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Aer LingusRandall CalvinRandall Calvin


 

All up in the air

Posted on 30/01/2015

By Randall Calvin

You may wonder why this article is not posted under business, which is the principal core of the issue. Well because from an Irish perspective it is much more than that.

The possible sale of the Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus to the International Airlines Group (IAG) has ruffled a few feathers on the Emerald Isle! The airline founded in 1936 has come to represent more than just a business to many generations of the island people, but a liberating symbol of the Irish Republic itself.

 

 

Like an aerial umbilical cord to the Irish diaspora – the reassuring green tail and shamrock of the fleet is and was a metaphor for an immigrant population which said “there’s no place like home.” To the Irish, nothing more frames that image, than the famous arrival of JFK on Air Force One at Dublin airport  surrounded  by Aer Lingus planes in his historic 1963 visit. There are still many photos of that proud moment in so many homes and pubs, you might form the impression the visit happened last week.

JFK arrival at Dublin airport, 1963JFK arrival at Dublin airport, 1963

 

However times have changed dramatically since then in the airline industry internationally, and there really is little practical place for emotional attachments or enormous pride.

The reality today is that the Irish government has only a 25% stake in the company, while Ryanair has a substantial 29% share, and others the remainder. Ryanair has tried over recent years to buy Aer Lingus, but their bids have been shot down every time by the European Commission on the grounds of unfair competition regulations, in terms of having a monopoly in the Irish airline industry.

However Ryanair annually carries 90 million passengers, while Aer Lingus carries a modest nine million.  In a direct takeover normally the most relevant question is what is in the best interests of the shareholders, but what might seem to many as a sensible straight forward business deal to others becomes a little more complex when the Irish government is a significant shareholder, thus the political game inevitably blurs the arguments, and by extension the concerns of interest groups.

 

The case for Aer Lingus to sell itself to the International Airlines Group, is based on Dublin becoming a so-called "third runway for Heathrow,’" which at the moment is full to capacity, and can’t grow any bigger. It has been happening already, traffic on the airline’s transatlantic routes has grown, with passengers flying from the UK to take advantage of custom’s pre-clearance in Dublin.

From IAG’s perspective regarding Heathrow airport, and more so for British Airways, it is all about capacity constraint, the purchase of               Aer Lingus and having Dublin as an aviation hub, allows expansion that Heathrow cannot provide currently, and nor will be able to in the foreseeable future.

 

Aer Lingus shareholdersAer Lingus shareholdersRyanair are unlikely to resist the buyout, in terms of the share price on offer, Michael O’Leary knows a good deal when he sees one, but as I have indicated at the start of this piece, this story is more about politics than business, and as we know all politics is local. If the Irish government were to agree to the sale, it would receive a modest      € 350 million based on its shareholding in the airline, that would only pay the interest on Ireland’s national debt for sixteen days.

On the other hand if the government insist on retaining its small share, presuming IAG were to agree, and they won’t, it seems illogical for the former to then find itself having so little say in the running of the  airline.

 

It is not unusual for people to get emotional about airlines and economics.

In a different, but related context; tears were mournfully shed when the great American carrier Pan Am closed for business. Whole families gathered and cried at Heathrow watching the last flight of the beautiful engineering miracle that was Concorde. In the USA in the past there were dozens of airlines, now there are only six principal carriers. At the heart of the notorious 1980’s film, Wall Street, the core of the story was about the greedy sale and break up of a small but successful airline. From my own perspective as an Irish citizen, this is certainly not the case with this proposed buyout of Aer Lingus by IAG. The example of the Spanish national airline Iberia as part of the group was surely good move at the time, and in conclusion that is what it is all about, moving with the reality of the times.

 

Whether the good of the passengers outweighs the vested interests of politicians, the only interest for the latter is not seats on an airplane but seats in Parliament. In the case of Ireland the next general election is only just over a year away. Balancing all these considerations, business, or political will, I think make the miracle of flying itself seem… easy.

