In Azerbaijan, UK-based gold mine accused of pollution

Six journalists from the independent Azerbaijani investigative website Abzas Media have been under arrest since November 2023. They had previously transmitted elements of their investigations to the Paris-based Forbidden Stories collective, which took over their work in collaboration with 14 European news organisations in the “The Baku Connection” project, including FRANCE 24 and RFI. This article focuses on the tensions surrounding a mine in the west of the country, whose gold ends up in the products of major high-tech brands. 

The anger was visible on their faces as they faced off against squadrons of riot police sent to silence them. On June 20, 2023, residents of the village of Söyüdlü, in western Azerbaijan, demonstrated to reject the construction of a new reservoir to store toxic waste from a gold mine that has been operating in the area since 2012. An initial reservoir had been installed by Anglo Asian Mining, the British company that operates the mine, but it was close to capacity. The villagers believe it had led to soil and river water pollution, and that the fumes escaping from it were causing an increase in respiratory illnesses.

Video of tensions at the Gedabek mine in Azerbaijan published on Facebook by the account Azərbaycan Respublikası on june 21, 2023.


The first reservoir, with a capacity of 6 million cubic metres, is located a few hundred meters from Söyüdlü. To separate the gold from the rock, Anglo Asian Mining uses cyanide, and dumps the sludge generated by the process, which contains toxic products including cyanide and arsenic, into the reservoir, known as a tailings pond.  The company says that the quantities of waste do not threaten the environment or the health of local residents. 

That is not how the residents feel. But their efforts to show their frustration in June 2023 were cut short: images posted on social media show police in riot gear spraying tear gas in the faces of demonstrators, particularly elderly women, and using rubber bullets to disperse the protesters.


‘The police set up roadblocks and turned back journalists who were not under government control’

Interviewed by the Forbidden Stories consortium, freelance journalist Elmaddin Shamilzade recounts: 


There were about 300 policemen. It was far too many. The local administrator came to talk to the people. Then he wanted to take them to some kind of government building. He wanted to have a conversation without journalists and activists. The villagers refused, and got permission for the media to follow the discussions.  

The next day, the police set up roadblocks and turned back journalists who weren’t under government control. They wouldn’t let them into the village. They checked passports, even those of the villagers.


On Shamilzade’s return to Baku, he was arrested for posting on Facebook a photo of two policemen in Söyüdlü. He recounts being beaten, tortured and threatened with rape, which prompted him to give the police his password so that they could delete the photo. He has since left the country.

At least four journalists were arrested on June 22, 2023 for reporting on the Söyüdlü protests. Three were arrested on the spot, including Nargiz Absalamova of Abzas Media. She accuses the police officers who arrested them of violence against her and her colleagues. According to the police, the three people arrested were not wearing “any distinctive signs” identifying them as journalists. The fourth journalist was arrested in Baku on June 23: the director of Abzas Media, Ülvi Hasanli, was detained for distributing photos of the two police officers accused by the journalists of arresting them. He was released after four hours.  

Facebook post by Sevinç Vaqifqizi, editor-in-chief of Abzas Media, for which the site’s director, Ülvi Hasanli, was detained by police for four hours on June 23, 2023.. © FACEBOOK

On-site samples and questions  

In a video filmed by Abzas Media in Söyüdlü, Gadabay district administrator Orkhan Mursalov is seen telling protesters: “The reservoir has been there for more than 11 years. Have there been any complaints about the reservoir in all those years? No! Why did the inhabitants conclude in one day that the lake endangered their lives? It’s likely that people are being misinformed. Who’s misinforming them? Unfortunately, social networks.” 



Read more“Don’t think that they can stop these investigations by arresting us one by one.”

Azerbaijani state media accused first the West, and then Russia, of organizing the protests. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, in power since 2003, finally reacted to the events on July 11, 2023. He said the demonstrations were the work of “provocateurs… some of whom are hiding in Azerbaijan, others abroad”. He defended the right of the local residents to demonstrate (a way of polishing his image with his people, one activist told us). He accused the country’s minister of ecology of being  “negligent,” adding: “As a result, a foreign investor is poisoning our nature.” The Azerbaijani government had granted the right to operate the mine to Anglo Asian Mining, whose CEO and main shareholder, Iranian-American Reza Vaziri, is said by the company’s CFO Bill Morgan to be a “personal friend of the president”. The Azerbaijani government also shares profits from the mine with the company. (The company lists its second-biggest shareholder as former US governor John Sununu, who did not respond to requests for comment for this report.)


Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Anglo Asian Mining CEO Mohammad Reza Vaziri at the inauguration of a treatment centre in 2013.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Anglo Asian Mining CEO Mohammad Reza Vaziri at the inauguration of a treatment centre in 2013. © Official website of the Azerbaijan presidency

In mid-July, the Azerbaijani authorities ordered tests to be carried out on the site, and the mine suspended operations while the investigation was carried out. 

