Ian Stuart Donaldson Skrewdriver

Posts Tagged ‘European Union’

BORDER WAR HIT BY GUARDS CRISIS

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

Guards have been told they cannot have vital staff needed overseas to handle visa applications.

 

The UK Border Agency has selected 184 civil servants to start work as Entry Clearance Officers around the world.

 

They are desperately needed to root out fraudsters and ­illegal migrants.

 

But 100 recruits waiting to be transferred are currently working as frontline border guards.

 

The Home Office has warned it is “unlikely staff will be released until early 2013” because of shortages.

 

And immigration officers dealing with visa applications abroad are already being recalled to Britain at the end of their postings.

 

UKBA has approached the Foreign Office for additional staff.

 

But sources are now warning that poor staffing levels in busy visa offices such as India and Pakistan could lead to illegal migrants slipping through the net.

 

“Fewer staff doing the same checks means those checks would have to be quicker and less exhaustive,” said one ­senior immigration officer.

 

Tough new measures to stamp out visa fraud are a key part of the Government’s pledge to reduce immigration from outside the EU.

 

But there are still thousands of fraudsters trying to slip through the system each year.

 

Last May, police in ­Bangladesh arrested 19 people who had supplied fake ­documents such as bogus bank statements to try to obtain UK visas at the High Commission in the country’s capital ­Dhaka.

 

The British High Commission in Islamabad, Pakistan, has identified around 4,000 forged visa applications in the past year, prompting British Ambassador Adam Thomson to describe the country as “world leaders in the visa fraud business”.

 

The shortage of immigration officers sparked by Government cutbacks hit the headlines during the summer.

 

In the run-up to the Olympic Games there were long queues at Heathrow Airport’s passport control. And waiting times are on the increase again at Heathrow as temporary staff drafted in from other parts of the civil service ­return to their regular jobs.

 

The Home Office has ­advertised 470 new frontline posts at airports such as ­Heathrow, Manchester and Glasgow but applicants could take up to nine months to train.

 

Lucy Moreton of the ­Immigration Services Union, which represents border guards, said Government cutbacks threatened Britain’s ­border security.

 

“The ISU has long warned senior managers of the impact of the chronic staffing losses,” she said.

 

A Home Office spokesman said: “Officers in visa application centres abroad and at the UK border play a vital role in ensuring that border security is not compromised.

 

“That’s why we carefully ­consider the recruitment and allocation of staff – deploying them where they will be most effective.”

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Greece Faces New Crisis – Waves of Illegal Immigrants

Sunday, September 16th, 2012

Already drowning in debt and struggling through a crushing economic crisis worsened by austerity measures demanded by international lenders, Greece is being overwhelmed with an inundation of illegal immigrants despite an ongoing crackdown to round up those who don’t have papers to stay in the country, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The paper noted that Greece is a favorite destination for immigrants because it is a gateway to the European Union and on the bloc’s southern border, with access from land and sea. The country quietly has become a steppingstone for a wave of Middle East and South Asia workers fleeing job markets ravaged by years of government turmoil.

In 2011, an extraordinary year because of the uprisings in North Africa, some 140,980 people were detected entering the EU illegally, up 35% from the year before, according to Frontex, the EU’s border-control agency. Of those, 40% came through Greece. Through July this year, 23,000 people were apprehended crossing the border illegally, roughly 30% ahead of last’s year pace.

Border control in Greece isn’t a new problem. But the country’s economic malaise and budget restrictions are hampering many of its efforts to reduce the flow of illegal immigration. Hoping to come to the rescue, the Europe Commission—the EU’s executive branch—began pouring €255 million ($331 million) into border protection for Greece over the past two years. But that is still less than it gives some countries with far smaller border problems.

And whatever it gives, years of bloated bureaucracy and now new public hiring restrictions in Greece have stalled some of the best-laid plans.
According to one confidential EU report, the country has hired only 11 staffers to help process asylum cases, despite funding last year for 700 positions. Only about one in 10,000 asylum applicants had been approved.

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France Declares War on Illegal Migrants: Riot Police Smash Camps and Hundreds Rounded Up for Deportation as Socialists Take on Gipsies

Saturday, August 11th, 2012

French police were yesterday breaking up gipsy camps and deporting illegal immigrants found in them.

Dozens of officers in riot gear descended on a settlement near Lille shortly after dawn to oversee the evacuation of some 200 Roma living in mobile homes.

One hundred people were evicted from a site in Lyon, with similar round-ups happening in other major cities including Marseille. Caravans and huts were destroyed in the Belleville area of central Paris on Wednesday, making another 100 people homeless.

‘Many of those evicted will be flown home to Romania,’ said an interior ministry source, who insisted the deportations were aimed at ridding France of ‘illegal’ communities.

Greece has also begun a crackdown on immigrants, with Athens claiming the country faced an ‘invasion’.

The policy being pursued by France’s socialist government was formulated by former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy, who was frequently accused of pandering to the far right.

His government linked Roma camps with crime, suggesting that many of the thieves and muggers operating in big cities were homeless Romanians.

Many expected the more liberal socialists to show a more relaxed attitude toward immigrants, especially those from European Union member states. But Manuel Valls, the new interior minister, said the camps were a ‘challenge’ to ‘people living together’.

He insisted the police would uphold all court orders aimed at dismantling them.

Neighbours of the camps often complained about noise and anti-social behaviour, as well as serious crimes, said Mr Valls.

Humanitarian organisations have also linked the camps to ill health, including serious diseases such as tuberculosis.

Mr Valls said everything would be done to ensure that vulnerable people, and particularly ‘children and pregnant women’, were rehoused as quickly as possible.

Mr Sarkozy started a purge on Romas in the summer of 2010, pointing to the fact that up to 15,000 were living in camps across France. Mr Sarkozy even proposed that police travel to Romania to fight trafficking and other crimes committed there by Roma.

In turn, Roma groups accused Mr Sarkozy of ‘ethnic cleansing’, pointing to the fact that gipsies had been targeted by the Nazis during the Second World War.

They said that the purge was all part of a generally racist strategy adopted by Mr Sarkozy against all foreign groups, including some six million Muslims living in France.

Romania has been a full member of the European Union since 2007, and its citizens can enter France without a visa.

But they must get residency permits if they want to settle long term and work.

Britain, like France, has transitional controls on Romanians seeking to settle in the UK.

Until next year only those Romanian migrants who have a job or can support themselves are allowed to stay in Britain.

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Greek police ignore rising attacks on migrants – HRW

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

Gangs of Greeks are regularly attacking immigrants with impunity across the country and authorities are ignoring or discouraging victims from filing complaints, advocacy group Human Rights Watch said in a report on Tuesday.

Greece is a major gateway into the European Union for undocumented migrants from Asia and Africa, and illegal immigration has become a hot-button issue as the country struggles through its worst economic crisis since World War Two.

A fifth straight year of recession and unemployment at a record high has helped fuel anti-immigrant sentiment, with migrants blamed for rising crime levels and accused of eating into a shrinking pot of subsidised services from the state.

Migrants and asylum seekers spoke to Human Rights Watch of virtual no-go areas in Athens after dark because of fear of attacks by often black-clad groups of Greeks intent on violence,” the report said.

“While tourists are welcome, migrants and asylum seekers face a hostile environment, where they may be subject to detention in inhuman and degrading conditions, risk destitution and xenophobic violence.”

Human Rights Watch said the true extent of xenophobic violence in Greece was not clear given many victims do not report the crime and since government statistics are unreliable.

The group said it interviewed 59 people who suffered or escaped a racist incident between August 2009 and May this year. That included 51 serious attacks and two of the victims were pregnant women.

Most of the attacks take place at night in or near town squares and are committed by groups of attackers in dark clothing, their faces obscured with cloth or helmets, Human Rights Watch said. The perpetrators have been known to wield clubs or beer bottles or just their bare fists, it said.

The victims consistently told the group that police discouraged them from filing complaints and that some were even warned they would be detained if they insisted on an investigation.

Many victims gave up after being told an investigation would be pointless if they could not identify the attackers or being told either to accept an apology or fight back, the group said.

Human Rights Watch also said there was evidence to suggest the perpetrators were members or associated with local vigilante groups and Golden Dawn, an extreme-right party elected to parliament this year – the first such development since the fall of a military junta in 1974.

The group said it had found no evidence that violent attacks are directed by the party, which denies it is neo-Nazi, but that Golden Dawn members have been implicated in specific attacks.

It quoted residents and a police officer saying party members were involved in beatings of migrants, and noted allegations of collusion between police and Golden Dawn members.