 

By Randall Calvin

 

 


 

Gibraltar - A European PeopleRandall CalvinRandall Calvin 


Posted 27/01/2015

By Randall Calvin

After 300 years of successful immigration and integration, with a population of just 32,000 and covering a tiny area of only   6.8 sq. km; the “Rock” is one of the most densely populated territories in the world.

Given these statistics, it is no surprise that the disputed region is a place of incredible diversity, but also a very harmonious community.

As illustrated by the number of religions represented:

  • Roman Catholic 80%
  • Protestant 7%
  • Muslim 4%
  • Jewish 2%
  • Hindu 2%
  • Other 5%

 

Over the centuries, there have been many waves of immigration. When the Rock was taken by an Anglo-Dutch force in 1704, the vast majority of its Spanish inhabitants left, but immigrants soon arrived in number from other Mediterranean regions, including newcomers from Malta, Genoa and Portugal.

 

Unlike today of course, they did not come for a short visit to buy cheap cigarettes or alcohol, they came to settle.

 

The Anglo-Dutch force captured Gibraltar from Spain in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession on behalf of the Habsburg pretender to the Spanish throne. The territory was subsequently ceded to Britain "in perpetuity" under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. It was an important base for the Royal Navy; and today its economy is based largely on tourism, online gambling, financial services, and shipping.

 


 


  

The sovereignty of Gibraltar is a major point of contention in Anglo-Spanish relations as Spain asserts a claim to the territory, Gibraltarians overwhelmingly rejected proposals for Spanish sovereignty in a 1967 referendum and again in 2002. In 1969 Spain on Franco’s orders, closed its land frontier with Gibraltar, thus isolating the Rock until the border was re-opened to pedestrian traffic in 1982.

 

It was only in 1985 that the frontier was fully opened to vehicular traffic.               The closure of the border had a profound effect on the Gibraltarian population which stood firm in the face of the blockade, and developed an even greater sense of community and national identity, thus it would seem the late Spanish dictator’s plan to choke the Rock strategically back fired. Under the Gibraltar constitution of 2006, Gibraltar governs its own affairs, though some powers, such as defence and foreign relations, remain the responsibility of the UK Government.

The majority of Gibraltarians are bilingual, as they speak both English and Spanish, as I do myself. I recall upon my recent visit speaking to a policewoman; I elected to chat with her in Spanish, and what struck me was this charming police officer in British uniform spoke to me in Spanish with a strong Andalusian accent – she spoke perfect English also of course. In fact, to be linguistically pedantic, the correct term for this form of Andalusian Spanish heavily laced with words from English is “Llanito” or “Yanito” (pronounced [ʒaˈnito]).

 

  In terms of etymology - the name Gibraltar is the Spanish derivation of the Arabic name Jabal ṬTāriq (جبل طارق), meaning "Mountain of Tariq". It refers to the Rock of Gibraltar, which was named after the Umayyad general Tariq ibn-Ziyad who led the initial incursion into Iberia in advance of the main Umayyad force in 711 under the command of Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid I. Earlier, it was known as Mons Calpe, one of the Pillars of Hercules.

Whilst Gibraltar’s precise statue today is that of a British Overseas Territory, it does not form part of the United Kingdom. This separate status is recognised under English law, international law, and indeed EU law.

The Gibraltar Parliament has the power to make laws for the peace, order and good government, which means that its legislative powers extend to all matters. UK legislation does not apply to Gibraltar, and you can even still smoke in the pubs, what a pleasant surprise for me – a smoker!

On the 1st of January 1973 at the time of the United Kingdom’s accession to the EEC, the Rock also joined - under an article in the Treaty of Rome; that applies to “European territories for whose external relations a Member State is responsible”.

Gibraltar is economically self-reliant, with principal contributors to its economic base being; financial services, port operations, online gaming and tourism. They also have a comprehensive legal framework to fight money laundering in accordance with EU requirements.