On September 28, 2023, Anglo Asian Mining announced the findings in a press release. The statement said that analyses carried out by the British laboratory Micon and the Azerbaijani laboratory Iqlim indicated there was no reason to worry about pollution at the site. “Radiation levels at Gedabek are aligned with natural background conditions for the area,” the statement says. It also states that “no issues of concern were identified with air quality”, that “no cyanide was found in any soil sample above the limits of analytical detection (

On November 7, 2023, the company announced that it had signed an “action plan” with the Azerbaijani government to restart the mine’s operations. The plan called on the company to “improve environmental monitoring of the site” and “establish a community relations department”, without giving further detail.  The company announced that rather than building a new waste reservoir, it would raise the height of the existing reservoir’s dam so that it could continue to receive waste. 

We asked Anglo Asian Mining to provide detailed results of the analyses for this report, as well as details of the dam-raising project. The company referred us to its public press releases, and sent this statement from its CEO, Reza Vaziri: 


Statement from Anglo Asian Mining provided to the Forbidden Stories consortium.  © Anglo Asian Mining
Statement from Anglo Asian Mining provided to the Forbidden Stories consortium. © Anglo Asian Mining © Anglo Asian Mining

‘This toxic water is seeping through the rocks’

Without precise data from the analyses, and without samples to analyse independently, it is impossible to assess the risk of pollution at the Gedabek mine. A member of the Azerbaijani NGO Ecofront had taken water and soil samples around the lake during the June 2023 protests, but he was arrested and his samples were confiscated. The NGO remains convinced that the lake is a source of pollution, and that its contaminated water is seeping into the soil. One of its members, Javid Gara, explains:

In recent years, the lake has been enlarged. Not by structural engineering: it’s trucks digging up the soil to make it bigger. As they dig, they cause more vibrations, more cracks and more leaks. The toxic water seeps through the rocks to the river and springs below the reservoir. The village of Soyüdlü is above the reservoir and therefore not directly affected, but it does have an agricultural life. The villagers take their livestock, cows and sheep, below the reservoir, but they never use the water downstream from the reservoir. That’s because they think it’s contaminated.

Dust, odours, soil infiltration  

Two geologists contacted by our consortium confirm these concerns, noting that the reservoir was dug directly into the rock, raising the possibility that its contents could seep into the soil and groundwater. They sent us this analysis: “You can see from the satellite images that the company dug into the valley floor. This makes it easier to bring the tailings stored in the lake into contact with the deeper layers of soil, and therefore increases the chances of disrupting underground and surface flows.”

This satellite image from 2012 show the location where a waste-containment reservoir known as a tailings pond will later be built at the Gedabek mine in Azerbaijan.
This satellite image from 2012 show the location where a waste-containment reservoir known as a tailings pond will later be built at the Gedabek mine in Azerbaijan. © Satellite image ©2024 Maxar Technologies.

Images taken by Ecofront show that below the tailings dam that contains the reservoir a small complex has been set up to alleviate any potential leaks. “Between the retaining structure and the natural topography, you have heterogeneities, so there’s bound to be leakage,” the geologists told us. Anglo Asian Mining says the filtration complex consists of a “reed bed”, artificially planted reeds that biologically filter potentially polluted water before releasing it back into the river.  

In the absence of data about the reed bed, the geologists said they could not evaluate its effectiveness. But they caution: “A reed bed won’t recover everything, but it will absorb some of the elements. Such systems can at best reduce the concentration of metals in the water, but cannot necessarily produce a drastic reduction that would allow the safe release of the water back into the river”. Ecofront, for its part, is convinced that the complex does not filter the lake water sufficiently, and pollutes the river. 

Video filmed by the NGO Ecofront below the tailings dam at the Gedabek mine in Azerbaijan. The NGO believes the facility does not sufficiently filter water from the dam before it flows into the local river.

Residents also complain about odours emitted by the reservoir, says Ecofront’s Gara.

When it’s hot, all this liquid starts to evaporate. This vapour on hot summer days is unbearable. Humans shouldn’t live in these conditions. This kind of reservoir should not be near a residential area.


In videos filmed by Abzas Media and other independent media in June, residents complain of respiratory illnesses. Some report an increase in cancer cases since the reservoir was built. But the repression of the protests in June has apparently had an effect: no resident of Söyüdlü dared to speak directly to our consortium, and we were unable to obtain any medical reports from local doctors and hospitals. 

The same applies to the nearby town of Gadabay, which adjoins the mine site. Geologists and toxicologists we consulted all told us the town’s immediate proximity to the mine without any doubt exposes its inhabitants to dust from the mine, carried by wind or rainwater.  

Map showing the Gedabek mine, the town of Gadabay, the village of Söyüdlü and the mine's tailing pond.
Map showing the Gedabek mine, the town of Gadabay, the village of Söyüdlü and the mine’s tailing pond. © Upian

From Swiss refineries to cell phones

Where does Gedabek’s gold end up? According to Anglo Asian Mining’s 2022 annual report, two Swiss refineries buy from the company. The first, Argor-Heraeus, told us it had terminated its relationship with Anglo Asian: “As part of our Know Your Customer update process started in 2022, Anglo Asian Mining did not provide all the required information” explains the refinery, which states that it “blocked the company in May 2023”, before the crackdown on protests. 

The other refinery, MKS Pamp, told us that on the basis of the analyses carried out in the summer of 2023 they would “continue to engage with Anglo Asian Mining.” Among the refinery’s customers are the major hi-tech brands: Apple, Samsung, Tesla, HP… none of whom responded to our questions. Microsoft was the only major brand to respond, stating that it “requires its suppliers (…) to comply with all applicable laws and regulations regarding labor, ethics, occupational health and safety and environmental protection”, without commenting on its gold purchases from this refinery.

