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Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes Soar After Paris

Posted 13/12/2015

There's been a significant increase in hate crimes aimed at Muslims after the Paris terror attacks, the Met has confirmed.

In the week before the 13th November attacks in the French capital, there were 24 hate crimes reported against Muslims in London.

The week after the attack, that shot up to 46 and the next week increased again to 76. Police say the majority of crimes reported relate to harassment.

In a statement, the Met say they're mounting extra patrols and speaking to community leaders to ensure Muslims feel safe in the capital.

There's been an almost 50% in the number of Islamophobic crimes year on year, going up from 576 in October 2014 to 845 in October 2015.

The statement says the rise is attributed to "a growing willingness of victims to report hate crime, an improved awareness of staff in identifying these offences; and work with partners to support victims."

However they admitted that "world events" had also contributed to the increase.

"We are acutely aware that all areas of hate crime are still under reported and we are encouraged that more people feel confident to report racial and religious hate crimes, regardless if this is direct to Police or via a third party or online."

Reacting to increased tensions between communities, imams across the country recited a "Prayer for the nation" which included the words: "Give us the strength to protect and care for our neighbours."

As mosque congregations shared their experiences, the NSPCC reported it had received more than 100 calls to ChildLine in the past week from Muslim children fearful of being attacked.

In Scotland, where 64 racial or religious hate crimes have been recorded since last Friday, police called for people to "remain alert, not alarmed."

Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone from Police Scotland said 40 of the crimes had been solved and predicted more arrests would be made.

"People of all faiths, and of none, should live in a Scotland free from hate crime and discrimination," he said.

Meanwhile, at the Makkah mosque in Leeds, Imam Qari Asim called on his congregation to reject the message of extremists.

"We must remain united against those who wish to divide us, and we can only do so if we all come together and we recognise that those terrorists who want to create division between communities don't represent Islam," he said.


Meanwhile, on a more positive and progressive note, from another region of the Islamic world, women get to vote and stand in Saudi election for first time.

Saudi Arabian women voted for the first time in local council elections and also stood as candidates, a step hailed by some activists in the Islamic patriarchy as a historic change.

"As a first step it is a great achievement. Now we feel we are part of society, that we contribute," said Sara Ahmed, a physiotherapist entering a polling station in north Riyadh.

"We talk a lot about it, it's a historic day for us."

The election, which follows men-only polls in 2005 and 2011, is for two thirds of seats on councils that previously had only advisory powers, but will now have a limited decision-making role in local government.

This incremental expansion of voting rights has spurred some Saudis to hope the Al Saud ruling family, which appoints the national government, will eventually carry out further reforms to open up the political system.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in which women cannot drive and a woman's male "guardian," usually a father, husband, brother or son, can stop her travelling overseas, marrying, working, studying or having some forms of elective surgery.

Under King Abdullah, who died in January and who announced in 2011 that women would be able to vote in this election, steps were taken for women to have a bigger public role, sending more of them to university and encouraging female employment.

However, while women's suffrage has in many other countries been a transformative moment in the quest for gender equality,its impact in Saudi Arabia is likely to be more limited due to a wider lack of democracy and continued social conservatism.

Before Abdullah announced women would take part in this year's elections, the country's Grand Mufti, its most senior religious figure, described women's involvement in politics as"opening the door to evil."

The pace of social reform in Saudi Arabia, while ultimately dictated by the Al Saud, is also strongly influenced by a tussle between conservatives and progressives over how the country should marry its religious tradition with modernity.

Only 1.48 million Saudis from a population of 20 million are registered to vote in the election, including 131,000 women, the widespread apathy partly the product of a poll with no political parties, strict laws on campaigning, and in which only local issues are at play.

Some voters hope that the Al Saud will eventually allow elections for the advisory parliament, the Shura Council.

"There is no reason, if this is applied to municipal councils, that they would not apply it to the Shura," said Riyadh Najm, a retired former government official.

The Al Saud have not made any announcements to this effect but it is being discussed in private, according to analysts.

At the King Salman Social Centre in north Riyadh, where men and women went into different parts of the building to cast their ballots, voters of both sexes were greatly outnumbered by both election officials and journalists.

Dozens of prospective candidates were barred from running. The authorities gave no reason for not allowing them to participate, but many had previously been politically active, including advocates for women's driving and the advancement of the Shi'ite Muslim minority.

Iman al-Mashrawi, a paediatric surgeon in Riyadh, said she had been persuaded to vote by a friend who was running for office.

"We are mothers, teachers, doctors. We are everywhere in our country the same as any man," she said.

For now, according to some of the women voting on Saturday,apart from the symbolic nature of casting a ballot, their hopes for change resulting from their votes are limited to purely local issues.

"I believe women want more parks, libraries for their children, health and fitness facilities for women. And just to be part of the decision," said Ahmed, the physiotherapist.

As she spoke, a military transport plane flew low overhead from the nearby airbase, a reminder of the momentous policies from war in Yemen to management of plunging oil prices on which Saudi citizens - men and women - still have no formal say.

Source: Reuters




Raquel JimenezRaquel JimenezCOP21 Paris: the challenge of cooling down the planet

Posted 29/11/2015

By Raquel Jimenez

Leaders from around the world will meet in Paris for the next 11 days to reach a deal and compromise to prevent the global temperature rising above the 2 degrees mark.

After numerous attempts to achieve agreement on keeping the world from heating up further, plus the failure of creating complex schemes to trade emissions, and long discussions ending in deadlock, Paris represents the new hope in which leaders may set aside current tensions and work together towards a common goal, that is to save the planet, what could be more important than that?

However, as we know, politicians’ short term vision, the economic crisis and other imminent threats such as terrorism, have prevented climate change being at the centre of political discussions in recent years. Even the recent G20 discussions leading up to COP21 were understandably sabotaged by a group of extreme Islamists provoking chaos and death in France and spreading fear across Europe.

It is possible that those who are in their 40s and beyond will not see the most severe consequences of climate change, but  by not acting now, we will be condemning generations to come to a black and unpredictable future that ranges from food shortage, oceans covering entire islands and coastal cities and dramatic meteorological disasters. Yet, it is in our hands to change such an apocalyptic destiny now.

Grand words aside, to understand the goals of COP21 (acronyms for the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), we have to go back in time.

It was in 1992 in Rio where countries concerned about the impacts of climate change met under the umbrella of United Nations and signed a convention to deal with the issue. 

A total of 195 countries ratified the agreement, including the United States. The focus was to stabilise greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Or in other words, reduce human activities such as burning fossil fuels that release the gases that interfere with the climate.

Notwithstanding the good will of the signatories of the deal, the main dilemma ever since has been on how to deal in practical terms with the issue of climate change. Since 1992, every year, the Conference of Parties has brought negotiators to reach an agreement towards a practical action plan.

One of the main difficulties in this 20 year process has been the consensus mechanism. As we all share the same planet, all parties have an equal say in the decision making process.  This approach does not only guarantee fairness but also gives voice to developing countries, which despite producing fewer emissions, will face the most dramatic consequences of climate change.

Droughts or heavy rains that lead to floods are disastrous to people with no buffers or savings. A changing climate may cause major migrations of displaced peoples which will affect all countries. This is why we need to act now to prevent rising temperatures and sea levels and increasingly destructive natural disasters.


COP21 represents the last chance for making effective changes in the process, moreover negotiators agreed in 2011 that a deal should be reached by the end of 2015.

Under strict security measures, Paris will host around 40,000 participants, mostly government delegates, but also lobbyists and representatives from business, industries, agriculture and environmental groups. Political leaders will attend the conference for just one day, during which they will deliver speeches and foster negotiators towards compromise. Such compromise will be shaped by environment ministers at the end of the talks.

Negotiators will engage over the next two weeks in marathonian discussions to reach the common goal of limiting emissions that prevent the earth from warming about two degrees above pre-industrial times. It might sound simple, but all that you see around you, from the laptop on which I am writing this article, to the food I am eating to the cloths I am wearing have been produced by energy that most probably comes from fossil fuels.

In this balancing act between development, progress, industrialization and carbon emissions, developing nations should still have the right to use fossil fuels that enables them to progress and get out of poverty. Here lays most of the source of disagreement, while cutting down emission is a long term aspiration which countries have already agreed to, the question of who will pay for the transition to renewable energy, for the adaptation to rising sea levels and intense droughts remains uncertain.

Likelihood of reaching a deal in Paris that fulfills the ambitious aspiration of saving the planet might be weak, however there is no doubt that progress will be made towards a more sustainable way of life, we can only hope for the best compromise possible at the end of these discussions.



Rick Steves Talks - Terrorism

Posted 21/11/2015

When it comes to travel and terrorism, we must not let our fear cloud our ability to assess risk. I'm sure that many Americans will cancel their trips to Paris (a city of 2 million people) or the rest of Europe (a continent of 500 million people), because of an event that killed about 130. The terrorists are happy when we ignore the math (and the tiny odds of actual danger), and let our decisions be driven by fear. Well, I'm not in a mood to make them happy.

From Rick Steve's blog:

A disaster — like Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris — is always met with an emotional response stoked by lots of media. Watching the news unfold on Friday night, I decided to quickly write and post my thoughts on Facebook. Over the weekend, millions of people read my essay and thousands commented with thoughts of their own. Reading through these comments late Sunday night, I couldn’t resist responding to some. This morning, I read over our dialogue and wished that more people could see it. So I compiled and edited this selection of a few of the more notable back-and-forths. (For the full and unvarnished version, just click through the comments on my “Don’t be terrorized” post.) My hope is not to rehash petty disagreements, but to continue what I hope can be a constructive conversation about Friday’s attacks and how we should respond.

Excerpted from Rick's “Travel as a Political Act” talk (taped in 2008).




First Irish same-sex couple marry under new equality legislation

Posted 17/11/2015

The first same-sex marriages have taken place in Ireland under new marriage equality legislation.

Richard Dowling and Cormac Gollogly were the first to tie the knot.

They were married in the South Clonmel Community Care Centre in Co Tipperary.

The Marriage Equality Act took effect from 2.15pm yesterday afternoon.

The final legal hurdle was cleared last week, when Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald signed the commencement order.

Cormac said "It feels great Jonathan, it really does," and Richard added "It really means the world to me."

"Cormac and I have been together for 12 years, so this is I suppose the natural progression really."

The couple say they are meeting up with family and friends in Dublin later.

They were already civil partnered since last September.

And the same person who performed their civil partnership also officiated their wedding.

While Wayne Gough and DJ O'Hanlon - from Lordship, Co Louth - married at Harvey’s Point Hotel in Donegal.

Wayne, station manager at Dublin Airport and financial accountant PJ had already celebrated their civil partnership at the same hotel a few months ago in the presence of family and friends.

The happy couple said that being properly married and to have that marriage recognised in every way was 'a fantastic feeling.'

They added that now they felt at last that they were accepted like every other married couple and all that this entails.



Remembrance Sunday marked across UK

Posted 08/11/2015

Queen Elizabeth II has led tributes to the UK's war dead at the annual Remembrance Sunday service in central London.

Thousands gathered at the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall for a two-minute silence to honour those killed in World Wars One and Two and later conflicts.

The monarch, Prime Minister David Cameron and the other main political party leaders all laid wreaths.

Events have also taken place around the UK, including in Edinburgh, where First Minister Nicola Sturgeon laid a wreath.

This year's service at the Cenotaph was shorter than in previous years, in an effort to reduce the amount of time war veterans are made to stand.

Each year in November, the United Kingdom remembers the men and women who gave their lives in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts.

11 November is known as Armistice Day, Remembrance Day or Poppy Day. From 2014 until 2018, this day takes on added significance as it marks the centenary of the First World War years.

During the First World War, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the guns of the Western Front fell silent after more than four years of continuous warfare. In many parts of the world, people observe a two-minute silence at 11am on 11 November. Don't missthe special Silence in the Square event in Trafalgar Square led by The Royal British Legion, from 10am until 11.45am.

This year marks a number of other significant anniversaries in the UK's military history, including the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.



Goodbye to Roaming Charges

Posted 29/10/2015

About time, you might be tempted to say: Roaming charges are to fall away soon, sooner anyway than was to be expected, since the timing had been a huge bone of contention within the EU for years. Now the politicians in Brussels say they have agreed on the end of roaming charges.

The EU has voted to agree on revised rules on the telecoms market which will end unpopular roaming surcharges for mobile phone calls and data use. Spanish MEP Vera del Castillo, of the European People's Party and rapporteur of the telecoms report, said today's vote brings about an end to roaming charges.

"We have eliminated a type of tax on people who live in the EU and we have eliminated a barrier to small companies and institutions accessing the single market."

For years, the European Parliament and the EU member states have been debating as to when the additional costs of telephone calls, SMS and mobile surfing abroad in the EU should be abolished.


The schedule of the charges introduced by the legislation will be as follows:

  • From 30th April 2016:  calls in other EU countries must not exceed EUR 5 cent per minute (voice calls), EUR 2 cents for text messages or EUR 5 cents per megabyte of mobile internet use.
  • From 15th June 2017: Roaming fees for calling, sending text messages and using mobile internet abroad in the EU will be banned.

Earlier today, Theresa Griffin, a UK Labour Party MEP, welcomed the new legislation and pointed out that: "This vote will mean that people no longer have to worry about huge bills when they return home from holidays."

So, in two years roaming charges will be eliminated. In addition, there shall be common rules on net neutrality in all of the EU. This is what the EU has agreed to after a long turmoil, but don’t expect the debate to be over quite yet. 



Germany investigates fresh US spying allegations

Posted 25/10/2015

German authorities have launched a probe into allegations of a new case of suspected spying linked to the US National Security Agency, German reports said today.

The report by news magazine Der Spiegel comes after an investigation into alleged US spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone was dropped in June due to lack of proof.

German-US relations were badly strained after fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden revealed mass US surveillance around the world in 2013.

The latest probe by Germany's federal prosecutors target persons unknown for "espionage activities,” Der Spiegel said.

The investigation concerns the personal laptop of a department chief in the chancellery onto which a spying virus known as ‘Regin’ was allegedly installed, the magazine said.

The ‘Trojan horse’ type virus, which was discovered on the laptop last year, enables surveillance of all data entered onto a computer and transfers it to whoever had the software installed, Der Spiegel added. "We can confirm that there is an inquiry" relating to "malicious software" called Regin, a spokeswoman for the federal prosecution service said, declining to confirm other details from the Spiegel report.The magazine, citing specialists, said there "is no doubt" that Regin can be linked to the NSA or Britain's GCHQ spying agency.

GCHQ was revealed in Mr Snowden's documents to have worked closely with its US equivalent, including in the interception of German phone calls and emails.

While Mr Snowden alleged US spying on many European governments, his disclosures triggered particular anger in Germany where bitterness lingers over mass state spying on citizens by the Stasi secret police in former communist East Germany where Chancellor Merkel grew up.


Source: AFP




EC to tackle radicalisation through criminal justice system

Posted 19/10/2015

Today the European Commission hosted, with the Luxemburgish Presidency, the first high-level conference on the criminal justice response to radicalisation.

