Ecofin dinner turns out to be a charitable affair

first_imgWhat value should be ascribed to a painting put together by the EU’s finance ministers and national bank governors over the course of a well-fuelled dinner?Guests at the Ecofin meeting were asked to wield a paintbrush in a good cause. The painting is to be auctioned in aid of an Austrian charity over the Easter weekend. Clearly it is a priceless work of art, even if it did feature a few too many currency symbols. Prominent amid the scribblings was a subtle message about Malta’s ambitions for eurozone membership.last_img read more

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Slovakia ’open’ to changing media law

first_imgThe legislation, which was signed into law on 25 April, lists types of “unacceptable behaviour” for media organisations, including politically motivated hatred. There are concerns that the legislation could be manipulated by the government to silence critics. It has been strongly criticised by the Organisation for Co-operation and Security in Europe (OSCE) and international journalists’ associations. Miklos Haraszti, a media freedom representative for the OSCE, said in January that the draft law would “severely restrict” press freedom. Caplovic, who is responsible for human rights issues, told European Voice in an exclusive interview that the law was “very similar” to legislation in France and Germany, adding “these laws are not criticized”. He said that the law was “democratic” and was designed to protect “ordinary citizens” as well as politicians.  Next week’s edition (8 May) of European Voice will feature an interview with Deputy Prime Minister Caplovic talking about Slovakia’s hopes of joining the euro.center_img Responding to the criticisms by the OSCE, he said that that Gianni Buquicchio, the secretary-general of the Venice commission, the constitutional branch of the Council of Europe, the human rights watchdog, “didn’t find anything” to criticise  and “not the criticism made by Haraszti of the Organisation for Co-operation and Security in Europe”. Haraszti set out his concerns in a letter to Jan Kubiš, the foreign minister of Slovakia. Caplovic said a case concerning the law had been brought before Slovakia’s constitutional court. “If the decision is that it’s against the constitution we are prepared to amend the law,” he said. Caplovic pointed out that the government had withdrawn plans to include the possibility of fines of 200,000 Slovak Koruna (€6,200) after they were criticised. last_img read more

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EU wants other countries to set emissions targets

first_imgIn contrast, the ministers agreed that it was too soon for the EU to say how much money it will give to developing countries to help them adapt to unavoidable climate change. Their conclusions state that global spending will need to increase to €175 billion a year by 2020 if the EU is to meet its objective of restricting global warming to 2°C. They also take note of United Nations estimates that developing countries will need €23bn-€54bn per year by 2030 to adapt to climate change. Italy and France had argued that these figures should be deleted, because they could be seen as a tacit spending commitment, but in the end the figures stayed. The ministers agreed that any agreement at the UN’s climate change summit in Copenhagen later this year must be based on the most recent scientific evidence, which shows that climate change is happening faster than scientists had previously thought. The UN negotiations are based on the IPCC’s scientific reports, which are drawn up by thousands of scientists, but their latest report from 2007 has been overtaken by new data showing that the Arctic is melting and seas are rising faster than predicted. The European Union will call on other developed countries to set greenhouse-gas targets by the middle of this year, a meeting of the bloc’s environment ministers decided yesterday (2 March). The declaration is an attempt to step up pressure on other wealthy nations, as the world prepares to negotiate a global deal on climate change at the end of the year.The EU has pledged to cut its emissions by 20% by 2020 and promised to increase this target to 30% if other countries join in. At yesterday’s meeting in Brussels, the environment ministers of the 27 EU states re-confirmed their 30% target and called on other developed countries to come up with plans for emission limitations or reductions as soon as possible and no later than the middle of the year. According to evidence from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was cited by the ministers, developed countries must reduce their emissions by 25-40% by 2020 and by 80-95% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. The EU is anxious to ensure that other rich countries take on similar commitments for 2020 and beyond. The ministers also stated that they want other rich countries to pass measures that are similar to the EU’s climate and energy package that was agreed last year.But ministers were divided over how to calculate what a “similar” commitment would be. In the end they agreed that targets should be based on a country’s ability to pay, potential to make greenhouse-gas reductions, efforts made since 1990 and population trends. Some countries, notably France, Hungary, Italy, Portugal and Spain, had pressed to include emissions per person, but other countries thought this would cause problems at the UN negotiating table. The ministers compromised, by agreeing that all countries should work to limit their emissions to two tonnes per person by 2050. last_img read more