‘Refineries are not asked to carry out scientific analyses of water quality and air pollution near mines’

Marc Ummel, head of the raw materials sector at the NGO Swissaid, says there’s a problem with the “due diligence” Swiss refineries are required to conduct before entering into a contract with a mining company:



The problem with refineries’ due diligence is that it is still based far too often on simply requesting documents from their suppliers or mining groups, but not on any real control or inspection of mining sites.

They carry out on-site inspections, but often don’t realize what the problem is, because they don’t talk to the local communities suffering the negative effects of the mine. In the end, the requirement for refineries’ due diligence are quite basic. They are not asked to carry out scientific analyses of water quality or air pollution at the mines they source from. They are simply asked to carry out checks to identify risks, prevent them and mitigate their negative impact. 

When a government shuts down a mine because of pollution problems or human rights violations, the situation is very concerning. A state has no interest in suspending the activities of a mine, as it will generally lose revenue. 

The six Abzas Media journalists face up to eight years’ imprisonment. As well as investigating the Gedabek mine, they had been looking into the corruption and torture used by the Azerbaijani government. The six face charges of “foreign currency trafficking”.

Producing around 1,200 kilos of gold a year, the Gedabek mine remains a relatively modest operation compared with other gold mines around the world. But in this remote region of Azerbaijan, it had raised hopes. A decade after it opened, hope has given way to fear and suspicion, fueled by the violent repression of 100 protesters in June 2023 and the effective blocking of journalists’ efforts to investigate allegations of pollution. The site is now cordoned off by Azerbaijani police, inaccessible to journalists or activists. While it is not possible to say for sure whether the pollution is real, the case seems to make the Azerbaijani authorities uncomfortable, to say the least, and raises questions in a country that claims to make the environment a priority – and will host the COP 29 climate change conference in December 2024. 

Article written in collaboration with Léa Perruchon, Leyla Mustafayeva, Lamiya Adilgizi, Sofía Alvarez Jurado (Forbidden Stories), Virginie Pironon (Radio France) and François Rüchti (RTS).

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‘Real estate’ for corals: Swiss organisation builds artificial reefs with art, tech

3D-printed clay sculptures that provide shelter to corals are part of an innovative, artistic project aimed at conserving sensitive marine ecosystems. As world leaders gather for the COP28 summit in Dubai, FRANCE 24 takes a look at an unusual conservation project run by a Swiss NGO.

In the depths of Lake Geneva, near Switzerland’s second-largest city, a team of divers began work on an underwater castle – a marine palace fit for corals.

Rrreefs, a Zurich-based organisation founded in October 2020 that designs artificial coral reefs in clay using a 3D printer is an ecological project that combines art, science and new technologies.  

Stacked on a platform, the clay sculptures looked like dungeons waiting to be sent to the bottom of the sea. Ochre in hue with ribbed surfaces, they were soft to the touch and weighed 7 kilograms. They have been carefully designed to collect coral larvae carried by ocean currents. When encrusted, these tiny animals can develop the hard skeletons that eventually form a natural reef.  

Although coral reefs make up just a modest portion of the seabed, 25 percent of underwater life depends on these fragile structures. Their benefits are manifold: Reefs serve as a refuge, a breeding ground and a source of food for fish, and protect coastlines from erosion. 

Clay bricks, designed by Rrreefs, that are intended to form artifical coral reefs. The organisation tested its new-generation bricks in Lake Geneva on September 10, 2023. © Pauline Grand d’Esnon

Maintaining corals’ resistance to global warming 

Mountains of coral – jewels of the natural world – are disintegrating due to overfishing, water pollution and marine heatwaves. Half of them have died over the past 40 years.

“When stressed, corals expel the symbiotic algae that feeds them and starve to death,” explained Rrrefs co-founder Marie Griesmar, sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with a fish. 

She stretched out a hand to her co-founder Hanna Kuhfuss, hampered by her wetsuit, to lift her out of the water.

Rrreefs does not claim to stop the coral disintegrating but it is on a mission to offer shelter to surviving larvae and give coral reefs a second chance to grow and take in other living organisms.

“I’m an estate agent for special animals,” Griesmar said with a smile. 

“What I like about our project is that it uses a passive restoration method,” explained Kuhfuss, a marine biologist by training. “Other coral preservation systems use cloning, but if one of the organisms is sick, it affects them all. Our technique lets nature take its course, encouraging the development of the offspring of corals best adapted to global warming. By relying on natural reproduction, we can maintain their resistance.” 

Four complementary talents 

Rrreefs draws on the talents of four different people. The idea for the project was first sparked at Swiss technology institute ETH Zurich, where Griesmar, an art student, was thinking about how she could connect her passions for art and diving. She crossed paths with Ulrike Pfreundt, a scientist specialising in the preservation of tropical ecosystems, who was doing her final-year project on the effects of currents on artificial structures. 

They began to talk about their plans/dreams for ocean preservation. They were then joined by Josephine Graf, who helped Pfreundt to develop the organisation and find customers. Marine biologist Kuhfuss was the fourth person to join the group. Rrreefs was founded in late 2020. 

