Austria built a steel canopy over the northbound lanes of the highway through the alpine Brenner Pass about a year ago, ready to re-impose border controls with Italy.
The shelter has yet to be used, and Stefan Pan for one wants to keep it that way.
“The Brenner Pass is Europe’s main north-south artery,” said Pan, vice president of the main Italian business association, Confindustria.
“Block the border, and it could cause a heart attack.
” The crossing symbolizes Europe’s past and present, though the question troubling Pan is what it will mean for the future.
Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler cemented their partnership in World War II here.
As the European Union helped foster postwar peace, customs and immigration checks melted away.
Now the busiest pass through the Alps encapsulates what’s shaping up as the continent’s defining challenge in 2018: Should governments respond to the frustrations that boosted populists in elections last year with more EU integration, or less? Economies are growing again, the flow of refugees has abated, yet a nationalist undercurrent still threatens to submerge the Franco-German vision for the European project.
French President Emmanuel Macron has taken the lead in pressing to recapture the political initiative and strengthen the EU so it can start solving the problems that have prompted voters to turn to extremists.
Key areas he has identified for deepened integration include intelligence sharing and defense, control of the bloc’s outer borders, and a budget for the euro area.
Germany may be getting on board.
A preliminary coalition deal reached between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party and the center-left Social Democrats puts “A New Start for Europe” at the top of its list of priorities.
  Last week, Mario Centeno, the new group head for the euro region’s finance ministers, said that the coming months offer a “unique window of opportunity” to strengthen the common currency.
He called for agreement by the EU’s June summit to unify banking and capital markets regulation, and to increase fiscal burden sharing.
But persuading the EU’s 28 nations to agree on game-changing projects is likely to be tough, even with the perennially awkward British heading for the exit door.
Euroskeptic nationalist politicians now run Hungary and Poland.
In March, Italy is expected to hold elections that could produce a less pro-European government in Rome.
Meanwhile, the far-right Freedom Party of Austria recently joined a coalition government in Vienna.
Its party members or affiliates head the foreign, interior and defense ministries.
Last week alone, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung he was “much more skeptical” about creating a common budget for the euro area, while Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said infrastructure was needed to “concentrate” asylum seekers.
 In an interview published on Friday, he also announced the creation of a “standby force” ready to man check points on Austria`s frontiers within hours of getting the order.
Just how awkward the divisions can be was on display at the last EU summit, in December.
A two-hour debate on immigration went so badly that EU President Donald Tusk said it was proving “hard to even find common language.
” He too gave leaders until June to come to an agreement.
Even the Netherlands’ center-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte has warned that Europe’s project of “ever closer union” is a threat, rather than a solution for liberal democracy.
“No more institutions or even further integration,” Rutte told the European Parliament’s grouping of liberal parties in December.
“Look and you will see that the people of Europe are screaming to us through the ballot boxes.
They are not wrong.
You are wrong.
” In Brennero, the village on the Italian side of the Brenner Pass, Pan and others from the German-speaking South Tyrol region, are disturbed by the prospect of an EU that becomes fractured by a return of 20th century nationalism or stops integrating further.
Immigration is at the heart of it.
As more than 1 million refugees from Syria, North Africa and elsewhere landed by sea in Greece and Italy in 2015 and 2016, many made their way north to Germany through the Brenner Pass.
Austria’s defense minister at one point said he had readied tanks and troops to block the pass if need be.
But then there’s the economic hit.
Last year, about 2.
2 million trucks barreled through the mountain crossing.
Steady streams of freight and passenger trains run on tracks either side of the highway, carrying goods and people north and south.
Pan’s own Italian company is one of the world’s largest producers of strudel, baking 35 kilometers (22 miles) of the tubular German pastry every day.
Most of his consumers aren’t in Italy, but to the north.
“Look at German cars.
A year’s production uses 4 billion euros worth of components from Italian manufacturers,” he said, describing the Brenner Pass as part of a Europe-wide assembly line.