Addressing the problem of radicalisation is a cornerstone of the European Security Agenda, which sets out the European Union's collective response to terrorism. In this context, the EC hosted, with the Luxemburgish Presidency, the first high-level conference on the criminal justice response to radicalisation, bringing together Justice Ministers, MEPs, government officials, the Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, Eurojust and frontline practitioners including national prosecutors and prison directors.

Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Vera Jourová led discussions on how to deal with radicalisation better, and find the right criminal justice responses to this common challenge. On the occasion of the conference she said: "Radicalisation is a growing threat across Europe. Online radicalisation and the issue of foreign fighters are new challenges that emerged over the last years. Radicalisation in prisons is a particular point of concern. Member States have started to develop initiatives to tackle this challenge, but many questions remain on how best to address it. Bringing together all these experiences will help shape an efficient criminal justice response. The Commission is committed to supporting Member States by funding projects in this field and training people in the criminal justice system to deal with radicalised persons." 

Also present at the Conference, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos said: "Tackling radicalisation head-on is a key priority in our fight against terrorism. Our European Agenda on Security made this very clear. This is a challenge that goes beyond national borders, that requires collective efforts across Member States, at different levels of government, and through agencies and different sectors. That is why we are reinforcing our existing Radicalisation Awareness Network with a centre of excellence within Europol, to improve the sharing of best practices and information with more than 2000 key experts and practitioners across Europe. That is also why I will be launching the Internet Forum this year with important industry players to strengthen our collective response to tackling radicalisation online. This is a fight that Europe – our societies, our culture, our Union – cannot afford to lose."

The conclusions of the Conference will be presented by Commissioner Jourová and the Luxembourg Presidency with the support of key Member States at the December Justice and Home Affairs Council.

The response to extremism and radicalisation should draw on common European values and integrate a societal dimension into security actions. Following a Colloquium on fundamental rights dedicated to combatting antisemitic and anti-Muslim hatred, the Commission has put forward concrete actions for the EU, national and local authorities, civil society, media and community leaders. They range from education, non-discrimination, inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue to measures to counter hate crime and hate speech.



Snowden – Hero or VillainRandall CalvinRandall Calvin

Posted 11/10/2015

By Randall Calvin

He only ended up in Russia by accident, he had intended to fly to South America, but got stuck in a Russian airport.

To some he is a hero and to others he is a traitor, depending on your opinion. This week he spoke to the BBC’s Panorama reporter Peter Taylor. Snowden is living in Russia now and Taylor relates how it was very difficult to arrange the meeting, indeed he said it took him over three months just to set it up.

Snowden doesn’t give many interviews, except a couple he has done with the Americans in the past.

Taylor says he had to work through intermediaries and used encrypted messages to reassure Snowden that his ambition was not to “paint a portrait of the man” but rather use his interview to inform the debate on this highly sensitive issue.

The story reads like the old Russian espionage days. Peter Taylor is told to check in to a hotel and wait for a knock on the door of his hotel room. He duly waits and at one o’clock, to his enormous relief, as arranged, Edward Snowden presented himself at the door.

As many will know, Snowden is accused of leaking thousands of files of his former employers, the American NSA. Since the beginning of this saga, he has protested that he is not a spy or a traitor, but a whistle-blower. The BBC’s report and other sources make it quite clear that Snowden is desperate to return to the USA, indeed he is willing to face trial and even go to jail, but he refuses to face charges under the espionage act (which can carry a sentence of between 30 to 35 years), but rather be treated a whistle-blower in the national, if not, international interest.

Snowden told the BBC that he is willing to plea bargain but he is still waiting for a response from the American government.

For me, looking at this story in the broader sense regarding security and surveillance, it is interesting, perhaps for obvious reasons, the difference in perception of Snowden contrasting the American view with that of the rest of the world. Outside of the United States, he is generally considered a hero, indeed some would even elevate his condition to that of Nobel Peace Prize laureate. While I wouldn’t go quite that far in my own modest opinion he certainly is no security threat, and while I am no fan of Russia, as this story developed and deepened I think it was beneficial to international public interest that the Russians afforded him asylum.

From a European perspective, I think Snowden’s revelations have had a massive impact on data protection as illustrated recently by the European Court of Justice on its ruling this week of personal data transfers between the EU and USA, facebook, etc.

Not being a security expert myself but rather offering the opinion of a regular citizen, albeit a journalist, I suggest my view would reflect a great many people’s stance on this question. The parallel thinking on the issue of security versus privacy. We protest the idea that large intelligence agencies might be tracking or spying on us yet in the unstable geopolitical world we live in today, with its latent threats of terrorism, some part of us likes to feel that we are being protected.





NATO chief on Russia's air violation

Posted 06/10/2015

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said Russia’s violation of Turkish-NATO airspace does not look like an accident.

He said the duration of Russia’s two incursions over the weekend makes him doubt Moscow’s explanation of the incident and said Russia has not offered "any real explanation."

Turkey has summoned the Russian ambassador to Ankara for a second time after the violation of its air space by a Russian warplane close to the Syrian border on Sunday.

Turkey warned the Russian envoy that similar incidents should not happen again otherwise "Russia would be held responsible," the official said.

Sunday’s incident appears to have been the second in as many days after Turkey said its fighter jets intercepted a Russian warplane close to the Syrian border on Saturday, forcing it to turn back.

The Russian ambassador had also been summoned following Saturday's incident.

NATO Secretary General Jens StoltenbergNATO Secretary General Jens StoltenbergTurkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu yesterday warned that Ankara would activate military "rules of engagement" irrespective of who violates its airspace.

"Even if it is a flying bird it will be intercepted," Mr Davutoglu said in an interview with Turkish television.

The Turkish military said two Turkish F-16 jets were harassed by an unidentified MIG-29 aircraft on the Syrian border on Sunday.

Russian warplanes have been flying over Syrian territory since Wednesday, conducting air strikes on what Moscow says are targets belonging to so-called Islamic State jihadists and other "terrorist" groups in the country's northern and central provinces.


The West has accused Moscow of using the raids as cover to hit President Bashar al-Assad's moderate opponents.

NATO has told Russia to halt its incursions into the airspace of Turkey, a member of the alliance, saying the violations were both extremely dangerous and irresponsible.

Following an emergency meeting in Brussels, NATO ambassadors called on Russia to immediately explain itself, while expressing concern for Russian military attacks on Western-backed rebels in Syria.

"Allies strongly protest these violations of Turkish sovereign airspace, and condemn these incursions into and violations of NATO airspace," NATO said in a statement.

"Allies also note the extreme danger of such irresponsible behaviour. They call on the Russian Federation to cease and desist, and immediately explain these violations."

NATO said Russian military actions had reached a "more dangerous level" after two separate violations of Turkish airspace on Saturday and Sunday by Su-30 and Su-24 aircraft in the Hatay region on its southern border with Syria.

Turkey had only reported one violation by Russian aircraft, on Saturday.

"The aircraft in question entered Turkish airspace despite Turkish authorities' clear, timely and repeated warnings," the statement said.

"In accordance with NATO practice, Turkish fighter aircraft responded to these incursions by closing to identify the intruder, after which the Russian planes departed Turkish airspace."

NATO added: "The security of the Alliance is indivisible, and Allies stand in strong solidarity with Turkey," it said.

NATO has stationed Patriot missiles on Turkey's southern border with Syria to prevent any spillover from a bitter conflict which has left 250,000 people dead and sparked a mass exodus of migrants seeking safety in Europe.

The Patriots, which can shoot down aircraft as well as missiles, are however due to be pulled out shortly and it is uncertain if they will be replaced. NATO has said previously the issue was under review.

Russian strikes 'aimed at supporting Syrian army'

Russian military jets carried out strikes on nine so-called Islamic State sites in Syria over the past 24 hours, the defence ministry in Moscow has said.

The Russian warplanes hit IS command centres, weapon caches, artillery and communication posts in the Homs, Idlib, Hama and Latakia provinces of Syria, the ministry said in a statement.

Russia's operations in Syria are aimed at supporting the Syrian army and target terrorists and extremists there, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said.

"The aim of our operations lies in providing support to the Syrian military's offensive in their struggle with terrorist and radical organisations and forces," Mr Peskov said.

Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter has said that Russia is escalating Syria's civil war by targeting the moderate opposition.

He compared Moscow's effort to bolster Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to tethering itself to a sinking ship.

"By taking military action in Syria against moderate groups targets, Russia has escalated the civil war," Mr Carter said in a speech during a trip to Spain.


Source: AFP/Reuters



MSF staff frantic call to NATO during suspected US bomb attack

Posted 03/10/2015

The medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières has condemned "in the strongest possible terms" air strikeson its hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz.

MSF said frantic staff phoned military officials at NATO in Kabul and Washington as bombs rained on their hospital for nearly an hour.

The death toll from the suspected US air strikes on the hospital rose to nine today, with 37 others wounded and many still unaccounted for, the charity said.

"It is with deep sadness that we confirm so far the death of nine MSF staff during the bombing... of MSF's hospital in Kunduz," it said in a statement.

MSF said it gave the co-ordinates of the hospital to Afghan and US forces several times, to avoid being caught in crossfire.

"Precise location of our Kunduz hospital communicated to all parties on multiple occasions over past months," as well as earlier this week, the group said in a message on Twitter.

The charity said air strikes on its hospital continued after US and Afghan authorities were told of its location.

NATO has conceded that US forces may have been behind the attack.

The MSF facility is seen as a key medical lifeline in the region and has been running "beyond capacity" in recent days of fighting that saw the Taliban seize control of the provincial capital for several days.

"At 2:10 am (20.40 GMT) local time... the MSF trauma centre in Kunduz was hit several times during sustained bombing and was very badly damaged," it said in a statement.

"Three MSF staff are confirmed dead and more than 30 are unaccounted for.”

“The medical team is working around the clock to do everything possible for the safety of patients and hospital staff,” the statement said.

Kunduz has seen heavy fighting since Taliban insurgents stormed the provincial capital on Monday, the first major city to be captured by insurgents since 2001.

At the time of the bombing, 105 patients and their caregivers and more than 80 international and local MSF staff were in the hospital, the charity said.

"US forces conducted an air strike in Kunduz city at 2:15am (local time)... against individuals threatening the force," a NATO statement said.

"The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility. This incident is under investigation."

The MSF trauma centre in Kunduz is the only medical facility in the region that can deal with major injuries.

As fighting spreads in neighbouring Badakhshan, Takhar and Baghlan provinces, concerns are mounting that the seizure of Kunduz was merely the opening gambit in a new, bolder Taliban strategy to tighten the insurgency's grip across northern Afghanistan.

Afghan forces, backed by NATO special forces and US air strikes, have been going from house to house in Kunduz in a bid to flush out insurgents in the city.

The Taliban's offensive in Kunduz, their biggest tactical success since 2001, marks a major blow for Afghanistan's Western-trained forces, who have largely been fighting on their own since last December.

Civilian and military casualties caused by NATO forces have been one of the most contentious issues in the 14-year campaign against Taliban insurgents, provoking harsh public and government criticism.

In a statement, the Taliban accused "barbaric American forces" of deliberately carrying out today’s strike, which "killed and wounded tens of doctors, nurses and patients."

US-led NATO forces ended their combat mission in Afghanistan last December, though a 13,000-strong residual force remains for training and counter-terrorism operations.

But there has been an escalation in air strikes by NATO forces in recent months despite the drawdown.



Nakhchivan’s Unending BlockadeCyhun OSMANLI, Azerbaijan MPCyhun OSMANLI, Azerbaijan MP

Posted 02/10/2015

This article is an op-ed by Azerbaijani MP Ceyhun OSMANLI

In his speech to the UN General Assembly on September 29th, the Armenian President Sergh Sarkisian lamented that “Armenia has been subjected to the illegal blockade by its neighbours.” Ironically enough, it is Armenia itself, which applies an illegal blockade on Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan for more than 25 years.

Little is known about this tiny Autonomous Republic in the West. Surrounded by Armenia, Turkey and Iran, this region covering 5,500 km2 is cut off from the rest of Azerbaijan. Having suffered material and cultural losses inflicted by the military operations of the Armenian armed forces in 1988-1993, 439,000 inhabitants of Nakhchivan, 99% of which are ethnic Azerbaijanis, are still forced to live in isolation.

Early in the 1990s, Nakhchivan’s population was hard hit by economic hardship due to lack of natural gas, electricity and fuel as well as the cut off of radio and rail lines. The hardship brought about a large outflow of the Azerbaijani population into Turkey and Azerbaijan proper.

Although gas is transported to the region via Iran with a 15% commission today, this period of desolation marked by the chopping down of almost all the trees for fuel is still fresh in the minds of the Nakhchivani people. Communication can only be maintained by air or by road, using Iranian airspace and roads, while joint projects to link the region with Turkey such as Kars-Nakhchivan railway and Igdir-Nakhchivan pipeline are underway.

And yet, the blockade due to Armenia’s occupation of 20% of Azerbaijan’s territories in Nagorno-Karabakh and 7 surrounding regions (including Nakhchivan’s Karki exclave) is still impairing Nakhchivan’s development. 75% of the Nakhchivan’s budget is subsidized by the central government in Baku in addition to grants of natural gas and tax breaks. Until 1997, even tourists needed a special permission to visit the region, which has an extremely rich heritage of history and culture. 

The root causes of this blockade can be traced back to the Treaty of Turkmenchay in 1828 as Russia gained control in the area and the demographics of the region changed with the resettlement of the Armenians from Iran.

Following the Soviet occupation, these divide and rule policies continued and Nakhchivan was separated from the main portion of Azerbaijan to the east by the creation of the Armenian state.

Dating back to the 2nd-1st millennia BC, Nakhchivan was part of the Azerbaijani states such as Manna, Media and Caucasian Albania before coming under the Arab, Seljuk, Safavid and Ottoman rule. Becoming the capital of the Atabeg state in the 12th century, Nakhchivan flourished, with Azerbaijani masterpieces such as Momina Khatun’s mausoleum, Yusif Ibn Kuseyr’s tomb, Juma Mosque and the Palace of Atabegs.

It is little wonder that Nakhchivan is referred to as the San Francisco of the Caucasus.

Throughout the history, Nakhchivan was home to world-famous artists and intellectuals, including the architect Ajami, philosopher Hindushah Nakhchivani, writers Jalil Mamadguluzada, Huseyn Javid, Mammad Said Ordubadi, painter Bahruz Kangarli and chemist Yusif Mammadaliyev, who invented high-octane gasoline.

The Republic, which celebrated its 90th anniversary last year, is also known for being the native land of the founder of the Azerbaijani nation, Heydar Aliyev.

Having served as the highest-ranking Turkic-Muslim statesman in the former Soviet Union, Heydar Aliyev led the region until he became the leader of all Azerbaijan in 1993.

Nakhchivan played a great role in Azerbaijan’s national liberation movement. It was in Nakhchivan, when Azerbaijani people demolished the Soviet-Iranian border in 31 December 1989. This date when our compatriots living on the both banks of the Araz River met is still celebrated as the International Solidarity Day of Azerbaijanis. Moreover, Nakhchivan was the first part of the USSR to declare its independence to protest against the Red Army terror during Black January.