Rrreefs’ first attempts were encouragingly successful. Their first trial, launched in the Maldives with 100 clay bricks of various shapes, began to prosper. “These larvae settle in, and the moment they do, this system attracts a whole community: spores, fish,” said Kuhfuss. “And a balanced ecosystem develops, where the sea urchins eat the algae, and so on. In three months, we had almost as many fish as a natural reef!” 

The prototype designed by Rrreefs, here photographed after its installation in October 2022, is already occupied by corals and marine life.
The prototype designed by Rrreefs, here photographed after its installation in October 2022, is already occupied by corals and marine life. © Aldahir Cervantes

With crowdfunding, Rrreefs then launched its first complete prototype, made up of 228 bricks, in partnership with local scientists in Colombia. “The teams on site call it El Castillo! (the castle)” said Griesmar proudly. 

The goal of Sunday’s operation near Geneva was not to attract corals, which live quite far from Swiss lakes. Rather, it was to test their new products in real-life conditions: new-generation bricks that are larger and heavier, with a view to a new installation in the Philippines that just received the green light. 

Nothing was left to chance in the bricks’ design: their porousness, shape and colour are the result of three years of testing. “We chose a natural colour that resembles red-violet algae. It’s the visual indicator of a healthy substrate,” explained Griesmar. The bricks fit together thanks to a protrusion on each side, similar to a small chimney. Like a children’s game, all you have to do is put them together. 

‘To make an impact, you need money’ 

In the lake, things were hotting up. Part of the team planted anchors at the bottom to install platforms that will house the reefs. On the surface, volunteers lowered brick after brick into the water by rope. At a depth of just a few metres, a diver picked them up, placed them on a platform and took them to the reef assembly site.   

However, real-life testing has its share of surprises. “We can’t see anything down there, we got lost! It took us twenty minutes to find the others,” said Mauro Bischoff, the latest addition to the permanent Rrreefs team, as he removes his diving mask. 

The activity in the lake – divers hammering the bottom to install the anchors, and bathers higher up – clouded visibility underwater. It’s time for Plan B: the team unrolls a long red cord from the platform to the marker buoy, so that divers can spot each other from the bottom. “There are always things we don’t plan,” jokes Griesmar. “We have to be creative!” 

The team, whose average age is barely 30, is comprised mostly of Swiss nationals who converse in English, German or French. Leaning over a black waterproof notebook with sketches that accompany them underwater, Griesmar and Bischoff examine a miniature version of their marine castle. 

Bischoff, who has a tribal neck tattoo under his mullet and a twinkle in his eye, is also an art student. He met Griesmar at ETH Zurich, and devoted his final-year project to designing an improved version of the Rrreefs structures. Around them, a handful of volunteers supported the small team, transporting bricks, filming the work and solving problems.    

Busy with full-scale tests, appeals for donations, winning prizes and recruiting customers, Rrreefs is at a crossroads and preparing to become a company. It is the only way, according to its founders, to generate the money needed for its expansive ambitions. 

“We’re going to retain the organisation to do research, but to have an impact, you need money,” said Griesmar. The co-founders, who make collegial decisions about all the developments of their projects, envisage partnerships with hotel chains. “It would be great to raise awareness among tourists (and) show them this project,” she explained. 

A Belgian couple stopped to admire the miniature reef. Griesmar paused her preparations to talk about Rrreefs once more. “This project isn’t just about doing a good deed. It comes from the heart,” she said.   

This article has been translated from the original in French. 

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Body found in rural England barn triggers Europe-wide investigation

Does this story seem familiar? Do you recognise the person in these images? Investigators are asking for help.


Six years ago to the day, police officers in rural England found something disturbing.

While searching a derelict and overgrown barn in Hampshire in the course of a separate investigation, they stumbled upon a body.

What remained was “essentially a skeleton”, serious crime officer Douglas Utting told Euronews, estimating the person had been dead for several years.

The body belonged to a Caucasian man in his 50s, between 177cm to 180cm tall, with brown hair.

Alongside tobacco and cigarette papers, his remains were surrounded by clothing, including a beanie and glasses, a crime thriller novel and objects that suggested he was “living rough or on some sort of journey,” detailed Utting. 

Other than that there were no clues.

Officers did not find a passport, driving licence or any other identifying item at the abandoned dairy farm in Micheldever in southern England, where his body was discovered. 

There were no other signs, such as a tattoo or jewellery, that could “shorten the list as to who this person could be,” said Utting.

Even the cause of death was a mystery.

Again there was “no obvious trauma, no weapons, no clear signs of suicide, as is often the case in these sorts of cases,” explained the serious crime officer, though investigators believe the man likely died of natural causes.

Hampshire Police then turned to science, taking DNA samples from his toothbrush and teeth.

But still they drew a blank. They could not match his DNA to anyone on the UK’s criminal database or missing persons unit.

At the end of their trail, they resorted to a media appeal, asking anthropologist Dr Chris Rynn to make a facial reconstruction from his skull, which was shared with national newspapers in 2019.

And that’s when the story took an unexpected turn.

