Monday, February 15, 2016

EU president fears its implosion; Each generation better off than parents? Think again; The drone threat to civil aviation

1 EU president sees its implosion (San Francisco Chronicle) After decades of often unbridled expansion and increasing prosperity, the once-robust European Union is this week looking at its biggest challenge — crumbling from within, says EU President Donald Tusk.

Only days ahead of a crucial summit that opens Thursday, Tusk is crisscrossing his bloc of half a billion people and 28 nations — literally from Paris to Bucharest, on to Athens and Prague to finish in Berlin in little more than 24 hours — in yet another desperate quest to somehow reap unity where division has been sown.

"This is a critical moment. The risk of break-up is real," Tusk said, now publicly saying what had been on his mind for weeks. The stakes are immense, Tusk acknowledges, fearful that if Britain goes it will start an unraveling that no one knows when and where it might end. A so-called Brexit might turn into a full-blown EUxit.

The European Union was built on the ashes of World War II, first taking decades to bring economic wealth before taking on the task of bridging the huge ideological divide that cut the continent into a capitalist west and a communist east.

Compounding the predicament caused by a potential British exit, is the migrant crisis affecting just about every single member state, causing more bad blood than Britain's show of hard love. "The migratory crisis we are witnessing now is testing our Union to its limits," Tusk said.

And it is turning the members of the EU ever more against each other. Hundreds of thousands of migrants have come, almost unchecked, through EU member Greece and on to Germany and Sweden into the rich heartland. Almost everyone complains Greece isn't doing enough to stem the influx. Some eastern European nations complain that they lack the resources to handle large numbers of refugees and that the more prosperous nations are too soft-hearted and have allowed the borders to be overrun.

2 Each generation better than parents? Think again (Larry Elliott in The Guardian) The idea that each generation would be more fortunate than the last no longer applies and perhaps helps explain why young people feel that traditional politics has little to offer them. The political economy of the analogue age was based on the idea that people would have secure, full-time employment that would enable them to save the deposit on a home relatively quickly.

Two new reports show how that model has completely broken down. The first comes from the Resolution Foundation, which launched an in-depth study of inter-generational fairness with a look at the housing market.

The findings are shocking. So-called millennials – those born between 1982 and 2004 are on average 16 percentage points less likely to own their own homes than their parents in generation X. They, in turn are 10 percentage points less likely to own a home than their parents in the baby boomer generation.

It’s not difficult to see why it has become harder for a young person on a modest income to get a foot on the housing ladder: in the late 1990s it took them three years to save up for a deposit, while today it would take 22 years. Soaring house prices have been marvellous for baby boomers, who have often used their windfalls to create their own mini buy-to-let empires, but have been disastrous for generation rent.

Rising house prices are, however, not the only reason young people find themselves trapped in rented accommodation. The other factor is that they are struggling to make a decent wage in an increasingly insecure and casualised labour market in which low pay is endemic.

That emerges from the first in-depth study into the number of “crowd workers”, people who are paid for work through online platforms such as Uber, Upwork and Taskrabbit. Prof Ursula Huws of the University of Hertfordshire says that 5 million people are being paid through these online platforms, with more than 3 million of them regularly engaged in various forms of crowd work.

The big unanswered question is whether this sort of economic model is sustainable, because at present it is hard to see how it will be. Young workers joining the labour market often do so with tens of thousands of pounds of student debt, and will struggle to find the sort of permanent well-paid, pensionable job that their parents would have walked into three or four decades ago. They have little prospect of buying a home. This is a rotten deal for young people, who have every right to be angry. The real surprise is that they are not angrier.

3 The drone threat to civil aviation (BBC) Drones flown by the general public are "a real and growing threat" to civilian aircraft, the head of aviation trade body Iata has warned. Tony Tyler called for drone regulations to be put in place before any serious accidents occur.

He said the threat posed by unmanned aerial vehicles is still evolving. "I am as excited as you are about the prospect of having pizza delivered by a drone. But we cannot allow [drones] to be a hindrance or safety threat to commercial aviation," said Mr Tyler, director-general of the International Air Transport Association.

"The issue is real. We have plenty of pilot reports of drones where they were not expected, particularly at low altitudes around airports," he added. "There is no denying that there is a real and growing threat to the safety of civilian aircraft [coming from drones].

Drones were recently involved in four serious near-misses at UK airports, the UK Air Proximity Board said in January. The board, which investigates near-miss incidents in UK airspace, said a drone had come very close to colliding with a Boeing 737 that had taken off from Stansted airport.

In December the US government set up a registration system for Americans who own drones. 
Anyone who has a drone must register with the Federal Aviation Administration before the device takes its first flight. The move comes after several reported incidents of drones hindering emergency services' efforts in fighting fires and other dangers.

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