“We talked more about human rights than pandas,” says Niinistö

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President Sauli Niinistö has expressed his bemusement with the criticism aroused by his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Helsinki on Wednesday.

“We talked more about human rights and the principle of the rule of law than pandas,” he asserted in a news conference yesterday, responding to suggestions that most of the media attention on the historic meeting had focused on the couple of giant pandas promised to Finland by China.

Niinistö revealed that he talked with his counterpart for a total of three-and-a-half hours and pointed out that the joint declaration issued by the heads of state draws attention to the importance of respecting human rights and the principle of the rule of law.

Finland, he asserted, is by no means scared to address difficult issues, such as human rights issues.

He also discussed the special circumstances under which his joint news conference with Xi was organised on Wednesday. The decision not to allow members of the media to ask questions was unusual but not outright unprecedented, he said, calling attention to his visit to the White House in 2016.

“We settled for issuing a joint declaration and unilateral statements on our discussions. Questions were not allowed,” he described his meeting with US President Barack Obama.

“Finland is the most open country in the world. What’s natural for us isn’t natural for everyone,” he added.


Source : helsinkitimes.fi

Budget deficit a possibility again

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The cabinet has decided to relax the strict fiscal balance dogma of recent years. President of the Bank of Estonia Ardo Hansson perceives several dangers.

„It is opportunist and clearly only benefits the current government. Previous governments have set aside reserves for this one to use,“ he said. Hansson added that should this cast of mind persist, every future government can simply discard the fiscal balance rule to fulfill its election promises. „This will erode the foundation; it is a slippery slope,“ he added.

Hansson said that had the government really considered Estonia’s fate in the long term, the amendment would have been made with a future perspective. „They could have said that we are not the ones to benefit from this, while it might prove useful for future governments.“

Minister of Finance Sven Sester announced yesterday that the government has decided to amend the state budget act to allow structural deficit in order to liven up the economy in the future. This would give the government use of 0.5 percent of GDP or €115 million for the purpose of taking loans with which to handle major investments: road construction, renovation of the Linnahall building in Tallinn, development of IT services etc.

„Looking at the current situation, the economy does not need fiscal stimulus. Employment is very high, salary advance is frantic. If we stimulate the economy further in this situation, we will see bubbles, and sectors will overheat,“ Hansson warned.

For example a decision to invest a lot of money in road construction would lead to salary advance in the sector. This would in turn hurt profits and through it investments.

„While some companies might experience growth, others will go bankrupt because they cannot keep up with the pace of salary hikes,“ the central bank manager said.

While Hansson believes national investments in major infrastructure objects are important, it is not something Estonia needs today. He said that the state needs to invest when there is a crisis, while last quarter figures suggest the economy is growing.

One of the authors of the new state budget act, deputy head of the finance ministry’s fiscal department Sven Kirsipuu said that the aim of the amendment to allow deficit is first and foremost to balance the economy and render state investments more flexible.

The public servant gave an example. „Let us presume that you want to buy a refrigerator in December. And that you have a principle, according to which you can only use the money this year. However, when you reach the shop, it turns out they’re out of fridges and will not have new stock until January. Will you decide not to buy the fridge because your principle does not allow you to use December’s money in January?“ he asked.

Kirsipuu said that the example also applies to major national investments regarding which it doesn’t matter whether they are made in December or January. „Summary investments are the same for the two-year period, while some annual displacement can cause a deficit in one of the years,“ he explained.

Kirsipuu said that it is merely a question of flexibility and not a case of living beyond one’s means or saddling future generations with obligations. The new rules will simply see structural balance monitored over a longer period of time, as a four-year average. The principle that excess deficit during the fiscal year will have to be compensated for in the future will stand.

Concerning criticism that investing with loan money will lead to some sectors overheating, Kirsipuu admitted that it is something that needs to be discussed. He said that there have been very conflicting reports on whether the Estonian economy is in a crisis, recovering, or about to overheat.

„The OECD believes we are in a very deep crisis. The European Commission thinks we have a bubble. We find we are somewhere in between those things,“ Kirsipuu said.

The government sector budget has sported a surplus in recent years. The budget balance rule is in accordance with European fiscal rules. Amendments to the balance rule would concern the 2018 state budget and those of following years.