Witnesses came forward from Itchen Stoke, a nearby village, and told Hampshire Police the man had knocked on their door in 2012 and asked if he could pitch a tent in their field because he was lost. They accepted.

He was “fairly dishevelled” and spoke “good English, but with a strong French accent,” the witnesses reported to officers.

That night they shared a meal and chatted with him, though since so much time had passed their memory of what he told them was patchy.

Unable to remember his name, they recalled him saying he was from France and had served in the army as a conscript, suffering an injury that left him partially deaf.


One witness himself was ex-army and said the man had a “military bearing about him”, particularly in the way he organised his possessions.

He also told the witnesses he had worked for the renowned French actress Catherine Deneuve, though her agency could not verify this when asked by Hampshire Police.

Why exactly he was in southern England remains unclear. 

Claiming to have arrived recently, the man told witnesses he was travelling through the country to get to Ireland to meet his girlfriend.

However, Utting said “all options are open”.


Witnesses claimed he could have been suffering some “mental illness”, though the serious crimes officer said that was “just an opinion”.

“Was he on the run? He could have been, of course, if he was a criminal and had gotten his way onto someone’s DNA database, we’d have probably known about it by now… But who knows? That’s part of the mystery of this story,” he added.

The next morning the man bid the couple farewell – reluctantly accepting their offer of food and money – and walked off down the country lane “never to be seen again”, said Utting.

With these new leads, Hampshire police turned to science once more to glean extra details about the case. They worked with researchers led by Dr Stuart Black at the University of Reading, who used isotope analysis of his teeth to figure out exactly where the man was from.

Likening it to a “fingerprint”, Dr Black explained to Euronews that as tooth enamel forms during childhood chemicals from the food and water we consume are imprinted in it, indicating where a person was raised. 


Dr Black’s analysis revealed the man likely spent the first 12 years of life in a “large town or city” somewhere across “quite a large area of southeast France and Corsica to the very western edge of Switzerland.” His early diet was also rich in fish.

‘It is quite sad to think that someone died… alone in a dirty, cold barn’

Hampshire police shared this information with the French authorities and Locate, a volunteer organisation that picks up unsolved missing person cases, but their investigation has since hit a dead end. 

They are now asking for the public’s help.

“The purpose of our appeal is to get a message to the people of France, western Switzerland and Corsica…  [and] ask the question: Does this [story] mean anything to anyone? Does this [image] remind you of someone you haven’t seen since 2012?,” said Utting from Hampshire Police.

He urged the public to come forward with information in what he said was the police’s last-ditch attempt.


“There’s not much more we can do. Asking people in France and Switzerland if they can help really is our last chance to try and put a name to this man and get some closure to a family that might be missing him… someone somewhere must surely have [information].”

“It is quite sad to think that someone died in these circumstances alone, in a dirty cold [barn] in winter probably, and wasn’t found for five years and then not laid to rest,” Utting added. 

Outside the UK, anyone who believes they have information relating to the case can contact Locate International anonymously by emailing [email protected]

Inside the UK, call 101 and ask to be put through to Hampshire & Isle of Wight Constabulary, and quote the reference number 44170467777.

Alternatively, people can submit information via their website:


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PTFE ban: The hidden consumer costs and employment losses

As part of the EU’s landmark Green Deal package, the 2020 Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability called for an ambitious concept: achieving a toxic-free environment by 2030. A central pillar of this ambition is the proposal for a universal PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — restriction, addressing contamination and emissions from the controversial family of substances sometimes known as ‘forever chemicals’.

Action to tackle this family of chemicals is overdue, and European industry is ready to do its part. As the president of the Federation of the European Cookware, Cutlery and Houseware Industries (FEC), I welcome the initiative. FEC members pride themselves on providing safe and durable products to consumers, and were early to phase out these problematic substances. Despite this, the current restriction proposal still needs substantial changes to achieve its goals of protecting human health and the environment while balancing socioeconomic effects, impacts on carbon emissions and circularity.

While many elements of the proposed restriction are well justified, some risk damaging the EU industry’s competitiveness and hindering progress on the green and digital transitions, all while banning substances which are known to be safe. The European authorities need to understand the impacts of the proposal more thoroughly before making decisions which will harm consumers and the European workforce, and perhaps even result in worse environmental outcomes.

The current restriction proposal still needs substantial changes to achieve its goals of protecting human health and the environment while balancing socioeconomic effects.

As the most complex and wide-ranging chemical restriction in EU history, it is essential that the institutions take no shortcuts, and take the time to clearly understand the unintended environmental and socioeconomic impacts on every sector.

The PFAS restriction proposal is broad, covering over 10,000 substances, many of which were not considered part of the PFAS family in the past. In an effort to catch all possible problematic chemicals that could be used in the future, the member countries which proposed the restriction have cast a net so wide that it also includes substances which pose no risk. Even the OECD, the source of the broad scope used by the authorities, concedes that its definition is not meant to be used to define the list of chemicals to be regulated.

In addition to the legacy PFAS substances, which have serious concerns for human health and the environment, the proposal also includes fluoropolymers in its scope, which are not mobile in the environment, not toxic and not bioaccumulative — a stark contrast to the controversial PFAS substances at the center of contamination scandals across Europe and around the globe.

As the most complex and wide-ranging chemical restriction in EU history, it is essential that the institutions take no shortcuts.

