Category - Europe

Poland Moves To The Right As Conservative Challenger Unseats Incumbent President

Forbes, By Luiza Oleszczuk, May 25

Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski has conceded the runoff election to his rival after partial official results and exit polls on Monday confirmed the victory of conservative candidate Andrzej Duda in Poland’s presidential race. Duda, of the right-wing Law and Justice party, defeated incumbent Bronislaw Komorowski of the center-right Civic Platform, which has governed Poland since 2007.

Duda won overwhelmingly among the rural regions, as opposed to cities, and geographically, in the eastern half of Poland. This illustrates how strongly the country is divided as far as economic development, social status and education (eastern Poland being much less economically and infrastructurally developed than its western half, with a generally less educated, more rural population). Komorowski actually took more voivodeships (Polish administrative regions), but Duda received more individual votes.
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Ireland Votes to Approve Gay Marriage, Putting Country in Vanguard

New York Times, By Danny Hakim & Douglas Dalby, May 23

Dublin — Ireland has become the first nation to approve same-sex marriage by a popular vote, sweeping aside the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church in a resounding victory Saturday for the gay rights movement and placing the country at the vanguard of social change.

With ballots from 34 out of the 43 voting areas counted, the vote was almost two to one in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. All but one of the districts that were counted voted yes, and it appeared to be statistically impossible for opposition votes to overcome the ayes.

Turnout was large — more than 60 percent of the 3.2 million people eligible to vote cast ballots. Government officials, advocates and even those who had argued against the measure said that the outcome was a resounding endorsement of the constitutional amendment.

Irish Times: Marriage Referendum
Irish Times: Marriage Referendum Results
Irish Times: Ireland becomes first country to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote

Ireland appears set to say ‘yes’ in gay marriage vote

National polls indicate country would back legalisation by margin as much as two-to-one, signalling major social shift.

Al Jazeera, May 17

A series of polls have indicated that Ireland is very likely to vote in a favour of legalising same-sex marriage in an upcoming referendum.

Polls on Saturday suggested that voters would back the move in a referendum set for Friday by a margin as much as two-to-one, making Ireland the first country to approve the policy in a national plebiscite.

Support for homosexual rights has surged in Ireland, which has been considered one of the most socially conservative countries in western Europe, in recent decades as the power of the Catholic Church collapsed in the wake of a series of child abuse scandals.

[…]

If Ireland votes yes, it will join 18 countries which have made, or are in the process of making the change, 13 of them in Europe.

[…]

Other European countries that have legalised gay marriage include Iceland, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, and Finland. The UK legalised same-sex marriage in England and Wales in 2013. [Also Belgium, The Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Norway].

Why Syriza failed; Why Europe may fail with it

Hullabaloo / Down With Tyranny, By Gaius Publius, May 15

I haven’t written much about Greece lately, but there’s quite a story going on. It’s not that difficult to follow, but you have to be careful whom you read. Conventional wisdom (backed by corporate, pro-austerity media outlets here and abroad) says it’s a morality tale — bad Greeks who went into too much debt and now they can’t pay up. Good German bankers want their money and are reluctant to forgive bad deeds because it might encourage other debt-owing entities to seek debt relief as well. They’re calling that “moral hazard,” fear that a bailout might encourage more bad behavior. There must be consequences, or so they think.

The bottom line of those who tell this tale — Greece provides a place for lovers of austerity (like cuts to social programs) to point and sneer. Their refrain, which I’m sure you’ve heard, is “We don’t want to end up like Greece, do we?”

The reality of the Greek situation is different — not hard to understand, just different.
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Baltic Fortress 2015: NATO warships start drills off Lithuanian coast

RT, May 11

Around 20 vessels representing nine NATO member states have begun the Baltic Fortress 2015 exercises, taking place off the Lithuanian Baltic Sea coast.