“Macron’s plan is the way we have to go.
” Of course, the European economy managed healthy growth for decades before the visa-free Schengen area began in 1995, despite internal border checks.
But going back would be harder.
If border guards were put to work under the canopy over the Brenner Pass, “we’d have 15 to 20 kilometer tailbacks,” said Peter Mock, commissar of the highway police based in Sterzing, a small medieval town 11 miles into the Italian part of Tyrol.
The number of trucks crossing the pass has increased by at least eight or nine times since 1995, he said.
There’s a political worry, too.
South Tyrol is a land of schnitzel and beer, more than pasta and wine.
It was part of Austria until 1919, when Italy annexed it.
Only the negotiation of substantial autonomy from Rome and an increasingly lax border with Austria enabled nationalist passions to subside.
The flow of refugees coming to Europe has fallen dramatically since last year.
Still, soldiers wearing the distinctive raven-feathered caps of Italy’s Alpini brigades patrol the short streets around the Brenner Pass outlet mall.
It’s the same regiment that accompanied Mussolini to his meeting with Hitler, in 1940.
Fritz Karl Messner, the mayor of Sterzing -- Vipiteno in Italian -- said that for now locals in the little snow-covered ski resort are coping fine with the handful of asylum seekers who have settled here to work.
On a recent visit, two African migrants were handing out fliers at either end of the town’s medieval high street.
Speaking at his offices in the regional capital Bolzano -- Bozen in German -- Governor Arno Kompatscher described the two parts of today’s Tyrol, Austrian and Italian, as a model for the kind of integration the EU needs more of.
Support for rejoining Austria is marginal, but hardened borders and resurgent nationalism could change that, he said: “This is a little Europe within Europe.
” — With assistance by John Follain, and Jonathan Tirone.
Sonia can’t have cats or dogs because she is allergic to them.
Her mother came up with a brilliant idea - keep a giant snail.
In Russia, keeping exotic animals is getting more and more popular each year.
should ensure it stays in a close and comprehensive customs agreement with the European Union, providing tariff-free trade in all goods after Brexit, according to the leader of a major business group.
Remaining in a customs union with the EU will be far more valuable than striking trade deals elsewhere, Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, will say on Monday, based on excerpts from her prepared remarks.
“The idea behind a customs union is simple: a single set of tariffs for goods imported from outside the EU, enabling tariff free trade within it,” Fairbairn will say.
“It brings no obligations over freedom of movement, or payment and removes some of the heaviest trade barriers.
” Prime Minister Theresa May aims to take Britain out of the EU’s 28-country customs union to gain the freedom to sign new trade agreements with other nations such as the U.
, Australia and New Zealand.
Brexit-supporters in her Tory party say winning back the power to make Britain a “global trading nation” is a key prize of escaping the EU’s rules.
But Fairbairn and other business leaders such as Mike Thompson, who represents the country’s pharmaceutical industry, disagree.
“Any change to existing customs arrangements could create border chaos, cause damaging delays and ultimately put patients and public health at risk,” Thompson, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said by in emailed remarks on Sunday.
New Spirit May’s ministers and officials are working to hash out what they want the final Brexit trade deal to look like.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday said the country will likely end up with something “between full access and a trade agreement.
and EU aim to negotiate a transitional phase by the end of March, before moving on to map the future trading terms by October.
The CBI, which represents 190,000 U.
businesses employing seven million people, wants Brexit negotiators to step up the pace of talks.
“Time is running out -- by March next year our country will be out of the EU,” Fairbairn will say.
“We need to end this game of who-blinks-first and instead find a new spirit of urgency.
” Speaking at the University of Warwick, near the city of Coventry in central England, Fairbairn will call for a trade accord with the EU that is better than Canada’s, which excludes financial services.
Customs union membership would also resolve the question of how to keep an open border between Ireland and the U.
, seen as important for maintaining peace, she will say.
Richard Tice, co-chair of the Brexit campaign Leave Means Leave, said staying in the customs union would “handcuff” British businesses.