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A five-point plan for Greece

first_imgClearer thinking on the part of European leaders is needed if they are to avoid going deeper into a crisis with unpredictable consequences.  It is vital to separate in one’s mind the urgent steps needed to contain the crisis in Greece today from far-reaching proposals such as the European Monetary Fund and others like it that would make the eurozone work better in the future. The latter are ten-year projects, and might prove as irrelevant as they are divisive if – as is possible – the eurozone were to break apart. Here is a five-point plan for dealing with today’s – rather than tomorrow’s – crisis: Uri Dadush is the director of the international economics programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and was previously director of international trade and of economic policy at the World Bank. First, recognise that the Greek debacle is not just a fiscal crisis but also – with its unit labour costs rising by 35% against Germany’s and 60% against the US’s within ten years – a competitiveness crisis. The single currency makes it very difficult to grow out of the fiscal/competitiveness trap. It also makes other vulnerable countries – such as Spain – more susceptible to contagion, even though, fiscally, they are in better-than-average shape, because markets recognise that their fiscal situation will only deteriorate if they do not fix their competitiveness problem. Second, containing the crisis in Greece requires that measures agreed upon in principle are taken in sequence and in a balanced fashion. Fiscal consolidation in Greece must move ahead convincingly, for international help to have a chance of working – politically and economically. Fiscal measures are clearly not enough; reforms must also address competitiveness directly, with measures to develop skills, promote innovation and make labour markets more flexible. Some of these reforms would take a long time to work, but starting to take them is nevertheless crucial to reassure markets that the conditions for sustained growth are being re-established. Third, an apolitical analysis is needed of whether Greece can actually repay its debt without unacceptable social disruption or abandoning the euro. If, as I fear, the only realistic solution in Greece is a restructuring of debts, then policymakers need to face up to the need as soon as possible. Achieving an orderly debt write-down or rescheduling will require measures to alleviate the shock on the still fragile European banking system. Fourth, a co-ordinated macroeconomic policy approach must ensure that aggregate demand growth in Europe is supportive of the painful adjustment that will be needed in vulnerable countries over many years. The main elements of this plan are understood, though politically fraught, and include: measures to stimulate domestic demand in surplus countries, the persistence of low interest rates and an expansionary monetary policy, and a weaker euro. The latter will require careful co-ordination with G20 partners to avoid competitive devaluations, but it should be evident to the US, China and others that a series of sovereign crises in the heart of Europe is now the main risk to a global recovery. Fifth, it has become painfully clear in recent weeks that not only do European institutions lack the instruments, expertise and track record to tackle these policy challenges, but – more ominously – there is an acute shortage of political space. Providing Greece with financial support requires a political mandate, but imposing tough conditions on Greece over an extended period risks creating a rift between EU nations that would be remembered for generations. The International Monetary Fund is far from a perfect answer to these challenges, but it is the best option available. The sooner European leaders recognise these tough realities, the greater the likelihood that the eurozone as we know it will survive and perhaps emerge stronger from the ordeal. last_img read more

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Austerity and the modern banker