Fluoropolymers are well studied, with ample scientific evidence demonstrating their safety, and unlike legacy PFAS, technologies exist to control and eliminate any emissions of substances of concern from manufacturing to disposal.

Fluoropolymers are not only safe, their safety is a primary reason for their widespread use. They provide critical functionality in sensitive applications like medical devices, semiconductors and renewable energy technology. They are also used in products we all use in our day-to-day lives, from non-stick cookware to electrical appliances to cars. While in some cases there are alternatives to fluoropolymers, these replacements are often inferior, more expensive, or have even more environmental impact in the long run. Where alternatives aren’t yet identified, companies will need to spend large sums to identify replacements.

In the cookware industry, for example, fluoropolymers provide durable, safe and high-performing non-stick coatings for pots, pans and cooking appliances used by billions of people across Europe and around the globe. Decades of research and development show that not only are these products safe, but their coatings provide the most high-performing, durable and cost-effective solution. Continued research and development of these products is one of the reasons that the European cookware industry is considered a world leader.

Fluoropolymers are well studied, with ample scientific evidence demonstrating their safety and … technologies exist to control and eliminate any emissions of substances of concern from manufacturing to disposal.

Given the critical role that fluoropolymers play in so many products and technologies, forcing a search for inferior or even nonexistent alternatives will harm the EU’s competitiveness and strategic autonomy. In the cookware industry alone, the restriction could cost up to 14,800 jobs in Europe, reduce the economic contribution of the sector to the GDP by up to €500 million, and result in a major shift of production from Europe to Asia, where the products would be made under much less stringent environmental rules. Consumers will also suffer, with new alternatives costing more and being less durable, requiring more frequent replacement and therefore resulting in a larger environmental impact.

Beyond this, companies that enable the green transition, deliver life-saving medical treatments, and ensure our technology is efficient and powerful will all be required to engage in expensive and possibly fruitless efforts to replace fluoropolymers with new substances. What would be the benefit of these costs and unintended consequences, when fluoropolymers are already known to be safe across their whole lifecycle?

Given the critical role that fluoropolymers play in so many products and technologies, forcing a search for inferior or even nonexistent alternatives will harm the EU’s competitiveness and strategic autonomy.

The scale of the PFAS restriction is unprecedented, but so are the possible unintended consequences. Industry has contributed comprehensive evidence to help fill in the blanks left by the initial proposal, it is now up to the institutions to take this evidence into account. With such a far-reaching initiative, it is essential that the EU institutions and the member countries thoroughly consider the impacts and ensure the final restriction is proportional, preserves European competitiveness and does not undermine the broader strategic objectives set for the coming years.

Founded in 1952, FEC, the Federation of the European Cookware, Cutlery and Housewares Industries, represents a strong network of 40 international companies, major national associations and key suppliers spread over Europe, including in Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Our mission is to promote cooperation between members, and to provide expertise and support on economic and technical topics.

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Credit Suisse to borrow almost $54 billion from central bank after shares plunge

Swiss bank Credit Suisse said Thursday it will move to shore up its finances, borrowing up to $54 billion from the central bank after its shares plunged, dragging down other major European lenders in the wake of bank failures in the United States.

Credit Suisse said would exercise an option to borrow up to 50 billion francs ($53.7 billion) from the central bank.

“This additional liquidity would support Credit Suisse’s core businesses and clients as Credit Suisse takes the necessary steps to create a simpler and more focused bank built around client needs,” the bank said.

Fanning new fears about the health of financial institutions following the recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank in the US, at one point, Credit Suisse shares lost more than a quarter of their value on Wednesday.

The share price hit a record low after the bank’s biggest shareholder — the Saudi National Bank — told news outlets that it would not put more money into the Swiss lender, which was beset by problems long before the US banks collapsed. The Saudi bank is seeking to avoid regulations that kick in with a stake above 10%, having invested some 1.5 billion Swiss francs to acquire a holding just under that threshold.

The turmoil prompted an automatic pause in trading of Credit Suisse shares on the Swiss market and sent shares of other European banks tumbling, some by double digits.

Speaking Wednesday at a financial conference in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, Credit Suisse Chairman Axel Lehmann defended the bank, saying, “We already took the medicine” to reduce risks.

When asked if he would rule out government assistance in the future, he said: “That’s not a topic. … We are regulated. We have strong capital ratios, very strong balance sheet. We are all hands on deck, so that’s not a topic whatsoever.”

Switzerland’s central bank announced late Wednesday that it was prepared to act, saying it would support Credit Suisse if needed. A statement from the bank did not specify whether the support would come in the form of cash or loans or other assistance. The regulators said they believed the bank had enough money to meet its obligations.

A day earlier, Credit Suisse reported that managers had identified “material weaknesses” in the bank’s internal controls on financial reporting as of the end of last year. That fanned new doubts about the bank’s ability to weather the storm.

Credit Suisse stock dropped about 30%, to about 1.6 Swiss francs ($1.73), before clawing back to a 24% loss at 1.70 francs ($1.83) at the close of trading on the SIX stock exchange. At its lowest, the price was down more than 85% from February 2021.

After the joint announcement from the Swiss National Bank and the Swiss financial markets regulator, the shares also made up some ground on Wall Street.