“Only by leaving the customs union can the U.
forge new independent trade deals with the rest of the world,” he said.
Afghan security forces have been fighting to gain control of a luxury hotel in Kabul after it was stormed by militants who killed several people.
The gunmen burst into the Intercontinental Hotel on Saturday evening, shooting at guests and staff.
Two of the attackers have been killed and the others remained holed up in the upper floors, officials say.
Gunfire could be heard hours after the siege began.
It is unclear how many people have been killed or wounded.
The attack began at about 21:00 local time (16:30 GMT), with reports suggesting the gunmen shot at security guards and detonated grenades as they made their way into the six-storey building.
They targeted staff and guests before special forces were called in.
Security forces cleared the ground floor of the hotel and are now battling to secure the building and rescue any people trapped inside.
But the attackers are still holed up on the floors above, interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi told the BBC.
Some reports said the hotel had been hosting an IT conference attended by provincial officials at the time.
One witness told Reuters news agency that the attackers had taken hostages.
The attack comes just days after the US embassy in Kabul issued a warning about hotels in the city.
"We are aware of reports that extremist groups may be planning an attack against hotels in Kabul," the embassy wrote in a public security alert published Thursday, though it highlighted another hotel near the international airport as a possible target.
"These groups may also be targeting public gatherings/demonstrations, government facilities, transportation, markets, and places where foreigners are known to congregate.
" On Saturday, a guest at the hotel told AFP news agency that people were hiding in their rooms.
"I don`t know if the attackers are inside the hotel but I can hear gunfire," the guest said.
"I beg the security forces to rescue us as soon as possible before they reach and kill us.
" Another interior ministry spokesman told AFP an investigation had already begun into how the attackers had breached security, which was handed over to a private company two weeks ago.
"They probably used a back door in the kitchen to enter," he said.
The Intercontinental is a state-owned hotel which often hosts weddings, conferences and political gatherings.
It was attacked by the Taliban in 2011.
Twenty-one people were killed including nine attackers.
Security has been tightened in Kabul since last May, when a huge truck bomb killed at least 150 people.
However, there have been several attacks in recent months.
They include a bomb at a Shia cultural centre last month that killed more than 40 people.
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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — At least four gunmen stormed the Intercontinental Hotel in the Afghan capital on Saturday evening, triggering a shootout with security forces, officials said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said the hotel came under attack at around 9 p.
Afghan Special Forces arrived at the hotel in response to the attack, Danish said.
One of the four attackers was killed and the three others were still battling the forces from inside the hotel, said Nasrat Rahimi, a deputy spokesman for the Interior Ministry.
He said that three people have been reported wounded so far, but that the number might rise.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
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Long presented as the bare-chested, macho leader who defends Russia against the West, President Vladimir Putin now has a rather more mystical image in state media.
With elections looming in March, leading state-controlled TV channels are roping in religion to cast him as a national saviour who healed Russia`s historical divisions and rescued the nation from chaos.
The main vehicle is a recent documentary on top national channel Rossiya 1 about a monasterywidely thought to be Mr Putin`s favourite - Valaam, on a remote archipelago in northern Lake Ladoga.
Closed under Soviet rule and almost completely ruined by years of neglect, Valaam has been rebuilt since the collapse of the USSR, with - as the film implies - vital support from Mr Putin.
Valaam is repeatedly described as the "mirror of Russia".
Its recovery from the ruin inflicted after the October 1917 Revolution is meant to be a metaphor for the country`s own journey under Mr Putin.
"Valaam died when the great Russian state was destroyed," the presenter says.
"It was restored, and our state again rose up from its knees," he adds, over video of Mr Putin visiting the monastery.
Rebirth The president`s first-ever visit to the archipelago is described almost like a mythical event.
"This is where a boat docked, from which Vladimir Putin emerged," says the voice-over to rousing music.