Warships from Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and the UK are participating in the exercises, accompanied by a Lithuanian Navy submarine unit and two airplanes from the country’s Air Force.

[…]

NATO’s ground forces are also currently involved in two exercises in the Baltic States.

Up to 3,000 Lithuanian troops are taking part in the Zaibo Kirtis (Lightning Strike) drills, aimed at perfecting joint action by the army and civilian authorities against so-called hybrid threats combining both military and non-military methods of fighting.

Estonia is also holding its largest-ever military exercises – Siil (Hedgehog) 2015, involving 13,000 personnel.

The war games, scheduled to conclude on May 15, also include forces from the US, the UK, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Belgium, Poland and the Netherlands.

Since Russia’s reunion with the Crimea and the start of the military conflict in eastern Ukraine last spring, NATO forces have stepped up military exercises along the Russian border – in the Baltic States and Eastern Europe.

Spying Close to Home: German Intelligence Under Fire for NSA Cooperation

US intelligence spent years spying on European targets from a secretive base. Now, it seems that German intelligence was aware of the espionage — and did nothing to stop it.

Der Spiegel, By Maik Baumgärtner, Nikolaus Blome, Hubert Gude, Marcel Rosenbach, Jörg Schindler and Fidelius Schmid, April 24

It was obvious from its construction speed just how important the new site in Bavaria was to the Americans. Only four-and-a-half months after it was begun, the new, surveillance-proof building at the Mangfall Kaserne in Bad Aibling was finished. The structure had a metal exterior and no windows, which led to its derogatory nickname among members of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the German foreign intelligence agency: The “tin can.”

The construction project was an expression of an especially close and trusting cooperation between the American National Security Agency (NSA) and the BND. Bad Aibling had formerly been a base for US espionage before it was officially turned over to the BND in 2004. But the “tin can” was built after the handover took place.

The heads of the two intelligence agencies had agreed to continue cooperating there in secret. Together, they established joint working groups, one for the acquisition of data, called Joint Sigint Activity, and one for the analysis of that data, known as the Joint Analysis Center.

But the Germans were apparently not supposed to know everything their partners in the “tin can” were doing. The Americans weren’t just interested in terrorism; they also used their technical abilities to spy on companies and agencies in Western Europe. They didn’t even shy away from pursuing German targets.

The Germans noticed — in 2008, if not sooner. But nothing was done about it until 2013, when an analysis triggered by whistleblower Edward Snowden’s leaks showed that the US was using the facility to spy on German and Western European targets.

Via Naked Capitalism: Angela Merkel’s NSA Nightmare Just Got A Lot Worse

Istanbul Goes Into Security Lockdown to Stop May Day Rallies

NBC News, May 1

Istanbul — Istanbul went into a security lockdown on Friday as thousands of police manned barricades and closed streets to stop May Day rallies at Taksim Square, a symbolic point for protests.

Citing security concerns, authorities shut down much of the city’s public transport and dispatched riot police to block Taksim off from demonstrators. A traditional rallying ground for leftists, the central square saw weeks of unrest in 2013.

Hundreds of flag-waving protesters gathered in the nearby Besiktas neighborhood, where they were held back by lines of police. Thousands of protesters also gathered to march in the capital Ankara.

Critics say President Tayyip Erdogan and the government have become more authoritarian ahead of June elections.

“This meeting is peaceful and is not armed,” opposition politician Mahmut Tanal, holding a pocket-sized book of the Turkish constitution, told Reuters in Istanbul. “People want to express their problems but the government doesn’t want those problems to be heard ahead of elections.”

Finns Set to Topple Government as Economic Pain Spurs Voters

Bloomberg, By Kati Pohjanpalo, April 17

Finns look set to vote out a government marred by political infighting and elect a party led by a self-made millionaire promising a business-driven recovery.

After three years of economic decline, Finland’s next government will need to fix chronic budget deficits, a debt load that’s set to breach European Union limits, rising unemployment and economic growth that’s about half the average of the euro zone.