Golden Dawn, which campaigned on a pledge to rid Greece of all immigrants, denies carrying out attacks.

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Human Rights Group Urges Crackdown on Race Crimes in Greece

Friday, July 13th, 2012

A leading human rights organization is urging Greece’s new government to take “urgent action” to curb an “alarming” increase in attacks against Asian and African immigrants, including brutal assaults by gangs on teenage boys and pregnant women.

In a 100-page report issued Tuesday, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said xenophobic attacks, including stabbings and serious beatings, in the capital Athens have increased over the past two years, leaving dozens of confirmed victims and possibly many more.

It called on the government to create a national strategy to combat race-related crime, including obligatory training for police officers, and surveillance methods used to fight terrorism.

“It is very shocking to see that scale of violence, of that frequency and that brutality in a European country . . . People face certainly the risk of an attack on a daily basis,” Judith Sunderland, the lead researcher and author of the report told The Associated Press.

“We spoke with 79 migrants and asylum seekers and out of those 59 had experienced some kind of an attack. And 51 had experienced an attack that caused actual harm. We are convinced this is the tip of the iceberg. Most people don’t report the violence . . . Undocumented migrants fear they will be arrested and deported,” she said.

Greece, suffering a fifth year of recession, is the European Union’s busiest transit point for illegal immigration. In Athens, many immigrants live crammed in small apartments in squalid conditions, in central neighborhoods that have seen a sharp rise in crime since the financial crisis began in late 2009.

Racially-motivated attacks, including raids on immigrants’ homes and stores as well as streets assaults, have surged in the past two years, and often follow public outcry over a violent crime blamed on immigrants, the report said.

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Greece pushed to the brink, pharmacist latest victim of violence

Friday, June 15th, 2012

Some Greek pharmacies will close on Friday, but not in protest against the relentless burden of austerity or the withering of state reimbursements for the drugs they sell. Rather, they are mourning for one of their own, a pharmacist who was shot dead in an apparent holdup.

Violent crime is more ingrained in many other societies, but the slaying of 54-year-old Spyros Poukamisas this week is the kind of sad event that cuts deeply into the Greek sense of community at a time of crisis and division. It is a symbol of the national handwringing about how far a country, steeped in glorious tradition, can fall.

“This is another atrocious crime, which shows that matters have come to a head. We have reached the limits of our endurance. Security is our first priority,” said Antonis Samaras, head of the conservative New Democracy party, which is locked in a tight race with the radical left Syriza party ahead of elections on Sunday.

Granted, the death of Poukamisas near his pharmacy in a gritty district of Piraeus port this week was a fleeting episode, conceived by two men who vanished in a getaway car. Greece and the globe are more consumed by the vote whose outcome, realists and doomsayers alike fear, could imperil the idea of European unity and menace the world’s biggest economies.

The immediate question is whether Greece, now under the stewardship of a caretaker government, will stick to traditional politicians like Samaras or empower Syriza’s Alexis Tsipras, a populist who has talked of scrapping an international bailout deal that imposed harsh cutbacks and reforms on a population used to a better life.

The bigger conundrum for Greece is what it will be in the long term: a state adrift, as it is now, or a viable nation with a production-based economy and social cohesion to match.

The land that gave logic, justice and geometry to the world in ancient times has, in its more recent history, contorted inward. State excesses and book-cooking, record unemployment and inflated crime rates have fed Greek dysfunction.

Greek media reported that Poukamisas, the pharmacist, had been mugged in the past and that he told his assailants, “Not this time, guys,” before they killed him. Pharmacies in the Athens area closed in protest for six hours Thursday. Most Piraeus pharmacies will be shut all day Friday.

A statement by the Greater Athens pharmacists’ association said the killing reflected an “unprecedented” situation in Greece and “proves that our society is in a state of collapse and has been surrendered to the mercy of uncontrolled criminal activity.”

While aspects of such rhetoric appear overblown, statistics show a deterioration in law-and-order during the economic crisis. The Public Order Ministry reported an increase in nearly all categories of crime between 2010 and 2011, with murder up 5 percent and armed robberies in occupied homes up 110 percent.

Greece accounts for a tiny piece of the global economy, but the threat of contagion — devastating spillover elsewhere in Europe and beyond — drives jitters in the markets.

A vulnerable nation like Italy, however, has a strong industrial base and a host of brand names coveted worldwide. Greece has agriculture, but its fundamentals are more limited. Tourism and shipping are among the pillars of its fortunes; both are under strain amid speculation about whether Greece will have to abandon the euro in a chaotic and possibly economically debilitating exit.

This month, thousands of Greek and international shipping executives gathered at a trade event at which Theodore Veniamis, president of the Union of Greek Shipowners, invoked an old saying from Chios, a Greek island in the Aegean.

“The sea gets sick but never dies,” he said. Veniamis asserted that Greek shipping remained internationally competitive, with a fleet of 3,325 vessels, but he lamented the impact of the global economic crisis on the freight market, as well as the administrative confusion caused by the abolition of Greece’s merchant marine ministry.

Tourism accounts for nearly one fifth of the Greek economy, and the government seeks to lure an increasing number of tourists who are reluctant to relax in a country seemingly on the edge. A state campaign, “The True Story About Greece,” touts antiquities, thermal springs and sun-splashed coastlines and islands.

Tatiana Karapanagioti, the culture and tourism minister, criticized the “gloom-and-doom myths” about Greece’s plight, noting that tourism arrivals reached a record high of 16.5 million visitors in 2011. She said the elections on Sunday, a replay of an inconclusive, first round ballot, are not a cause for worry.

“This is simply our democratic process in action, no different than any other country,” she wrote in a commentary in The Huffington Post this month. “True, the stakes of the coming election are unquestionably high. Yet, the birthplace of democracy is as safe, secure and calm as it has ever been.”

That last point is surely open to debate, or even derision among more seasoned critics. True, Greeks have had harder times. They put up with centuries of Ottoman rule, a schism between a king and a prime minister, a Nazi occupation, a civil war and a military dictatorship. But a nation whose pride springs from the intellectual exploits of ancient city-states has, for many, become a dangerously untrustworthy member of the global community.

This week, a debate in a London hall turned on whether Britain should return ancient Greek sculptures called the Parthenon Marbles, which were removed from the Acropolis in the early 19th century and are on display in London’s British Museum.

Tristram Hunt, a British lawmaker, said it was unwise to send back the fragile sculptures, long demanded by Greece, as it faces the “terrible prospect of economic meltdown.”

But author Stephen Fry alluded with irony to the Greek crisis in support of the motion to return them.

“We will never, ever be able to repay the debt that we owe Greece,” Fry said in praise of the contributions of ancient Greeks to world culture.

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France and Germany to lock up their borders

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Western European countries are preparing the ground for the revision of the Schengen border control and recovery. France and Germany are primarily interested in taking such measures aimed at ensuring the EU’s internal borders. The new French president Francois Hollande, as well as his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, is in favor of strengthening the fight against illegal migration. Enhancement of border controls, especially in the south of France, can significantly reduce the flow of migrants, the Ministry of Internal Affairs believes.

The German government also supports the retention of the right to restore borders in the EU. German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich repeatedly spoke in favor of the partial revision of the Schengen Agreement. Without denying the importance of maintaining the Schengen area, Frederick, however, insists that the internal security of each country is a priority.

The German politician expressed particular concern over the problems of uncontrolled illegal immigration, which “is a direct threat to the stability and security of the entire Old World,” information portal Newsru.com quoted Hans-Peter Friedrich.

The debate around the issue of open borders has been ongoing for years. When Europe has supported democratic change in the Middle East and Africa, no one imagined that soon the “Arab spring” could ripple to the European continent. Refugees from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya flooded into Greece and Italy. Thanks to the Schengen area hundreds of migrants could later move to France, Austria and Germany.

Nicolas Sarkozy was one of the first to express his discontent by the transparency of the European borders. Then France unequivocally declared that it refused to respect the Schengen agreements if control over the external borders of the EU is not enhanced. In 2011, the French managed to get permission from the European Committee for inspection of trains from Italy to stop the flow of illegals.

European officials did not hide their frustration with the fact that the majority of African migrants penetrated the continent via Greece unable to control the border with Turkey. The Greeks, who were considered the main culprits of the crisis in the euro area, again had to make excuses and hurriedly strengthen measures against mass migration. In March of 2012 Europe once again was talking about the introduction of internal border controls.

Finally, on June 7 at the Council of Ministers meeting in Luxembourg, a decision was made that may influence the further development of the entire European Union. Henceforth, the government of the united Europe has the right to temporary reintroduce border controls for six months. Special approvals are no longer required. To restore the border it will be sufficient to inform the neighboring states of the decision. In addition, in emergency situation border closure is now permitted for two years, which would constitute a serious precedent for the entire European Union.