The stock has suffered a long, sustained decline: In 2007, the bank’s shares traded at more than 80 francs ($86.71) each.

With concerns about the possibility of more hidden trouble in the banking system, investors were quick to sell bank stocks.

France’s Societe Generale SA dropped 12% at one point. France’s BNP Paribas fell more than 10%. Germany’s Deutsche Bank tumbled 8%, and Britain’s Barclays Bank was down nearly 8%. Trading in the two French banks was briefly suspended.

The STOXX Banks index of 21 leading European lenders sagged 8.4% following relative calm in the markets Tuesday.

Shares in US markets were mixed on Wednesday, with the Nasdaq composite edging 0.1% higher while the S&P 500 dropped 0.7%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended 0.9% lower after logging bigger losses early in the session.

Japanese banks resumed their downtrend, with Resona Holdings, the nation’s No. 5 bank, falling 5% while other major banks fell more than 3%.

The turbulence came a day ahead of a meeting by the European Central Bank. President Christine Lagarde said last week, before the US failures, that the bank would “very likely” increase interest rates by a half percentage point to fight against inflation. Markets were watching closely to see if the bank carries through despite the latest turmoil.

Credit Suisse is “a much bigger concern for the global economy” than the midsize US banks that collapsed, said Andrew Kenningham, chief Europe economist for Capital Economics.

It has multiple subsidiaries outside Switzerland and handles trading for hedge funds.

“Credit Suisse is not just a Swiss problem but a global one,” he said.

He noted, however, that the bank’s “problems were well known so do not come as a complete shock to either investors or policymakers.”

The troubles “once more raise the question about whether this is the beginning of a global crisis or just another ‘idiosyncratic’ case,” Kenningham said in a note. ”Credit Suisse was widely seen as the weakest link among Europe’s large banks, but it is not the only bank which has struggled with weak profitability in recent years.”

Leaving a Credit Suisse branch in Geneva, Fady Rachid said he and his wife are worried about the bank’s health. He planned to transfer some money to UBS.

“I find it hard to believe that Credit Suisse is going to be able to get rid of these problems and get through it,” said Rachid, a 56-year-old doctor.

Investors responded to “a broader structural problem” in banking following a long period of low interest rates and “very, very loose monetary policy,” said Sascha Steffen, professor of finance at the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management.

In order to earn some yield, banks “needed to take more risks, and some banks did this more prudently than others.”

European finance ministers said this week that their banking system has no direct exposure to the US bank failures.

Europe strengthened its banking safeguards after the global financial crisis that followed the collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers in 2008 by transferring supervision of the biggest banks to the central bank, analysts said.

The Credit Suisse parent bank is not part of EU supervision, but it has entities in several European countries that are. Credit Suisse is subject to international rules requiring it to maintain financial buffers against losses as one of 30 so-called globally systemically important banks, or G-SIBs.

The Swiss bank has been pushing to raise money from investors and roll out a new strategy to overcome an array of troubles, including bad bets on hedge funds, repeated shake-ups of its top management and a spying scandal involving Zurich rival UBS.

In an annual report released Tuesday, Credit Suisse said customer deposits fell 41%, or by 159.6 billion francs ($172.1 billion), at the end of last year compared with a year earlier.


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Why Elly Schlein is freaking out Italy’s ‘soft’ socialists

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Right-wing hardliners could not dream of an easier target than Elly Schlein, the new leader of Italy’s center-left Democratic Party (PD).

A global citizen with a female partner and an upper-middle-class upbringing, the youngest and first female leader of Italy’s most-established progressive party has sparked the ire of the country’s conservatives.

“CommunistElly,” the right-wing newspaper Il Tempo dubbed her after the leadership contest was decided on Sunday. Schlein defeated the favorite Stefano Bonaccini with 53.8 percent to 46.2 percent of the vote.

Far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s allies have been relishing the polarization around Schlein — the two political leaders, though both female, stand for very different values.

“She promised to prioritize the poor, public education and workers,” right-wing commentator Italo Bocchino said in attacking Schlein. “But unlike Meloni, she has never known the poor in her life,” he continued, pointing out how she attended a private school “for rich people” in Switzerland. Nor can Schlein know workers “as she’s never worked in her life,” he ranted.

Schlein’s surprise win has not only fired up her opponents, but also unsettled many in her own party. Fellow social democrats are spooked that Schlein could transform the PD from the broad progressive church it’s historically been into a much more radical sect.

There’s also concern about whether she’ll stand by the party’s support for sending lethal weapons to Ukraine given her self-described pacifist views.

Most skeptics are clinging on — for now — although a few have already jumped ship.

“The PD is over,” declared David Allegranti, a journalist for the Florence daily La Nazione. The expert on the Italian center-left argues that Schlein and many of her allies hail from leftist splinter groups and were not members of the PD until barely a few months ago — discrediting them in their critics’ eyes.

Ex-Cabinet minister Giuseppe Fioroni, among the founding members of the PD, told POLITICO: “Her project has nothing to do with my history and my political culture.” Having foreseen the outcome, Fioroni left the party one day before Schlein’s victory was announced. “My PD is no longer there, this is another party — it no longer belongs to the center left, but to the hard left,” he said.

