North Korea’s breakdown of communication

Remember when Donald Trump said he and Kim Jong-un fell in love? Well now it seems they just don’t talk anymore.

Instead, the US and North Korea appear to be staring one another down, waiting for the other to blink or make a move. And neither appears willing to give way.

Discussions aimed at setting up a second summit between the two leaders didn’t happen as planned this week.

Chairman Kim’s aide, the hardliner Kim Yong-chol was supposed to travel to New York and meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

But the BBC understands that the meeting was cancelled after the State Department discovered that the North Koreans didn’t get on the plane as planned.

The official line is that the meeting will be rescheduled and Mr Trump said he’s “very happy” with how things are going, and that he’s in “no rush” while sanctions remain in place.

In Seoul, too, they are urging reporters not to read too much into the missed meeting – there have been missed meetings in the past, they say.

Although officials from the Foreign Ministry did express “disappointment”.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in warned me in his BBC interview that he expected “bumps and bruises” on the way as the international community tries to persuade North Korea to disarm.

But it’s hard not to feel that both the momentum for talks and the opportunity to engage with North Korea may be slipping away.

Even at a lower level, the new US North Korean envoy Stephen Biegun has been in his job for over two months and has still not met his Pyongyang counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Choi Sun-hui.

Complete denuclearisation?

The root of this standoff is that North Korea and the US have never really agreed on the goalposts of “denuclearisation”.

What do they actually mean when they talk about disarmament? Yes the two leaders signed an agreement in Singapore, but the lack of detail in the deal we talked about back then is now coming back to haunt these talks and potentially scupper progress.

From the start, Pyongyang has been clear. They will not unilaterally disarm. They want a staged process where they give a little and get something in return.

That means, right now they feel they have done enough to warrant sanctions relief.

Both the US and the UN have placed tough economic penalties on North Korea.

Around 90% of its exports are banned including coal, iron ore, seafood and textiles. There are also caps on the amount of oil it can buy. If Kim Jong-un is going to build up his economy as he has promised his people, then he will need the sanctions lifted.

However, the US has also been absolute. There will be no sanctions relief until “complete denuclearisation”.

Right now, that seems a lofty and unrealistic goal. President Trump did say that “he’d love to take the sanctions off”, and then added that North Korea “would have to be responsive, too”.

Will Washington compromise?

Russia called a meeting this week of the United Nations Security Council to discuss sanctions on North Korean banks.

But the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, was unequivocal: “The threat is still there. North Korea still has nuclear facilities and they’ve still not allowed inspectors in to inspect them.”

Several analysts have called on the US to adjust its thinking and approach. Bend a little before this process breaks completely. But so far there have been no signs that the Trump administration is willing to do this.

So if the US is not prepared to act, what does Pyongyang do? Last week it issued a threat in a statement from the Foreign Ministry’s Institute for American Studies.

It claimed that “the improvement of relations and sanctions is incompatible”, and that the US was “bragging arrogantly without showing any change in its stand, while failing to properly understand our repeated demand”.

The statement went on to suggest that unless the US removed sanctions, then it could restart its nuclear programme.

Let’s be clear here, several studies by US intelligence and by the UN suggest North Korea has not stopped its building or stockpiling of weapons.

But it has stopped testing missiles and nuclear weapons, which President Trump has taken as a personal victory. Mr Trump even declared that “there was no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea”.

North Korea’s choices

So yes, North Korea has a choice. It could test another missile, which would be embarrassing to a US President who has declared that the problem was solved.

But that would come with huge risks.

A missile test is more likely to anger an unpredictable Donald Trump who hates when his administration shows any sign of weakness. It would, once again, raise international condemnation and is unlikely to have the desired effect of sanctions relief.

Another missile or nuclear test would also harm North Korea’s developing relationship with the South, where several companies are poised to invest as soon as the restrictions are lifted.

Kim Jong-un’s other choice is to blink first and fulfil some of his promises. He could let inspectors into Punggye-ri, the state’s only known nuclear test site.

TV cameras were brought in to witness a series of explosions there in May, which North Korea claims was its complete destruction.

President Moon said Mr Kim told him he would allow inspectors in, and there have been reports in South Korea that preparations are being made. This would allow Pyongyang to argue that they are once again keeping their end of the bargain.

Mr Kim could also close the Yongbyon nuclear facility where North Korea is believed to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

North Korea pledged to close it earlier this year, but only if the US takes corresponding measures. It would be very difficult politically for Mr Kim to do this first, so the US would have to put something good on the table for Pyongyang to take this step.