However, some countries in the united Europe have resorted to exceptional measures in matters relating to border security. The special position of the Schengen Agreement, which allows in exceptional cases up to 30 days to recover control of the borders was used several times: in 1995 after the terrorist attacks in Paris, in 2001 during a summit of the “G8” in Genoa where there were major clashes between the authorities and anti-globalists, and in 2009 during a NATO summit in the French city of Strasbourg, the French International Radio (RFI) reported referring to Figaro newspaper.

However, the current decision in Luxembourg led to an extremely negative reaction of the European Committee. These amendments to the Schengen agreement could undermine the foundations of the EU in its entirety, Brussels believes. Recently, European Commissioner for Internal Affairs Cecilia Malmström said that the move “undermines the achievements of the European integration.” “I am deeply disappointed by the lack of European ambitions of the participants of the meeting,” quoted Malmström Newsru.com.

It is not clear how far the Europeans are ready to go to tighten the measures against mass migration from Africa and the Middle East. However, initial steps have already been taken.

Another question is how the new strategy in Germany, France and Italy will reflect on the state of affairs in the European Union that is going through hard times. Today, diplomats, analysts and chief executives are talking about the failure of multiculturalism policy increasingly more. However, the debate about the degree of openness of European borders is not finished yet. In this regard it is worth noting that the present decision of the heads of the EU Interior Ministry announced on June 7 could not be considered definitive. Now, the amendment to the Schengen Agreement that has already caused a backlash of MPs must be approved in the EU institutions.

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Greek protesters disrupt national day parades

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Greek police fired tear gas on Sunday to disperse anti-austerity protesters at national day parades to mark Greece’s independence from Ottoman rule in three cities.

The annual military parade to commemorate Greece’s uprising in 1821 was held under unprecedented security measures in Athens, preventing a repeat of minor clashes and heckling at previous celebrations, when protesters called President Karolos Papoulias a traitor.

The protests reflect public anger at the stifling austerity measures imposed by the government to secure the funding it needs from its international lenders stay afloat.

The measures, which include steep cuts to pay and pensions, have helped push Greece’s economy into its worst recession in four decades, driving unemployment to a record 21 percent.

In Athens, streets were cordoned off and about 4,000 police officers were deployed to the city centre, including snipers on the roof of parliament and other buildings on the main Syntagma square, the scene of violent anti-austerity protests last year.

The parade in the capital was concluded peacefully but tight security meant very few people besides officials and dignitaries were able to get close enough to watch it.

“Today Greek people are fighting a tough battle. After achieving the impossible back then, we will also succeed this time,” President Karolos Papoulias told reporters after the parade in Athens.

Greece, which faces elections in late April or early May amid a deep economic malaise, needs to stick to difficult economic reforms prescribed by its lenders – the European Union and the International Monetary Fund – to continue receiving aid under a second bailout deal.

In the western port city of Patras a group of about 50 protesters pelted police with bottles and stones after they were blocked from getting close the stand of dignitaries watching a student parade.

Police also fired tear gas at about 200 protesters who tried to disrupt student parades in the cities of Heraklion and Chania on the island of Crete. Police said 39 people were detained across the country.

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Tens of thousands in Syria call for fall of regime

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

Tens of thousands of Syrians braved tear gas and gunfire to protest across the country Friday, vowing to storm the capital Damascus to oust President Bashar Assad as the European Union ramped up pressure on the regime by imposing sanctions on his wife and other close relatives.

Security forces deployed in many cities to disperse protests, but opposition groups reported fewer protester deaths than in past weeks. Activists said more than 20 people were killed nationwide in army attacks on opposition areas or clashes with armed rebels.

International condemnation and high-level diplomacy have failed to stop the year-old Syria crisis, which the U.N. says has killed more than 8,000 people, many of them civilian protesters.

Friday’s sanctions bring to 13 the sets imposed by the EU to try to compel the regime to halt its violent crackdown on dissent. The U.S. and others have also imposed sanctions. Previous measures were aimed at Syrian companies and Assad himself.

Those imposed Friday targeted Asma Assad, Syria’s British-born first lady, banning her from traveling to EU countries and freezing any assets she may have there. They also included the president’s mother, sister, sister-in-law and eight government ministers.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said sanctions were weakening the regime.

“Their economic situation becomes ever more difficult. Syria has few reserves,” he said. “We think its economic situation will become untenable.”

While the measures have hurt Syria’s economy, they appear to have had little effect on the regime’s actions. It has regularly deployed troops, pro-government thugs and snipers to attack anti-regime protests. Human rights groups accuse the regime of shelling civilian areas and torturing and killing detainees in its push to stop the uprising, which it blames on terrorists carrying out a foreign conspiracy.

In Geneva, the U.N. Human Rights Council blasted Syria’s crackdown and extended the mandate of a U.N. expert panel tasked with reporting on alleged abuses in the country.

A resolution passed by the 47-member body condemned “widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms perpetrated” by Syrian authorities, including summary executions, torture and sexual abuse of detainees and children.

Also Friday, UNICEF said at least 500 children have been killed in the conflict, while hundreds more have been injured, detained or abused. The U.N. children’s agency said schools have closed and health centers have shut down or become too dangerous for many families to reach.

Throughout the conflict, China and Russia have protected Syria from censure by the U.N. Security Council, fearing a strongly worded resolution condemning Assad could pave the way for military intervention, as happened in Libya last year.

Russia, however, softened its stance Thursday by calling for Assad to pull his troops out of Syrian cities. The U.N. has been trying to secure a cease-fire so all parties could hold a dialogue on a political solution to end the conflict. So far, both sides have refused talks.

Regime forces continued to pound oppositions areas Friday, and activists reported major shelling and fire with heavy machine-guns in the provinces of Homs in central Syria, Idlib in the north and Daraa.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 23 civilians were killed in government attacks Friday. Government troops and armed rebels clashed in a number of places, with at 13 soldiers and three rebel fighter killed, the group said.

Another group, the Local Coordination Committees, said government troops killed 36 civilians on Friday. It did not provide details on each civilian killed.

Activists reported dozens of anti-regime protests in towns and cities across Syria under the banner “Damascus, we are coming.” Security forces broke up many of them with gunfire and tear gas, and there were reports of wounded.

Activists reported fewer protester deaths and Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the Observatory, said he had yet to confirm a single protester death on Friday, remarking that this was unusual.

“We hope it happens like this every time because we don’t want anyone to die,” he said.

The Syrian government has barred most media from working in the country, and activist accounts could not be independently verified.

Syria’s state news agency said hundreds marched in a pro-Assad demonstration in the capital Damascus and published photos of them carrying Syrian flags and Assad photos.

In Jordan’s capital Amman, blind Syrian cleric Ahmad al-Sayasneh called on a congregation of 1,000 Syrians to “remain steadfast until our tyrant leadership is ousted.”

It was the cleric’s first public appearance since fleeing Syria two months ago. Al-Sayasneh rose to prominence though his fiery sermons calling for civil disobedience at a mosque in the southern Syrian town of Daraa, considered the uprising’s birthplace.

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Secret EU deal forces Britain to take in 12,000 Indian workers despite soaring unemployment

Monday, March 5th, 2012

 

Brussels has drawn up a secret diktat which could force Britain to admit 12,000 workers from India despite soaring unemployment at home.

 

The order is part of an EU-wide plan to boost trade with India.

 

EU officials say that, in return for opening up the jobs market, countries such as Britain will be helped to land lucrative export deals.

 

But, of 40,000 workers who will be allowed to live and work in Europe, Britain has been told it must take 12,000, according to leaked EU documents.

 

 

Soaring unemployment: 12,000 Indian workers will be allowed into Britain under trade plan - despite the number of people out of work risingSoaring unemployment: 12,000 Indian workers will be allowed into Britain under trade plan – despite the number of people out of work rising

 

This is far more than any other EU nation – and three times the number which will be permitted France.

 

Even Germany, which has one of the world’s largest economies, will admit only 8,000 workers.

 

Brussels has drawn up a secret diktat which could force Britain to admit 12,000 workers from India despite soaring unemployment at home.

 

The order is part of an EU-wide plan to boost trade with India.

 

EU officials say that, in return for opening up the jobs market, countries such as Britain will be helped to land lucrative export deals.

 

But, of 40,000 workers who will be allowed to live and work in Europe, Britain has been told it must take 12,000, according to leaked EU documents.