Moreover, further to an EU state aid investigation into its tax regime, they abolished the so-called offshore companies and now operates a uniform corporate tax regime.

The territory’s membership of the EU forms an integral part of its economic model, and they are fully committed to play by all of the EUs rules.

Besides the finance and politics, the Rock is a charming place to visit, the opening scene of a James Bond movie was filmed there in 1987, the Living Daylights, starring Timothy Dalton as 007, one of my favourite Bond films.

I say charming because it is so easy to relax on a terrace with a drink or go shopping on the high street, where there is always some form of street entertainment. Meanwhile atheists, orthodox Jews, Muslims, and Christians happily pass each other in the narrow streets, and do business together without any problems.

They have reclaimed a lot of the shoreline from the sea in recent years for more living space. Also little known are facts such as there is evidence of Neanderthal habitation on the Rock dating from 128,000 and 24,000 BC, discovered at Gorham's Cave, making Gibraltar the last known settlement of our long- extinct hominoid cousins. There are approximately thirty miles of tunnels inside the Rock, which have been dug by the British military over the years.

Lastly I have to warn you that if you suffer from vertigo, don’t drive to the summit of the Rock to see the famous mascot. Our other distant evolutionary cousins; the Barbary macaque population in Gibraltar is the only wild monkey population in the European continent, and, unlike that of North Africa, it is thriving. At present, some 300 animals in five troops occupy the area of the Upper Rock of the Gibraltar Nature Reserve, though occasional forays into the town may result in damage to personal property. As they are a tailless species, they are also known locally as Barbary apes or rock apes, despite being monkeys (Macaca sylvanus).

The local people simply refer to them as monos (English: monkeys) when conversing in Spanish or Llanito (the local vernacular). Although they are quite safe to approach – be careful of mothers with young babies.

The Rock is a mini wonderland, with the best of both worlds, 300 days of sunshine, part of Spain, Britain and the EU, but a stubbornly free and independent zone in its own right; and well worth a day visit if you should find yourself nearby on the southern Spanish coast.

 

By Randall Calvin

 

Thanks to Stuart Green, H.M. Government of Gibraltar Departmental Press Officer

  

 

 


 

Broadcasters publish new plans for UK general election debates


Posted on 23/01/2015

British broadcasters have threatened to "empty chair" any political party leader who refuses to take part in live televised debates planned for the general election campaign.

The four major broadcasters issued a joint statement to confirm their plans for a 7-7-2 format.


Two debates hosted by BBC and ITV will feature the leaders of Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, the Greens, Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru.
A third debate on Channel 4 and Sky will pit David Cameron against Ed Miliband in a head-to-head clash of the two men most likely to emerge as Prime Minister.

 

The broadcasters said that if any of the leaders decide not to participate,      "the debates would take place with those who accepted the invitation".

Proposed dates for the debates are 2, 16 and 30 April, with the final clash coming exactly a week ahead of the poll on 7 May.

TV executives previously suggested three debates: one head-to-head between Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband, another also involving Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, and a third with UKIP's Nigel Farage thrown into the mix.
The change appears designed to overcome Mr Cameron's refusal to take part in any debate that included Mr Farage but not Natalie Bennett of the Green Party and to reflect a significant public campaign for the inclusion of the environmentalist party, as well as protests from the nationalist parties at their exclusion.


Following talks spanning three months with the main parties, the broadcasters have now issued formal invitations to the leaders to take part.
The empty-chair threat will increase pressure on leaders to participate in the televised showdowns, which were first staged in the 2010 general election campaign.
It has traditionally been seen as strategically advisable for incumbent prime ministers to avoid TV debates with their rivals, which were considered to favour challengers.
In a statement, the broadcasters said: "BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 remain committed to holding election debates in the general election campaign."

Following meetings with the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and UKIP representatives, it has not been possible to come to an agreement on the original proposal put forward by the broadcasters in October 2014.
"Since October, the broadcasters have together and individually had a number of meetings and conversations with the parties invited to take part, the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and UKIP, and also discussions and correspondence with the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party."