Juha Sipila, who leads the opposition Center Party, has promised business-friendly policies he says will create 200,000 private-sector jobs. His party is polling about 6 percentage points ahead of the next-biggest groups, according to newspaper Helsingin Sanomat. If he wins Sunday’s vote, Sipila will probably try to form a majority coalition that’s likely to include the euro-skeptic The Finns party.

“Putting together a new, workable government that can turn around Finland’s public finances is the most important economic policy step,” Anssi Rantala, chief economist at Aktia Bank Oyj, said by phone. “The government has to take seriously the gigantic deficits we have in state and municipal budgets, and it has to change the way it implements austerity: most has been through tax increases.”

Thousands in Germany protest against Europe-U.S. trade deal

Reuters, By Noah Barkin, April 18

Berlin – Thousands of people marched in Berlin, Munich and other German cities on Saturday in protest against a planned free trade deal between Europe and the United States that they fear will erode food, labor and environmental standards.

Opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is particularly high in Germany, in part due to rising anti-American sentiment linked to revelations of U.S. spying and fears of digital domination by firms like Google.

A recent YouGov poll showed that 43 percent of Germans believe TTIP would be bad for the country, compared to 26 percent who see it as positive.

The level of resistance has taken Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and German industry by surprise, and they are now scrambling to reverse the tide and save a deal which proponents say could add $100 billion in annual economic output on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sputnik News: Some 22,000 Participated in Anti-TTIP Protests Across Austria – Organizers

Marine Le Pen, Leader of France’s National Front Party, Splits With Her Father, Its Founder

New York Times, By Suzanne Daley, April 8

Paris – Marine Le Pen, the head of France’s far-right National Front, has openly split with her father and the founder of her party, calling his recent comments, including those on German gas chambers, “political suicide” and an attempt to harm her.

In recent years, Ms. Le Pen, trying to clean up the image of her party as racist and anti-Semitic, has kept her distance from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, 86, and his more extreme statements, even as he continued as the party’s honorary chairman.

But Mr. Le Pen made headlines over the last week, after he once again claimed that the Nazi gas chambers were a “detail” of history; praised France’s collaborationist wartime leader, Marshal Philippe Pétain; and questioned whether France’s Spanish-born prime minister, Manuel Valls, was really loyal to France.

His outbursts appeared to be more than Ms. Le Pen and her entourage could put up with. In a statement on Wednesday, Ms. Le Pen said she had already told her father that she planned to block him from running in coming regional elections.

“Jean-Marie Le Pen seems to have descended into a strategy somewhere between scorched earth and political suicide,” she said. “His status as honorary president does not give him the right to hijack the National Front with vulgar provocations seemingly designed to damage me but which unfortunately hit the whole movement.”

She added that, with great sadness, she was calling a meeting of the party’s executive bureau with her father present “to find the best way of protecting the interests of the movement,” a statement that some experts took to mean that Mr. Le Pen may be expelled from the party altogether.

Iceland looks at ending boom and bust with radical money plan

Icelandic government suggests removing the power of commercial banks to create money and handing it to the central bank.

AFP, March 31

Iceland’s government is considering a revolutionary monetary proposal – removing the power of commercial banks to create money and handing it to the central bank.

The proposal, which would be a turnaround in the history of modern finance, was part of a report written by a lawmaker from the ruling centrist Progress Party, Frosti Sigurjonsson, entitled “A better monetary system for Iceland”.

[…]

According to a study [available at the link] by four central bankers, the country has had “over 20 instances of financial crises of different types” since 1875, with “six serious multiple financial crisis episodes occurring every 15 years on average”.

Mr Sigurjonsson said the problem each time arose from ballooning credit during a strong economic cycle.

France is Europe’s ‘big problem’, warns Mario Monti

Gallic nation threatens to blow Europe’s Franco-German axis apart, warns former Italian prime minister.