 

 

Soaring unemployment: 12,000 Indian workers will be allowed into Britain under trade plan - despite the number of people out of work risingSoaring unemployment: 12,000 Indian workers will be allowed into Britain under trade plan – despite the number of people out of work rising

 

This is far more than any other EU nation – and three times the number which will be permitted France.

 

Even Germany, which has one of the world’s largest economies, will admit only 8,000 workers.

 

 

 

 

 

The Indian migrants, who can live and work in Britain for six months, will be in addition to people given visas under Britain’s supposedly strict immigration cap.

 

This is despite the EU not normally being allowed to meddle in Britain’s border controls. It comes at a time when UK unemployment is close to a 17-year high, at 2.67million.

 

The negotiations on the India deal – which have been led by Vince Cable’s Business Department – have been going on in the shadows for years.

 

Trade deal: Secret diktat for Indian workers to come to Britain was drawn up when Peter Mandelson was an EU CommissionerTrade deal: Secret diktat for Indian workers to come to Britain was drawn up when Peter Mandelson was an EU Commissioner

 

A large number of the beneficiaries will be IT workers, who already arrive in large numbers from India.

 

Sir Andrew Green, Chairman of Migration Watch, said: ‘The (negotiations) are quite clearly against the interests of British workers at a time of very high unemployment.

 

‘That, presumably, is why the government has been keeping quiet about them.

 

‘The six month limit, although completely unenforceable, keeps them out of the official immigration figures. However, in practice, this agreement, if signed, would open the door for thousands of new migrants.

 

‘Of particular concern is our IT workforce – already being undercut by Indian IT companies – which will be put under further pressure.’

 

The details emerged in a leaked copy of the EU/India Free Trade Agreement, which is due to be signed later this year. It was first initiated by Former Trade Commissioner Lord Mandelson in 2007.

 

The aim is to encourage greater export trade between the EU and India.

 

Central to the agreement is the EU’s offer on what is known as ‘Mode 4’, which will allow Indian companies to bring temporary workers into the EU.

 

The EU has proposed that, overall, 40,000 Indian workers will be admitted without any labour market test as to their impact on the resident workforce. The proposal is for each member state to take a proportion of the EU commitment.

 

The UK allocation of 12,000 is 30 per cent of the total – despite the UK making up only 12 per cent of the EU’s population.

 

 

Bound for Britain: Under the controversial deal at least 12,000 Indian workers will head to the UK - more than for any other state within the EUBound for Britain: Under the controversial deal at least 12,000 Indian workers will head to the UK – more than for any other state within the EU

 

Critics points out that, although the proposed stay in the UK is limited to six months, there are currently no checks on departure nor obligations on employers to ensure that migrants return home.

 

A six month period means no tax or National Insurance will be paid in the UK.

 

The 12,000 is only a minimum commitment, rather than a ceiling. The worker are in addition to the current cap of 20,700 work permits given to non-EU skilled migrants.

 

Instead, the visas would be issued under the -so-called ‘International Agreements’ category of the immigration system.

 

Last year only 453 visas were issued under this route.

 

Ministers are desperately struggling to hit the Prime Minister’s target of reducing net migration – the difference between the number of people arriving in the UK, and those leaving – to the ‘tens of thousands’.

 

Currently, net migration stands close to a record high at 250,000.

 

However, only migrants who move to Britain for 12 months or more are included in this total. This means the Indian workers will never register in the figures.

 

Earlier this week, government advisers said the immigration cap was failing to ‘bite’.

 

The Migration Advisory Committee said only 10,000 migrants have entered the under the cap in the past year.

 

But, at the same time, almost 30,000 non-EU workers have moved to the UK using so-called ‘intra-company transfers’.

 

These allow firms to bring in their own workers who they already employ overseas – effectively by-passing the cap policy.

 

Originally, it was envisaged the transfers – long criticised as a back-door into Britain by campaign groups – would be included in the cap.

 

But, after a turf war between the Home Office and Lib Dem business secretary Mr Cable, they were excluded.

 

Mr Cable protested during a trip to India – where many intra-company transfers (ICTs) originate – and the Prime Minister caved-in.

 

The EU India Free Trade Agreement was initiated by Former Trade Commissioner Lord Mandelson in 2007.

 

It is hoped that improved relations between the EU and India will help countries such as Britain to land lucrative export deals.

 

Last night, a spokesman for the business department said: ‘We want to see an ambitious agreement concluded in 2012. This has the potential to be a game-changing deal delivering significant benefits for the UK across a wide range of trade interests. Increasing our trade with emerging economies such as India will be central to the UK’s future long term growth – a good agreement will benefit the UK by £2 billion by 2020.

 

‘Negotiations are still underway, and there is no question of us agreeing to anything that undermines the UK Government’s immigration cap. These are highly-skilled short-term service providers, for example engineers, architects or other professionals, who would be admitted temporarily to the UK and other EU countries to provide a specific service on a short-term basis. We have been very clear about these parameters in the negotiation.’

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Want German lessons in Athens? Join the line

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

ATHENS (Reuters) – Ruediger Bolz has 350 students coming through the doors of his German language institute in centralAthens each day – 20 percent up on a year go.

The rush among Greeks to learn German may seem odd after the war of words between the two countries, with Athens fuming at German accusations of financial mismanagement and some Greek media playing on Nazi caricatures of Berlin politicians.

Yet for Bolz, who has run the Goethe-Institut for the last six years, there is no mystery: his Greek pupils are happy to side-step politics and face up to harsh economic realities by acquiring new skills.

“Most of those coming to us are young students or academics and they are doing all they can to improve their professional qualifications,” Bolz said in his office at the state-run agency, which like the British Council or French Institute has the job of promoting national culture and language.

“No doubt some of them have plans to leave Greece but most of them just think they will stand a better chance of getting a job if they have a foreign language – in Greece or elsewhere.”

Greek unemployment has soared to over 20 percent largely due to the global slowdown and a first round of budget cuts demanded by lenders as the price for a first debt bailout in 2010 to save Greece from a chaotic default.

One youth in two is out of a job in Greece – and that rate will not improve as a result of the austerity cure imposed alongside the new 130-billion-euro ($172-billion) rescue package agreed by countries in the 17-nation euro zone on Tuesday.

That deal was won after Germany’s finance minister had likened the Greek public purse to a “bottomless pit” and Greece’s president, Karolos Papoulias – a veteran of resistance to Nazi World War Two occupation – bristled at German “insults.”

One Greek tabloid printed a computer-generated image of Chancellor Angela Merkel in a Nazi uniform, while the head of German manufacturer Bosch called for Greece to be kicked out of the European Union. A Greek electrical union has hit back by calling for a boycott of Bosch products.

Opinion surveys often indicate a certain Greek mistrust of Germany. A study this month by pollster VPRC released by Epikera magazine on Thursday showed 76 percent of respondents thought Germany was “rather hostile” towards Greece.

Bolz said the row had mostly passed his office by.

GOING NATIVE

While youths torched dozens of Greek-run businesses across Athens during protests this month, the modern concrete-and-glass building that houses the Goethe-Institut – which in 1952 became the first of around 150 such outposts of German culture around the world – was unscathed.

“We get one or two stupid emails a month, often anonymous,” said Bolz. “But all of our events are going on as usual.”

Brochures in Bolz’s office pay testimony to Greece’s long ties with a country that vies with China as the world’s top exporter. One shows an 1884 advert by an Athens restaurant boasting of its Bavarian beer, while another advert invites Greek gamblers to take part in a 1878 German-run lottery.

One blot in the German-Greek relationship came in 2000 when an Athens court ordered the seizure of the Goethe-Institut and other German state property in Greece to satisfy reparation claims by war-time victims. But a Greek minister stopped the order after a two-year legal wrangle.

Downstairs in the institute’s cafe, conversations inevitably turn to the privations felt by Greeks at the hard end of the budget cuts – the higher taxes on wages and the whittling away of the pensions of parents and grandparents.

Lisa Hamuzopulos, the German-speaking Swiss who has run the cafe for 13 years, said clients were spending less and that discussions on the crisis had to be handled with care.

“Not everyone accepts they bear some responsibility for this. As long as they don’t get that, it will be difficult for them,” she said. “But there isn’t any hostility to us – if anything, people are friendlier.”

Bolz, who has a Greek wife, said he has encountered no anti-German sentiment in Greece and says the more common feeling is that of hurt pride at the measures imposed from on high by the “troika” of EU bodies and the International Monetary Fund.

While admitting to having gone at least partly native after 25 years of close ties to the country, he said foreign lenders must accept that there is no quick fix to problems which most ordinary Greeks knew had been building up for years.