Source : news.postimees.ee

Spain demands that ETA apologise and disband

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Holland Festival celebrates 70th year in June with ‘democracy’ theme

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The Holland Festival is back in June and this year it is celebrating its milestone 70th birthday. Julia Corbett spoke to the event’s artistic director Ruth Mackenzie who is bowing out after five years at the helm. The programme of this year’s Holland Festival includes 17 world premiers, a befitting celebration for the longest-running performing arts event in the country. Since being launched in 1947, the Holland Festival has increased in size and popularity, becoming known around the world for bringing opera, modern dance, poetry and music to Amsterdam.

The festival’s notoriety for tackling controversial issues is also set to be reinforced with the theme of ‘Democracy’ taking centre stage. From London’s National Theatre’s new play about Brexit, to Richard Nelson’s trilogy The Gabriels which climax on Election Night in the USA last year, the public can get involved in debates surrounding what democracy means in the modern world.

Artistic director and British national Ruth Mackenzie was previously in charge of the culture festival that accompanied the London 2012 Olympics and has brought her enthusiasm for inspiring people to her role as artistic director for the Holland Festival since 2013.

With her penultimate festival taking place in just four months’ time and describing this year’s programme as the boldest line up that the Holland Festival has ever produced, she told DutchNews.nl: ‘I love the moment when you announce a programme and you can share the ideas of the artists with the public – and this year, the public have already been enthusiastic about the programme which is great.

‘The Holland Festival has a great tradition of sharing urgent issues, offering a place for provocation, as well as analysis, comfort and joy.

‘Our festival and its international artists have helped us face the future, and today we need the Holland Festival more than ever.’

International performance

Live performance, says Ruth, has the unique ability to bring people and communities together. ‘In a time when perhaps our society feels more fragmented, that sense of all being together, experiencing the same thing at the same time, creates a sense of community working well, which is very precious and of course very enjoyable.

‘I am so lucky to work as an artistic director, with amazing artists from all over the world – it is a thrill to work on the development of a new play or a new piece of music or a new idea, and I love seeing the work develop though rehearsals. Locations ‘I try to see all the shows, so I work non-stop during the festival – I love all the venues, of course, but also the surprises, the new places – we are working in Casco in Amsterdam North, the Mercatorplein in the West district and the Anton de Komplein in the South-East district of Amsterdam, for example.’

As technology and digital innovation has advanced, the festival has adapted and now includes many multimedia artistic performances and is attended by artists from all over the world. This year a special focus on Indonesian music will offer crowds the chance to experience both new and traditional performances from the South-East Asian country. In addition, Jonas Kaufmann, Jude Law, The Nile Project and Carol Ann Duffy will all be taking part in performances during the three weeks long festival period. Future Although Ruth is leaving the festival next year, she has still been involved in the planning well into the future. ‘My personal high point will be the once in a lifetime aus LICHT with music by Karlheinz Stockhausen which we are doing at the Holland Festival 2019, with the Dutch National Opera and the Royal Conservatoire from The Hague,’ she says.

‘We did the world premiere of MITTWOCH aus LICHT, part of the same piece, for the London 2012 Festival as part of the cultural programme for the London 2012 Olympics, for which I was artistic director. ‘I thought at the time that would be my high point, but the exciting thing about my job is that I am always trying to find a new high point – I know that doing aus LICHT, a three day cycle by Stockhausen, will be the hot ticket for audiences from every continent in the world. Amsterdam June 2019 will be the most exciting place to be in the world.’

Source : dutchnews.nl

What exactly are the hungarikums

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Posted by Alexandra Béni | Apr 8, 2017 | Special Hungary |

 According to mno.hu, the list of Hungarikums has been expanding for five years now. It includes things like fish soup, stew, pálinka, remedies, and even an educational method.

But what exactly are the Hungarikums, how does a product profit from being called a Hungarikum, and what guarantees good quality? Imagine a table full of delicacies like Karcag mutton stew, Egri Bikavér, Csabai sausage, grape marc pálinka, chimney cake… people are wiping their Hungarian moustaches, while cattle dogs are barking.

This could be an idyllic picture from the 70s-80s, but the truth is that we are very much in the present world. In the world of Hungarikums, created “to identify values that are important to the whole of the nation”.