It is worth mentioning that several people I speak to, who have regular contact with leaders in Pyongyang, have told me about the pressures facing Kim Jong-un as a young leader.

He is surrounded by a number of military hardliners who are not be willing to disarm, nor do they wish to be seen as bowing to US requests.

Pyongyang’s savvy games

Perhaps both sides are calculating that they can simply “run the clock”, play for time and wait. The US can keep sanctions in place until North Korea takes further action.

Pyongyang can continue to issue warnings and develop other diplomatic ties.

However, this is a huge gamble for the US. North Korea’s nuclear arsenal has been labelled an urgent problem by US defence and intelligence chiefs.

That threat is still there and the longer this standoff continues, the more likely it is that Pyongyang will continue to develop weapons.

The stringent economic sanctions imposed on the state may only have a limited effect. The Trump administration had managed to get China and Russia on board with its “maximum pressure” policy for some months.

But reports suggest the borders have become porous in places and the supplies are making their way into North Korea. Kim Jong-un has proved to be a savvy political operator and has rebuilt relationships with his neighbours.

The US maintains that another summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump will take place early next year.

The two leaders may prefer dealing with one another directly. But it still needs talks to take place between those lower down the chain of command to sort out the details of a deal. A timetable for disarmament and corresponding US actions for instance.

Without those details on paper, as you can see, we end up with what is the equivalent of this diplomatic game of chicken which puts president Mr Trump’s much applauded North Korea policy in danger of crashing.

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Deaths of man and woman in fall from Camberwell flat suspicious, say detectives

Investigators say evidence found at the south London property and a possible disturbance before the fatal fall led them to believe there were suspicious circumstances.

Renata Poncova and Tony Taylor, both aged 33, died after falling from the block where they lived together in Marchwood Close, Camberwell, late on 2 November.

Police had been called to the address shortly before midnight to reports that a man and woman had been injured in a fall.

Officers gave emergency first aid prior to the arrival of paramedics, but the pair were pronounced dead at the scene at 12.30am on 3 November.

A post-mortem examination found both had died as a result of multiple injuries “consistent with having fallen from height”.

While being treated as suspicious, police are not looking for anyone else in connection with the incident.

Detective Inspector Phil Coster said: “I am appealing for anyone who knew Renata Poncova and Tony Taylor, and had contact with them in the days before their deaths, to call police.

“I also need to speak with anyone who either witnessed the incident or saw anything suspicious either during on leading up to the deaths.

“Evidence at the flat and a possible disturbance at the flat prior to the fall leads us to believe there are suspicious circumstances.

“We need witnesses to come forward to help us build a picture of what happened before these deaths. If you know anything please call us.”

:: Anyone with information should call the incident room on 020 8358 0400 or 101 quoting reference CAD 9264/02NOV, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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Family tragedy of Somali hotel owners

The owner of Sahafi Hotel in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu has been killed in bomb attacks – three years after his father died in a similar assault.

Somali officials say 20 people died and dozens more were hurt in blasts claimed by Islamist militant group al-Shabab.

Sahafi Hotel owner Abdifatah Abdirashid was a renowned businessman who took over running the hotel from his father, Abdirashid Mohamed.

Al-Shabab said it targeted government officials staying at the hotel.

Reports say armed militants stormed the building guarded by armed officers after the first of at least three bomb blasts.

Eyewitnesses spoke of heavy gunfire in the area.

A Voice of America journalist later shared pictures on social media showing damage to a hotel close to where the three bombs were set off, describing the aftermath as “horrific”.

There are fears that the death toll will rise further.

Sahafi Hotel has been popular with visiting foreigners because of its relative security as well as its view overlooking Mogadishu.

During the civil war in the 1990s, it used to be the only place foreign journalists could be safe amidst the raging war.

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'The community of Paradise is destroyed': Thousands displaced in California wildfire

“Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed, it’s that kind of devastation,” California fire captain Scott McLean said.

“The wind that was predicted came and just wiped it out.”

He estimated that a couple of thousand structures, including offices, large stores and restaurants in the 27,000 population town were flattened by the fire, although exact numbers are not known.

People were forced to abandon their cars and run, carrying their children and possessions, and those who had fled reported seeing houses explode as they were engulfed in flames.

The extent of people’s injuries was not immediately known as officials could not access the dangerous area, 180 miles northeast of San Francisco.

Authorities were working to evacuate residents from their homes as strong winds swept seasonal wildfires across the state, consuming more than 26 miles of territory on Thursday alone.