All these discussions have been constructive and useful in informing our thinking about the debates.

"Over the three months since the original proposal was put forward, the broadcasters have also continued to monitor the electoral landscape, as we promised to do, taking into account the polling evidence, and the expressions of public support for the debates to go ahead and for a wider range of parties to be included in the debates."

In view of these factors, the broadcasters are now inviting party leaders to take part in the following debates within the official election campaign and approximately two weeks apart.
"The proposed dates for the debates are April 2, 16 and 30. The order of the debates is to be discussed with the parties."

The party leaders will be formally invited to take part in these debates.
"In the event that any of the invited party leaders decline to participate, debates will take place with the party leaders who accept the invitation."

 


 

Charlie Hebdo - a reflectionR. Calvin - Lebanon 1989 - Keeping the peace and getting to know our Muslim brothers & sistersR. Calvin - Lebanon 1989 - Keeping the peace and getting to know our Muslim brothers & sisters

By Randall Calvin

Paris 12/01/2015

An old slogan from the student strikes of 1968, reminds us that those who were in the right, will always be on the left. That belief in the radical imagination finds an echo in the ordinary French version of the expression – you are right; or as literally translated; Vous avez raison ...You have reason, you are rational!

The French love reason and reasonableness, with an almost irrational intensity.

They believe profoundly in the benefits of doubting, and are deeply reverent about mockery, as an essential moral force for the public good; thus secularity is sacred to the citizens of the Republic, and a pillar upon which the very state herself is built on. That is why the city of Paris was often called the capital of the 19th century, the era of enlightenment. The word “intellectual” in many countries is often seen as a threatening stance, indeed one recalls ones early days at school, when the more intelligent brighter student, the guy/girl with the glasses, was more often than not bullied by his/her peers for having a higher IQ. But in France “intellectual” enjoys the majesty we normally confer on poets, or great musical composers, or painters. So the massacre of the journalist/cartoonists in Paris this week, did not only represent the murder of ten satirists, it violates France’s own image as the land of liberty, it violates to it’s  very foundation the reputation of Paris as the city of light and free expression under the law, it violates France to her spiritual core.

Cartoon by Christopher Malapitan -
Visual ArtistCartoon by Christopher Malapitan - Visual ArtistR. Calvin Jerusalem 1993R. Calvin Jerusalem 1993

Satire and irony are as fundamental to Paris as the cobble stones that pave the old streets by the cafés, the mix and match of people and ideas, and the freedom to express those ideas openly. From the common language of the street to the high lexicon of the “intellectuals”, all can have and share their views. Irony alone can guarantee the mental health of a progressive secular culture.

However the Islamic assassins, addicted as they are to their chronic simplicities of their preferred version of Islam, who are operating from some retarded, almost cartoon version of the world, trying to find their fanatical niche amongst the three ancient desert-based monotheistic faiths, indeed they despise other brother Shia, or non-Sunni Muslims almost as much as they hate the non-believers.

As an outspoken atheist myself, who counts Richard Dawkins and others as friends, I presume I should sleep with one eye open from now on?

They call us ghouls, our coffee magazines blasphemous, and macabre they want to turn our zenith into their nadir.  Of course it will be totally lost to them that they murdered a fellow Muslim, and it will also be totally lost on them that even the words in italics in this paragraph, came into the English language from the beautiful Arabic poetic language of the Koran.

However the difficulty with this beautiful language of the holy Islamic book, is that it almost has as many interpretations as there are Muslims. 

During my time in the Middle East, two years - mostly in Lebanon, Israel, and other locations, with genuine theological curiosity, I questioned many Muslim scholars, and academics - Sunni & Shia. The result was always the same. Some would draw attention to the contrast between the Meccan (Mecca) verses, which were revealed  by "god" to the prophet, and the Median (Medina) verses, which are seen as more "contextual."