More importantly, the Azerbaijani flag and the Azerbaijani national epic were created in Nakhchivan.

Given the historical and strategic importance of this region, it is Azerbaijan’s priority to guarantee its security as well as the economic wealth of its people. Lifting any blockade against Armenia could not be envisageable without finding a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and bringing an end to the unfair blockade of Nakhchivan.


Ceyhun Osmanlı has been a member of the Azerbaijani parliament, the Milli Majlis, since 2010. He is a member of the International Relations andInter-ParliamentaryRelations Committee. He is also a member of the Azerbaijani delegation to Euronest Parliamentary Assembly and a board member of the World Bank and IMF Parliamentary Network.


Note: views and opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of EU Spectator magazine but that of the author.




Perspectives of the week from the European Parliament

Posted 30/09/2015

Hungary's treatment of migrants is not acceptable, says ALDE

EPP Group pushes for humanitarian approach to refugee crisis

Courtesy of euobservertv and ALDE Group

The Liberal and Democrat (ALDE) group at the European Parliament has urged the EU 28 heads of state and government to find a global and comprehensive response to the refugee crisis.

Along with its party leader, Guy Verhofstadt, ALDE called on the European Council to implement a united asylum and migration policy.

Spraying teargas at women and children, as police did in Hungary, is unacceptable, said MEPs Cecilia Wikstroem and Sophie in't Veld.

Courtesy of epptv & EPP Group

Reacting to the results of the informal European Summit, Manfred Weber MEP, Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, said that the decisions taken were a positive step. He also insisted on the need to protect borders and for a helpful humanitarian atmosphere.

The EPP Group have asked for more money from the EU Budget for 2016 to face the refugee crisis.


UNIFIL marks International Day of Peace

Posted 22/09/2015

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) held on 21 September 2015 a ceremony to commemorate the International Day of Peace at its headquarters in Naqoura.

Later on in the afternoon, as part of the event, UNIFIL Head of Mission Major-General Portolano together with Lebanese students joined celebrations at UN Headquarters in New York via video conference. Present at the ceremony at UNHQ were the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Messengers of Peace, senior UN officials as well as students from different part of the world.




Long-term refugees protest in BrusselsRandall CalvinRandall Calvin

Posted 19/09/2015

By Randall Calvin

In the context of the ongoing humanitarian crisis of Europe's refugee - migrant drama, EU Spectator came across this minor protest at the European Parliament in Brussels, and interviewed one of the protesters, who happened to be of Afghan origin.

The chief complaint of these long-term refugees, many of whom have been in Belgium for between ten and even twenty years; is that they still have not been granted residence rights.

This dilemma is not unique to Belgium, but regardless of the Member State, most informed commentators agree that this particular situation of so-called "Direct Provision" is simply not working nor is it humane, for long-duration refugees.

At the heart of the current European debate is a question of perception in terms of linguistic definition, but whether we refer to them as refugees, asylum-seekers or economic migrants, the current tidal flow of humanity struggling to get into Europe via the East at the moment will, I fear, not help their case.


European Commission midday press briefing

Posted 16/09/2015

Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for trade, addressed the press conference today. Subjects included the conclusions of the weekly meeting of the Juncker Commission, announcement of the publication of the State of the Union report and the approval of the proposal for a new and transparent system for resolving disputes between investors and states – the Investment Court System for the contentious TTIP deal.

Concluded with Q&A


Thousands take part in pro-refugee rallies in Europe

Posted 13/09/2015

Saturday's rallies urged solidarity with the huge numbers of refugees entering the continent.

Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in capitals of Denmark and the UK to protest against their government's position on the refugee crisis, as other demonstrations were planned in Germany, Spain, France and elsewhere.


Danish police estimated that 30,000 people had gathered outside the Danish parliament building in Copenhagen on Saturday, shouting "Refugees are welcome."

Saturday's peaceful protest came after Denmark said on Friday that it had already accepted its fair share of asylum seekers and would not take part in a proposal by the EU Commission to take a share of another 160,000 refugees.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Britons rallied in central London, urging their government to do more to help Syrian refugees at a demonstration that was due to be attended by newly elected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.



Several thousand people could be seen marching through central London to Prime Minister David Cameron's office, brandishing placards reading: "Open the Borders" and "Refugees In, Tories Out."


"It's a solidarity message but the question is, to what extent does this crowd stand for Britain as a whole," our correspondent said. "This rally is making clear that the government is wrong in their stance towards refugees," one of the protesters, Dusan Petkovic, told the AFP news agency.

Cameron had a belated change of heart on letting in more Syrian refugees as the crisis in Europe escalated and last week agreed to take in 20,000 people over five years.

More than 14,000 people claimed asylum in Denmark last year and it expects 20,000 this year. Neighbouring Sweden took in over 80,000 refugees last year and expects the same number this year.

Denmark has opt-outs to the EU Justice and Home Affairs rules, so it is not obligated to participate.

Hundreds of other people rallied in support of refugees in Dublin, Ireland, Budapest in Hungary and The Hague in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile the huge influx of migrants into southern Germany has continued unabated, with the Munich authorities now saying 13,000 arrived on Saturday.

But the city authorities have again warned they are at "the limit" when it comes to coping with the numbers.

"We have reached the upper limit of our capacity," a police spokesman said, as frantic efforts were under way to accommodate the new arrivals.

Record numbers have also been crossing from Serbia into Hungary.

More than 4,000 people walked across the border with Serbia - the most so far in one day - just as the authorities in Hungary were completing preparations to seal the frontier. Munich, in Germany's southern state of Bavaria, has been the main entry point for those entering the country in search of a better life, but the city says it is having difficulty finding accommodation for them.


As well as the 13,000 who arrived on Saturday, another 1,400 arrived in Munich on Sunday morning, police said.

"We lack 1,000 to 5,000 places," Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung (in German).

The authorities are considering using a sports venue from the 1972 Olympics, the Olympiahalle, as a temporary shelter.

Mr Reiter also repeated his call for other German regions to take in more migrants. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended the decision to let in large numbers of refugees, saying she was "convinced it was right."



Views of the week from the largest group at the EP 

Posted 10/09/2015


A number of eastern European foreign ministers are to meet their counterparts from Germany and Luxembourg tomorrow to discuss the ongoing refugee crisis.

Foreign ministers from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are to attend the meeting in Prague.

The meeting "shall contribute to better mutual understanding among EU member states in (the light of) some differing views concerning the solution of the current migration crisis," it said in a statement.

The European Union's eastern members have taken the hardest stance against compulsory quotas proposed by the EU Commission to ensure fair distribution of refugees among the 28-member bloc.

The Visegrad-four prime ministers in unison rejected the quotas last week, adding that the EU should focus on tackling the root causes of the migrant crisis, protecting the Schengen borders and fighting migrant smugglers.

Yesterday, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker asked EU states to agree next week to relocate 160,000 refugees from overstretched EU frontline countries Greece, Hungary and Italy.

Under the plan, the Visegrad-four countries would take in thousands of refugees - but far fewer than Germany and France.

The European Parliament has overwhelmingly backed Mr Juncker's plans, with legislators voting in favour of the motion for a permanent mechanism of binding quotas to deal with future emergencies.

Video courtesy of EPP / EPP TV

The flood of refugees from the Middle East headed up the State of the Union priorities with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker calling for greater solidarity.


Views of the week from the two largest groups at the EP 

Posted 05/09/2015

Video courtesy of EPP / EPP TV

The migration crisis in the Mediterranean has grown to unprecedented proportions this summer.
EU action to deal with the issue has become more urgent than ever.

Manfred Weber, Chairman of the strongest political group in the European Parliament, says only a common EU response will provide a lasting solution to the problem.

Video courtesy of the S&D Group

The S&D Group invites you to join them in the Relaunching Europe event in Warsaw!
24th September - 16h30 @ The Warsaw School of Economics.
Register and check out more at:


Hurricane Katrina - ten years on

Posted 27/08/2015

The US official in charge of the emergency response to Hurricane Katrina has blamed former President George W Bush for leaving a power vacuum at the height of the crisis.

President Barack Obama will head to New Orleans later as the city prepares to mark the tenth anniversary of a disaster which killed 1,800 people.

The category 5 hurricane caused a storm surge which overwhelmed levees designed to protect the city. The hardest-hit areas were the poorest, mostly black neighbourhoods on land below sea level.

As the slow-motion catastrophe unfolded, many in the city felt abandoned and what began as a weather story became a national tragedy.

Questions remain to this day over how the richest nation on earth failed people in its own backyard.

Katrina has become a byword for government failure and the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at the time says President Bush, who famously first observed the disaster from the air, bears much of the responsibility.

Michael Brown said: "When the president made the flyover, I was in contact with Air Force One and said, I need the President to land."

"His failure to do that at that moment - which is surprising because it is not in his character - created the worst question that anyone can have and not have an answer for in a disaster, and that is: Who is in charge?."

Mr Brown also defended FEMA's preparations for Katrina. "It was a massive response but people choose to ignore that," he said.

President Bush is also due to visit New Orleans this week.


Recovery was 'racist and classist'John Keller in military uniformJohn Keller in military uniform

Katrina was the costliest natural disaster in American history. It is estimated that 80% of the city was flooded.

While much of New Orleans has rebounded from Katrina, the hardest-hit areas remain scarred.

The Lower Ninth Ward, which saw every home destroyed, has seen only a third rebuilt. Many families who had lived there for generations have not returned.

Kimberly Roberts, whose videos of the disaster became an Oscar-nominated documentary, said the recovery has been uneven.

She said: "The recovery was racist, straight up, and classist. People who were black and brown suffered the most and are still suffering the most, those who have the resources, those came up the most."

Among the heroes of Katrina was John Keller, a former US Marine who saved hundreds of neighbours by herding them to the roof of his apartment building. His story will be made into a Hollywood movie next year.

"Jesus Christ is my hero," said Orlanda Martin, one of his neighbours, "but John Keller is my hero too because John Keller got us out of here."

Mr Keller said: "Like an old lady said, you are going to be blessed for what you did for us, baby, I said, I'm not worried about that, I'm just trying to get everyone out of here."

"I didn't want to see anybody else die in front of me, I saw enough of that in Iraq. I didn't want that on my head. If one person had died on me that would have haunted me."



100 days to ParisRandall CalvinRandall Calvin

EU Commissioner calls for accelerated progress in climate talks

Posted 21/08/2015

By Randall Calvin

After the failure of the infamous Kyoto Treaty, yet positive signals from Lima Climate Change conference last year, and now that the legions of scientifically ignorant hordes have rightly been exposed for the charlatans that they are, thankfully all eyes are now optimistically focused on the up coming conference in Paris later this year.

At just over 100 days until the UN climate conference to be held in Paris this December, the European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete called for accelerated progress in the preparations for the new global climate agreement.

Speaking to the press in Brussels, Commissioner Arias Cañete said: "The Paris conference is a historic milestone: a unique opportunity to accelerate the shift to a low-carbon, climate-resilient global economy. But the window of opportunity to meet our target of keeping the global temperature rise below 2 degrees is closing fast."

He added: "We must accelerate the pace of work at the August and October UN negotiating sessions and bridge the gap between the technical and political process. The world is waiting for a new global climate change agreement. We must deliver."

The Commissioner further called for more countries to come forward with ambitious contributions to the new agreement as soon as possible. This is essential to have a discussion before the Paris conference on the level of aggregate efforts of the contributions compared to what is required to keep temperature increase below the 2 degrees limit.

Commissioner Arias Cañete also outlined main elements of a successful agreement in Paris. These include ambitious mitigation commitments, a dynamic review to strengthen ambition over time, a long-term goal, robust transparency and accountability rules, and legal certainty.

UN negotiations are under way to develop a new international climate change agreement that will cover all countries.

The new agreement will be adopted at the Paris climate conference in December 2015 and implemented from 2020. It will take the form of a protocol, another legal instrument or 'an agreed outcome with legal force', and will be applicable to all Parties. It is being negotiated through a process known as the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP).

EU vision for the new agreement

The European Commission has set out the EU's vision for a new agreement that will, through collective commitments based on scientific evidence, put the world on track to reduce global emissions by at least 60% below 2010 levels by 2050.

The EU wants Paris to deliver a robust international agreement that fulfils the following key criteria. It must:

  • create a common legal framework that applies to all countries
  • include clear, fair and ambitious targets for all countries based on evolving global economic and national circumstances
  • regularly review and strengthen countries' targets in light of the below 2 degrees goal
  • hold all countries accountable – to each other and to the public – for meeting their targets

The EU's contribution to the new agreement will be a binding, economy-wide, domestic greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of at least 40% by 2030.

2015 milestones

The climate conferences in Warsaw (2013) and Lima (2014) agreed that all countries are to put forward their proposed emissions reduction targets for the 2015 agreement as "intended nationally determined contributions" well in advance of the Paris conference.

The contributions will be prepared at national level by each Party, as the EU has done, and submitted to the UNFCCC.

The UNFCCC secretariat will publish these contributions and prepare, by 1 November 2015, a synthesis report to assess whether they put us on track to keep global warming below 2°C.

A negotiating text for the 2015 agreement was agreed in Geneva in February 2015. Before the Paris conference, negotiations will continue at inter-sessional UN meetings in June, September and October in Bonn.



Merkel: migrant issue bigger challenge for EU than Greek debt crisis

Posted 17/08/2015

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that the migrant crisis could become a bigger challenge for the European Union than the Greek debt crisis.

Merkel called on the EU to jointly tackle the growing migrant crisis before it leads to bigger problems.

“[Refugees could] preoccupy Europe much, much more than the issue of Greece and the stability of the euro. The issue of asylum could be the next major European project, in which we show whether we are really able to take joint action” she said.

Condemning the attacks on shelter homes for asylum seekers in Germany, Merkel said on the 16th of August, reported by AFP News: “That is unworthy of our country.”

“The issue of asylum could be the next major European project, in which we show whether we are really able to take joint action.”


EU Commission midday briefing on asylum seekers and migration into the EU. August 17th 2015

Merkel has called on the EU to draw a list of safe countries to be able to better judge which migrants are most in need for asylum.

Over 40 per cent of asylum seekers in Germany are reportedly from the Balkans, with a growing number of applications from southeast European countries, like Bulgaria, Croatia and Serbia.

In July Merkel was entangled in a controversy over the manner in which she consoled a crying Palestinian girl in a video that went viral online and sparked major protests. The Chancellor sparked outrage online after she explained to a crying Palestinian girl on live television why she might be deported.

During a televised conversation with high-school students in the northern city of Rostock, the 12-year-old asylum seeker, identified as Reem, explained in fluent German that she had been in the country for four years after previously living in a refugee camp in Lebanon. She said she feared she would soon be deported if her refugee status is not accepted. Flustered by the encounter, Merkel responded by saying: “I understand that. Yet, sometimes politics is hard. When you stand in front of me and you are a very nice person, but you know in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon there are thousands and thousands [of people] and if we say you can all come and you can all come from Africa and you can all come. We can't manage that.”