first_imgSanta Claus came early this year for four former executives of Washington Mutual (WaMu), a large US bank that failed in fall 2008. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) had brought a lawsuit against the four, actions that included taking huge financial risks while “knowing that the real estate market was in a ‘bubble.’” The FDIC sought to recover $900 million (€688m), but the executives have just settled for $64m (€49m), almost all of which will be paid by their insurers; their out-of-pockets costs are estimated at just $400,000 (€306,000).To be sure, the executives lost their jobs and now must drop claims for additional compensation. But, according to the FDIC, the four still earned more than $95m (€73m) from January 2005 through September 2008. So they are walking away with a great deal of cash. This is what happens when financial executives are compensated for ‘return on equity’ unadjusted for risk. The executives get the upside when things go well; when the downside risks materialise, they lose nothing (or close to it).At the same time, their actions – and similar actions by other bankers – are directly responsible for both the run-up in housing prices and the damaging collapse that followed. That collapse has impacted non-bankers in many negative ways, including through the loss of more than eight million jobs. It is also leading to austerity – taxes are increasing and government spending is falling at the local and state level around the country. A difficult fiscal conversation still lies ahead at the federal level, but cuts and contractions of various types seem likely.Some people argue that Americans need to tighten their belts. That is an interesting discussion, particularly at a time with unemployment is still above 8% (with recent declines largely the result of many jobless workers’ decision to stop looking and drop out of the labour force altogether). Precipitate austerity is hardly likely to help the economy find its way back to higher employment levels.But what about US government support for the big banks? Is this contracting in the light of the current fiscal pressures on it? Unfortunately, it is not; much government support remains, implicitly through allowing banks to be ‘too big to fail’, and explicitly through various kinds of backing provided by the Federal Reserve.The rationale – or perhaps we should call it ideology – behind supporting big banks is that they are needed for the economy to recover. But this position looks increasingly doubtful when the banks are sitting on piles of cash while creditworthy consumers and businesses are reluctant to borrow.The same situation exists in Europe today, where the reality is even starker. Banks are receiving ever-larger bail-outs, while countries that borrowed are cutting social programmes and face rising social tensions and political instability as a result. Countries like Greece, Italy, and arguably Portugal over-borrowed, and now their citizens face severe consequences. But the bankers face no consequences whatsoever for over-lending.To be sure, some major European financial institutions may now face difficulties, and – who knows – perhaps some of their executives will end up being fired. But does anyone think that the people who ran European banks into the ground will leave their positions with anything less than considerable wealth? There is no real austerity – now or possibly in the future – for leading bank executives. The protesters of ‘Occupy Albany’ issued a powerful consensus statement recently, which reads in part:“The interests of those who purchase influence are rewarded at the expense of the People, from whom the government’s just power is derived. We believe that this failure in our system is at the core of many interconnected issues we face as a society, and its resolution is key to a just future. We therefore demand true democracy, decoupled from the corrosive influence of concentrated economic power, and we call all who share in this common goal to stand with us and take action toward this end.” Big banks represent the ultimate in concentrated economic power in today’s economies. They are able to resist all meaningful reform that could really change their compensation schemes. Their executives want to get all the upside while facing none of the true downside.But capitalism without the prospect of failure is not any kind of market economy. We are running a large-scale, non-transparent, and dangerous government subsidy scheme for the benefit primarily of a very few, extremely wealthy people.Jon Huntsman, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, is addressing this directly – insisting that we should force the largest banks to break up and to become safer. No other candidate for the presidency is seriously confronting this issue head-on: just saying ‘we’ll let them fail’ is no kind of answer when the failure of megabanks would cause so much damage.We should learn from both the WaMu and the Occupy movement. In both cases, the lesson is the same: concentrated financial power is a gift that keeps on giving – but not to you.center_img Simon Johnson, a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, is co-founder of a leading economics blog, BaselineScenario.com, a professor at MIT Sloan, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and co-author, with James Kwak, of “13 bankers”. © Project Syndicate, 2011.last_img read more

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Whose side are you on?