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Hungarian far-right politician and writer dies

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Istvan Csurka, a Hungarian anti-Soviet dissident playwright and later far-right nationalist politician who was criticized at home and abroad for his anti-semitic articles, died Saturday at age 77.

Csurka’s death was announced by his family. He had been hospitalized in recent weeks with an undisclosed illness, but no other details were immediately available.

Often compared to France’s xenophobic National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, Csurka opposed Hungary‘s membership in NATO and the European Union, but his political activities dwindled after a stinging defeat in the 2006 elections. Still, he kept writing vitriolic articles in his Magyar Forum publications.

Just weeks ago, he spoke at a rally in the southern city of Szeged in defense of Prime Minister Viktor Orban‘s government, which has been severely criticized by the European Union for laws seen curtailing civil liberties and upsetting the democratic system of checks and balances.

Csurka also hit the headlines late last year when his nomination — later withdrawn — as artistic director of a Budapest theater was criticized in Hungary and abroad by theater professionals and Jewish groups.

On Thursday, a letter from Csurka was read to the staff of the New Theater by Gyorgy Dorner, who took over as director this month, in which he asked members of the theater to work together in harmony despite their political differences, state news wire MTI reported.

One of Csurka’s last works, “The Sixth Coffin,” a play about Trianon, the post-World War I treaty which forced Hungary to give up two-thirds of its territories and half its population, is planned to be staged at the theater later in 2012.

Born in Budapest on March 27, 1934, Csurka wrote more than 20 plays, some satirizing the communist regime and especially former dictator Janos Kadar, and published many volumes of essays and short stories. His newspaper and magazine articles often blamed Jews and international powers for Hungary’s problems.

After the 1956 anti-Soviet Revolution, he spent six months in an internment camp for leading a college militia during the uprising.

During his detention, Csurka was recruited as an informant for Hungary’s secret police. Shortly after the fall of the communist regime, Csurka was among the very few who admitted having been part of the dreaded network who often informed on friends and relatives, claiming he had been coerced into accepting the role and had never written any reports.

The secret police eventually declared him unfit for the task because of his refusal to cooperate.

Csurka was twice silenced by Hungary’s cultural authorities during communism, first in 1972 for anti-Semitic and subversive statements.

In 1986, while on a tour of the United States, he published an article in the emigre press dealing with the plights of the ethnic Hungarian minorities living in Hungary’s neighboring countries — a mostly taboo subject during communism — for which he was given a year’s ban.

By this time, he was openly part of the dissident underground and democratic opposition.

Csurka was a founding member of the Hungarian Democratic Forum, a conservative party that led the first post-communist government in 1990-1994. He was expelled from the party in 1993 and later formed the nationalistic Hungarian Justice and Life Party, which was in Parliament between 1998 and 2002.

One of the party’s best-known slogans was “Neither right, nor left — Christian and Hungarian.”

Csurka is survived by a son and two daughters.

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Hungary – These buggers should never have been allowed into the EU

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

There used to be half a million Jews living in Hungary in 1939 until these collaborating bastards marched them to the gas chambers for their Nazi mates in 1945 there were less than 10,000.  Hungary and Poland were punished by 40 years of Soviet rule yet seemed to have learned nothing as the evil right try to rise again.

Thousands protested against the EU Saturday at a rally of the far-right Jobbik party, calling for Hungary ‘s exit from the bloc and adding pressure on the government which is seeking a funding deal with the EU and IMF to avert insolvency.

Two MPs of Jobbik, the second biggest opposition party in Hungarian parliament, set an European Union flag on fire at the protest in front of the European Commission offices in Budapest .

“This week the EU declared war on Hungary in a very harsh and open way,” Csanad Szegedi, a Jobbik member of European Parliament told the crowd of around 2,000 demonstrators.

After talks with lenders were derailed last month over a set of disputed laws, a plunging forint currency and spiking bond yields forced Prime Minister Viktor Orban‘s conservative government to back down and try to seek a fast agreement.

Orban is now reluctantly trying to make amends to lenders in order to secure a funding deal, which Hungary needs to be able to finance its debts from markets at a time when its economy is heading for a possible recession this year.

The EU has piled pressure on the government to change controversial legislation on its central bank and judiciary, and even raised the prospect of suspending vital EU funds to the economy if Orban does not make budget deficit cuts sustainable.

Orban also came under pressure from the United States which voiced concerns over democratic freedoms, after his Fidesz party pushed ahead to pass measures which critics say weaken public institutions such as the top court, and cement Fidesz’ powers.

Many supporters of nationalist Jobbik believe the government should not bow to international pressure.

“Since we joined the EU we have not seen any advantages from that, Hungary should go its own way and keep its national sovereignty,” Attila Gyalog, 24, said at the rally.

“Not only us, but many other countries believe now that they could be better off outside the EU,” said Gyorgy Lillik, 63.

Hungary will have to change course in a significant way for the Commission to give the green light to aid talks. The EU’s executive is expected to announce its verdict on some key Hungarian laws next week when it finishes its legal analysis.

Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi told daily Nepszabadsag on Saturday the government would examine the EU’s concerns and will do its best to settle the disputed issues with an agreement.

“For us the most important thing is that we should come to an agreement with the European Commission and IMF as soon as possible,” Martonyi said, adding that once talks start, an agreement could be reached within one to three months.

POLITICAL BLOW

If Orban does not secure a deal with lenders, the punishment from financial markets will be severe and he wants to avoid a full-blown market crisis even though going cap in hands to the IMF is a major political defeat, analysts said.

Public support for Fidesz dropped to 16 percent in January according to a poll by Ipsos. The party has lost nearly half of its 2.7 million voters since its sweeping election victory in 2010 which gave the party a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

Jobbik had 8 percent support in January, while over half of Hungarians are so disheartened with politics that they would not want to vote for any party.

“If there is no agreement and the forint plummets, then Orban will lose his own core voter base as well,” said Zoltan Kiszelly, a political analyst.

Orban has favoured his core middle class voters with a flat tax and family tax breaks, but the record weak forint erases some of those financial gains and scares people, who had seen Hungary go through the 2008 crisis which forced the Socialist government to seek a bailout from the IMF and EU.

The Hungarian prime minister, who had previously declared that ” Brussels is not Moscow ” and having disputes with the EU was acceptable, has very little if any room of maneuver now.

If he strikes a deal with lenders, the forint firms and yields on Hungary ‘s debt fall, Orban could win time to shore up public support. The next election is expected in 2014.


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A global attack on democracy

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

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First they came for Papandreou – and I didn’t speak out because I thought the Greeks are just lazy tax-dodgers.

Then they came for Berlusconi – and I didn’t speak out because I thought he was just a racist and sexist old roué.

Then they came for Zuma – and I didn’t speak out because he can’t apply his mind, and he’s still running the show.

Then they took away my vote – and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Some may feel that it may be a bit of a stretch to compare Pastor Martin Niemöller’s heartfelt reminder of the insidious way we can become complicit in fascism with the growing way we are invited to disdain democracy under the cover of exposing venal politicians, but recent events in the European Union (EU) tell us otherwise. And these threats also have resonance here in South Africa.

The court ruling that President Jacob Zuma “could not have applied his mind” in his appointment of Menzi Simelane as head of Public Prosecutions has strengthened perceptions that democracy is under threat. His appointment of Willem Heath, who has now resigned amid controversy, to replace Willie Hofmeyr is further evidence of Zuma surrounding himself with toadies whilst his securocrats champion a new veil of secrecy under the banner of the Protection of Information Bill, otherwise known as the “Secrecy Bill”.

And so when Zuma and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe raise the question of the courts becoming the new opposition to the ruling party, then the hysteria level amongst certain sections of the public goes up, as the picture of a growing threat to democracy becomes clearer.

Two things need to be said about this:

l One is that democracy should not be viewed a la Fukuyama’s End of History or the World Bank’s approach as a set of prescriptions, which simply code what a democracy is, “finish and klaar”. Instead it is a matter of constant contestation in which ordinary people either actively engage in and expand its terrain – or their power and choices become more and more constrained by powerful and vested elites (whatever the institutions and constitutions, which apparently codify their rights).

l Secondly, whilst Zuma’s coterie and the Protection of State Information Bill are threats to democracy, there are also threats from an entirely different quarter – one which we are all being uncritically invited to be part of. This is the notion that elected politicians are simply not fit to govern and that technical experts and bewigged judges are better.

Elsewhere in the world, we are seeing an attack on democracy of historic proportions and yet it goes on insidiously – like Niemöller’s reflections on Nazism – under the rubric of something apparently so rational: “doing what is necessary to satisfy the markets”.