“Recently, we were going through difficult times because we were about to be deported. I was feeling really terrible, also here at school, something the teachers and other students saw as well” said the young Ms Reem.

When the teenager began to cry, Merkel started stroking her back and praising her speech saying, “You did a great job,” only for the moderator of the discussion to point out that the young woman was crying more because of her difficult situation than over whether she had done a good job in presenting her views.

The incident provoked outrage both in Germany and abroad, with many criticising her cold and unsympathetic attitude to the young girl's predicament.

A video clip of the exchange went viral, with the Twitter hashtag #merkelstreichelt

But Merkel later defended her comments - "I think the gesture was fine," said Merkel who added that it would be wrong for people to be told that, "just because you met the chancellor, we can resolve your case faster than many, many other people's."

"We are a state under the rule of law. But nevertheless, you want to comfort a crying girl," said Merkel.



Blowing in the wind – the EU’s gridGuadalupe del OlmoGuadalupe del Olmo

Posted 05/08/2015

By Guadalupe del Olmo

In my thirty-something years on this planet I have seen many contentious issues come and go. Like the ebb and flow of the tides there is always some new grave problem for humanity to confront.

I remember the passions of the CND movement of the 1980’s, the fall of the Berlin wall, and the threat that the Russians would sell off some of the nuclear arsenal to reignite their flat lining economy. There were terrorist cells fighting for different causes from Northern Ireland, Spain to the toxic mix of the Middle East.

There remains the perennial civil liberty issues of LGBT civil rights in many countries, women’s rights, including the right to abortion of unwanted, or unviable pregnancies.

Today we also face the scourge of IS/ISIL and the rise of fanatical and evil Islamic fundamentalism. Yet in recent times I have found that nothing, without exception relative to the menu above, exercises, or provokes such passionate, and polarized views as when it comes to the subject of climate change, or global warming, or whatever you choose to call the phenomena. Even as a long-standing political journalist who has interviewed criminals, convicted terrorists, and all manner of politicians, I fear to even raise the climate subject over a coffee with friends and colleagues. I truly marvel at the depth of feeling there is about the subject.

The situation is that before we can even begin to address what science has universally confirmed, we have to indulge in the usual coffee house bullshit conspiracy debate, thus distracting from the reality of what actions we should be taking. Recently, as covered in this publication, we focused on a forum held in Paris, hosted by Francois Hollande, and attended by an eclectic group of contributors, from presidents, to indigenous groups, whose principal message was to stop the denial of overwhelming scientific evidence, gathered over many years, and to confront the inconvenient truth. This of course served as a precursor to the Paris conference, to be held in December of this year.

So the facts are what they are regarding the health of this pale blue dot on which we live. The solution – the experts tell us- will be multi-faceted, meaning a combination of strategies.  A decrease in reliance on fossil fuel burning, more use of natural gas, nuclear power, wind, tidal, and solar energy. To cover all areas in this article would be impractical, thus I have narrowed my focus on a study of the level of energy supplied by wind in the EU as of figures from 2014.

EU’s grid connected cumulative capacity in 2014 reached 129 GW, meeting 8% of European electricity demand, equivalent to the combined annual consumption of Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece and Ireland. According to a Joint Research Centre (JRC) report, the impressive growth of the industry will allow at least 12% electricity share by 2020, a significant contribution to the goal of the European energy and climate package of 20% share of energy from renewable sources.

The 2014 JRC wind status report presents the technology, market and economics of the wind energy sector with a focus on the EU. Wind power is the renewable energy which has seen the widest and most successful deployment over the last two decades, increasing the global cumulative capacity from 3 GW to 370 GW. Last year represented an annual record with 52.8 GW of wind turbines capacity installed worldwide, a 48% increase compared to 2013 and 17% over the 2012 record of 45.2GW.

With 23.2 GW of new installations and a market share of 44%, China is well ahead of EU’s member states which together installed 13.05 GW. The EU however still leads in cumulative capacity and its 129 GW onshore and offshore wind installations, allowed six countries – Denmark, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Romania and Germany – to generate between 10 and 40 % of their electricity from wind.

European turbine manufacturers accounted for 78% of the non-China world market in 2014. In a context of high competition and diminishing turbine prices, manufacturers managed to improve their balance sheet thanks to better cost management and reduced raw materials costs. The cost of generating wind energy continues its downward trend, highly favoured by a reduction in the cost of project financing.


The 20% share of EU energy consumption from renewables is part of the so-called “20-20-20” climate and energy targets for 2020, which also foresee 20% reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, and 20% improvement in the EU's energy efficiency. In October 2014 the EU leaders agreed on new targets for 2030: domestic greenhouse gas reduction of at least 40% compared to 1990, and at least 27% for renewable energy and energy savings by 2030.

Research on the status and deployment of renewable energies supports the European Commission’s strategy for secure, affordable and climate-friendly energy – the Energy Union. The strategy, launched in February 2015, is based on solidarity among member states when confronted with energy supply disruptions, better connected energy market with free flow of energy across borders, improved energy efficiency that can be counted as energy source and lasting transition to low-carbon society. Wiser energy use while fighting climate change is both a spur for new jobs and growth and an investment in Europe's future.

To conclude, as I am completely aware of how contentious the subject of wind farms are, especially regarding where they are sited, and the impact on the landscape, not to mention the value of people’s homes. However whilst driving between Brussels and Strasbourg recently, I am reminded of a comment my companion beside me made. Having passed a wind turbine field far away in the distance, and then a coal fired station further up the road, belching out smoke, he remarked, “and they say wind turbines are ugly.”




Bread and Roses

Posted 27/07/2015

Bread and Roses is a free-thinking, taboo-breaking TV magazine broadcast in Iran and the region via New Channel TV. It is hosted by Maryam Namazie and Fariborz Pooya.

The weekly programme is in English and Persian. Maryam Namazie (Persian: مریم نمازی) (Tehran, 1966) is an Iranian-born secularist and human rights activist, commentator and broadcaster. She is a spokesperson for Iran Solidarity, One Law for All and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. 

Namazie was born in Tehran, but left with her family in 1980 after the 1979 revolution in Iran.

She has subsequently lived in India, the United Kingdom and the United States, where she began her studies at the age of 17.

In this episode Maryam and Fariborz discuss how religion has advanced through violence, genocide and ethnic cleansing. Background: Religion has been advanced through violence, genocide, and ethnic cleansing. It's not all peace and love. Despite many of the inhuman tenets of religion, however, people - including the religious - are more than the religions they were born into.

The show also features an interview with Dan Barker, Freedom from Religion Foundation.

Also discussed were the recent controversial Iranian nuclear agreement, women escaping from ISIS, Behnam Ebrahimzadeh, Ramadan fatwas, and photos from Pluto.

Director: Reza Moradi -                                  Video courtesy of AtheismTV


The German-Europe paradox

Posted 26/07/2015

Based on a text by Hans Kundnani

By EU Spectator correspondent

Despite its prominence in the latest eurozone crisis, Germany is still unable to play the leading role that many think it has. History tells us that the solution cannot be a Europe run from Berlin.

Since the euro crisis began, the idea of turning the continent into a German Europe has gained strength.

Being the largest creditor, it is true that Germany has enjoyed a position of extraordinary power and was able to largely impose their preferences on other members of the eurozone, but has not been the hegemonic power that many claim and it is impossible that it will become one. Germany remains too fragile to bear the burdens that entail the role of a leader, in terms of fiscal transfers, pooling of European debt or moderate inflation. It is more accurate to say that Germany seems to have recovered the semi-hegemonic position it held between the 1871 and 1945, although this time more in geo-economic terms than geopolitical.

In the years that led to Nazi barbarism, the German question, central theme of the Europe at that time, was always focused on its inability to lead. After its unification in 1871, Germany became too powerful to be challenged by the other great powers, but not strong enough to defeat a coalition of nations.

The German historian Ludwig Dehio described Germany's position in Europe as a "semi-hegemony" more than a full hegemony. This structural situation resulted, as a self-fulfilling prophecy, in a German fear of involvement: what Bismarck called the nightmare of coalitions.

The events of recent weeks have proven what history taught us, that the solution cannot be a Europe conducted from Berlin. The events have also shown not only the extent but also the limits of German power. Merkel's government and the German public hoped that by now the crisis would be over, especially after that periphery of the eurozone undertook structural reforms to become more competitive.

In Germany, many believed that this was already beginning to happen, until the Greeks elected Alexis Tsipras as prime minister in January this year. With his election, a direct consequence of the failure of the policy of the euro in Greece, the crisis of the single currency became more intense, as it might be expected. However, instead of seeing the arrival of Tsipras as an alarm signal, and change its strategy, Germany and the euro zone decided to close ranks.

The eurozone’s decision, as the demands of the past five years had not worked, was ultimately to impose even harder measures. In Germany the feeling that creditors had lost confidence in the debtor dominated public opinion. During these five years, German politicians have frequently quoted Lenin (even being unaware of it): "Confidence is good; but control is better." Since the Greek government took power, and especially since the Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, poisoned further negotiations by calling their creditors "terrorists," the creditors have demanded more control than ever. In particular, they demanded "prior actions" before starting to discuss a third bailout for Greece.

We may end up seeing the events of the weekend of 11th – 12th July as a turning point in the crisis, as it was in June 2012 when the European Council decided to save the euro, although in German public opinion it was considered a defeat. By looking in retrospective at those days, it is possible that the plan of the German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, to place 50 billion euros of Greek assets in a fund in Luxembourg and then privatize it. Moreover, his clear defence of the idea of expelling temporarily Greece from the eurozone, had transformed the single currency for ever.


However, there are doubts that the weekend uncovered a more German Europe, as many commentators claim. What was truly remarkable was that, within 24 hours, Schäuble's proposals would become the basis of the document of the Eurogroup (finance ministers of the euro zone); it seemed the ultimate proof that Germany ruled the roost. During the meeting, it was also striking that there were more voices than ever in support of the Germans, especially from the three Baltic countries (now members of the single currency), Slovakia and Slovenia. The impression is that Germany simply realized that to impose more stringent conditions should give an impression of control.

An urgent dilemma has arisen in Europe, the question is: what does Germany want? It is not an easy question. Obviously the Germans have an increasingly tough attitude and are increasingly Eurosceptic. Since 2012, anger has been increasing, especially against what they consider poaching and illegal pooling of debt, and feel that their country has lost control of events. The concessions that Merkel was forced to give in the summer of 2012 served as justification for the birth of Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany), the eurosceptic party whose name intends to refute the statement by the Chancellor that there is "no alternative" to her strategy. Since Tsipras’s election, the outrage has grown, as well as the pressure on Merkel.

In recent weeks there has been much speculation about the intentions of Merkel and Schäuble and what they mean for German politics. The paradox is that Schäuble, considered more pro-European than Merkel, is thought to be the only one in Germany who shares the continental vision that Helmut Kohl had, and yet it was he who has taken a tougher line on Greece to the point of making a Grexit desirable. Some say that he believes that the single currency can only succeed if everyone obeys the rules, while Merkel is more concerned over the geopolitical costs of a possible solution, especially given the revisionist position of Russia's past from the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Others speculate that the difference between Merkel and Schäuble is merely tactical, the classical method of good cop / bad cop to get concessions from Greece.  


It is possible that Schäuble believes that a Grexit would help to boost the European project as, in his opinion, the crisis has helped in the past five years. Not only because the eurozone would get rid of its most controversial member, but because it would force other countries to deepen integration to reassure markets about the sustainability of the single currency. This interpretation is confirmed by former US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, whose memoir, “Stress Test,” recounts a conversation in the summer of 2012 in which Schäuble said Greece's exit would be so "traumatic" that it would scare the rest of Europe and force it to cede more sovereignty to a stronger banking and fiscal union. In other words, it is possible that Schäuble is trying to create a crisis to impose greater integration that otherwise would have little support.

Today, Schäuble is more popular in Germany than Merkel, he is perhaps a European pro-German, that is, someone who really wants more Europe but in accordance with the interests of Germany (although, of course, he denies it and says that he does not want a German Europe, but only a strong Europe).

In practice, this can translate into a core Europe to follow the German model, in which countries are integrated more and maybe even end up creating a kind of political union based on some established and unchangeable rules, as in the case of the debt brake introduced by eurozone countries in their constitutions. In short, a more integrated Europe, but in which all important decisions, particularly on economic policy, are taken away from political debate and democratic control.




Perspectives on the Greek crisis

Posted 14/07/2015

Here at EU Spectator we like to think we offer balanced coverage of European political issues. Thus as we give much attention to the perspectives of the EU institutions we thought it might be interesting to hear the opinions, of two very different characters, not singing from the Brussels hymn sheet – in the interest of fairness. Note we have also included a sample of tweets from recent days, courtesy of the BBC, with some rather dramatic images, which reflect the mood of some, in the current turbulent times. 


The Editor


Killing the European Project – The Conscience of a liberal

By Paul Krugman – writing in The New York Times - 13/07/2015


Suppose you consider Tsipras an incompetent twerp. Suppose you dearly want to see Syriza out of power. Suppose, even, that you welcome the prospect of pushing those annoying Greeks out of the euro.

Even if all of that is true, this Eurogroup list of demands is madness. The trending hashtag ThisIsACoup is exactly right. This goes beyond harsh into pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief. It is, presumably, meant to be an offer Greece can’t accept; but even so, it’s a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for.

Can anything pull Europe back from the brink? Word is that Mario Draghi is trying to reintroduce some sanity, that Hollande is finally showing a bit of the pushback against German morality-play economics that he so signally failed to supply in the past. But much of the damage has already been done. Who will ever trust Germany’s good intentions after this?

In a way, the economics have almost become secondary. But still, let’s be clear: what we’ve learned these past couple of weeks is that being a member of the Eurozone means that the creditors can destroy your economy if you step out of line. This has no bearing at all on the underlying economics of austerity. It’s as true as ever that imposing harsh austerity without debt relief is a doomed policy no matter how willing the country is to accept suffering. And this in turn means that even a complete Greek capitulation would be a dead end.

Can Greece pull off a successful exit? Will Germany try to block a recovery? (Sorry, but that’s the kind of thing we must now ask.)

The European project — a project I have always praised and supported — has just been dealt a terrible, perhaps fatal blow.        And whatever you think of Syriza, or Greece, it wasn’t the Greeks who did it.

We will all be like Greece if the EU gets its way


By Nigel Farage – writing in The Telegraph – 14/07/2015


The humiliating terms imposed on Greece show just how far the EU will go to snuff out any hint of sovereignty in its member states

What we are seeing in Europe is the complete and total failure of supranationalism. While cooperation between independent nations has always been important, the last few weeks have laid totally bare the European Union's brand of authoritarian dogma. Much of what I have been warning about for many years indeed is playing out on the world stage - a Greek tragedy that beggars belief.