first_imgEuropean Union documents about relations with India are full of ritual invocations of the values the two sides supposedly share, starting with the fact that India is the world’s largest democracy. But on many questions of the day India has sided with the dictators rather than the world’s democratic caucus, much to the frustration of Western diplomats.  In recent months, this frustration has been boiling over as India – currently at the mid-point of its two-year turn on the United Nations Security Council, and hoping one day to join the Council as a permanent member – has sided with Russia in blocking any condemnation of Syria’s regime for its vicious crackdown on protesters. “This has created a poisonous atmosphere within the Security Council,” says Richard Gowan, associate director of the Center for International Co-operation at New York University. The motivations behind such behaviour are complex. Unlike Russia, India has no particular sympathy for or ideological affinity with the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and no major economic interests in the country. But India has a deep-seated aversion to what it sees as Western moralising and double standards. It is still reeling from the experience of UN backing for the protection of civilians in Libya, which in its view (shared by Russia and China) was subsequently misused by the Western powers to engineer regime change in Tripoli. India is deeply sceptical of ‘humanitarian interventions’ on principle and has a deep attachment to a fairly absolute notion of state sovereignty and non-interference. Action by coalitions of the willing outside the UN – such as the French and British-led attack on Libya (later transferred to NATO) – is anathema; and as a country facing numerous local insurgencies, India is not a friend of insurgents abroad. Leading arms-buyer India’s location in one of the world’s most volatileregions, meanwhile, has turned it into the world’s leading arms-buyer in the five years to 2011, according to SIPRI, a think-tank based in Stockholm. Russia provided more than 80% of India’s arms imports during that time, and is expected to deliver military supplies worth €6 billion this year alone – more than 60% of Russian arms sales. Recent deals with the United States show that there is nothing ideological about the way India buys in its arms; the US now appears set to join Russia and Israel as India’s top arms suppliers. And on Tuesday (31 January), India became the first foreign buyer of France’s Rafale fighter jet, in India’s single biggest arms deal to date, worth €8.4 billion for 126 planes. For India, unlike the EU, issues of hard security are at the core of its foreign policy. Instinctively, therefore, its positions are closer to the non-Western powers on the Security Council – China and Russia – than to the EU’s liberal worldview. India has been a difficult partner to a European Union seeking to use its ‘soft power’ to affect the behaviour of foreign governments. In general, Indian diplomacy is driven by three overarching goals: to contain its neighbour and arch-enemy, Pakistan, especially in the divided province of Kashmir; to join the UN Security Council as a permanent member; and to secure India’s commercial interests, especially its energy supply, which in recent years has often put it in direct competition with China. In none of these is the EU a crucial or even relevant actor. In some, it is distinctly unhelpful. India worries that the rush by NATO’s allies to leave Afghanistan will give Pakistan even more influence in that country, allowing all manner of Islamist radicals to operate from there. “Have the Europeans done any calculations as to what pulling out of Afghanistan means for India and Iran? I don’t think they have,” says Gowan. “Most Europeans just want out of Afghanistan, and that’s going to leave India with a huge mess.” This has other implications for India. “From an Indian perspective, weakening Iran risks compounding the mess on their north-western border,” Gowan says. As a result, the best that the EU can hope for as it imposes an oil embargo against Iran is that India will not snatch up the surplus production. Even that minimal co-operation, however, appears doubtful. Pakistan Relations between Pakistan and India are less tense than during most of the two countries’ existence as independent (and separate) states; plans for joint energy projects suggest that the two governments recognise the potential of strategic co-operation (see box, above). But Pakistan’s volatility reduces the scope of any rapprochement; improved relations could be undone at once if there were regime change in Islamabad. Much of India’s attachment to countries in the ‘global south’, democracies and dictatorships alike, which are resisting Western preponderance in international institutions has to do with its colonial past – its domination by Britain, which ended 65 years ago. But this attachment has weakened in recent decades; India is no longer so sure that its future really lies in leading the non-aligned movement. It is now simultaneously pursuing, together with Brazil and South Africa, a reform of the Security Council that would allow it to join the big league of world powers. The EU is split on the issue, with Germany – as a direct beneficiary of future UN reform – in favour, and Italy and Spain leading a group against. A recent spat pitted India, which is seeking higher reimbursement rates for its UN peacekeepers – one of the largest contingents – against the Europeans, led by the UK, which have come to view everything that happens at the UN through the prism of the budget. Turkmen gas India and Pakistan are negotiating an agreement to build a 1,700 kilometre pipeline through Afghanistan to import gas from Turkmenistan’s Yolotan-Osman gas field. Asim Hussain, Pakistan’s energy minister, said on 25 January that the two sides were drafting a joint strategy and preparing to discuss transit fees with Afghanistan. The pipeline is projected to bring up to 33 billion cubic metres per year to Pakistan and India. Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, was in Turkmenistan in January for talks on the pipeline project with Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, his Turkmen counterpart. Foreign Aid Traditionally a recipient of development aid, India has in recent years increased the aid it gives to other countries. According to annual reports by the foreign ministry, India’s aid and loan programme provided $488 million (€370m) in the fiscal year 2009-10, down from $610m (€465m) the previous year. Most of this aid goes to countries in India’s immediate neighbourhood, such as Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan is a special case, with Indian pledges of $2 billion (€1.5bn) in a bid to counter Pakistan’s influence. Aid to Bangladesh has a similar geopolitical dimension, with India extending a $1bn (€760m) credit line two years ago in the context of counter-terrorism co-operation. However, India also has plans to increase its aid to Africa, and last year set up a foreign aid agency that is supposed to disburse $11.3bn (€8.6bn) in the coming five to seven years, including $5bn (€3.8bn) for Africa. India had pledged a similar amount in 2008 for infrastructure development in Africa, where it competes with China for business opportunities. Fact Filelast_img read more

