France, Germany Join Forces to Support Eurozone
France and Germany will create a working group to push the European Union into more cooperation for a banking union, fiscal union, and monetary union, the German and French finance ministers Wolfgang Schäuble and Pierre Moscovici said today. They met in Berlin to discuss ways to fix the euro crisis, and agreed that more integration was the answer. This represents a significant shift for France, whose President François Hollande was very vocal against German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s stance on austerity. Germany has been consistently pushing for tighter pan-European fiscal rules. This comes after Merkel said policymakers’ efforts to help Greece were entering a “decisive phase.” Hollande said there was “no time to lose” and added that proposals for a banking union were needed by the end of the year. Merkel and Hollande agreed last week to wait for a report on Greece’s progress, due in September, before deciding on whether to ease the terms of its bailout package.
French President Weighs in on Syria
French President François Hollande said today France will recognize a transitional government in Syria as soon as it takes shape. He also joined U.S. President Barack Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron in warning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against using chemical and biological weapons in the civil war that is tearing Syria apart. He added that should Assad not listen, it would be “a legitimate reason for direct intervention.” Hollande criticized China and Russia for protecting Assad by vetoing sanctions at the United Nations Security Council. Meanwhile, rebels in Syria said they found 334 bodies in Daraya, a poor Sunni town near the Syrian capital Damascus, after pro-Assad forces stormed the place on Saturday. This would be one of the bloodiest events since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011. UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon said it was an “appalling and brutal crime,” and called for an immediate independent investigation. A helicopter from the Syrian army fell under rebel fire in Damascus while bombardments continued.
Tropical Storm Isaac Ravages Haiti, Spares GOP Convention, Heads for New Orleans
After killing 19 people in Haiti, five in the Dominican Republic, and flooding South Florida, Tropical Storm Isaac headed straight for the U.S. Gulf Coast today, prompting the governors of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama to call a state of emergency. Exactly seven years after Hurricane Katrina, small towns on the Louisiana shoreline were ordered to evacuate. In Tampa, Florida, the opening of the Republican Party Convention was delayed as volunteers and operatives waited for confirmation that the city would be spared. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said last week he would not hesitate to order an evacuation. Even still, the GOP may not push ahead with the event should New Orleans suffer floods. Isaac is expected to reach hurricane-force winds as it hits the coast Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.
Arctic Sea Ice at Record Low
The area covered by arctic sea ice reached a record low today, as it shrunk to 4.1 million square kilometers (1.58 million square miles). According to the University of Colorado National Snow and Ice Data Center, it is likely to continue to decrease for the next two weeks. Scientists say the culprits are a long-term increase in temperatures and the unusual conditions this summer, which has been, at least in the U.S., the hottest since records began. Thinner ice translates into more water, which absorbs heat and contributes to accelerating thawing. Furthermore, less ice means a smaller reflective surface for sun rays, which can also contribute to warming. Experts estimate that melting is happening at the rate of 75,000 square kilometers (29,000 square miles) per day, an area slightly smaller than Portugal.
Colombia Prepares for Peace Talks with Guerrilla Group
The Colombian media said today the government and the country’s largest guerrilla group could soon begin official peace talks that would take place in October in Oslo, Norway, and in Havana, Cuba. The goal would be to end a 50-year conflict in the country. The marxist-inspired Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were founded in 1964 and are thought to have around 9,000 combatants in their ranks. The group is mostly funded by drug cartels in exchange for protection. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos denied that a formal agreement had been found, but sources close to the government said they were near to closing a deal. The second-largest guerrilla group in the country, the National Liberation Army (ELN), said it would also join the talks, but refused to put a hold on violence, extortions, and abductions in order to gain a seat at the negotiations.