For many years in the European Parliament I have done my best to point out how the EU's bullying tactics are not just undemocratic, but anti-democratic. I have been derided, called names, and so on (don't worry, I can take it). But now, with the EU's nauseating approach to Greek sovereignty, it is clear that more and more people are waking up to the dangers of this supranational beast sweeping aside national sovereignty completely. Many who had continued to believe until very recently that the EU was compassionate and forward-looking are beginning to realise just how backwards the whole project is. If I was a Greek politician, I would vote against the deal that has been thrust upon it by the EU and their own Prime Minister, who I believe has let the people of his country down badly. Indeed, I said in my speech to Alexis Tsipras in the European Parliament that he should be brave, bite the bullet and lead his country out of the Eurozone. He could have done so with his head held extremely high indeed, given the huge mandate that the Greek people had handed him with a resounding "No" vote.

Instead, the 61 per cent of those who said "Oxi" to the European Union's deal have been led to accept one even worse than that. Mass public democracy has seemingly died in a ditch in Greece, as always happens when the EU is involved. Just remember how Ireland, the only country to have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, voted "No", and were made to vote again until the EU had the right answer. No never quite means No to the bully boys in Brussels.

In this case there is no second referendum, simply a capitulation from Greece's political elite, who have abandoned the notion of carrying out the will of their people. Instead they have opted for a humiliating deal which will inflict further punishment whilst locking the country hopelessly inside the Euro. It is a perfect example of how the EU is not about furthering the interests of the peoples of Europe but is its own brand of nationalism, interested only in bulldozing opinion in the name of self-preservation. Those who seek to resist, like PM Tsipras, are bullied into complete submission.

After fighting two World Wars in order to preserve the concept of national democracy, we see a Europe where that very concept is being diluted into extinction by those who wish to see a United States of Europe.





















































Bosnia marks Srebrenica massacre anniversary

Posted 11/07/2015

Several thousand people gathered today in Srebrenica for the 19th anniversary of the massacre of 8,000 Muslim males by ethnic Serbs forces, Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.

The remains of 175 newly-identified massacre victims were laid to rest after a commemoration ceremony held in Potocari memorial centre, just outside the Bosnian town.

The youngest victim to be laid to rest during the service was 14 when he was killed.

Among the others who will be buried are 13 teenage boys, aged between 15 and 17.

Around 8,000 men and boys died in the Srebrenica massacre which followed the town's seizure by Bosnia Serb forces on 11 July, 1995.

It was labelled a genocide by two international courts.

So far, the remains of 6,066 people have been exhumed from mass graves in the Srebrenica region for reburial in the Potocari cemetery.

The massacre took place just a few months before the end of Bosnia's 1992-1995 war, which claimed 100,000 lives in total.

Serbian PM forced to flee Srebrenica ceremony

A crowd throwing bottles and stones chased Serbia's prime minister from the ceremony.

The incident underscores the depth of anger over Belgrade's continued denial of the crime as genocide.

Bodyguards whisked Aleksandar Vucic through angry mourners shouting and booing while a crowd surged up the hill behind the delegation as they ran for their cars.

Universal commentators have called the massacre genocide but many Serbs dispute the term, the death toll and the official account of what went on.

There are conflicting narratives of the Yugoslav wars that still feed political divisions and stifle progress towards integration with Western Europe.

Milorad Dodik, president of Bosnia's autonomous Serb Republic where Srebrenica is located, last month called the massacre “the greatest deception of the 20th century.”

Attendance by Vucic was symbolic for Serbia, which backed Bosnian Serb forces with men and money during the war, last week enlisted ally Russia to veto a British-backed UN resolution that would have condemned the denial of Srebrenica as genocide, as a UN court has ruled it was.

During the 1990s, Mr Vucic was a disciple of the "Greater Serbia" ideology that fuelled much of the bloodshed that accompanied Yugoslavia's demise.

He has since rebranded himself as pro-Western and his attendance today was intended to be symbolic of how far the region has come since wars that left at least 135,000 people dead, 100,000 of them in Bosnia. "Look at him (Vucic) and look at those thousands of tombstones," said Hamida Dzanovic, who had come to bury two bones identified by DNA as those of her missing husband.

"Is he not ashamed to say that this was not genocide? Is he not ashamed to come here?" she asked.

Mr Vucic was earlier welcomed by the head of the Association of Srebrenica Mothers, Munira Subasic - whose husband and son were among those killed.

She pinned a white and green crochet flower of remembrance on his lapel and he signed a book of condolences.

Ever since the massacre, the West has faced questions over how it allowed the fall of Srebrenica, a designated UN "safehaven" for Muslims Bosniaks displaced by the war.

Months later, NATO air strikes forced the Serbs to the negotiating table.

A US-brokered peace treaty ended the fighting and enshrined in Bosnia a complicated and unwieldy system of ethnic power-sharing that survives today.

Bill Clinton, who was US president at the time, told those gathered: “I grieve that it took us so long.”


"I never want to see another killing field like this," he said. The accused chief architects of the massacre - Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic and military commander Ratko Mladic - remain on trial at a UN court in The Hague, protesting their innocence.

In the Serbian capital, Belgrade, police ringed the parliament after Mr Vucic's government banned a gathering of remembrance for Srebrenica's dead.

Instead, a few hundred Serbians lit candles in a nearby park last night.



Kiev "does not implement" Minsk 2 Agreements experts sayMartin BanksMartin Banks

Posted 09/07/2015

By Martin Banks

Trouble-torn Ukraine has been turned into the most impoverished state in Europe, the European Parliament in Strasbourg has been told.

The statement comes as the Parliament President Martin Schulz described recent comments by Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko that the country will be ready to join the  EU "within five to six years" as "rather ambitious."

Opening a debate in the Parliament on Tuesday on the future of the war torn country, Czech MEP Miroslav Ransdorf said that its recovery from the bitter internal conflict will take 20 years to rectify. "It is a tragedy," he said.

At the same time he underlined that the most important thing at the moment is full implementation of what are known as the Minsk 2 Agreements.

Signed in February these call for various measures, including the withdrawal of heavy weapons by both sides, an effective monitoring and verification regime for the ceasefire, the start of a dialogue on the holding of local elections, the release of all hostages and other illegally detained people, a pardon and amnesty by banning any prosecution of figures involved in the Donetsk and Luhansk conflict and the restoration full social and economic links with the affected areas.

According to Ransdorf, a long time parliamentarian and member of the GUE group in Parliament, the leaders of the two regions, Donestk and Luhansk, say there is no need for independence, just some form of autonomy. "The problem is that without constitutional change solving the problem of these two regions is not possible. You cannot implement Minsk 2 Agreement without this."

"I have asked Federica Mogherini (EU foreign policy chief) about this and she agreed with me, saying Kiev has to undertake these reforms. It is therefore surprising that no one in the European Parliament wants to speak about these things.

The problem also is that no one will discuss this with the two regions, therefore, the Minsk 2 agreement is being violated."

He was speaking at a specially convened debate, "Ukraine between internal problems and European expectations," held during the monthly parliamentary plenary in Strasbourg.

The debate was timely as the Parliament used the recent anniversary of signing the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreements to urge Ukraine to conduct reforms. In the last few days, ten MEPs have also proposed appointing an EU special representative for Ukraine.

Further contribution came from John Laughland, director of studies at the French Institute of Democracy and Cooperation, said that the "EU sanctions were recently renewed on the basis that the Minsk accords had not been respected but the problem is that they are not respected by the Ukrainian side.

"One of the Minsk 2 provisions calls for the removal of all foreign armed formations yet 290 US paratroopers were recently despatched to Ukraine. There is no mystery about this so we can see that the Western powers, including the UK and U.S., are not respecting the Minsk Agreements."

Minsk 2 says there should be a special status for the two territories but, indeed, no practical steps are being undertaken from the Kiev side to implement this provision, said Laughland.

Meanwhile, the Paris based academic said that the "rhetoric of Peroshenko shows that he continues to see the civil war as a terrorist phenomenon by a foreign intervention, speaking about 200,000 Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border, 20 times the figure which Germany has called "dangerous propaganda."

He added, "Recently, the deputy head of the Presidential administration said openly to the press that the new Ukrainian constitution will contain no special status provisions for Donetsk and Lugansk."

According to Laughland this is a "clear violation" of Minsk 2 Agreements.

A lawyer from Odessa, Kyryl Shevchuk told the two-hour roundtable, "There are several important problems in Ukraine that Europe does not know about. While we are trying to pursue closer integration with Europe we are running up complex problems unique to Ukraine, including human rights violations. I have documents relating to physical mistreatment of people arrested in Ukraine. Ukrainian judges give rulings without any pleadings and rehash the proof which is put to them.

"Currently, the only aim of Ukrainian justice is to defend the interest of the ruling oligarchy and central government."

Alexey Glazov, another Odessa based lawyer, spoke of the actual situation in Ukraine concerning basic human rights violations. "Unfortunately, the situation in Ukraine today cannot be talked of as a place where the rule of law applies. If you do not agree with the Government you are regarded as an enemy and no one is interested in solid evidence. In Ukraine, everything has been turned on its head."

Federalism is separatism and participation in peaceful demonstrations or anything that questions the Government line is regarded as a crime. "It means there have been many arrests of people on the pretext that they represent a threat to national security but no evidence is ever submitted, only a suspicion. The courts blindly follow the Government line by depriving people of their basic rights under due process. They have no alternative but to do as the Government says."

A client, Artyom Buzila, a Ukraine journalist whose opinions were not in line with the Government, was arrested, beaten up and forced to sign a confession which he never read.

“This situation has become known as the fight for national security but needs to be drawn to the situation of people in Europe.” Luis Durnwalder, former president of the autonomous region of South Tyrol of Italy, said, "We had a similar situation in South Tyrol to the Donbass. We have three different language groups, German, Italian and Latin and have had problems in the past in trying to ensure that our traditions and rights to autonomy were respected.

"It is possible that the South Tyrol could be a model for resolving the problem of Donbass."

Italian economist and political scientist Andrea Villoti strongly supported the bid of Odessa region for a porto franco status, saying this will provide for additional opportunities in the economic field and not harm the unity the country because we see examples of porto franco status in other countries.

During a lively discussion at a packed meeting, former Ukrainian MP and minister Anatolii Tolstoukhov stressed that the political and social situation in Ukraine in recent weeks had changed for the worse with the economy heading towards bankruptcy and a continuing violation of human rights.

He said, "It is becoming a tragic comedy since we have a complete deadlock in the east of the country where people are still dying and towns destroyed."

He added that in his opinion Ukraine should remain a neutral state, protected by the UN, between Europe and Asia. We have to be prepared for decentralisation and federalisation measures which are entirely democratic and political persecutions must stop. Given the situation where human rights are being violated, talking about independence is just playing at politics. You cannot fight corruption merely by looking another way. It is important to see that at present there is no dialogue between those in power, opposition and the rebel republics. The situation is such that soon people will reject those in power given that what they are doing is against their interests and armed groups will simply come to the fore in Ukraine.

Italian political scientist Alessandro Musolino said Minsk 2 agreements will work only in case Europe takes measures and makes Kiev to sit at the negotiation table. Kiev, he said, must show "real deeds" but not only words concerning implementation of the Minsk agreements.

He said, "Europe should understand that Russia is not our enemy but our partner and a loyal one in fighting terrorism such as IS. Let us not forget this. We must clearly state that the ball is on the Ukrainian side regarding implementation of Minsk agreements. Donbass must have a solution since we have examples of South Tyrol and others."



British Army Appoints First Female Major General

Posted 07/07/2015

The British Army has appointed its first female Major General.

Susan Ridge, who currently holds the rank of Brigadier, will be promoted in September to take on the role of Director General Army Legal Services.

Susan RidgeSusan Ridge

She will become the highest ranked female in British Army history and only the second woman to hold a two-star rank.

Elaine West, who serves in the RAF, was appointed Air Vice-Marshal, also a two-star rank, in 2013.

Brigadier Ridge said she is “very honoured and privileged to have been given this opportunity.”

She started her career working in the private sector specialising in land and property law, but has spent the last 23 years working in the military.

In her new position she will be responsible for the whole of Army Legal Services, which provides legal support to the Army in barracks, on training and on operations.

General Sir Nick Carter, the Head of the Army, gave a very brief comment on news of the historic announcement saying: "I am very pleased for Sue; she is a talented and committed officer who is widely respected throughout the Army."



Brigadier Ridge is married to a serving Army Officer who has completed tours in the Balkans and Afghanistan.

The Ministry of Defence official announcement reveals she "enjoys antiques and travelling with her family, while pursuing her love of obscure fiction.”   EU Spectator magazine wishes potential Major General Susan Ridge every success in her future appointment. 




Heatwave sweeps across Europe

Posted 03/07/2015

A heatwave is sweeping across Europe, with temperatures set to exceed 40°C in some countries.

The summer heat has taken hold of Italy, with temperatures of over 35°C in many Italian cities.

Rome's zoo is helping the animals deal with the high temperatures by handing out iced treats and encouraging frequent bathing in cold water.

Iced lollies made with yogurt and fruit were a hit with the zoo's orangutans, while the brown bears enjoyed iced melons. Throughout the summer months at the zoo, keepers make sure the animals have access to the frozen treats and a constant supply of fresh water.


“We are trying to give them some iced mixed with some food and some frozen yogurt. They do like it very much. For most of the other animals they have water all the time, who has the pool can go into the pool, they have the shade which is very important in every enclosure,” said Rome zoo curator Yitzhak Yadid.

The heatwave in Italy is expected to peak today, with temperatures reaching 39°C while temperatures in France are set to exceed 40°C over the weekend.

Spain’s heatwave is expected to last for at least nine days and will peak on Monday as temperatures soar to 44°C.

It is the second heatwave of the summer and will affect almost all of Spain. As most Europeans enjoy the good weather, the continent’s top athletes will be forced to push through it.

Tour de France cyclists will be forced to endure temperatures of 37°C as the race begins in Utrecht in Holland with a time-trial event.

Triathletes at the European Ironman Championships in Frankfurt will spend more than eight hours swimming 3.8km, cycling 180km and running 42.195km in the hot temperatures.

Organisers have 14 tonnes of ice on standby to cool both the competitors and spectators.

On Wednesday, a ballboy collapsed at Wimbledon as the tennis tournament experienced its hottest day in history.

Forecasters predict temperatures could reach as high as 35°C in the UK today.

On Wednesday, Heathrow hit of 36.7°C and broke the record for the hottest July day ever in the UK.

Despite the high temperatures, there are warnings of severe storms.

The British Met Office issued a yellow weather warning that runs until midday tomorrow.

Heavy thunderstorms are expected across England and Wales and will spread northwards towards Scotland.

Localised flooding and showers of hail are also expected.

The last major hot spell in Europe in 2003 caused an estimated 70,000 deaths, mainly among elderly people.


Source: AFP/Reuters



Douglas MurrayDouglas Murray

Douglas Murray discusses the implications post Tunisia attack

Posted 01/07/2015

Douglas Murray (born 17 July 1979) is a British writer, journalist and commentator. He was the director of the Centre for Social Cohesion from 2007 until 2011, and is currently an associate director of the Henry Jackson Society.

Murray has appeared on a number of British current affairs programmes, including the BBC's Question Time, This Week, HardTalk the Today programme, The Big Questions, and The Daily Politics, in which he presented a piece arguing that multiculturalism is not multiracialism.

