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Silvio Berlusconi withdrew as candidate for Italy‘s premiership on Monday as the price of a pact with the devolutionist Northern League that could prevent the formation of a stable government after next month‘s election. Berlusconi has been striving for weeks to seal the deal with his estranged former allies to strengthen the centre-right bloc, under a strategy to stymie the centre-left government that is expected to emerge from the election on Febuary 24-25. Earlier, in an interview on the Italian radio station RTL, Berlusconi had left the issue of the premiership in a future centre-right government open. He said he would prefer to be the economy minister and that most likely Angelino Alfano, secretary of his People of Freedom party, would be the prime ministerial candidate. (REUTERS.COM)

Britain, and especially London, has become a popular place for tens of thousands of southern Europeans in search of work as the governments of Spain, Portugal and Italy continue to impose austerity measures. 5,350 Spaniards and 5,370 Italians were allocated national insurance numbers in London in the first quarter of 2012. The number of national insurance registrations for Spaniards across Britain has soared by 25% year on year. (EURACTIV.COM)

France’s ruling Socialist government was struggling to rebound a week after the Constitutional Council struck down its law to tax the country’s highest earners at a 75% rate, with government ministers publicly disagreeing on how to rescue one of President François Hollande’s flagship measures. On Sunday, Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici told France Inter radio that the bill was being re-written and that it would be an “exceptional, temporary” law that should not outlive France’s current economic slump. Earlier in the day Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac spoke of a “permanent” tax that would be on the books no later than the autumn of 2013. (FRANCE24.COM)

Poland has become eighth EU member state to ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops approved by the European Food Safety Authority as safe. This would affect two crops, which are at the moment authorised for cultivation in the EU: Monsanto’s MON810 maize and BASF’s Amflora potato. A decision to this end will enter into force on 28 January. (EUROPOLITICS.INFO)

The number of people from the Balkans seeking asylum in the EU hit a record for 2012, says the Brussels-based European Stability Initiative. 33,500 Balkan nationals asked for asylum last year, up from 29,680 in 2011. Around 90 percent are Roma. (EUOBSERVER.COM)

The European Central Bank will begin the new year just as it ended 2012; by keeping the status quo on its rates, while the institution awaits developments in the eurozone. The bank, whose Governing Council will hold its monthly meeting in Frankfurt on 10 January, has maintained its primary intervention rate at 0.75% since July – its lowest ever level. (EUROPOLITICS.INFO)

A British academic who has spent hundreds of hours in cockpits studying pilots’ performance says proposed EU regulations for airplane crews overlook important safety risks, including changes in the aviation industry that mean pilots may no longer live close to where they work. Simon Bennett, who heads the University of Leicester’s Civil Safety and Security Unit, says flight duty time rules that are due to be considered by EU decision-makers this year don’t go far enough in weighing factors such as the time pilots spend commuting to their job. (EURACTIV.COM)

Around €1.5 billion was lost to credit card fraud in 2012 in the EU, says the EU police agency Europol. “Most of the credit card numbers misused in the EU come from data breaches in the USA,“ said the agency in a statement. (EUOBSERVER.COM)

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