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Finance ministers fail to reach deal on tax avoidance

first_imgAlgirdas Šemeta, the European commissioner for taxation and anti-fraud, has said that he is disappointed that European Union finance ministers failed to agree tougher rules on tax evasion today.Maria Fekter, the finance minister of Austria, the last country to oppose a revision of the EU’s savings tax directive, said during today’s meeting of finance ministers that while she “accepted” the text of the draft legislation, it was too early to approve it.Luxembourg, which ended an eight-year resistance to the proposals in April, also did not approve the revision of the rules during today’s meeting. The failure sets up the possibility of a row at the summit of member state leaders next week (15 May) where most countries will put pressure on Austria and Luxembourg to give in.Šemeta said that today’s talks had been a “big opportunity” to take “decisive action” on tax evasion and that expectations had been high that a breakthrough would be made today.“I cannot honestly say expectations were met,” he said.Finance ministers did however agree to give the Commission a mandate to negotiate stricter bank transparency agreements with Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Monaco and San Marino.Šemeta said the Commission wanted to negotiate “ambitious agreements” with the countries. The aim is to ensure that these countries apply transparency measures equivalent to the EU’s savings tax directive. Negotiations will be based on the proposed revised legislation.“It’s undoubtedly a step forward,” Šemeta said. “Let’s hope what leaders agree next week at the summit is more like a giant leap.”last_img read more

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UK will not participate in EU migrant rescue mission

first_imgThe United Kingdom will not participate in the European Union’s planned search and rescue operation for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.Joyce Anelay, the UK’s minister for the foreign office, informed the British Parliament in a written statement that the UK would not be participating in the operation, called Operation Triton, because the mission might encourage more migrants to attempt the crossing. The operation is being co-ordinated by Frontex, the EU’s border-management agency.The mission is meant to help Italy in particular and will complement its Mare Nostrum mission. The statement was submitted to the Parliament earlier this month but was revealed by the British press yesterday (28 October). Anelay wrote that it would create an “unintended pull factor” for potential migrants. She said the government believes that it would be better to focus attention on countries of origin and transit, and to stop people smugglers.Human rights organisations have criticised the UK’s refusal to participate in the mission.last_img read more

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German police not equipped for Paris-style attack: union leader