Strong blustery winds are combining with dry conditions, after weeks without rain and low humidity at the height of the wildfire season in north California.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said they were sending as many firefighters as possible.

“We’re working very hard to get people out. The message I want to get out is: If you can evacuate, you need to evacuate,” he said.

“It’s a very dangerous and very serious situation. I’m driving through fire as we speak.”

Videos of the area posted on social media showed cars driving along what appeared to be a tunnel of flame, while others depicted untouched lawns or buildings set against a backdrop of deep orange, the fire racing towards people’s homes.

On social media many people posted anxious messages about elderly relatives who lived near the fire and were missing, urging authorities to assist them in evacuating.

One woman, Kim Curtis, said she was searching for her grandmother, a woman in her 70s who had said she was fleeing with her cat but had failed to turn up at an arranged meeting point and was not contactable.

“We’ve just been posting all over social media. And just praying for a miracle, honestly,” Ms Curtis said.

One manager of a mobile home park said her husband had struggled to alert as many residents as possible to the fire, hammering on doors and screaming for people to leave.

“My husband tried his best to get everybody out. The whole hill’s on fire. God help us!”, Shary Bernacett said.

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Sky Views: Tories in danger of losing law and order reputation

Sajid Javid travelled to Seattle this week to hold meetings with tech giants on how to rid the internet of sickening child sexual abuse. A cause we can all unite behind, this Home Secretary has made it his “personal mission” in office.

But even as he flew to the West Coast to meet with executives from Microsoft, Google and Facebook, two more Londoners were injured in knife attacks in a week that saw five young people stabbed to death in the capital.

These brutal, senseless stabbings in London on an almost daily basis are feeding into a sense of growing despair as the public watch on in horror and fear. This is a Home Secretary who says he wants to keep our children safe, but young people are dying on our streets in a knife crime crisis spiralling out of control.

Of course, Mr Javid – parachuted into the Home Office to try to draw a line under Windrush crisis (he did) – is politically savvy enough to know when he has a crisis on his hands that needs tackling quickly (it’s no coincidence that medicinal cannabis available to sick children after the public outcry over the suffering of Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingly).

So when I interviewed him in Seattle this week, the focus almost entirely shifted from child sexual exploitation to knife crime. Mr Javid said he was “deeply worried” about the rapidly rising death toll – 119 murders in London this year and counting – and had spoken to Met Chief Cressida Dick while stateside to reassure her he stood ready to do everything he could to help.

Mr Javid wouldn’t tell me what she asked for (“I won’t go through the details of the call”). But I’m pretty sure the Met chief had one request: give me more financial firepower to tackle this crisis in the annual police funding settlement next month.

Ministers have been twisting into the most extraordinary contortions over recent weeks to put the spike in knife crime down to anything but cuts in police (and youth) funding. It’s due to the changing nature of the drugs market or the reduction in the use of stop and search on London’s streets.

These may indeed be factors. But the public see is something else. They see a rise in violent crime against the backdrop of falling police numbers – 20,000 fewer police officers since 2010 – and eight years of budget cuts under two successive Tory-led administrations. Little wonder that the Home Affairs Committee said in a damning report last month that the public were losing faith in the policing as it spoke of a “crisis of leadership” at the Home Office.

It is imperative that Mr Javid begins to turn this around if he wants to be viewed as a successful Home Secretary – and a leadership candidate for a party.

As police struggle to cope with the changing nature and complexity of crime against the backdrop of funding cuts, in recent months the prime minister – a former Home Secretary herself – has decided to dedicate pretty much all her government’s financial firepower to the NHS, committing an additional £20bn to the health service, while other public services in unprotected departments, such as the police, face an ongoing spending squeeze.

Mrs May probably decided she had little option but to pour all her government’s spare cash into the NHS given that her party has been irrevocably bound to the £350m-a-week-more-for-the-NHS Brexit bus pledge via Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. But politically, the Tories are never going to beat Labour on the NHS. The best they can do is – to quote David Cameron – “neutralise” it as an issue at the polls.

Most philosophical conservatives would agree the primary job of government is to uphold law and order and this has been a guiding principle of successive Conservative administrations. But the party is in danger of losing this reputation – and losing it on Mr Javid’s watch.

When I asked him in our interview if he was worried about being the Home Secretary who loses public trust on law and order, he replied that he wanted to be seen as a Home Secretary “who does everything in his power to keep our people safe and of course that means keeping our streets safe and this issue of serious violence and I am doing everything I can and I think that’s what the public want to see.”