Murray has written for The Guardian and Standpoint and in 2012 he was appointed a contributing editor of The Spectator.

Murray wrote about the incident in an article for The Spectator. Murray is a frequent critic of Islam, and has identified what he sees as, "a creed of Islamic fascism – a malignant fundamentalism, woken from the dark ages to assault us here and now." He views cultural relativism as exacerbating the issue. Murray has labelled "Islamophobia" a "nonsense term," as "there are a considerable number of reasons to be fearful of some – though certainly not all – aspects and versions of Islam."

His comments about Islamic extremism in the Netherlands mean that he has to have a police guard when travelling there. 


Perspectives of the week from the two largest groups in the European Parliament

Posted 25/06/2015

Video courtesy of epptv and EPP Group                                                                    Video courtesy of the S&D Group


Note: the concept of this format is to demonstrate impartiality, and to inform EU taxpayers.


Slovakia anti-immigration rally

Posted 22/06/2015

Yesterday at least 140 people were arrested after violence broke out at an anti-immigration rally in Bratislava attended by thousands of people in protest at EU quotas on migrant numbers, local media said. The rally was organised by an anti-Islam group called "Stop the Islamisation of Europe."

The rally drew up to 8,000 people, according to Slovakian media. Police declined to give an estimate.

Protesters included Marian Kotleba, the governor of a central Slovakian region and founder of the far-right People's Party Our Slovakia.

"I wish you a nice, white day... we are here to save Slovakia," Kotleba told the crowd.

Scuffles erupted between small groups of demonstrators and police at the end of the rally, leading to 140 arrests, the country's TASR news agency reported, citing local police sources.

Earlier, at least one protester was taken into custody after using tear gas against the police, and some in the crowd were seen shredding a blue EU flag offered by one of the speakers.

After the rally, a group of protesters attacked spectators at a cycling show, local media said, adding that unidentified attackers also threw bottles and stones at an Arab family at the main train station.

The protest was called after the European Commission said in May that Slovakia, an EU and NATO member of 5.4 million people, should accept 471 migrants from Italy and 314 from Greece, as the bloc scrambles to deal with a surge in people illegally crossing the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better life.

On Friday, Prime Minister Robert Fico and his counterparts from neighbouring Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland affirmed that their countries were against quotas on refugee numbers imposed by the EU.


A June poll by the Focus opinion research agency, published showed Slovaks perceived the current wave of migrants heading to Europe as the hottest international topic, being mentioned by almost 22% of 1,018 respondents.

"The vast majority of the Slovak public... perceives migrants as a security risk for the country, or as an economic or social burden," said Focus head Martin Slosiarik.


Meanwhile Dutch anti-Islam MP is to air Mohammed cartoons

Publicity-seeking Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders is to broadcast cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed on television during time reserved for political parties yesterday, his party said.

The cartoons will be shown on Dutch public television, Mr Wilders' Freedom Party said in a statement, adding that they would be repeated on 24 June and 3 July.

Mr Wilders said he was making the broadcasts to defend freedom of speech after two militants were shot dead while attacking a Mohammed cartoon contest in Texas last month.

Many Muslims find drawings of the prophet to be disrespectful or outright blasphemous.


Dutch authorities have said such a move could see Mr Wilders' right to airtime suspended for up to four years.

Dutch embassies have reportedly been warned about what measures to take if the cartoons are broadcast, as they could spark violent protests.

Mr Wilders' announcement earlier this month that he wanted to show the cartoons on television prompted the Council of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands to release its own cartoon mocking Mr Wilders as a spoilt child with a big mouth.

The cartoon shows Mr Wilders shouting "fewer, fewer" in reference to his announcement last year that he would reduce the number of Moroccans in the Netherlands.

Behind the politician is the bomb that he wants to explode in Dutch society, while underneath the bomb and the hysterical Mr Wilders are normal citizens, including Muslims, getting on with their lives and ignoring the bouffant-hairdoed populist.

"We're building the Netherlands further," the cartoon says.

Mr Wilders, who gave an anti-Islam speech at the Texas event shortly before the attack, had tried to get parliament to stage an exhibition of Mohammed caricatures.

The politician, whose party gained popularity in the Netherlands on an anti-Islam ticket, has denied that a cartoon exhibition would be provocative.


TEN-T - Connecting Europe

Posted 18/06/2015

The European Union earlier this year developed a new transport infrastructure policy that connects the continent between East and West, North and South.

This policy aims to close the gaps between Member States' transport networks, remove bottlenecks that still hamper the smooth functioning of the internal market and overcome technical barriers such as incompatible standards for railway traffic. It promotes and strengthens seamless transport chains for passenger and freight, while keeping up with future technological trends. This project will help the economy in its recovery and growth, with a budget of €26 billion up to 2020.

European Coordinators  – high level personalities with long standing experience in transport, financing and in European politics – will lead the drive to build the core network corridors, which represent the strategic heart of the TEN-T and therefore deserve a concentrated amount of effort and attention for their financing, cooperation efficiency and quality.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the then 12 Member States had decided to set up an infrastructure policy at Community level in order to support the functioning of the internal market through continuous and efficient networks in the fields of transport, energy and telecommunications. The 20 years which passed since have seen major developments: the geographical extension as a result of four enlargements, Europe's increasing responsibility at global level, “revolutions“ in the field  of Information and Communication Technologies, which all had an impact on European infrastructure development.

Other EU funds – notably the Cohesion Fund and the ERDF – contributed also significantly to developing the TEN-T. At the same time, the Guidelines constituted a reference framework for Member States infrastructure policy.

With a view to the EU's financial framework 2014–2020, the European Commission launched a policy review in 2009. The review started with an analysis of the strength and weaknesses experienced so far, built on the advice of technical experts and involved a broad range of stakeholders through formal consultations and regular TEN-T Days. The new policy framework, which was established as a result of this review, brought innovations and significant progress in a number of areas: governance at European level, a strong legal form, a genuine network approach, a  powerful instrument for TEN-T funding, etc.: A promising basis for future success.

In the first 20 years of TEN-T policy, not all the ambitious objectives were achieved. Nevertheless, there have been real success stories, which are a demonstration of the steady progress made in different areas. 

Video courtesy of epptv- EPP Group

In January this year, the European Commission published nine studies on the state of play and the development needs of the TEN-T core network corridors. The studies have identified infrastructure development needs which represent approximately €700 billion of financial investment until 2030. They highlight the importance of optimising the use of infrastructure along the corridors, notably through intelligent transport systems, efficient management and the promotion of future-oriented clean transport solutions. This is the first time that tens of thousands kilometres of rail, road, inland waterway connections, ports, airports and other transport terminals have been studied in such a comprehensive way and with a common methodology.

Violeta Bulc, EU Commissioner for Transport said, "We have to step up our efforts to make sure the core network will be fully operational by 2030, to ensure smooth transport flows for passengers and goods throughout the EU. Now is the time to invest in TEN-T projects and to maximise the benefits of the Connecting Europe facility and the Commission's €315 billion Investment Plan. After all, the Trans-European Transport Network is crucial for a Union striving for more growth, jobs and competitiveness. As Europe is slowly stepping out of the economic crisis, we need a connected Union, without barriers, in order for our single market to thrive."

The core network will connect:

    • 94 main European ports with rail and road links
    • 38 key airports with rail connections into major cities
    • 15,000 km of railway line upgraded to high speed
    • 35 cross-border projects to reduce bottlenecks

This will be the economic lifeblood of the single market, allowing a real free flow of goods and people around the EU.
But TEN-T does not only focus on the European Union region, it also aims to expand its network beyond our borders. In the Regional Eastern Partnership Transport Network, partner countries have agreed on priority connections in road, railway, air and sea transport in the Eastern Partnership region. Most importantly, this network connects with the trans-European transport network (TEN-T) and will serve as guidance for future investments.

By developing strong connections and improving European citizens’ mobility, the European Union hopes to achieve what it is laid down in its motto: “united in diversity.”



The fight against primitive Blasphemy Laws 2015Randall CalvinRandall Calvin

Posted 17/06/2015

By Randall Calvin

Humanists band together to expose and fight against international “blasphemy laws.”

This year of 2015 of the Common Era, started off with tragedy on the streets of Paris.

Murdered: humanist blogger Avijit Roy, pictured with his wife, Bonya Ahmed, who survived the attack in DhakaMurdered: humanist blogger Avijit Roy, pictured with his wife, Bonya Ahmed, who survived the attack in DhakaAnd as the weeks rolled on, the bad news just kept on coming. In February, and not a million miles from Paris, bullets rained down in Copenhagen Denmark, and later that month, the humanist blogger Avitjit Roy was hacked to death in Dhaka. Then in April, another writer, the satirist Washiqur Rahman, died in identical circumstances.

Meanwhile in the loveliest, friendliest, sunniest country in the world; the desert kingdom that the West needs, and loves; as baby needs, and depends on her mother’s milk; Saudia Arabia continued its persecution of the secularist writer Raif Badawi, for the crime of running a blog which criticised government and religious officials. 


In each of these cases, the victims were accused of ‘blasphemy.’ A concept conceived more than five thousand years ago by primitive agricultural communities, who knew nothing of the Cosmos, but were beginning to learn about seasons, and whether or not the crop succeeded? If the crop was good the ‘gods’ were to be praised, if the crop failed, a blood sacrifice had to be offered, human or animal, to appease the gods’ anger. What I am trying to convey here is that what we call modern religion, was actually the first form of politics and governance, all because of bread and butter, the harvest. To feast or famine, that simple, beyond simplicity, live or die. 

Yet today, still some millions of people don’t quite understand where agricultural religion comes from. The Jews sacrificed a lamb, as per the Jesus-Messiah analogy myth, whilst the Spaniard conquistador Cortez was horrified to learn that the Aztecs of Mexico depended on the human sacrifice of hundreds, having their hearts cut out while they were still alive, to satisfy the “sun god.” 

For the religious trapped by ignorance and cultural tradition, blasphemy is a thought crime.

Currently used to persecute the non-religious, political dissidents or indeed people of minority religions.

In 2015, it is hard to stomach, the fact that 66 countries maintain legal prohibitions on blasphemy, places such as Ireland, Greece, and of course Yemen and Pakistan. In 13 of these, the punishment amounts to a death penalty simply for being a non-believer!

In other countries, including Bangladesh, blasphemy codes allow the killers of non-religious people to act with impunity, letting them kill humanists in busy streets while the police stand by and do nothing. 

Stopping the hypocrisy – beyond politics

In January, for example, the British Humanist Association, became a founding member of the - International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws- a working group of humanist and free-speech organisations dedicated to the repeal of deadly blasphemy and “religious insult” laws. In particular the campaign has focused on arguing for the abolition of these so-called  ‘laws’ within the EU.

The BHA also took the battle to the United Nations Human Rights Council, where they are an officially accredited NGO. Last March on behalf of the BHA, delegate Amelia Cooper named and shamed those states who are Human Rights Council members, but whose own laws demand the execution of ‘blasphemers’ – Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar – and called on the rest of the council to support  an end to blasphemy laws worldwide.

They also called on the UK, which has a role in ensuring its international neighbours respect and uphold the right to free expression and will continue to do their best to put pressure on the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.



UNIFIL - 37 years on

Posted 13/06/2015

By Randall Calvin

United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon

In the early 1970s, tension along the Israel-Lebanon border increased, especially after the relocation of Palestinian armed elements from Jordan to Lebanon. Palestinian commando operations against Israel and Israeli reprisals against Palestinian bases in Lebanon intensified.

On the 11th of  March 1978, a commando attack in Israel resulted in many dead and wounded among the Israeli population. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) claimed responsibility for that raid. In response, Israeli forces invaded Lebanon on the night of 14/15 March, and in a few days occupied the entire southern part of the country except for the city of Tyre and its surrounding area.

On the 15th of March 1978, the Lebanese Government submitted a strong protest to the Security Council against the Israeli invasion, stating that it had no connection with the Palestinian commando operation. On the 19th of March, the Council adopted resolutions 425 (1978) PDF Document and 426 (1978) PDF Document, in which it called upon Israel immediately to cease its military action and withdraw its forces from all Lebanese territory. It also decided on the immediate establishment of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) with three broadly defined purposes: confirming the withdrawal of Israeli forces; restoring international peace and security; and assisting the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area. The first UNIFIL troops arrived in the area on 23 March 1978.

Lebanon invaded again

In June 1982, after intense exchange of fire in southern Lebanon and across the Israel-Lebanon border, Israel invaded Lebanon again, reaching and surrounding Beirut. For three years, UNIFIL remained behind the Israeli lines, with its role limited to providing protection and humanitarian assistance to the local population to the extent possible. In 1985, Israel carried out a partial withdrawal, but it retained control of an area in southern Lebanon manned by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and by Lebanese de facto forces (DFF), the so-called "South Lebanon Army" (SLA).

Over the years, the Security Council maintained its commitment to Lebanon's territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence, while the Secretary-General continued his efforts to persuade Israel to leave the occupied zone. Despite the impasse, the Council has repeatedly extended the mandate of UNIFIL at the request of the Government of Lebanon and on the recommendation of the Secretary-General.

Israeli withdrawal

On the 17th of April 2000, the Secretary-General received formal notification from the Government of Israel that it would withdraw its forces from Lebanon by July 2000. Starting on the 16th of May, much sooner than anticipated, IDF/DFF began to vacate its positions, amid exchange of fire. On the  25th of May, the Government of Israel notified the Secretary-General that Israel had redeployed its forces.  On the 16th of June, the Secretary-General reported to the Security Council PDF Document that Israel had withdrawn its forces from Lebanon in conformity with the line identified by the United Nations; DFF had been dismantled; and all detainees held at Al-Khiam prison had been freed.

Following the Israeli withdrawal, the situation in the area of UNIFIL operation remained generally quiet. The Lebanese army, gendarmerie, and police established checkpoints in the vacated area, controlling movement and maintaining law and order. UNIFIL monitored the line of withdrawal on a daily basis, patrolled the area and, together with the Lebanese authorities and provided humanitarian assistance to local population.

In his 20th of July 2000 report PDF Document, the Secretary-General stated that southern Lebanon had seen dramatic change and that after more than two decades the guns had fallen silent. He warned, however, that while there had been enormous improvement, the situation in the Israel-Lebanon sector fell well short of peace, and the potential for serious incidents still existed.

New crisis erupts

Until July 2006, despite numerous minor violations of the withdrawal line, the so-called Blue Line, including sea and air violations, and occasional breaches of the ceasefire, some of them very serious, the situation in the area remained relatively calm. The focus of UNIFIL operations remained on the Blue Line and the adjacent area, where the Interim Force sought to maintain the ceasefire through patrols, observation from fixed positions and close contact with the parties. The mission continued to provide humanitarian assistance to local population. Clearance of mines and unexploded ordnance in southern Lebanon also gained additional momentum.


However, as it had been demonstrated more than once over the years, periods of quiet along the Blue Line were often followed by episodes of hostilities, with one of the incidents across the Line resulted in the killing and wounding of United Nations military observers.  Tensions between the parties did not at any point appreciably diminish.  Hostile rhetoric remained the norm, and stability continued to be threatened.