first_imgThe budget for the federal police has been boosted to a projected €2.95 billion this year, compared with just under €2.6 billion spent in 2014, and the government said last September it would create 3,000 new positions on the force. Walter insisted, however, on the need for additional funding and headcount staff to protect the country.Behr, the criminologist in Hamburg, cautioned that the police union was defending “what’s in the interest of their members,” adding: “Since the end of World War II, there has never been a situation when the police unions were happy with their staffing.” Also On POLITICO Europol needs more staff from EU nations to respond to terrorist attacks By Zoya Sheftalovich A year earlier, foreign intelligence services had informed German authorities that terrorists groups were planning attacks against railway stations in Berlin and Dresden, according to media reports.Within Germany’s security apparatus, there are 40 federal and regional agencies with highly trained and well-armed special counterterrorism units. Just last December, Germany set up another national unit called the Evidence Collection and Arrest Unit Plus (BFE+). Its members are specifically trained for wide-ranging manhunts during anti-terrorist operations and to offer other support to the existing GSG9 elite force and the states’ SEK special response units.However, Walter said that as well-prepared as these units are, their colleagues patrolling vital installations like airports and stations are not equipped to handle an attack, even though they are most likely to provide the first response. In urban areas, special units need at least 20 minutes to reach the scene of an attack and in more remote areas it could take hours, said Walter.Furthermore, the recent influx of refugees and deployment of German federal police officers to Frontex, the EU agency coordinating efforts to secure the union’s external borders, means staffing levels are lower than usual, Walter said.“Currently, at some of the larger train stations in the country, we are working with only 50 percent of our regular staff,” he said, adding that the degree of understaffing became clear after the Brussels attacks, when federal police were sent to the borders with Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, to prevent any fugitive terrorists from entering Germany.If these officers “really came across a terrorist, they would have no chance, with their current equipment,” said Walter. “I can only pray that no terrorist with a Kalashnikov ever comes through one of those border crossings — I’m afraid this would leave our colleagues dead.” “In every patrol car, there should be two titanium helmets, certain bulletproof vests, and our officers should have access to bulletproof cars if they are sent to set up terrorism checkpoints at the border, for example,” Walter said in an interview.However, one expert cautioned that police patrols that look like military units could have an adverse effect on the public.“It doesn’t make sense to try to fight terrorism by arming foot police with weaponry of war,” said Rafael Behr, a criminologist at the Hamburg Police Academy. “It’s ineffective — and it’s the wrong signal to the population. Militarizing policemen on patrol will only create more fear of a potential terrorist attack.”Germany has not suffered a major terrorist attack by Islamic extremists but officials say there has been a high risk for years.“The situation is serious, it’s deadly serious,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said in a TV interview last month.“ISIL has declared war on us, Germany and the West, and the group wants to carry out terrorist attacks,” said Hans-Georg Maaßen, chief of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, during a radio interview in January.center_img BERLIN – Germany’s Federal Police, who patrol borders, airports and railway stations, are ill-equipped to respond to a Paris- or Brussels-style attack or hinder terrorists from entering the country, according to their union leader.“We are short-staffed, and our policemen on the ground don’t have the equipment to deal with this sort of terrorism we are observing,” federal police union leader Ernst Walter told POLITICO. “This puts both our officers and the population at great risk.”In the wake of the November 13 attacks in Paris and the March 22 bombings in Brussels, Walter demanded better protection for police officers patrolling on foot and by car, including bulletproof vests and armouring some of their vehicles.last_img read more