The monastery`s head, Bishop Pankraty, recounts how a holidaying pensioner there at the time "rubbed her eyes to see it wasn`t a hallucination, a mirage", and how Mr Putin later that day promised to help restore a ruined hermitage he spotted in the woods.
The message, constantly repeated, is the contrast between the monastery`s former dilapidated and vandalised state and its current splendour - a revival likened to that of Russia from the perceived chaos and national humiliation of the 1990s.
Another recurring theme is that Mr Putin has led Russia back to faith since the Soviet era`s militant atheism, while also healing the rift between those who pine for the USSR`s great-power status and those who hark back to Russia`s pre-revolutionary imperial and Orthodox traditions.
In the film, Mr Putin argues that the seeds of reconciliation were there even in the darkest days, because Soviet troops gave the monks time to collect the monastery`s relics before evicting them during World War Two.
He then argues that communism and Christianity are essentially the same idea, and compares the mausoleum of Bolshevik revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin to the Christian tradition of church relics.
You might also like: `Fifth Empire` Similar themes - Mr Putin as the saviour and unity between the Soviet and pre-revolutionary traditions - were prominent in another documentary on state TV, and in even more mystical terms.
Fronted by veteran ultranationalist Alexander Prokhanov, the five-episode epic was broadcast on the state rolling-news channel Rossiya 24 over Russia`s long New Year holiday.
Its core argument was that the state is the sacred centre of Russian life, the subject of periodic catastrophes throughout history, before each time being rescued and revived in new glory by divine intervention.
After the October Revolution destroyed the Russian Empire, the conduit for this miracle was Joseph Stalin, who created a new, glorious Red Empire, according to Prokhanov.
That mythology glosses over Stalin`s gross human rights abuses.
After the next perceived disaster - the collapse of the Soviet Union - the saviour was Vladimir Putin, Prokhanov argues, adding that the result is the latest Russian golden age - the "Fifth Empire".
Election With only two months to go until the 18 March presidential election, all this feels like part of the Kremlin`s opening salvoes in Mr Putin`s campaign to win a fourth six-year term.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the Valaam documentary was made and presented by Andrei Kondrashov, a prominent journalist recently appointed as Mr Putin`s campaign spokesman.
Despite protests against corruption last year and anecdotal evidence of growing discontent at falling living standards, the narrative of a glorious national revival still appears to be working with many Russians, with official polls putting Mr Putin`s support at around 80%.
But the Kremlin still seems to be nervous.
The man widely seen as Mr Putin`s most potent challenger, protest leader and anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, has been barred from standing, over a criminal conviction that many see as a political manoeuvre.
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Gleaming Singapore is every bit the modern city, but the struggles of one father to adopt his child has shown how modern values are butting up against traditional concepts of family, writes the BBC`s Yvette Tan in Singapore.
The first sound his parents ever heard him make was a loud cry.
After a six-hour labour, Noel was safely delivered in a US hospital by his surrogate mother, on behalf of two hopeful parents.
The parents cried together as they cut his umbilical cord, bonded as they fed Noel his first bottle of milk, and later, proudly took him home to his new life in Singapore.
Noel`s life since then has been as typical as that of any other boy his age in Singapore, except for the fact that under Singaporean law, he is an illegitimate child, a status that could have implications throughout his life.
James and Shawn - all names have been changed to protect the child`s identity - had been a couple for a decade before deciding they wanted to have a child together.
They considered adoption, but were told by people with personal experience that instances of gay men being allowed to adopt were rare.
While single men are allowed to adopt male children, they didn`t want to apply as individuals, and didn`t want to have to conceal their relationship during the adoption process.
So they instead turned to the idea of surrogacy.
Surrogacy is illegal within Singapore, so the couple decided to travel to the US, as many couples have before.
An egg donor was picked through an agency, and the egg fertilised with James`s sperm through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).
They met a surrogate who was paid 200,000 Singapore dollars (£110,900; $149,880), and after nine months, they flew back to the US to witness the birth of their child.
"It felt surreal that we finally had our own child," James told the BBC.