The Telegraph, By Szu Ping Chan, March 21

France has become Europe’s “big problem”, according to the former prime minister of Italy, who warned that anti-Brussels sentiment and the rise of populist parties in the Gallic nation threatened to blow the bloc’s Franco-German axis apart.

Mario Monti – who was dubbed “Super Mario” for saving the country from collapse at the height of the eurozone debt crisis – said France’s “unease” with the single currency had already created tensions between Europe’s two largest economies.

“In the last few years we have seen France receding in terms of actual economic performance, in terms of complying with all the European rules, and above all in terms of its domestic public opinion – which is turning more and more against Europe,” he told The Telegraph.

Slaughter on Eighth Avenue: A St. Patrick’s Day Commemoration

Pando, By John Dolan, March 17

St Patrick’s Day, a glum and murky occasion.

The Irish are nothing in America now, which is why they’re fit to be patronized once a year. They’re not much, at the moment, on the home island either. I suppose you can’t blame the Dublin-suburb junior execs swarming over the planet; when Ireland joined the EU, the doomstruck islanders found themselves, for the first time in centuries, ruled by people who actually liked them, goofy but generous postwar Teutons. You can’t grumble too much at the young Dubliners for groveling to Brussels, but you can’t warm up much to the current incarnation of Irish either, with their secondhand motivational clichés.

It’s a necessary stage, I get that. It had to change. I read an interview with a Maasai woman once (there’s more between Irish and Africans than anyone likes to admit) who grieved for the loss of the old ways but then shrugged and said, “Still…No one now would agree to suffer as our mothers suffered.” It was always the women who bore the brunt. Which is why I have to fast-forward through the Mrs. Doyle scenes of Father Ted, and waste many an hour on stupid dreams about a time machine, a suitcase nuke, and a one-way trip to London, 1850.

It’s just not practical, all that baggage. Somebody told me once, “The past is past,” and though I nodded, I never got that idea. How can the past be past? That makes no sense to me, never has.

What they really mean is, “The past can’t be fixed.” Now that, I get. But “can’t be fixed” is not the same as “past.” May as well be, maybe, but not actually the same.

US anger at Britain joining Chinese-led investment bank AIIB

US statement says of UK membership that it is ‘worried about a trend of constant accommodation’ of China, in a rare public breach in the special relationship.

The Guardian, By Nicholas Watt, Paul Lewis & Tania Branigan, March 12

The White House has issued a pointed statement declaring it hopes and expects the UK will use its influence to ensure that high standards of governance are upheld in a new Chinese-led investment bank that Britain is to join.

In a rare public breach in the special relationship, the White House signalled its unease at Britain’s decision to become a founder member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) by raising concerns about whether the new body would meet the standards of the World Bank.

The $50bn (£33.5bn) bank, which is designed to provide infrastructure funds to the Asia-Pacific region, is viewed with great suspicion by Washington officials, who see it as a rival to the World Bank. They believe Beijing will use the bank to extend its soft power in the region.

The White House statement reads: “This is the UK’s sovereign decision. We hope and expect that the UK will use its voice to push for adoption of high standards.”

IMF signs off $17.5bn loan for Ukraine in second attempt to stave off bankruptcy

Four-year bailout programme is expected to unlock further credit from donors and includes immediate $5bn payment to help stabilise conflict-hit economy

Reuters, March 11

The International Monetary Fund has signed off on a $17.5bn (£11.8bn) four-year aid programme for Ukraine, the second attempt in less than a year to help the country avoid bankruptcy.

The programme includes an immediate payment of $5bn for general budget support to help stabilise Ukraine’s listing economy.

Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, said the aim was to provide immediate economic stabilisation for a country beset by conflict.

The programme was ambitious and involved risks, Lagarde said, “notably those stemming from the conflict” with pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine. “With continued firm implementation, there is reasonably strong prospect of success.”

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