As a youth leader in 2013, Schlein became the figurehead of Occupy PD, a protest movement set up by disaffected progressives angered over 101 center-left parliamentarians who voted against their own social democrat grandee Romano Prodi’s bid to become the president of Italy.

“With Elly Schlein, the PD has occupied itself,” quipped Allegranti.

Ex-Cabinet minister and PD founding member Giuseppe Fioroni left the party one day before Schlein’s victory, saying that the party “no longer belongs to the center left, but to the hard left” | Claudio Peri/EPA

The young radical

The daughter of a Swiss-based political scientist couple (one Italian and one American), Schlein was raised in Lugano, the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, and spent her teens writing film reviews — her dream at the time was to become a film director — as well as playing the board game “Trivial Pursuit” and the cult 90s video game “The Secret of Monkey Island.”

Her first stint in politics came in 2008, when she cut her teeth working as a volunteer for Barack Obama’s two U.S. presidential election campaigns — heading to Chicago to do so.

“Here, I understood that you don’t need to ask for votes, but mobilize people with ideas,” she recalled to La Repubblica. A decade on, the lesson proved useful for her own leadership campaign.

In a first for the PD’s leadership contests, Schlein won the open ballot after losing by a wide margin in the caucus with party members the week before, demonstrating her capacity to win over voters.

The newly elected leader gained the upper hand over Bonaccini in big cities such as Milan, Turin and Naples, as well as performing well almost everywhere north of Rome — but lost in most southern regions, according to pollster YouTrend.

“There was a wave of support that brought along different kinds of voters, who were united by a strong desire for change,” said Lorenzo Pregliasco, the founder of YouTrend.

However, Pregliasco played down reports of a “youthquake,” and described the leadership campaign as “boring, dull and largely ignored by public opinion.”

End of the party, or a new beginning?

While there are no exact figures on voter turnout available, Italian media reports that around 1.2 million people cast their ballots — which would mark the lowest figures since PD party primaries were first held in 2007.

After becoming a member of the European Parliament with the Socialists & Democrats group in 2014 at the age of 28, Schlein took the unexpected decision to abandon the PD a year later, accusing then-prime minister and PD party leader Matteo Renzi of lurching to the right.

The decision turned out to be prophetic, as Renzi suffered a number of electoral defeats that snowballed into his resignation as prime minister in 2016, and as party leader in 2018.

Pippo Civati, a former parliamentarian and longtime ally of Schlein who is now out of politics, recalled of Schlein in 2015: “We left at the same time because he [Renzi] was making one mess after another.”

Speaking to POLITICO, Civati warned that the newly elected leader could end up having her hands tied by party bigwigs who backed the popular politician without necessarily having any genuine commitment to her radical ideas.

Pundits point out that the conflict in Ukraine could be the trickiest issue for Schlein, whose distant ancestors hail from a village close to modern-day Lviv. There are question marks over whether she will carry forward her predecessor Enrico Letta’s all-out support for the delivery of lethal weapons to Ukraine.

A U-turn by Schlein on support for Ukraine would leave Meloni as the only national party leader in favor of sending arms to the besieged country, fueling concerns among Western allies who see Italy as a weak link.

“A change of line over Ukraine could be the trigger for many centrists to leave the PD,” Allegranti said.

But Civati played down rumors of an about-face, arguing that Schlein is unlikely to oppose the sending of arms to Ukraine.

“We support Ukraine’s right to defend itself, through every form of assistance,” said Schlein in a recent interview with broadcaster La7. “But as a pacifist, I don’t think that weapons alone will end the war.”

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Swiss claim record for world’s longest passenger train

A Swiss railway company claimed the record for the world’s longest passenger train Saturday with a trip on one of the most spectacular tracks through the Alps.

The Rhaetian Railway company ran the 1.9-kilometre-long train composed of 100 coaches along the Albula-Bernina route from Preda to Bergün.

The route was designated a UNESCO World Heritage in 2008 and leads through 22 tunnels, some of which spiral through mountains, and across 48 bridges, including the curved Landwasser Viaduct.

“We have a jubilee of 175 years of Swiss Railways, and this world record attempt should be one big event of this jubilee”, explained Rhaetian Railway’s CEO, Dr Renato Fasciati.

“But actually, the reason was that we had some troubles during corona crisis (COVID-19 pandemic), so we lost 30% of our turnover for guests on the train and so we tried to find a good event in order to increase the awareness of our beautiful UNESCO’s World Heritage route.

“And so this world record attempt is a wonderful reason and a wonderful instrument for us to show the world this beautiful railway”, he added.

The entire journey took over an hour. Rail enthusiasts lined the valley to watch the train’s 25 sections wind their way through the Alps.

“The scenery is like the Indian summers so you see these golden trees in this beautiful valley, we have this railway line with a lot of viaducts and this spiral of tunnels… It’s a viaduct with a radius of 100 metres, and then the line goes directly into a rock face, into a tunnel and this is really fantastic” said Fasciati.

“And so we have people from all over the world just coming and seeing this beautiful line using the glacier or the Bernina Express trains”, he concluded.

Fasciati is hoping when people in other countries see the beauty of the countryside during the train’s record-breaking attempt, they too will be drawn to this region of Switzerland.

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