New hostilities on the Israeli-Lebanese border started on 12 July 2006 when Hizbollah launched several rockets from Lebanese territory across the Blue Line towards IDF positions and in the area of the Israeli town of Zarit. In parallel, Hizbollah fighters crossed the Blue Line into Israel, attacked an Israeli patrol and captured two Israeli soldiers, killed three others and wounded two more.

Subsequent to that attack, a heavy exchange of fire ensued across the Blue Line. Hizbollah targeted IDF positions and Israeli towns south of the Blue Line. Israel retaliated by ground, air and sea attacks. In addition to air strikes on Hizbollah positions, the IDF targeted numerous roads and bridges in southern Lebanon, within and outside the UNIFIL area of operations.



As conflict between Israel and Hizbollah erupted, the Secretary-General maintained regular contact with the Prime Ministers of Lebanon and of Israel, as well as other relevant actors and concerned parties. He repeatedly called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, for the sake of the civilian population on both sides.

The new hostilities had radically changed the context in which UNIFIL operated.  

The Force continued to occupy all of its positions and played an active and constructive role under its mandate. Despite being severely impeded by ongoing violence, UNIFIL peacekeepers conducted military observations, assisted in humanitarian efforts and provided medical assistance, all at great risk. The intense fighting in July and August injured 16 United Nations staff, and tragically caused the death of five.

On the  11th of August 2006, the Security Council, following intense negotiations, passed resolution 1701 (2006) PDF Document calling for a full cessation of hostilities in the month-long war based upon, in particular, “the immediate cessation by Hizbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations” in Lebanon, and called on both Israel and Lebanon to support a permanent ceasefire and comprehensive solution to the crisis. By resolution 1701, the Council has significantly enhanced UNIFIL (from about 2,000 troops just before the war to the authorized level of 15,000 military personnel) and expanded its original mandate. For the first time, the Council also decided to include the Maritime Task Force as part of UN peacekeeping operation

Another time - R. Calvin - UNIFIL - South Lebanon 1989-1993

Expanded UNIFIL deployed

Following the cessation of hostilities, the gradual withdrawal of the IDF forces and deployment of Lebanese troops, the first elements of the expanded UNIFIL were deployed with record-breaking speed for any peacekeeping operation of such complexity, with battalions from, Ireland France, Italy and Spain arriving to the area of operation by the 15th of September, and joining the contingents already in place from Ghana and India.

The swift and effective deployment of the expanded UNIFIL and the activities that the Force undertakes since then on a daily basis have been critical in preventing a recurrence of hostilities across the Blue Line and have helped to establish a new strategic military and security environment in southern Lebanon.



Belgium produces Battle of Waterloo €2.50 coin

Posted 09/06/2015

Belgium has begun to produce €2.50 coins to mark the 200th anniversary of Napoleon's defeat of at the Battle of Waterloo, after France forced it to scrap a €2 coin for the same purpose.

Earlier this year Paris objected to the new Belgian coin, commemorating the French emperor's defeat by British and Prussian forces, saying it would create tensions at a time when Europe's unity is under threat.

Belgium was forced to get rid of around 180,000 €2 coins that had already been minted after Paris sent a letter saying they could cause an "unfavourable reaction in France."

Belgium has managed to work around the French protests using a rule that allows Eurozone countries to unilaterally issue coins if they are in an irregular denomination, in this case, €2.50.

Napoleon Bonaparte was forced into exile after his ambitions were crushed by the Duke of Wellington's forces at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815. The battle took place on what is now the outskirts of Brussels.

Belgian Finance Minister Johan Van OvertveldtBelgian Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt

France had said in its initial letter to Belgium that the battle "has a particular resonance in the collective consciousness that goes beyond a simple military conflict".

Belgian Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt said the new coins, of which there will be 70,000, were not being released in a deliberate bid to anger France.

"The goal is not to revive old quarrels. In a modern Europe, there are more important things to sort out,” said Mr Van Overtveldt.

"But there's been no battle in recent history as important as Waterloo, or indeed one that captures the imagination in the same way," he added.

The €2.50 coins can be used in Belgian shops, but collectors are expected to snap most of them up.

Sold in special plastic bags priced at €6, the coins show the Lion's Mound monument that stands at the battlefield site, as well as lines indicating the position of the troops.

Several thousand copies of silver coin, with a face value of €10, but sold at €40, will also be released.


Kiev gay rights march

Posted 06/06/2015

In stark contrast to the happy scenes that we saw in Dublin last week, when the same-sex marriage referendum was passed, at least seven people were injured and more than 20 arrested in Kiev as scuffles broke out between members of a rare Ukrainian gay pride march and their nationalist opponents.

The socially-conservative country, which is locked in a war with pro-Russian insurgents, is seeking a closer alliance with Europe and remains keen to promote civil liberties freely enjoyed in much of the West.

The March of Equality parade staged at a scenic stretch of the Dniepr River on the northern outskirts of Kiev was scheduled to last only ten minutes out of security concerns.

Members of the Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) nationalist organisation had on this occasion threatened to disrupt the protest and defend more conservative traditions.

But around 100 activists still showed up for the rally after being informed of its location by the main organisers only a few hours in advance.
"This march shows that we exist. We are fighting for equal rights that, unlike others in Ukraine, we currently lack," said a 31-year-old woman who agreed to identify herself only as Vira out of concerns for both her safety and future career prospects.

"I am very frightened," she admitted. "But I am also very proud of myself - proud that I came out and so many people supported us."
The scuffles broke out when the police tried to keep a few dozen young men who had jumped out of a bus bearing Right Sektor insignia from attacking the peaceful marchers.

Ambulance workers said one police woman suffered a neck injury.

The Kiev police department said five other officers and one far right group member were also slightly hurt.

The police statement added that 25 nationalists, many of them clad in black balaclava, had been detained and taken in for questioning.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on the eve of the protest that he fully supported the marchers but would refrain from attending the event.

"As far as the 'March of Equality' is concerned, I view it from both the perspective of a Christian and a pro-European president.

"I believe these are two completely compatible ideas," Mr Poroshenko told reporters.

"I will not be taking part," said the 49-year-old leader.

"But I see no grounds for someone to try and disturb it, since this is the constitutional right of every Ukrainian citizen."

Source: AFP



EU - With or Without U?

Posted 29/05/2015

By Randall Calvin

For the times they are a changin' as per the song by Bob Dylan.

With David Cameron doing his European tour to lobby selected EU Member States to back his plan for the future of the EU project; EU Spectator magazine chatted with veteran Brussels journalist - Maria Laura Franciosi, an Italian native - from Naples, to discuss the changing political mood in Europe from the journalists' perspective.

The Press Club Brussels Europe is a joint initiative of the associations of international journalists based in Brussels and the Brussels-Capital Region and opened its doors in February 2011 with the aim of providing a forum for conferences and debates with and among members of the media.

It was born from an initiative of the Brussels Capital Region, aware that a Press Club was needed in this city. It is the first club of its kind to be created in Brussels, and within the first three months it saw more than 1,000 journalists and guests cross its threshold.

Three years after its inauguration, it continues to provide both visiting and Brussels-based journalists with a platform to express their thoughts and ideas and to share them with others.

Since its opening, over 750 events have been organized in the club (totaling more than 35.000 visitors), of which many were initiatives of embassies and permanent representations to the EU. 

Also the world of trade and industry with headquarters in Brussels; associations and NGOs; lobby groups and think tanks have found their way to our club.

The Press Club Brussels Europe acts as a hub to promote partnerships with other press clubs around the world. The twinning with the National Press Club in Washington DC is testimony to the status of the Press Club Brussels Europe.

At the General Assembly of the European Press Clubs Federation in Frankfurt in 2012 the Press Club Brussels Europe was elected to head the annual presidency of the Federation from April 2013. The European Press Clubs Federation has been active for about 25 years with more than 40 Press Clubs throughout Europe as its members and representing 13.000 journalists.

To know more about the Press Club Brussels Europe:


Press Club Management                                                 Press Club Brussels Europe BoardPress Club Brussels Europe Board

Laurent Brihay, Executive Director

Viktor Sidabras, Head of the Diplomatic Platform

Veneta Magistrelli, External Relations Manager

Gregor Kupper

 Visit Brussels desk

Marie-Dominique Vlegels, Press Club Supervisor



Latvian link to criminal counterfeit drug scamMartin BanksMartin Banks

Posted 26/05/2015

By Martin Banks 

A “very worrying" new report has fuelled concerns that a proposed change in the law in Latvia could "open the floodgates" to counterfeit medicines.

The confidential Italian report reveals that an extensive organised criminal network is behind the distribution of counterfeit drugs across Western Europe.

The investigation, by the pharmaceutical watchdog Italian Medicines Agency (AIFA), has caused alarm as fake or contaminated drugs may be ineffective or even deadly, as well as hit revenues for reputable pharmaceutical companies. 

The watchdog, along with the Italian anti-fraud squad NAS, industry associations and the Health Ministry, is collecting data on a problem causing increasing concern for health authorities across Europe.

The findings have also been seized upon by critics of a proposed change in national legislation for drug approval in Latvia which will directly affect pharmaceutical businesses seeking to import drugs into the Baltic state.

The fear is that the proposed Latvian amendments will adversely affect patient security and the quality supervision system on imported drugs, in particular, on non-registered drugs from third countries.

It is claimed that the proposals, which have been drafted by the Latvian ministry, will favour so called "parallel drug" importers and "open the floodgates" to fake drugs.


The whole issue has been given added significance because Latvia is the current holder of the rotating EU presidency.

The new draft Cabinet regulation in Latvia has given rise to concerns that the system for drug registration will make it easier to import counterfeit drugs because "parallel importers" will not be subject to the same checks and balances as provided for in current Latvian legislation for registered importers.

There have been also allegations that the Latvian health minister himself may personally gain from a change in legislation, sparking suggestions of a potential conflict of interest.

The AIFA report on "Operation volcano, the Herceptin case", extracts of which have been seen by this website, concludes that some drugs were fake and that two firms in this "international chain" were from Latvia (with others being from Hungary, Italy and Cyprus).

While unconnected to the planned law change, the Italian probe also uncovered a direct connection to Latvia.

Initially authorised Italian wholesalers purchased medicines from ‘bogus’ operators in a number of member states. The identified bogus operators included "Euroriga Med" and "Latvamed International," both based in Riga.

Domenico Di Giorgio, director for the prevention of counterfeiting at AIFA, said that the problem of drug thefts had exploded in the past two years and that fake companies in places such as Latvia, Hungary and Romania had been involved.

"Prosecutors in Naples are looking into just who is behind it all, but it's a very structured web and certainly not local," he said.

He told this website, "Latvia was involved because some of the "bogus wholesalers" involved in the paperwork preparation, that is, drafting fake invoices for 'cleaning' illegal medicines, were established there.”

Counterfeit medicines are a global problem and both the European pharmaceutical industry and European Medicines Agency say it is disturbed by the presence of bogus drugs in the supply chain.

Latvian Health Minister, Guntis BelēvičsLatvian Health Minister, Guntis Belēvičs

But the fear is that the proposed legislative change in Latvia may result in more falsified medicines entering the legitimate medicine supply chain throughout the European Economic Area. 

The most used definition of counterfeit medicines is the one put forward by the WHO as being "a medicine which is deliberately and fraudulently mislabeled with respect to identity and/or source.”

The phenomenon presents an increasing trend and it involves developed and developing countries. It concerns brand name drugs and generic drugs, life-saving medicines and lifestyle products. 

Di Giorgio said, "Organised crime is certainly involved; there's a central structure apparently based in Italy that commissions thefts of medicines in hospitals.”

"Italy has become the breeding ground for collecting costly products that are then shipped on to other countries across Europe in what is a very lucrative business. All 28 European Union countries and police have been alerted.”

Di Giorgio said that most of the cases to date involved the selling of the original product but he would not rule out counterfeiting.

He also warned that "the network is a kind of giant washing machine for illegally acquired products that focuses on expensive hospital drugs but also steals cargoes from trucks.”

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) described the situation as going “beyond EU and national current practices for handling quality or product defects; these are extraordinary circumstances driven by criminal activities that require special measures and strong collaboration from authorities across the EU.”

A European Commission source said it had received information from the AIFA and described the findings as "very worrying" but went on to add that the report had not yet been formally approved. Nor was it publicly available.

A spokesman told this website, "Given that the report is not officially published yet we cannot give any comment.”

In Brussels a formal parliamentary question has been submitted to the executive about the proposed change while the Brussels based watchdog the International Foundation for Better Governance has called for the plans to be reviewed or scrapped altogether by Latvia.


By Martin Banks for EU Spectator


Luxembourg PM first EU leader to marry same-sex partner

Posted 19/05/2015

Luxembourg's prime minister has married his civil partner, becoming the first serving leader in the European Union to marry someone of the same sex.

Xavier Bettel, 42, and Belgian architect Gauthier Destenay were among the first men to marry under a new law, introduced in Luxembourg in January, making it the latest on nearly a dozen EU states to allow same-sex marriage.

Following the private ceremony at city hall the couple were greeted by crowds of well-wishers. Mr Bettel hugged Mr Destenay and said: "Luxembourg can set an example."


Prime Minister Xavier Bettel (R) and Gauthier Destenay (L) are pictured following the private ceremony

Fellow EU prime ministers Charles Michel, 39, of neighbouring Belgium, and Estonia's Taavi Roivas, 35, attended the civil ceremony conducted by Mr Bettel's political ally and successor as mayor of the city of Luxembourg.

Mr Bettel, a lawyer by training, publicly came out as gay in a radio show seven years ago.

He became Prime Minister in December 2013, ending 19 years in power for Jean-Claude Juncker, who now heads the European Commission in Brussels.

Five years ago, Johanna Sigurdardottir, the then the Prime Minister of Iceland, became the first serving government leader in the world to marry a same-sex partner.



EU leaders urged to step up efforts to end bloodshed in DonbassMartin BanksMartin Banks

Posted 12/05/2015

By Martin Banks

Forum calls on Europe to 'do everything possible' to break the deadlock in Eastern Ukraine 

The leader of one of the two breakaway republics in Eastern Ukraine has called on Europe to "do everything possible" to prevent a further escalation of violence in the bitter year-long conflict.


Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic since August 2014Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic since August 2014The demand by Alexander Zakharchenko came in Donetsk on Monday at the start of a major 'peace and unity' forum, comprising national parliamentarians and representatives from civil society.

The two-day event, "Donbass: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow," is being attended by MPs, along with senior representatives of the governments of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics.

The international conference coincides with the first anniversary of elections on establishing self-rule in the two republics.

The poll was not recognised by most countries but a majority of respondents are believed to support some form of self-rule for Donetsk and Luhansk.

The Forum also comes in the wake of events at the weekend to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe and a visit to Moscow on Sunday by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who discussed Ukraine with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Addressing the opening of the Forum, Zakharchenko, who has been leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic since August 2014, said Europe has to do "everything possible" to prevent a new war in Donbass.

He believes European attitudes are "changing slowly to one of sympathy" towards the Donetsk Republic and that Europe is "beginning to understand that the situation here is not as Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko is telling  them."