That surely must involve extracting more money from the Treasury in next month’s police funding settlement. Anything less that a substantial sum will be seen as a failure. In last month’s Budget, the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson managed to land £1bn over the next two years for his department, while Transport secretary Chris Grayling got £420m to sort out potholes. If Mr Hammond can find money for fixing the roads but not for helping deal with knife crime, the public will surely conclude that this is a government in failing in its basic job of keeping people safe.

Mr Javid acknowledged in our interview that “resources are part of the issue” when it comes to tackling the spike in violent crime in recent years, and hinted that more money would be coming his way. “I am very confident [the chancellor] is listening.

“We have a December settlement just a few weeks away so this is something that can be looked at very quickly.”

Keeping our children safe online is a honourable cause, but so is keeping them safe on our streets. Mr Javid should add that cause to his personal mission in the Home Office. It will help him not only with the public but with the grassroots too if, rather when, he runs for No 10.

Sky Views is a series of comment pieces by Sky News editors and correspondents, published every morning.

Previously on Sky Views: Tom Cheshire – Being in China proves UK isn’t bad

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Gang of insurance scammers jailed for fake claims on scale 'never seen before'

The organised crime group defrauded insurers out of £1m after making fake claims of property damages at bars and restaurants across England.

The five men, all in their 30s and based in north London, were caught after making a claim on a wine bar that did not have an alcohol licence.

After hitting 14 different insurers, it is the biggest case of commercial property fraud handled by City of London Police’s insurance fraud enforcement department (IFED).

The force said the scale of the investigation had “never been seen before in the insurance industry”.

Following a six-week trial, the five men were sentenced for a mix of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering offences.

:: Tarquinn Orgill, 34, of Cherrydown Avenue, Chingford, London, was sentenced to five years in prison. He was found not found guilty of money laundering charges.

:: Nyron Hughes, 35, of Cherrydown Avenue, Chingford, London, was sentenced to four years in prison

:: Ramone Carty, 36, of Janson Close, London, was sentenced to three years in prison

:: Kashif Bhatti, 35, of Wightman Road, London, was sentenced to two years in prison

:: Jurelle Hayles, 30, of Huntingdon Road, London, was sentenced to 20 months in prison, suspended for two years and 300 unpaid work

Hughes, Hayles and Bhatti pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud and money laundering, while Carty was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering.

Orgill was also found guilty of conspiracy to defraud.

Police were alerted to the group’s scam after being contacted by insurers Zurich.

They had been suspicious of a claim they received for property damage and business interruption at a wine bar in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, caused by a burst water pipe.

The wine bar did not have an alcohol licence and was not open for trade prior to the claim.

After confirming that the claim against Zurich was fraudulent, the IFED went onto uncover several other instances of fraud carried out by the gang.

It emerged they had faked issues such as burst pipes at businesses in Lincolnshire, Bedfordshire, Staffordshire, Lancashire and London.

Some of the gang were identified through fingerprints left at the wine bar in Lincolnshire.

The gang gained £944,206 through successful claims.

Three of the gang, Hughes, Bhatti and Hayles, also pleaded guilty to defrauding American Express to the value of £62,497.

Detective Constable Daniel Dankoff, who led the investigation for IFED, told Sky News: “The scale of our investigation has never been seen before in the insurance industry and it is the largest commercial fraud organised crime group that our unit has identified to date.

“Insurance fraud is not a victimless crime. Fraudsters, such as the members in this organised crime group, cause significant financial harm to the insurance industry which then leads to higher premiums for everyone who need insurance, whether it be for personal or commercial cover.”

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Turkey sees positively U.S. offer of rewards for information on PKK members

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey regards positively a U.S. decision to offer rewards for information on three senior members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

It said it expected the United States to support the offer of rewards with concrete action in Syria and Iraq regarding the fight against the PKK and its extensions, the ministry said in a statement.

The United States on Tuesday offered up to $5 million for information on three senior members of the PKK, which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state for decades.

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A royal visit to a land of princes

In our series of letters from African writers, Ghanaian journalist Elizabeth Ohene reflects on the Prince of Wales’ two visits to the West African state.

When the heir to the British throne first came to Ghana, I was a reporter on the Daily Graphic newspaper and the conversation in the newsroom was whether Prince Charles could be described as handsome.

This was in 1977 and the prince was a 29-year old unmarried man. All young unmarried rich men used to be described as dashing.