There is a business media war on “politicians”, which echoes that of the ratings agencies and economists’ attacks on venal politicians. Suddenly politicians are the ones responsible for the crisis!

Of course everyone hates politicians, but what does this mean for democracy?

There are two possible trajectories here. One is to seek ways to expand public power and accountability over politicians, and the other is to dispense with politicians and any semblance of democracy at all, and merely hand over all decision-making to the bankers and let Goldman Sachs, technocrats and economists run the show.

This latter trajectory is the story today of the EU and the rise of the “technocrats” into power in Greece and Italy where unelected people, ex-bankers, carry out the wishes of banks and fund managers against whatever electorates may have voted for.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have succeeded in getting 26 members of the EU to agree to revise the Lisbon treaty. Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, opted out because British politics is all about protecting its bankers and speculators who occupy the financial square mile in London known as The City.

In terms of their plans, the European Commission will be empowered to impose austerity measures on Eurozone members that are being bailed out, usurping the functions of government in countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Bailed out countries can also be stripped of their voting rights in the EU, under the proposals.

The European Central Bank (ECB) will now be able to act in Europe like the IMF used to act in Africa – effectively become the force of governance, whilst leaving local politicians with being little more than rentiers and ceremonial figureheads. The ECB is effectively an arm of German and French interests, which is why Cameron could not countenance subjecting The City to its regulation.

No one knows, or cares what the French, German, Italian, Greek or British people think about this.

When a new EU constitution was first mooted, countries like France, Ireland and Holland had the boldness to say that they would submit the draft to referenda in their countries, to ask the people what they wanted. When the vote was overwhelmingly a rejection, the whole enterprise was threatened.

So this time there is no talk of consulting the masses. It’s an exercise that, of course, would never “satisfy the markets”. This is what outgoing Greek Prime Minister, George Papandreou, discovered when he spoke about having a referendum to find out whether the Greek public actually agreed with the idea that they must privatise utilities, cut hospitals and schools so that the bankers can get a return on their gambling in the bond market. That was the end of his political career.

Today Greece is a vassal state of Germany and the ECB, acting on behalf of the speculators who bought Greek bonds, but who are now deemed to be “too big to fail”.

Meanwhile, Mario Monti, the new, unelected, Prime Minister of Italy and former ECB technocrat – in the same year that a referendum in Italy gave an overwhelming no vote when the disgraced Berlusconi conducted a referendum on these matters – has just announced a new raft of measures under which people will work longer, pay more VAT and public services are cut and privatised.

The thrust of the responses to the global crisis of capitalism so far is not only more of the same – the consolidation of the banks and the rating agencies and their tame right wing economists that got us into the mess in the first place – but also a war on whatever imperfect forms of democracy have existed up to now.

Instead of the crisis providing a basis for seeking alternatives to capitalism and expanding the terrain of democracy we are seeking the opposite, not because there is a lack of ideas globally to do anything different but because there is as yet no social force, which can compel the elites to do anything different.

Of course such a social force is being re-born. The Latin American social movement tide of the noughties has jumped continents and we now see the ongoing Arab Spring of Tunisia and Egypt and its power to challenge long-entrenched elites. Elsewhere the indignant of Spain and Greece and the Occupy Wall Street movements are part of the same tide of public engagement.

But this is a movement still far from directly challenging the citadels of power. This is a movement rising up out of the ashes of decades of defeat since the 1980s, a period of mass disaffection with politics and neo-liberal triumphalism masquerading as common sense.

Even in Egypt that movement is finding that the enemy is hydra-like, with the toppling of Mubarak yielding the equally violent military and the first elections throwing up religious zealots. And so while the movement is growing, its transformative possibilities are still the music of the future.

Meanwhile, the global economic crisis is leading not so much to new forms of public power and popular accountability, but to rule by technocrats, with a compliant business media happy to serve as cheer leaders.

This has its South African echoes. Already we are one of the few countries in the world with a privatised independent Reserve Bank making decisions on public well-being. Already whilst there are ongoing public criticisms of Zuma’s democratic credentials, Pravin Gordhan’s decisions are unquestioned. While there was a justifiable outcry against the Information Bill not having a public interest clause there was no clamour for such a public interest provision when the Competition Commission gave its go-ahead for Wal-Mart to muscle into South Africa. The media were aghast that politicians should interfere in a business deal.

Back to Zuma who “could not have applied his mind” in the appointment of Simelane and the statements by Mantashe about the courts becoming the new opposition. This has resulted in much rallying behind the courts and the perception that Mantashe’s comments are entirely threatening to democracy.

In this scenario, the Constitution and courts are seen to be inviolate, experts in the field, the final moral arbiter. But this is factually incorrect. The courts only arbitrate against the law as the yardstick and the Constitutional Court only pronounces in respect of the Constitution, while the Constitution derives its authority from a particular balance of forces in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Back then, lest we forget, we had a mass movement that had the moral legitimacy without the capacity to overthrow apartheid, whilst the apartheid regime had lost moral authority but continued to have the violent power of repression. Out of that configuration flowed the best of the Constitution and the pre-eminence of the Constitutional Court as the final arbiter. But out of the same configuration flowed the checks and balances on democracy and redistribution that the old order wanted – heightened provincial powers, the obligation to honour apartheid debt, corporations as juristic persons etc. Much of the acting out of that balance was to be the subject of actual judicial decisions – which meant that the staffing of the judiciary, particularly in the Constitutional Court was going to be critical. Which is why we had a mix of human rights and struggle-aligned lawyers – fortunately the ones appointed into the Constitutional Court – within a pool of apartheid jurors and Bantustan prosecutors in other courts.

Now, we are witnessing the end of that phase of human rights lawyers. People like Edwin Cameron and Arthur Chaskalson have made way for the emergence of those who have no human rights backgrounds but who earned their spurs in the institutions of apartheid, such as Llewellyn Landers and Mogoeng Mogoeng. Will these be the new arbiters of morality in the land?

With all these caveats it is an important democratic victory that we have the forms of protection against state abuse of citizens that the courts can offer. But the democracy of a truly engaged people should be the highest form of protection, as well as the possibilities of popular power.

If the choice is between flawed and venal elected politicians and sophisticated technocrats satisfying the markets, I’m for the politicians any day.

In this sense, Mantashe is right. In the absence of an effective political opposition to the ANC – not an opposition which positions itself even more on the side of technocrats and satisfying the markets (which, given that these are also the ANC government’s pre-occupations) is no opposition at all – there is a growing middle class tide of celebrating the courts as the bastion of defence of democracy. This hides the real cause of the problem.

This vacuum is a challenge to all of us. Instead of seeking technocratic and judicial saviours, we need to accept responsibility for the current unchallenged status of the ANC and for the compliant nature of its alliance partners, and build a new movement of expanded democracy.

There was an old struggle slogan that used to be shouted at the funerals of activists killed by the apartheid forces: Don’t mourn…mobilise!

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Architects of a currency in crisis

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

PARIS – Ten years ago Saturday, the European Union celebrated the launch of the first euro coins and notes with fireworks, parties and solemn speeches.

Today, several members are on the edge of bankruptcy. First-world Europe is reduced to asking the IMF and China for help. The euro itself is at risk of unraveling.

How could it all have gone so wrong?

In a series of interviews with architects of the euro – a former president, a former prime minister, two former finance ministers, a former central banker, a former EU commissioner and a former EU Affairs minister – common explanations emerged.

The single currency would not have sparked the euro zone debt crisis, they argued, if the pro-European dynamic that led to its creation had continued into its first decade. But instead of launching an economic and political integration of Europe, the low interest rates and easy money that arrived with the euro led peripheral states on a path of profligacy, widening the gap with frugal, export-oriented economies of the north.

Meanwhile, as rapid enlargement made EU decision-making more cumbersome and as citizens’ enthusiasm for Europe waned, EU leaders hollowed out the authority of the European Commission, the union’s chief executive body and guardian of its treaties and of fiscal probity.

Most of all, some of the architects now admit that after the first few euphoric years, it became clear the euro itself was a flawed concept, laying a single currency over a group of countries that stuck to national sovereignty over their economies.

The euro was a dare from the get-go. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously spurned the currency as unworkable and a threat to sovereignty; Sweden stayed out, too. Euro boosters themselves pushed ahead with the project despite sharing misgivings about its inherent political and economic flaws.

“One thing was evident to me from the beginning,” said Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the European Parliament’s Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, Belgian prime minister from 1999 to 2008, and one of Europe’s most federalist politicians. “A state can exist without a currency, but a currency cannot exist without a state.”