The problem with human Islamic agency and "interpretation" today is that they try to match all the borrowed rules and ethos from the earlier Torah, and Christian Bible with the sayings and experience of Mohammad, as if they had met the man in person; and thus elevate themselves to knowing his mind, and of course speak with absolute authority on his behalf; just as Christians do today on behalf of Jesus Christ.

Judaism has the advantage of having the Talmud, where all of this monotheism began. I say advantage, because the Talmud is an on-going critique of the Torah; the ancient Jewish law. Unlike Islam, the Talmud is written today, contemporary, the argument with "god" continues, as even Christians will know if they've ever read the Bible in the book of Job, where he debates, and questions his god. 

I have heard many Muslim apologists in the British/Irish media, since the massacre of journalists at Charlie Hebdo, accusing the magazine of being "racist." Notwithstanding that they know absolutely nothing about the history of the publication, France, or French law; Islam is not a race,

it is a religion!Madame libertyMadame liberty

In conclusion, the point I wish to express, is that as the Christians had to reform their religion, and the Jews have always largely questioned themselves; from the zealot the the so-called "universal Jew" so Islam - all four or more versions, needs reformation, and painful as it may be, drag itself, kicking and screaming, like the Christians before them, into the 21st century, and perhaps even embrace the beautiful concepts of equality for women, science, reason, progress and Humanism.

I have tried to refrain from making any political reference in this article, as is our creed at this magazine, but I cannot refrain from saying that as a Brussels-based political journalist, I have found it interesting; if not disappointing, that politicians will admit to us, off camera, that of course this tragedy in Paris had everything to do with fundamentalist religion gone mad; however on camera, the mantra is; "this attack has nothing got to do with religion or Islam."

All very well, politicians will be politicians, but I would offer that if after this and so many other massacres from Madrid, to London, and...and...and, that if mainstream politicians try to fudge this with platitudes like this, they will, and are, leaving the door wide open to extreme right-wing parties to fill the vacuum, and they will; not to mention any names! We know some of our elected representatives can be economical with the truth sometimes, but on issues of this level of magnitude, vulgar political spin when people have been murdered, is not wise; to quote a Celtic poet when asked where does evil hide; he replied; evil is a lie - a betrayal of truth, for when a man lies, for selfish personal gain, at the expense of the life of his brother; he murders a part of the world.

 

By Randall Calvin

 


Pegida protests German Immigration Policy

Guadalupe del OlmoGuadalupe del Olmo


By Guadalupe del Olmo

Posted on 06/01/2015

Around 18,000 people marched in Dresden Germany last night protesting immigration policies - the group are called Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West) and smaller demonstrations also took part in Berlin, Cologne and Stuttgart, with numbers in the thousands, but not as large as in Dresden. Activist Lutz Bachman founded the group in Dresden in October 2014.

 

By my count this was Pegida’s eleventh march to date. Organized on social- media sites; principally Facebook, they claim to be concerned with the level of immigration from Islamic countries such as Syria and Tunisia among others, which will ultimately undermine basic German values and norms of life. Although there are pockets of support for the group throughout Germany it is mainly based in the old Saxony capital Dresden, from where it has grown from a few hundred supporters to the thousands who marched yesterday.

It is not exactly clear how the group intends to achieve its objectives, but it is said that they are talking to an established right-wing party on Wednesday, neither is it clear whether they want to form a party themselves, or merely lobby and exert pressure as they have been doing thus far.

 

In any case they certainly are a phenomenon that many in the establishment were hoping  would have gone away by now, but they haven’t, and indeed they are growing in number if anything, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel finally acknowledging their existence, even mentioning them in her New Year’s Address, warning the country to be wary of people with “cold hearts” who hold prejudice, and even promote hate.

Those remarks seemed to really annoy many marchers who refute the claims that they are hateful but rather want a reduction in the numbers entering the country, or at least those who are admitted should make an effort to integrate into German society.

