system in return for a two-year reprieve on meeting European budget targets. President Francois Hollande has warned the Commission not to tell France how to modernise its frail economy but his finance minister Pierre Moscovici still sought to reassure Brussels, a day after presenting the French budget for 2014. “France has made a huge effort to restore its public finances, and this draft budget law is characterised by responsibility and prudent policy making,” Olli Rehn, the EU’s economic and monetary affairs commissioner told a joint news conference with Moscovici, waving a copy of the French budget. Rehn made no mention of Hollande’s pension reform plans, which do not raise the country’s retirement age as the Commission has demanded. Germany also wants to see the euro zone’s second largest economy address overspending. Brussels says Paris is not taking radical enough action to combat rising labour costs, a falling share of international export markets and an industrial decline, threatening a shock to its economy that would resonate through the 17-nation euro zone. France’s economic well-being is central to the health of the currency area, but the country’s pride in its status as a leading member of the European Union means it resists taking advice from EU institutions. The pension reform, among the most closely watched measures undertaken by Hollande since he took office in May 2012, aims to fill a hole in the pension system that could reach almost 21 billion euros ($28 billion) by 2020. Though Hollande’s reform will lengthen the number of years worked, it does not change the legal retirement age of 62 years for a full pension, which is one of the lowest in Europe. “NO CONSTRAINTS” In the shadow of the pension reform, Moscovici presented France’s 2014 budget to parliament on Wednesday. He plans 15 billion euros in savings to reach a deficit of 3.6 percent of economic output, which should allow Paris to bring the budget deficit to below the EU’s 3 percent ceiling in 2015. Under EU rules, sharpened at the peak of the debt crisis in late 2011, euro zone countries can face fines if they fail to meet deficit targets and risk damaging investor confidence. Moscovici was also keen to convince Rehn, who has new powers to check countries’ budgets, that France’s planned budget savings and economic forecasts are in line with its commitments. He also sought to play down any suggestion that France would not respect the Commission’s new monitoring powers.

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In a prepared statement, the Venezuelan Attorney General’s Office said 17 people have been arrested in the drug trafficking case. The flight originated at Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital. An Air France executive in Venezuela, six airline employees, a security guard and a loading platform supervisor are among those arrested. Eight members of the Venezuelan national guard are also in custody and were scheduled to appear in front of a judge Wednesday afternoon for a preliminary hearing. On September 11, French authorities discovered 1.3 tons of pure cocaine stuffed inside 30 suitcases on the flight. The colorful bags did not match any of the passengers on board, CNN affiliate BFMTV reported. Coast Guard makes $20 million cocaine bust Huge drug bust off the coast of Florida Drug busts at sea: 4 tons of cocaine The street value of the stash is about 200 million euros, or $270 million. Woman busted in Spain for cocaine in breast implants Authorities worked with Spanish, British and Dutch police on the investigation, BFMTV said. This case “illustrates the importance of strengthening International cooperation in the fight against traffickers,” French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said. Suspected drug smugglers sail to jail In Venezuela, authorities promised a swift investigation as soon as the confiscation was announced in Paris. All 17 arrests were made in less than three days. Venezuelan Interior and Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres told reporters in Venezuela that authorities think an organized crime group with Italian and British members is responsible for the shipment. “The suitcases were not taken into the plane through the regular baggage platforms at the airport. We’re investigating how the drug (shipment) got to the airport,” he said.

France sanctions Google for European privacy law violations

The issue of data protection has gathered steam worldwide following revelations by Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the National Security Agency, that the US had a vast, secret programme called PRISM to monitor Internet users. France’s CNIL said Google had failed to comply with data protection guidelines within a three-month deadline and said it would begin a formal sanction procedure, under which the US giant could be fined up to 150,000 euros ($205,000). CNIL had asked Google to inform web users in France on how it processes their personal data and to define exactly how long they can store the information. It had also requested that the US giant obtain users’ permission before storing cookies on their computers, referring to files that track netizens and allow companies to target them with tailored commercials. “On the last day of this (three-month) period, Google responded to the CNIL. Google contests the reasoning of the CNIL and has not complied with the requests laid down in the enforcement notice,” the watchdog said in a statement. “In this context, the Chair of the CNIL will now designate a rapporteur for the purpose of initiating a formal procedure for imposing sanctions.” In its response, Google made no mention of any challenge to CNIL’s reasoning and maintained it respects European law. France’s move follows Google’s introduction last year of a new privacy policy which enables it to track user activity across its search engine, Gmail, the Google+ social networking platform and other services it owns, which include YouTube. The changes make it easier for Google to collect and process data that could be used by advertisers to target individuals with offers tailored to their specific interest, thereby increasing the company’s revenue potential. Google has defended the changes it made last year on the ground that they simplify and standardise its approach across its various services. But critics argue that the policy, which offers no ability to opt out aside from refraining from signing into Google services, gives the operator of the world’s largest search engine unprecedented ability to monitor its users. While always on the agenda, the issue of data protection took on an extra dimension when Snowden’s revelations were published in June. Under PRISM, the National Security Agency can issue directives to Internet firms demanding access to emails, online chats, pictures, files, videos and more.

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The enforcement follows an analysis led by European data protection authorities of a new privacy policy that Google enacted in 2012, France’s privacy watchdog, the Commission Nationale de L’Informatique et des Libertes , said Friday on its website. Google was ordered in June by the CNIL to comply with French data protection laws within three months. But Google had not changed its policies to comply with French laws by a deadline on Friday, because the company said that France’s data protection laws did not apply to users of certain Google services in France, the CNIL said. The company “has not implemented the requested changes,” the CNIL said. As a result, “the chair of the CNIL will now designate a rapporteur for the purpose of initiating a formal procedure for imposing sanctions, according to the provisions laid down in the French data protection law,” the watchdog said. Google could be fined a maximum of 150,000 ($202,562), or 300,000 for a second offense, and could in some circumstances be ordered to refrain from processing personal data in certain ways for three months. What bothers France The CNIL took issue with several areas of Google’s data policies, in particular how the company stores and uses people’s data. How Google informs users about data that it processes and obtains consent from users before storing tracking cookies were cited as areas of concern by the CNIL. In a statement, Google said that its privacy policy respects European law. “We have engaged fully with the CNIL throughout this process, and we’ll continue to do so going forward,” a spokeswoman said. Google is also embroiled with European authorities in an antitrust case for allegedly breaking competition rules. The company recently submitted proposals to avoid fines in that case.