I think those who said he was handsome were in the majority in the newsroom and for a long time a big poster of him came to adorn a wall behind the desk of one of the young women in the office.

Forty-one years later, Prince Charles has visited Ghana again, with his second wife, Camilla Parker Bowles, and, according to a blurb from the British High Commission in Accra, some of the events on his itinerary form part of the celebrations of his 70th birthday.

The couple have been busy doing what royals do, visiting sites, looking earnest and joining in with dancing groups.

On Sunday, they were guests of the Asantehene, the monarch of the Ashanti, one of Ghana’s main ethnic groups, who laid on a special ceremony with so much gold on display that it led to some questioning why we would be asking for any kind of aid from anyone.

There was a state banquet on Monday, where the couple danced to highlife music, the country’s well-known musical style.

Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo had made an elaborate toast and decorated Prince Charles with the highest state honour. I wondered if there was a room somewhere in Buckingham Palace where these sashes and gongs are kept.

It was on Monday, the fourth day of the visit, that we finally had a chance to hear the prince speak publicly, by which time some of us were beginning to think he had come to our country to be seen but not heard.

He, however, made up for his three days of silence. He gave a public lecture to a packed conference centre. It was on a subject that is close to his heart – the environment, and saving our planet.

He spoke about climate change, the disappearing Lake Chad, plastic waste and the pollution of the world’s oceans.

Steering clear of local politics

He urged us in Ghana to play a leading role in the fight to save the environment. I kept waiting for him to mention “galamsey”, the Ghanaian word for illegal mining, which epitomizes our destruction of the environment.

But he never did, and those who know about these things told me he would not want to say anything that would sound vaguely like getting involved in Ghanaian politics.

Prince Charles then had a meeting at a very fancy night club, Sandbox, at the beach in Accra, discussing the world’s plastic crisis with environmental campaigners. The beach there is breathtakingly beautiful.

Elizabeth Ohene:

“Ghana is so full of royalty – every village has a full complement, every other person claims to be a prince or princess”

I was one of the many hundreds invited to a special reception on Friday at the High Commissioner’s residence to celebrate the visit and mark the prince’s birthday.

The crowd, according to the High Commission, consisted mostly of members of the British-Ghanaian Diaspora, members of the UK community in Ghana, and Ghanaians from all walks of life “who share a close connection with the UK”.

I doubt I had ever seen so many uniformed, braided and medalled men under one roof. I wondered just how many uniformed men travelled with the prince.

It set me thinking that when I lived in the UK, I always had great difficulty understanding the attitude the British people had towards their royal family. It was not always clear to me if the bowing, scraping and newspaper adoration were a true reflection of public sentiments.

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I decided the difference was that Ghana is so full of royalty – every village has a full complement, every other person claims to be a prince or princess and new chiefs emerge all the time – that Ghanaians could hardly feel intimidated by the concept of royalty or a British prince, no matter how many rows of medals he had on his chest.

The reception deserved to be described as special; the décor was beautiful, the music excellent, the finger foods were devoured enthusiastically, there was enough booze to keep the gathering in good humour, and there were fascinators to keep your eyes darting around.

Prince Charles came, stayed in a cordoned area and a few people were allowed in to shake his hands. He did not utter a single public word throughout the entire evening.

The state banquet on Monday night felt a little more relaxed, even though there were enough haute couture gowns to make any fashion editor feel at home.

There was a fashion show that ended up with a display of some items by the renowned Ghanaian-British designer, Oswald Boateng, who, we discovered, had been one of the beneficiaries of the Prince’s Trust charity. He was given help setting up his first tailoring shop.

Prince Charles: Key facts

When he replied to the toast by our president, Prince Charles demonstrated he was an old hand at such matters, or maybe he was simply displaying that he has a thoroughly well-equipped and knowledgeable staff.

Reference had been made to the fact that members of the prince’s family had been visiting these parts for a long time, starting with his grand-uncle Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales, back in 1925.

Prince Charles got a big laugh from the audience when he recounted a story about his grand-uncle visiting the then Okyehene, the paramount chief of Akyem Abuakwa, in the east of Ghana.

The story goes that the heavens opened and the Okyehene gave an umbrella to his visitor to be able to get back and, apparently, this umbrella was never returned.

So, this Prince of Wales brought an umbrella for the current Okyehene to replace the one his grand-uncle took away 93 years ago. I suspect it was not just a funny story but there was some honour meant to be served.

‘The party ends when it ends’

But who is to ever understand the arcane ways of how British royalty behaves and expects to be treated? The High Commission certainly kept up the protocols.

