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European Parliament heated migration debate in Strasbourg

Posted 30/04/2015

The Heads of State of the European Union want to save refugees, but what they really decided is to fight smugglers with the military and to stop refugees from reaching Europe. Is that really the answer? Where is the humanitarian rescue mission? Where are the safe and legal access points for refugees? "The answer from the Heads of State is a disgrace and not much came out of the European Council meeting!"


Included we have chosen just a limited perspective from three of the political groups at the EP, for a flavour of the debate:

Gianni Pittella - President of the S&D Group at the European Parliament 

Video courtesy of S&D Group



Nigel Farage - Leader of UKIP

Video courtesy of UKIP



Franziska Maria "Ska" Keller is a German politician and Member of the European Parliament for the Greens and European Free Alliance Group

Video courtesy of the Greens





No more aid for Greece until agreement on reform plan – EU

Posted 26/04/2015

Eurozone finance ministers have warned Greece that its leftist government will get no more aid until it agrees a complete economic reform plan, as Athens lurches closer to bankruptcy.


Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis faced a harsh morning in which eurozone ministers bemoaned talks they felt "were going nowhere" and one minister said that maybe it was time governments prepared for the plan B of a Greek default.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chaired the meeting in the Latvian capital, slammed the door on Mr Varoufakis' proposal for early cash after partial reforms.

"A comprehensive and detailed list of reforms is needed," Mr Dijsselbloem told a news conference following a meeting in Riga.

"A comprehensive deal is necessary before any disbursement can take place ... We are all aware that time is running out."

He also said a remaining €7.2 billion in frozen bailout funds would no longer be available after June, and Greece's creditors would not talk about longer term funding and debt relief until Greece concluded a full interim agreement.

In a sign of the eurozone's frustration, the discussion on Greece lasted little more than an hour, while ministers declined to go into any detail over issues such as the budget surpluses Athens might target because Greece had no details prepared.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Brussels yesterday he hoped for an agreement by the end of this month and Ms Merkel today reiterated her call for a deal soon.

However, Mr Dijsselbloem said finance ministers would review progress again only on 11 May - a day before Greece has to make a crucial and uncertain €750m payment to the International Monetary Fund.



EU leaders meeting on migrant crisis in BrusselsRandall CalvinRandall Calvin

Posted 23/04/2015

By Randall Calvin

The emergency summit was called by the President of the European Council Donald Tusk, to look at ways of limiting the waves of migrants travelling by sea from North Africa to Europe. The meeting was called following the disaster last week, when as many as 900 migrants drowned off the coast of Libya.

The ten-point plan before the delegates discussed prevention of more deaths, including increasing Frontex’s resources and extending the EU’s Mediterranean rescue service. 

However the uncomfortable reality for EU leaders is that although there is somewhat of a moral imperative to act surrounding this situation, the fact is that there is very little appetite from the public across the EU to accept waves of migrants in their respective countries. Indeed unless one has been living in a cave of late, we know that the thorny subject of immigration is very high on the agenda for many high-profile political parties.

The draft document the leaders discussed contains existing measures in dealing with migrants, but also includes suggestions to sort out who is a genuine asylum seeker, from those who are trying to enter fortress Europe illegally. "I hope that in the coming days we'll have a roadmap, we have a great deal to do in this area," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said ahead of the meeting. "It's a matter of European values - it's of supreme importance."

But senior UN officials have described the EU plan as "minimalist" and called "for creation of legal channels for safe migration, including for low-skilled migrant workers."

Speaking to delegates from the eastern countries, some told me that attitudes were mixed on what could be done, the feeling being that while the situation is tragic, they had their own problems with illegal immigration.

They stressed that the meeting in Brussels was about “messaging” not to finalize actions. This is hardly a surprise, and all those in attendance acknowledge that the sheer legal complexity of the situation will inevitably slow any knee-jerk proposals. Of course we should remember that individual Member States have the final say regarding the number of asylum seekers they allow in, with many variables involved, thus I suggest it will be difficult to find common agreement among the twenty-eight.

Regardless of the numbers suggested to initially be allowed enter the EU, even as low as the 5,000 pilot project– one obvious technical problem is the Schengen agreement, meaning that for example, a person who is settled in Hungary can easily find their way to Germany or wherever, thus upsetting the original balance. Another idea which has been flouted for some time now, is the notion of establishing refugee processing centres at the point of departure, but which would depend on the cooperation of third countries, however some of these countries' “governments” are less than dependable.  However it would be a very innovative move by the EU if they could make it work.

The only fly in the ointment is that opening missions and starting the processing procedure takes a long time, with no guarantee of compliance for those desperate to flee a war-torn country.