"We were bursting with so much love and joy, and suddenly it felt like there was so much more meaning to our lives.
" He said he "did not know of any existing laws prohibiting overseas surrogacy at the time".
`Where would he go?` But upon their return to Singapore, reality struck.
Because Noel`s biological mother and father were not married, he was considered illegitimate in the eyes of the law.
Additionally, as his birth mother was foreign, he was not automatically a Singaporean citizen.
An application for Singaporean citizenship for Noel was turned down, meaning he was not entitled to any governmental benefits or assistance, and risked not inheriting anything from his father.
James is still recognised by the law as Noel`s biological father, so the now four-year-old is still allowed to live with him.
Noel was instead granted a Long Term Visit Pass (LTVP), which is valid for six months and has to be renewed periodically.
The LTVP can be rescinded and is not a permanent solution.
"[If it were rescinded] he would have to leave Singapore.
Where would he go?" James said.
"Singapore is the only home he`s known.
He has a special bond with his grandparents, aunts and cousins.
it would devastate us.
" Adoption conundrum Towards the end of 2014, James decided to apply to adopt his biological son, to shake off his "illegitimate" status.
Adoption would not automatically lead to citizenship, but according to James` lawyer, Ivan Cheong of Eversheds Harry Elias LLP, it was likely that it would help their cause.
They had to wait until December last year before hearing back from the Family Courts - the bid had been rejected.
When this became public, many saw it as a judgement by the state on the couple`s sexuality and relationship.
Sex between men is illegal in Singapore, and same-sex marriages are not recognised in law - Noel could never be considered legitimate as the child of two men.
Singaporean LGBT campaign group Pink Dot said the ruling was based on "an outdated view of what a family should constitute".
The group said it was "a cruel thing" to deny a child legitimacy to his own biological father, and that the law was "falling behind society`s evolving nature".
Judge Shobha Nair, in her ruling, had insisted the decision was not based on the court`s view of what "a family unit ought to be".
"This case has very little to do with the propriety and/or effectiveness of same-gender parenting," she said, but was about the ethics of commercial surrogacy.
That the couple paid S$200,000 for the child "reflects the very thing the Adoption Act seeks to prevent - the use of money to encourage the movement of life from one hand to another," she said.
Mr Cheong agreed, telling the BBC it "was clear that the dismissal of the application was not because my client is in a same-sex relationship with his partner".
Singaporean authorities have said their role is to encourage "parenthood within marriage" and that "planned and deliberate parenthood" by singles - as James is in the eyes of the law - "runs contrary to this".
Dr Mathew Mathews, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore, says there is still "much support for parenthood to happen within the context of the `traditional family` in Singapore", but that views are starting to change.
"More Singaporeans today accept that some children will be raised in contexts which differ from their idealised conceptions of family, though they might be hesitant of this becoming the norm.
" No regrets On 4 January, the couple filed an appeal against the decision.
They are still awaiting its outcome, but said they knew adoption would "not be an easy process".
"We had hoped that the courts would see the merits of our case, we are very sad and disappointed this wasn`t [so]," said James.
Currently, James has no legal rights to the child, but still remains his de facto parent due to their biological link, and is allowed to make all decisions on behalf of Noel.
When asked if they would consider migrating moving overseas should the appeal fail, James said: "Singapore is our home.
My partner and I are true-blue Singaporeans, born and bred here.
We received our education here.
We served in the Singapore Army.
"Our families and lives are rooted here in this country we love.
We`ve never been made to feel different, or been discriminated against, except when dealing with the authorities.
"Having to leave.
is not a decision we will make lightly.
" The couple add that they have no regrets having Noel, who is currently "oblivious to the ordeal", despite the challenges it has presented.
"The four years of joy my son brought to us cannot be adequately measured or put in words.
He knows he has two fathers - he calls me Papa and my partner Daddy," James explains.
"Our neighbours, extended family - they`ve all embraced him and often tell him how lucky he is to have two caring fathers.
We have no regrets having him.