The invitation to Friday’s reception stated it would start at 6pm and Carriages would be at 10.30pm. The invitation from our president’s office only said guests were to be seated by 8pm.

Nothing about Carriages, which was probably just as well, because our First Lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo, Second Lady (as the wife of the vice-president is known) Samira Bawumia, former President Jerry Rawlings, his wife Nana Konadu and Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall danced late into the night.

Proof, if any were needed that we don’t do carriages here. The party ends when it ends.

The British royals had a taste of Ghana and have promised to be back sooner than the 41 years it has taken between the last visit and this one.

More Letters from Africa

Follow us on Twitter @BBCAfrica, on Facebook at BBC Africa or on Instagram at bbcafrica

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Will one of these men lead EU?

Europe’s centre-right parties are gathering in Helsinki to select their candidate in the race to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission in 2019.

Mr Juncker’s successor will enjoy a massive profile, a seat at summits of EU leaders and the power to introduce – if not pass – new European laws.

The European People’s Party (EPP) includes the heads of government of eight EU countries including Germany, Austria, Ireland, and Hungary.

And because their group currently dominates the European Parliament, whoever wins this contest will have the most political clout in the race.

Who’s who?

Two men are in the running: the EPP’s leader in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, and former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb.

Conveniently, both have made videos that sum up their candidacies better than any policy pamphlet.

In his glossy production, Manfred Weber goes back to his home town in Bavaria – the heartland of his party, the CSU.

He talks about security and the need to protect the “European way of life” – one embodied by old buildings, scenic vistas and an all-white group of fifty-something political allies meeting in a wood-panelled restaurant.

Mr Stubb’s effort is a compilation of pictures of him with young fans, being interviewed on the red carpets of the EU institutions, backed by Finland’s version of Mumford and Sons.

His motto is “Next Generation Europe” – presumably a generation that should be led by someone with a 14-year career featuring stints as a member of the European Parliament, head of government and vice-president of the European Investment Bank, and who is actually four years older than his rival.

Their campaigning styles have been different too.

Manfred Weber has secured endorsements from people in high places, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Austria’s chancellor, Sebastian Kurz.

Alexander Stubb hands out leaflets from his ten-year old Opel Astra car and holds “pop-up press conferences” at the airport with an army of young volunteers.

Is the winner a shoo-in?

Absent from the race is an EPP lifer with a sky-high profile.

It’s the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, who ruled himself out because he has his hands full with the on-going talks.

And there’s a chance the job won’t go to Mr Weber or Mr Stubb either.

Or the centre-left equivalent, Frans Timmermans, who is currently first vice-president of the Commission. Or the Greens’ candidate when they select one.

The Liberal group isn’t fielding anyone.

And that’s because the system has changed since the last vacancy for European Commission President in 2014.

The Lisbon Treaty says that the appointment should reflect the results of the European Parliament elections.

Previously the Parliament interpreted that as meaning the role should go to the lead candidate – or spitzenkandidat – of the political group that won the most seats in the European elections.

Hence Jean-Claude Juncker’s selection, despite objections from then British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Who gets to decide?

Spitzenkandidat 2.0 is different.

The European Parliament has agreed that it will endorse the person who commands a majority in a vote of MEPs when they return after May’s elections.

The final decision is then made by EU leaders.

They have agreed that they will not automatically appoint the Parliament’s choice or necessarily someone who even stood as a spitzenkandidat in the first place.

It could lead to a massive row or the job could go to someone else who is widely respected, has cultivated MEPs and happens to be available in the second half of the year.

“How about… Michel Barnier?!” goes the theory in Brussels.

He has said that he is dedicated to his current job.

However, he wasn’t too busy to deliver an 80-minute speech about the future of Europe to the EU elite on Monday night.

And there’s another Brexit angle.

Whoever gets the job will oversee the finalisation of the UK/EU trade deal and will set the tone for the new relationship between the two for decades to come.

So this could be the start of a beautiful friendship, whether it is Michel, Manfred, Alex or Frans, or anyone else.

Listen to Adam on Brexitcast on BBC Sounds

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What made the list of 2018's most popular words?

‘Single-use’ has been named Collins’ Word of the Year, popularised by the increasing call to ban materials that damage the environment and pollute the food chain.

Helped by global movements, including Sky’s very own Ocean Rescue campaign, the term single-use has been on the front page of every paper and on news articles across the world.

But what else made the top 10?

Here are 2018’s most popular words.

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