From union to disunion

One of the driving forces of European integration is former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing. Now 85, he resides in a stately Parisian townhouse filled with museum-quality 18th-century furniture.

As president from 1974 to 1981, Giscard, with German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, helped create the European Monetary System and the European Council summits of EU leaders. Early last decade, he chaired the drafting of the European Constitution that later became the Lisbon Treaty, which governs EU institutions as they function today.

For Giscard, one of the key reasons for today’s euro zone debt crisis is the EU enlargement of the past decade, in particular in 2004, when 10 countries – mostly former East Bloc nations – joined the European Union. “By the time the euro was introduced, the group was no longer homogeneous,” Giscard said in an interview.

The European Union now counts 27 members and is set to receive a 28th – Croatia – in 2013. Enlargement has made the European institutions hard to govern, he says, notably the executive European Commission, which has a commissioner for every member country.

The crisis erupted first in Greece. Giscard, a hellenophile, did as much as anyone to bring Athens into the European Union. He championed its EU candidacy at a crucial moment in 1979, fending off German objections and European Commission reservations at the time against admitting the country just seven years after the fall of its military junta.

Greece joined what was then called the European Economic Community in 1981. Two decades later, in 2001, it joined the euro.

Standing in his ballroom-sized entrance hall, decorated with deer antlers and two enormous elephant tusks, Giscard now voices the unthinkable: Greece should consider leaving the euro.

Giscard said that a deflation, or economy-wide drop in prices, of 40 or 50 percent would be necessary to restore competitiveness if Greece remains in the euro. That is probably too hard for its citizens to bear, which makes a euro exit and consequent devaluation a more acceptable outcome.

The Greek people need to study “seriously and honestly” whether to go back to the drachma or stay in the euro. “It’s a Greek choice.”

Walks with a limp

On the other side of the French political spectrum is Michel Sapin, 59, who was finance minister in a Socialist government from 1992 to 1993 and dealt with Europe’s foreign exchange crisis of the early nineties. He is likely to hold a senior office if Socialist Francois Hollande beats conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in the April-May presidential election.

To Sapin, the euro zone’s problems stem from a fundamental design flaw in the 1992 pact that created the European Union and led to the euro, the Maastricht Treaty.

“The Maastricht Treaty was built on two pillars. The monetary pillar has been an extraordinary success, because, say what you want, there is no monetary crisis – the euro is strong,” he said. “The second pillar was the economic government. We knew from the start we had to build a second pillar for economic, budget and fiscal matters, because countries cannot share the same currency if they have divergent economic policies.”

European Investment Bank President Philip Maystadt, a veteran of EU monetary integration, could not agree more. He took part in the Maastricht Treaty negotiations as Belgian finance minister from 1988 to 1998. He recalls that Germany at the time was suspicious of unified economic government, fearing it would impinge on the independence of the future European Central Bank. But protecting the bank’s independence was not a good reason to abandon the concept of economic governance, he said.

“(Former European Commission President) Jacques Delors said the single currency walked with a limp – it had one strong leg, the monetary part, and one weak leg, the economic governance,” he said. “Clearly, this ersatz economic government was utterly insufficient.” TURNING POINT

European leaders were aware of the shortcomings of Maastricht. They spent two years negotiating the 1997 Stability and Growth Pact, which threatens escalating sanctions on states that fail to limit annual deficits to three percent of GDP and outstanding debt to 60 percent of GDP.

But the focus on these two indicators meant that other measures of economic health, such as private debt, wage costs and the current account balance, were ignored.

As a result, EU finance ministers overlooked the build-up of tensions in the Irish and Spanish economies. Their public finances looked to be in excellent shape by Maastricht Treaty standards, until Ireland’s banking crisis and the Spanish real estate collapse. Those implosions forced authorities to turn private debt into public debt, wrecking their nations’ finances.

Imperfect as it was, the Stability Pact was the one mechanism that could have kept the single currency on the rails. But it was discarded the first time it was tested.

When the 2002-2003 economic crisis pushed French and German public finance indicators beyond Maastricht limits, the two big EU nations cast it aside. Exceptions were made, and in 2005 the pact’s provisions were watered down further.

“That was a real turning point. When the other finance ministers saw what France and Germany were getting away with, that’s when they said, ‘Ah, ok, we don’t have to respect the Stability Pact’,” Maystadt said.

In the debt-fueled prosperity of the first half decade of this century, this did not seem to matter. Euro zone interest rates were low, growth was fast, stock markets went up. At the start of the decade it looked like the lack of policy coordination would only cause member states’ economies to be a bit out of sync.

From around 2004 that changed. It became obvious that two very different models were cutting Europe in two: export-oriented manufacturing with strong wage control in the north, and debt-financed consumption in the south.

Books have been written about this trend, but a picture says more than a thousand words: the charts of net foreign assets and current account balances in north and south look like mirror images.

The combined net foreign assets of Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Finland grew more than four-fold to nearly two trillion euros by the end of the decade, as their current account surplus swelled to more than six percent of GDP, according to figures from Thomson Reuters Datastream and French investment bank Natixis.

But net foreign debt in France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal and Ireland grew to more than 1.5 trillion euros as the southern zone’s current account deficit widened to around four percent.

“When we voted the Maastricht Treaty, it was with the firm intention to continue on the path of political integration. Then there was a sort of sigh of relief when we saw that, actually, the single currency could work without it,” said Sapin, the former French finance minister. “It has taken us ten years to understand that it could not.”

After a decade of defying common sense and with their countries’ credit ratings crumbling, euro zone leaders are finally admitting that Maastricht was flawed.

In a letter to European Council President Herman Van Rompuy before the December 9 EU summit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a remarkable admission: “The current crisis has uncovered the deficiencies in the construction of (European monetary union) mercilessly.”

Commission defanged

The letter does not mention how Sarkozy and Merkel, and their predecessors Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroder, gradually undermined the foundations of economic governance that earlier generations of EU leaders built.

One of the oldest debates in the European Union is over who should drive EU affairs: the supranational body that is the European Commission or by the heads of state or government of its member nations, represented in the European Council. First created as an informal discussion forum in 1974, the Council formally became an EU institution in 2009 as part of the Lisbon Treaty reforms.

During the long reign of Jacques Delors – three successive terms, from 1985 to 1994 – the Commission played a leading role. With the backing of socialist French President Francois Mitterrand, under whom he had been a finance minister, Delors drove a strong federal agenda, often clashing with eurosceptic EU leaders, most famously with Margaret Thatcher.

The Delors Commission created the single market, shepherded the Maastricht Treaty and set the continent on track for the single currency. None of his successors would have that kind of influence again.

“After Delors’ departure, the EU leaders did not want such an active Commission president again. They wanted someone who would not bother them,” said Yves-Thibault de Silguy, who was commissioner for economic, monetary and financial affairs in the 1995-99 Jacques Santer commission.

Santer, then prime minister of Luxembourg, was chosen after the UK had vetoed the candidacy of Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, saying he represented an outdated tradition of centralism and “big government”.

“What happened was a progressive loss of confidence in the very thing that had made Europe successful: the community method,” de Silguy said.

Under this method, an independent European Commission makes proposals to the Council and the European Parliament, and implements them once they are approved.

But in the past decade, governments clipped the Commission’s wings year after year, in favour of an “intergovernmental” approach whereby governments make decisions for the Commission to execute, often in ad-hoc summits that rubber-stamp decisions prepared in an even closer circle of French and German leaders.

Intergovernmental decision-making itself is a source of delay and dilution, as it requires unanimity, giving each member state a blocking veto.

De Silguy said the intergovernmental approach explains a lot of today’s problems and is particularly inappropriate for economic matters.

“Europe needs fluid and homogenous markets, with a policeman to make sure the rules are obeyed, and that policeman is the European Commission. The entire European construct is based on that premise,” he said.

In October 2001, a group of elder statesmen led by Delors and including former German chancellors Helmut Kohl and Helmut Schmidt raised the alarm, criticising their successors’ growing tendency to bypass the Commission and micro-manage EU affairs. To no avail.

Giscard sums it up like this: “The Commission murmurs in Brussels and nobody listens.”

European hangover

The German and French leaders who bucked Brussels, to be sure, had a sound argument for doing so.

Their nations have the euro zone’s largest and second-largest economies and populations, respectively. But the European Commission gives each of the 27 nations one representative. That ties down Germany and France like Gulliver to their Lilliputian neighbors – a non-starter for their peoples.

“The problem with the Commission is that the Baltic states have a bigger weight than Germany,” said Giscard. “That is not reasonable.”