He said, "Europe sees that terrorists (as they call us here) pay pensions, social payments and that we are fighting for our freedom as they did in Europe."

Donbass, he said, should be granted wider autonomy "in all fields of life" and also expressed hope that after the Forum people in Europe will "begin to accept Donetsk republic as an equal partner in the fields of economy and politics."

Another speaker on the opening day, Luis Durnwalder, former president of South Tyrol province in Italy, said, "Donbass has the right to demand wide autonomy in all aspects, including politics, the economy, language and culture add to the history of the successful integration and development of the mostly German-speaking Italian region of South Tyrol is one of the possible solutions for Donbass."


His comments were partly echoed by Greek MP Evgenia Ouzounidou, of the Syriza Party, who insisted on speaking only in Russian "because Donbass is the place where only this language can be spoken."

She added, "Europe must receive true and unbiased information about the war in Donbass. Unfortunately, European citizens do not receive correct news about the suffering of the civilian population in Donbass, the human losses, destruction of infrastructure, houses, hospitals and schools which are being destroyed by the Ukrainian armed forces."

Further contribution came from German journalist and publisher Manuel Ochsenreiter who told the Forum that German media and politicians "lie to the population and spread false information" about the "real situation" in Eastern Ukraine.

He proposed that both Donetsk and Luhansk republics should gain the right to self-determination and a "peaceful and prosperous life."


Elsewhere, Johan Backmann, a Finnish political scientist and sociologist, said the Forum "symbolises the integration" of Donbass with Europe "because we see here representatives of major European states like Germany and France."

He said, "All Western experts agree that the information space in Europe is dominated mainly by the USA and because of that the realities of modern global politics are being distorted."

The consensus among participants was that the Minsk 2 agreement remained the "best opportunity" for peace and participants called for its proposals to be "fully implement."

The deal agreed in Minsk in February specifically states that discussions have to take place on special status for Donetsk and Luhansk.

Under the agreement, separatists won the crucial concession that they do not have to hand control of 450km of the Ukraine-Russia border back to Kiev until the end of the year. That step was also made conditional on Ukraine devolving powers to its regions and passing a law granting "special status" to rebel-held Eastern ones.

Kiev's parliament passed a special status law for Donbass in March, but it added conditions - special status comes into force only after separatist regions hold free elections under Ukrainian law and all "illegal armed groups" must withdraw before the polls.

As the Forum was told, while Minsk 2 called for elections, it did not make such linkages.

Ukraine is experiencing its most serious increase in fighting in three months, sending more civilians fleeing and raising fresh doubts about the viability of a shaky February truce.

The Forum also heard that renewed conflict could destroy any hope of western sanctions being lifted at the year-end which could theoretically happen if Minsk is fully implemented.

Speakers emphasised the need for a total cessation of violence, saying that any lasting solution must include a measure of autonomy for Donetsk and Luhansk.

Participants discussed the future status of the Donbass region, respecting the “specific political, economic, social and cultural” areas of Eastern Ukraine.

The Forum supports this objective and all humanitarian initiatives for the reconstruction of the areas destroyed by the fighting.

It is hoped that this, the first meeting of the Forum, will help "build the foundations for the reconstruction" of Eastern Ukraine.

Another of those behind the move is Alain Fragny, who is from Urgence Enfants D'Ukraine, a French public organisation which has provided vital humanitarian aid to civilians in Eastern Ukraine.

More than 6,200 people are believed to have been killed since April 2014 and more than one million have fled their homes since conflict erupted almost one year ago in Donetsk and Luhansk.

Aid organisations have warned of a brewing humanitarian crisis in many parts of the rebel-held east, where thousands of vulnerable people including the elderly have been cut off from social subsidies as a result of the conflict.

Fragny said efforts, such as that by the Forum, to find a lasting peaceful solution were "all the more vital" given the current humanitarian situation in Donbass which he described as "quite shocking".

"There are stockpiles of weapons everywhere and many in the civil population have fled the area. It is becoming increasingly grave."

Minsk 2, which was signed on February 12th and came into force on February 15th, is particularly fragile right now.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the group charged with overseeing the agreement, recently reported more than 1,100 explosions in and around Donetsk, plus hundreds of instances of shelling by both sides in Mariupol. In addition, the OSCE says it has been denied access  to conflict areas in recent weeks.

More than 1.2 million have registered with the government as internally displaced. But the actual number is likely to be far higher.

In total, more than 5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN, and the government cannot fully meet these demands.

* A website has been created ( for anyone seeking further information about the Forum.


By Martin Banks for EU Spectator



1,000 Europeans missing, 12 dead after Nepal earthquake

Posted 03/05/2015

Up to 1,000 people from the European Union are missing in Nepal and 12 have been confirmed dead, nearly a week after a devastating earthquake, the head of the EU delegation to Nepal said.

Ambassador Rensje Teerink said that those unaccounted for were mostly tourists in the Langtang and Lukla areas. Langtang is a trekking region to the north of Kathmandu that has been hit by a huge avalanche and mudslides.

Luklais is the jumping off point for walkers and climbers making the nine-day trek to Everest base camp.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross has warned of "total devastation" in remote areas near the epicentre of Nepal's devastating earthquake as the death toll rose past 7,000.

Fresh aftershocks have made it hard for nervous survivors to return to their homes in the capital Kathmandu and elsewhere.

Disposal of the hundreds of bodies, still being found six days after the 7.9 magnitude quake devastated the Himalayan nation of 28 million people, was becoming a problem for officials who have ordered immediate cremations.

Aid was slowly beginning to reach remote towns and villages nestled in the mountains and foothills.

Many Nepalis have been sleeping in the open since Saturday's quake. According to the United Nations, 600,000 houses have been destroyed or damaged.

The country’s finance minister said Nepal would need at least $2bn (€1.78bn) to rebuild homes, hospitals, government offices and historic buildings and appealed for help from international donors.

The United Nations has said eight million people had been affected, with at least two million in need of tents, water, food and medicines over the next three months.

A home ministry official said the death toll had risen to 7,056 with 13,924 injured.

As rescuers slowly started reaching outlying areas, witnesses reported seeing 70 to 80% of buildings severely damaged in Chautara, northeast of Kathmandu.

Anger over the pace of the rescue has flared in some areas, with Nepalis accusing the government of being too slow to distribute international aid that has flooded into the country.

Yesterday a 101-year-old man has been pulled alive from the rubble of his house in Nepal seven days after it collapsed in a deadly earthquake, police have said.

Funchu Tamang was rescued yesterday with only minor injuries and airlifted to a district hospital, a local police officer said.

Police also rescued three women from under rubble today in Sindupalchowk, one of the districts worst hit by the quake.

It has yet to reach many in need, particularly in areas hard to reach given the quake damage, poor weather and aftershocks.

Tensions between foreigners and Nepalis desperate to be evacuated have also surfaced.

In Ashrang village in Gorkha, one of the worst-hit districts about four hours by road west of Kathmandu, hundreds of villagers were living outdoors with little food and water even as boxes of biscuits, juice and sacks of rice and wheat were stored in a nearby government office.

Nepal is also appealing to foreign governments for more helicopters help the twenty at work in rescue operations.

In the Himalayas, climbing is set to reopen on Mount Everest next week after damage caused by avalanches triggered by the quake is repaired, although many have abandoned their ascents.

A massive avalanche killed eighteen climbers and sherpa mountain guides at the Everest base camp.

It was not immediately known how long they had been trapped.

One woman had been buried by a landslide while the other two were under the rubble of a collapsed house.


Multiple teams of rescuers from more than twenty countries have been using sniffer dogs and heat-seeking equipment to find survivors in the rubble of the capital.

But outside the city search and rescue work has largely been carried out by local police and troops.

The current death toll of 7,056 is likely to rise as an entire village was carried away by the avalanche and many more people are believed to have died.

Rescuers this morning found about fifty bodies on a popular trekking route in the northern Rasuwa district that was hit by an avalanche.

The dead were said to include some foreign trekkers.


The entire village of Langtang was wiped out by the avalanche, said Ganga Sagar Pant, the head of the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal, who has a representative in the area.

"All that is left is scattered belongings like bags and coats, all the houses have been thrown down the mountain," he said.

At least 200 other people are still missing in Langtang, including villagers and trekkers. More than 100 people in neighbouring India and China also died in the quake, officials say.

US military aircraft and personnel are due to arrive in Nepal today, to help ferry relief supplies to stricken areas outside the capital, a US Marines spokeswoman said.

Marine Brigadier General Paul Kennedy has said the delayed US contingent included at least 100 US soldiers, lifting equipment and six military aircraft, two of them helicopters.

The team arrives as criticism mounted over a pile-up of relief material at Kathmandu airport, the only international gateway to the Himalayan nation, because of customs inspections.

United Nations Resident Representative Jamie McGoldrick said the government must loosen its normal customs restrictions to deal with the increasing flow of relief material pouring in from abroad.

But the government, complaining it has received unneeded supplies such as tuna and mayonnaise, insisted its customs agents had to check all emergency shipments.

It said eight million of Nepal's 28 million people were affected, with at least two million needing tents, water, food and medicines over the next three months.


Source: Reuters



Earlier this year...

Gallipoli ANZACs & National IdentitiesRandall CalvinRandall Calvin

Posted 26/04/2015

By Randall Calvin

In the Spring of 1915, with stalemate on the Western front, the Allies moved to open a new front in the East by taking the Gallipoli peninsula, so securing the route by sea to Constantinople through the Dardelle Strait.

120,000 soldiers from the Allied and Ottoman armies died at Gallipoli, amongst them more than three thousand forgotten Irishmen.

In the course of the nine month campaign, 44,150 invading Allied troops were more...


London Mayor Boris Johnson: I would like to be Tory leader

Posted 22/04/2015

There have reportedly been rumours in Westminster…

Boris Johnson has admitted he would like to be considered to lead the British Conservative Party after David Cameron.

After being repeatedly questioned over his leadership ambitions, the London Mayor finally coughed: "It would be a wonderful thing to be thought to be in a position to be considered for such an honour." more...


Is Europe’s far-right going mainstream?Randall CalvinRandall Calvin

Posted 18/04/2015

By Randall Calvin

Firstly we must be careful in our definitions. Some would put UKIP and the Front National in the same frame, which of course would hardly be an accurate assessment. Indeed this simplistic grouping is often applied to many right-wing political parties across the EU.

I think it is more accurate to describe what we have today in Europe as a spectrum of populist nationalistic parties. Most are new reaction groups, whilst others have just updated their political clothing to appear more moderate, such as the Front National, but right-wing ideology is firmly in their DNA. The fact that Jean-Marie Le Pen is still around illustrates the point, although as we know he has been rebuked and side-lined by his more progressive more...



Pro-Putin biker gang sparks anger over World War II commemoration

Posted 15/04/2015

The Night Wolves say their trip is not politically motivated

A Russian biker gang loyal to President Vladimir Putin is planning to ride through Europe to mark the end of the World War II, triggering anger in Poland.

Plans by the ultra-nationalistic Night Wolves motorcycle club to retrace the westward route taken by Soviet troops to Berlin have been branded a "provocation" by Warsaw.

The rally comes amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over the crisis in Ukraine, which have fuelled fears of Moscow's wider territorial ambitions. more...


Jewish Museum of Belgium receives honour awardMartin BanksMartin Banks

Posted 07/04/2015

By Martin Banks

It was an attack that shocked the whole of Belgium and much further afield.

Nearly one year ago, a gunman opened fire at the entrance of the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, leaving four people dead - two museum workers and an Israeli couple.

Now, the museum, which opened its doors again to the public not long after the atrocity, has been honoured with a special award in the annual awards presented by Visit.Brussels, the tourist authority for the city.

The 24 May attack claimed the lives of Emmanuel Riva, 54, and Myriam Riva, 53, from Tel Aviv, Israel, as well as Dominique Sabrier, 66, a French volunteer at museum and Alexandre Strens, 25, who worked at museum's more...




Global death sentences imposed increased last yearRandall CalvinRandall Calvin

Posted 02/04/2015

By Randall Calvin

With this being Easter week on the eve of Good Friday, which fundamentally – for believing Christians– commemorates an alleged unjust execution by the Roman authorities in Judea two thousand years ago.

So, I thought it might be an opportune time to look at state execution today.

The number of death sentences being imposed across the world rose by 28% last year.

However there was a drop in the number of executions carried out, which is down 22% on 2013 - excluding those carried out in China. more...

The case of Amanda Knox - CodaGuadalupe del OlmoGuadalupe del Olmo

Posted 29/03/2015

By Guadalupe del Olmo

Perhaps one of the most compelling cases in recent European legal history has come to closure.

Amanda KnoxAmanda Knox

The story, although certainly not unique in nature, grabbed attention in 2007. It soon became an intriguing drama for the Italian public, for rather than being a ‘typical’ local murder investigation, there were all the ingredients to draw in an otherwise indifferent international audience.

The age and mixed nationalities of those involved, was it a kinky sex game that went badly wrong, or cold-blooded murder? That was the burning question of the more...


FACE FOR CHILDREN IN NEEDRandall CalvinRandall Calvin

Posted 25/03/2015

By Randall Calvin

FACE  is a Belgian association founded in 2003 by Flavia Shaw Jackson that operates in Cairo in Egypt to give support to abandoned children, orphans and street children, their families and local communities regardless of race, culture and religion. FACE’s projects materialize in orphanages, centres for street children, the development and enforcement of its own training program for the staff in the centres as well as in-depth research on “Kafala” (host families).

They do this by working at a grassroots level to identify the needs on the ground. FACE creates practical, innovative projects with children, to provide long-term sustainable solutions to lay the foundations for a brighter more...

Reminiscent of Paris - Tunis Museum Massacre

Posted 18/03/2015

Seventeen foreign tourists, including Polish, Italian, German and Spanish citizens, are among 19 people confirmed dead in a gun attack at Tunisia's national museum.

Gunmen opened fire on tourists getting off buses outside Tunisia's national museum today, killing at least 19 people and taking a number of people hostage.

Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid said 17 foreign tourists, including Polish, Italian, German and Spanish citizens, are among the dead.
A Tunisian citizen and a policeman also died in the attack, Mr Essid more...


Juncker calls for EU army in wake of tensions with Russia

Posted 09/03/2015

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has called for the creation of an EU army in the wake of rising tensions with Russia.

Mr Juncker said the force could help counter new threats beyond the bloc's borders and defend European "values."

In an interview with Germany's Welt am Sonntag newspaper, he said: "You would not create a European army to use it immediately." more...




Irish company refuses to print gay wedding invitations


Posted 06/03/2015

The Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015 (bill no.5 of 2015) is a proposed amendment to the constitution of Ireland to mandate provision for same-sex marriage. The bill was introduced to the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) in January 2015 by the Fine Gael–Labour government, both houses of the Oireachtas passed the bill in time for a referendum to be held on 22nd of May 2015; all constitutional amendments must be put to a referendum in the Republic of Ireland.

The bill as introduced proposes to insert a new subsection 4 to Article 41 of the Constitution. The text will read: Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their more...



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