 

Senior German politicians and a list of celebrities have joined in a media campaign against Pegida; figures joining a petition against the group in the Bild newspaper, appealed for a “no to xenophobia and intolerance” and “yes to diversity and tolerance”. Former Social Democrat Chancellor Helmut Schmidt said: “Pegida appeals to hollow prejudices, xenophobia and intolerance, a look at our past and economic sense tells us Germany should not spurn refugees and asylum-seekers.” With approximately 200,000 people entering the country last year alone, including asylum- seekers and refugees from Syria, with numbers expected to be even higher this year, this undoubtedly has something to do with the large turnout and support for this group.

 

Pegida members at the rallies were hostile to journalists and camera crews shouting “lugenpresse” or lying press. The group has a low opinion of the press, but it has to be said that the German press has a very low opinion of Pegida.

To balance the equation, around 22,000 anti-Pegida demonstrators gathered in Stuttgart, while in the city of Cologne, the authorities switched off the lights of the city’s famous cathedral as a way of warning Pegida supporters that they were endorsing extremists.

Racists or concerned citizens? Many will say that this is just a large group of angry xenophobic white males, nothing more, but looking at the faces in the crowds yesterday, this view is too simplistic and convenient, and hardly forensic.

Regardless of which view one takes on this question, if we are honest or impartial, we have to admit that this phenomenon is not unique to Germany, with groups holding the same or similar views all over Europe, from the moderate to the extreme, so whether it is a fear of open borders and uncontrolled immigration, or perceived worries of so-called Islamisation – from the UK to Germany, governments seem unable or unwilling to meet this challenge, and perhaps hope it will just go away. I have a feeling it won’t.  

By Guadalupe del Olmo for EU Spectator

 

 


 

Belgian serial rapist will not be euthanisedGuadalupe del OlmoGuadalupe del Olmo

 


By Guadalupe del Olmo

Posted on 06/01/2015

The imprisoned Belgian serial rapist and murderer, Frank Van Den Bleeken, aged 52, who has spent 26 years in jail for repeated rapes and a rape-murder, whose wish to die had been granted by doctors will not now be euthanised following a fresh medical decision, Justice Minister Koen Geens said.

 

He will be moved from his prison in the north-western city of Brugges to a new psychiatric treatment centre in Ghent, the minister said in a statement.

Mr Geens, Justice Minister, said in a statement "we take note of the decision of doctors treating Mr Frank Van Den Bleeken to no longer continue the euthanasia procedure," .

He gave no reason for the decision, citing medical privacy.

The Flemish-language newspaper De Morgen reported last weekend that Van Den Bleeken would be euthanized in Brugges prison on 11th of January.

Van Den Bleeken had for years requested that the state help him end his life due to what his lawyer Jos Vander Velpen called "unbearable" psychological suffering. He won approval of the procedure in September 2014.

In an interview broadcasted on Belgian TV in 2013, he said “I’m in my cell 24 hours a day. That’s my life: I don’t feel human here. What do I have to do? Do I have to sit here and waste away? What’s the point in that?”

Belgium is one of the three European countries that allows euthanasia for terminally ill people. Legalised in 2002,  it was the second country in the world to do so after The Netherlands, and logged a record 1,807 cases of euthanasia in 2013.

Its strict criteria for a mercy killing includes that patients must be capable, conscious and have presented a "voluntary, considered and repeated" request to die.

Van Den Bleeken, considering himself a menace to society, had refused to be considered for early parole but found the conditions of his detention inhumane, according to an interview he gave Belgian media. However the ministry of Justice in Belgium said that it is trying to get specialised psychological care for Van den Bleeken in the Netherlands.

Belgium’s euthanasia laws came into the international spotlight last year when they extended the euthanasia provision to include terminally ill children. At the same time, the European Court of Human Rights has criticised Belgium on numerous occasions for its failure to properly treat mentally ill prisoners.

 

By Guadalupe del Olmo for EU Spectator