Indeed, the EU leaders’ increasingly nationalistic stance went hand in hand with a growing disenchantment of the European public with the federal ideal, as can be read from the EU’s “Eurobarometer” opinion polls.

Since 1974, the EU has asked citizens twice a year whether they think their country’s EU membership is “a good thing”. The percentage of people agreeing with that slipped from 63 percent in 1975 to 50 percent in 1981, the year Mitterrand was elected French president.

From 1981, positive feeling about European integration rose non-stop for a decade, to hit an all-time high of 71 percent in 1991, the year before the Maastricht Treaty was signed.

But in 60 years of European construction, the eighties and early nineties were the exception to a general climate of reluctant stop-and-go integration.

After Maastricht, pro-European feeling fell off a cliff, with the number of people considering their countries’ EU membership a good thing falling to an all-time low of 46 percent in the spring of 1997.

The launch of the euro as an accounting currency in 1999 and the arrival of the euro notes and coins in 2002 restored good feeling for a few years. But the rejection of the European Constitution in French and Dutch referendums in 2005 showed the tide had turned again.

Pro-European feeling slid from 59 percent in a Continent-wide poll in autumn 2004 to 50 percent in autumn 2005 and to 47 percent in spring 2011. It will likely hit a new all-time low in the next wave of measurement, according to an official involved with the poll. BRIDGE OF DISCORD

With a flawed single currency, an emasculated EU Commission, and an increasingly eurosceptic public, the euro zone would have hit a bump sooner or later.

But there was one euro side-effect that magnified all the other problems.

Besides being a medium of exchange, an accounting unit and a store of value, a currency is also a feedback mechanism for economic policy.

If a country’s policies are lax, and spending and wages are out of control, then its currency weakens and its interest rates rise, forcing the government to correct course with a devaluation or austerity programmes. With one currency for many states, devaluation is no longer an option.

The introduction of the euro brought a stable exchange rate, low interest rates and a flow of money to southern European countries that for decades had used devaluation as their main policy adjustment factor.

This caused speculative bubbles in real estate and banking, pushed up wages to uncompetitive levels, and led to a build-up of debt that in 2010 began to collapse.

One of the few founding fathers to have clearly articulated the euro’s flaws was Otmar Issing, the German former European Central Bank chief economist and board member. In a 1996 paper, he warned that inherent in the currency was the potential for requiring transfers of cash from wealthier states to poorer ones. That could spark political tensions, he warned. “There is no example in history of a lasting monetary union that was not linked to a state entity,” Issing wrote.

Fifteen years later he recalls that the warning signals appeared very early in the euro’s life – divergences in labor costs among euro members, the violation of the budget-deficit cap. “What I didn’t foresee was the dimension of the crisis,” he told Reuters.

Another thing few forecast was the degree of discord the euro-zone crisis would engender: the EU flag being burnt in Athens, Greek street theatre portraying German leaders as Nazis, and a French socialist politician comparing Angela Merkel to Otto von Bismarck, who unified Germany by waging war on France.

In this climate, Europe’s far-right parties have flourished, and few more than France’s Front National, led by Marine Le Pen. She is running for president in the 2012 election on a pledge to take France out of the euro.

With an acute sense of history, Le Pen organised a little ceremony at the river Seine. On September 6 this year, Le Pen and activists of her party threw fake 500 euro notes off the Pont de la Concorde, which connects Place de la Concorde, site of the guillotine used for public executions during the French Revolution, to the French parliament.

“I will put an immediate end to all bail-outs of countries that have fallen victim to the euro,” said Le Pen in front of a wall of cameras. “It is time for France to rediscover its national interest.”

In the months ahead, as today’s leaders hammer out a new treaty for deeper integration, they will have the voices of their predecessors ringing in their ears.

“The call for a more federal Europe has never been stronger than today, not out of conviction, but out of necessity,” said Verhofstadt, the fomer Belgian prime minister. “I hope we make the jump. If we dither, we’ll end up in the ravine.”

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LEAD: French parliament debates Armenian “genocide bill”

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Paris – Thousands of people demonstrated outside France‘s National Assembly on Thursday, as parliamentarians prepared to vote on a bill that would make it a crime to deny that Armenians suffered a genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks.

The demonstrators, mostly French people of Turkish origin, waved Turkish and French flags and placards denouncing the bill. The police estimated their numbers at around 4,000.

‘History must not serve politics,’ one placard read.

‘Fishing for votes must not be done at the expense of a country’s history,’ another one read.

The controversial bill proposes to punish people who deny or minimize genocides with a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros (59,000 dollars).

France recognizes two events as genocides: the Nazi Holocaust of Jews during World War II and the mass killings of Armenians in eastern Turkey during World War I.

A separate law already criminalizes Holocaust denial.

In Turkey, the bill is seen as an attempt by President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s party to curry favour with a small but influential Armenian diaspora ahead of next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

‘It’s not because a powerful lobby says it (genocide) that I will say it,’ Halil Karayel, who lives in the eastern city of Strasbourg, told dpa.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire were either killed or died of neglect on deportation marches to the Syrian desert in 1915-18. Before becoming president in 2007, Sarkozy had promised to push through legislation on genocide denial.

Turkey rejects the genocide tag. Ankara says some 300,000 Armenians died, and argues that it was largely the result of unrest during the war following the invasion by Russian forces of eastern Turkey, where most Armenians lived.

The bill, which was proposed by a member of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement, enjoys the backing of most French lawmakers.

Some members of the UMP have opposed the bill, however.

UMP deputy Michel Diefenbacher told the assembly, which was only about one-third full for the vote, that he opposed any attempt by France to impose its reading of history on another sovereign state.

Once approved by assembly members, the bill will go to the Senate.

Thursday’s debate was broadcast live in Turkey, where the government has already warned of ‘grave’ consequences for Franco-Turkish relations if the assembly approves the bill.

A delegation of Turkish parliamentarians travelled to Paris this week to lobby against the vote but failed to convince the government to call it off.

The standoff is the latest to rock Franco-Turkish relations, which have already soured over Sarkozy’s resolute opposition to Turkey joining the European Union.

French European Affairs Minister Jean Leonetti has downplayed the possible fallout with Turkey, telling France Inter Radio that its threatened reprisals were ’empty threats.’

 
 


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Serbian “neo-Nazi” leader moves to Italy, leads nationalist protest in Trieste

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

 

Novi Sad – After serving his one-year prison sentence for incitement to hatred, Goran Davidovic, a native of Novi Sad and informal leader of the neo-Nazi organization National Formation [Nacionalni Stroj], has moved to Italy, where he has joined local rightist organizations. Davidovic, who soon became a leader in these circles, was caught on camera in November leading a group of Italian nationalists in Trieste.

The protest in Trieste was held on 5 November in memory of protesters killed on that day in 1953 while demonstrating against Tito and demanding the return of Trieste to Italy. Six Trieste residents were killed in clashes with the police, who were under British command at the time. Now, 58 years later, Italian rightist organizations mounted a protest march and Davidovic was in the front ranks.

“The protesters, many of whom sported Nazi symbols, chanted slogans against NATO and the European Union and demanded the ‘return’ of Istria and Dalmatia to Italy. Davidovic was in the forefront, carrying a banner proclaiming: ‘Kosovo is Serbia,'” Zivana B., resident of Novi Sad who has been living in Trieste for years, says.

She says that there were about 200 protesters out in the streets, as a result of which the police presence was visibly increased in the town. The group chanted and shouted slogans all through the march and, stopping outside the Church of San Antonio, the protesters raised their arms in a Sieg Heil Nazi salute of the victims.

Davidovic’s role in the protest came as no surprise to the residents of Novi Sad that know him, because friendship between his National Formation and some Italian ultra-rightist organizations has existed for years. Davidovic moved to Trieste in 2008, after being sentenced in Serbia to a year in prison for inciting to ethnic, racial, and religious hatred. In early 2009, the Italian authorities extradited him to Belgrade to serve his sentence. Immediately afterward, he returned to Italy, where the climate for rightist and nationalist activity, as he himself said in one of his statements on social networks, “is far healthier.” His stay in prison and alleged persecution at the hands of the Serbian authorities have only earned him kudos from the Italian extremists.

“Because of his past in Serbia and commitment to the idea of Nazi-fascism, Davidovic soon became known in the nationalist circles in this part of Italy. He is active in rightist circles and has forged close ties to the movement Forza Nuova, which openly propagates racism,” Blic’s source informed about Davidovic’s activities says. How far this native of Novi Sad has prospered in Trieste is evident from the fact that Trieste’s ultra-rightist band Ultima Frontiera has devoted a song to him.

 

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