March brought about the expansion of the list, as the Kodály method, the Hungarian shepherd and hound dog, and the fisherman’s soup from the region of Tisza were added to the list.

Out of these, the first two are easy to comprehend and demark, but the problem with the latest characterises the whole of the Agriculture and Food Industry category. The case of Hungarian fish soups is a bit cynical, as fishing in the natural waters of Hungary was prohibited two years ago, thus revolting hundreds of people. This meant that the fish had/has to be purchased from either abroad (in frozen form), water farms, wholesalers or lake farms.

To define Hungarikum, we turned to http://www.hungarikum.hu, the official website of Hungarikums.

“Hungarikum is a collective term indicating a value worthy of distinction and highlighting within a unified system of qualification, classification, and registry and which represents the high performance of Hungarian people thanks to its typically Hungarian attribute, uniqueness, specialty and quality.

In the beginning of the 21th century a movement was organized that aimed to systematize and sum up the Hungarian values. After a broad societal and professional collation, the Act number XXX of 2012 concerning Hungarian national values and Hungarikums was established and declared by the Hungarian Government on the 2nd of April, 2012.

The act’s purpose is to give a legal frame to Hungarian people in order to specify and identify their own values, moreover to contribute the promotion of collected values.” The listed Hungarikums come from many different fields of life. Among others, you can find Halas lace, Herend porcelain, Béres drops and Béres drops extra, Erős Pista, the life-work of Ferenc Puskás, the caves of Aggtelek etc. in seven categories (Agriculture and Food Industry, Health and Lifestyle, Industrial and technological solutions, Cultural Heritage, Sport, Natural environments, Tourism and catering).

However, it’s not quite clear what kind of advantage it means for a product to be listed as a Hungarikum. More importantly, what is the guarantee of good quality in the case of a concept which is used in general terms quite often? Another question that might arise is how we can compare exact brands, like Pick, Herz, Unicum with general concepts like Csabai sausage or grape marc pálinka, mentioned without origin or any categorization.

The production of the former ones follow strict rules and sometimes even secret family recipes, while generally listed products can be of any quality. Even though the pálinka law, for instance, has bettered the quality of the beverages sold in shops, we can still find fake versions that are quite far from what is called a Hungarikum. Something even more complicated is the case of the fish soups of Baja and Tisza, and the Egri Bikavér.

These are amazing delicacies in themselves but what if a foreigner is not an expert in gastronomy? Truth is, that there’s a good chance that they will be sold something that is quite far from traditional flavours.

On the other hand, it must be admitted that improvements have been made in past years in this field as well, for instance, there are some restaurants that stick to freshly made fish soup, but this is still on the rare side. The case of Egri Bikavér is especially delicate, as part of the beverages sold under this name are undrinkable. This is not too good for the reputation of the beloved Hungarian wines. This demonstrates that “Hungarikum” in itself is not necessarily a guarantee for good quality. But then again, there are several oenologists, determined experts in Eger who have been successfully fighting for the good reputation of the wines of Eger.

Despite the efforts for guaranteeing good quality, the current generalizing approach of the Hungarikum-system is leading to a different way. According to Tamás Molnár B., the founder of the Hungarian Gastronomy Association, it would be better to determine criteria of quality, just like they do in France with the Label Rouge labelling (it distinguishes excellent quality food, ingredients and plants from general quality ones).

“Without strict professional criteria, this is only a show-off, or the development of national sense. For instance, what has recently become a Hungarikum under the name of fisherman’s soup from the region of Tisza is basically “tavern fish soup”. They cook the fin, head of the fish, cream it, and add the fish pieces. This could turn into a delicious meal, but what makes it a Hungarikum?”

The Hungarian Gastronomy Association has created and reserved the “Golden ribbon” trade-mark, which stands for quality. They would be happy if they could win the government for the case, because they believe that they should take part in the controlling process. The Association based its criteria on the French one. To put it simply, good quality cereals, vegetables and animals should come from natural farms, or somewhere close to them. An agreement has been made between the association, the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Food Chain Safety Office, and Tamás Molnár B. feels like things are slowly progressing, even though the offices don’t quite feel the importance of the case. Still, the association believes that the creation of true gastronomy is the interest of the whole country, and the Hungarikum system is going in a different direction for the time being.

Source : Daily News Hungary