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Obama meets his nemesis

first_imgAfterward, they tried to tell everyone they’d gotten along and everything was going to be all right.Glasses of water with the presidential seal were on the tables at either side, still with their protective paper tops on, untouched. They refused to answer any questions beyond their prepared remarks, including one that is on many minds: “Do you still consider him a threat to the republic?”President-elect Donald Trump barely looked at him, his eyes on the floor, darting around the room.President Barack Obama spoke first. President-elect Donald Trump barely looked at him, his eyes on the floor, darting around the room, his face a little red, his son-in-law Jared Kushner — who had just had a long walk around the South Lawn of the White House with Obama chief of staff Denis McDonough, potentially indicating the sort of role he’ll have in the Trump administration — taking photos of the meeting on his iPhone. He was framed by a painting of the Statue of Liberty’s torch on the curved wall above his head, a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. that Obama treasures behind him.At points, Obama spoke to the reporters, at points to Trump. But he looked straight at him at the end.“Most of all, I want to emphasize to you, Mr. President-elect, that we now are going to want to do everything we can to help you succeed — because if you succeed, then the country succeeds,” Obama said, Trump’s face turning to him fully for the first time. Trump called him “a very good man.”Then he started his remarks with something that was not true: “This was a meeting that was going to last for maybe 10 or 15 minutes,” Trump said.The meeting had been scheduled to last an hour. The reporters brought into the Oval Office at the end were told long before not to even assemble for the brief access at its end until the meeting would have been going on for 30 minutes.There was no vitriol, no bluster. He spoke calmly, a little hesitantly, but still distinctively Trump.“We really — we discussed a lot of different situations, some wonderful and some difficulties,” Trump said. “He explained some of the difficulties, some of the high-flying assets and some of the really great things that have been achieved.”Obama looked straight at Trump throughout, his hands clasped, his back a little hunched, as Trump said he expected to be calling on the president’s counsel, and to being with him again many times in the future. They had never met before.They have hated each other intensely from afar, each to the other the prime example of what so many Americans get wrong, and what they needed to run for president to try to correct.Thursday, they spent 90 minutes alone in the Oval Office. Which is true in the sense of preparing to hand over the keys. But it’s completely not true in the sense that Obama was completely unprepared for this moment until 60 hours before, and doesn’t seem to really have been on Thursday.Earnest was asked whether Trump and Obama had talked about tweeting from the Oval Office, or about birtherism. He said he didn’t know.While he was speaking, Obama walked onto the South Lawn. The motorcade was gone. The president-elect was gone. The Trump aides who’d been walking around taking videos on their phones were gone.In their place were the Cleveland Cavaliers, there for a world champion celebration. They even had prominently anti-Trump Ohio Gov. John Kasich out there with them.Calling this basketball team champions was a pleasure, Obama said.“That’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about hope, and change.” Trump’s first test as president-elect By Nolan D. McCaskill center_img They did not fight, he insisted. They did not argue. But Obama hasn’t changed his mind about why he never wanted Trump anywhere near the room where they sat together Thursday.“They did not re-create some sort of presidential debate in the Oval Office today,” Earnest said. “What I’m saying is that the forceful case that the president made on the campaign trail leading up to Election Day reflected his authentic views about the stakes of the election.”As for Obama calling him totally unfit for office, Earnest said, “The two men did not re-litigate their differences in the Oval Office… we’re on to the next phase.”Obama was completely unprepared for this moment until 60 hours before.Earnest also tried to toe the line on peaceful transition.Obama “has been preparing for this moment and this meeting for the better of a year,” he said. White House press secretary Josh Earnest, stone-faced as he joined reporters in the Oval Office for their brief access, entered the briefing room shortly after, having taken a moment with Obama to get up to speed with what was discussed.Earnest kept using the word “tone” to explain why Obama and the White House staff are not as panicked as they clearly are. Trump’s tone early Wednesday morning after the race was called and he spoke to Obama. Trump’s tone in his victory speech. Trump’s tone in speaking to reporters in the Oval Office.Earnest said Obama, among other things, briefed Trump on his trip to Greece and Germany next week, explaining the kinds of questions he’s likely to be asked from a nervous world and what he’s likely to say. They talked about organizing the White House, Earnest said.They didn’t talk about Trump tweeting in August that “Obama will go down as the worst President in history on many topics but especially foreign policy.” They didn’t talk about Obama responding in a segment for “Jimmy Kimmel Live” two weeks ago, “Well @realDonaldTrump,” Obama said, “at least I will go down as a president.” Obama nodded at the end.Another question that Obama didn’t answer, shouted at him by a reporter: Do you think Trump will uproot your legacy?The anger is bubbling at the White House, along with the shock. The traditional couples photo with the Trumps and Obamas at the arrival was scrapped. Instead of driving in to come in through the West Wing lobby entrance, as was expected, Trump’s motorcade pulled in to the South Lawn, out of view of reporters or the White House staffers who had gathered on the steps of the Eisenhower Old Executive Office Building to see him arrive.In the Secret Service shed at the entrance to the White House Wednesday morning, two riot gear shields rested against the wall.As reporters waited to enter the Oval Office, emergency vehicle sirens went off, creating a buzz. Several heard something they were convinced was a gunshot — though nothing was reported, and a cameraman insisted, probably correctly, that it was just a grounds lawnmower engine backfiring. Also On POLITICO last_img read more

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