In any case I think it is a conversation that EU leaders should develop.  In the context of a British general election across the channel, it will be interesting to see where David Cameron comes out in all this. As readers will know the question of immigration is at the very heart of the election debate in the UK. It will not be helpful to the Prime Minister, the fact that his Home Secretary Teresa May as recently as late last year was strongly pushing for the winding down of the Mare Nostrum programme, and again on Monday at a meeting in Luxembourg. But there has been a change in Cameron’s rhetoric of late, and he seems to want to take leadership on this issue.

In conclusion I would say that regardless of the humanitarian tragedy at the centre of this, decisions are not made in haste at the European Council, not on this question or indeed any question. So only time will tell, but one thing is for certain, sadly those boats will keep coming, with their wretched human cargo. 



Migration crisis - EU unveils plan

Posted 20/04/2015

The EU has unveiled a ten-point action plan to stem the tide of migrants crossing the Mediterranean after the latest disastrous loss of life, promising to step up both control and rescue operations.

The European Commission said the plan, approved by EU foreign and interior ministers at an emergency meeting in Luxembourg, will be submitted to a summit on Thursday as the 28-member bloc tries to halt a growing death toll off its southern shores.

New proposals to tackle a migration crisis include destroying smugglers' boats and a new programme to send migrants home.

The plan put forward by the commission also calls for the reinforcing of EU border control operations in the Mediterranean with more money and equipment and extending its operational area.

It proposes a "systematic effort to capture and destroy vessels used by smugglers" and set up a new programme for the rapid return of migrants.

EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos also said the commission will propose a pilot programme to share resettlement of migrants across the 28-member bloc.

Earlier, the International Organization for Migration received a distress call from a sinking boat in the Mediterranean carrying more than 300 people, with at least 20 people reported dead.

IOM's Rome office received a call for help from one of three boats floating near each other in international waters, spokesman Joel Millman said.

"The caller said that there are over 300 people on his boat and it was already sinking and he already reported fatalities," he wrote in an email.

The organisation has contacted the coast guard with the coordinates for the vessels, but said "they do not have the assets to conduct these rescues right now".


UK Election: Tories announce Thatcher-style social housing policy

Posted 14/04/2015

David Cameron says he leads the "party of working people" as he unveils a Conservative policy to extend the Right-to-Buy scheme

David Cameron has announced a future Conservative government would give 1.3 million housing association tenants the chance to buy their homes.

British Prime Minister David Cameron. Image: Geert Vanden Wijngaert / Associated Press British Prime Minister David Cameron. Image: Geert Vanden Wijngaert / Associated Press

So what is Right to Buy?

The existing scheme allows council tenants to buy their home at a discount of up to 70 percent - a maximum of £102,700 in London and £77,000 across the rest of of the UK.


This all seems familiar?

It is indeed. The scheme was trail-blazed by Margaret Thatcher on coming to power in 1979 with the Tories hailing it "the biggest step towards a home-owning democracy ever taken" in their 1983 manifesto.

And in extending the scheme to housing tenants, David Cameron is hoping to recapture that aspirational spirit in the face of criticism of the negative tone of the Tory campaign to date.

Unveiling the plan, the PM echoed the words of the Thatcher-era by talking of "building a property-owning democracy for generations."


So that's the background, how will it work?

It will be funded by requiring councils to sell off the most expensive properties when they become empty, and replacing them with more affordable social homes.

Around 15,000 houses and flats are expected to become available in this way each year, but the Conservatives stress no one will be forced out of their home.

It has been claimed the sales would raise an estimated £4.5bn which could then be used to build between 80,000 to 170,000 new properties a year.


Do I hear a "but" coming here?

You do indeed. The move, unsurprisingly, is not without its critics and has been branded "deeply unfair" by housing associations.

The National Housing Federation warns it would mean using £5.8bn of taxpayers' cash to "gift" up to £100,000 to people already living in good secure homes, on some of the country's cheapest rents.

Meanwhile, the group argues it would do nothing to help the millions in private rented properties desperate to buy, or those forced to live at home with their parents because they cannot afford to rent or buy.

It points out the £5.8bn would be enough to finance 300,000 new shared ownership homes "open to everyone, not just the lucky few."

Political opponents have also waded in with Labour dismissing it as "yet another uncosted, unfunded and unbelievable announcement."

The Tories' Lib Dem coalition partners claim the scheme would result in longer waiting lists for homes and fewer social houses.



UK Elections: How social media impacts elections

Posted 11/04/2015

A social media strategy is seen as a "must have" for the majority of political parties

The 2008 US Presidential Election was one of, if not the first social media election. There were 1.8 million tweets sent on that particular election day. Things have changed dramatically since then, with around 500 million tweets sent out per day.

Obama’s appearance at the 2012 Democratic National Convention caused four million tweets during his 40 minute speech alone.

Twitter reported that the election was the most tweeted-about event in U.S. political history. There were more than 31 million tweets sent, with a peak of 327,452 tweets per minute shortly after the television networks called the race for Obama.

Data produced by Open-Site showed that back in 2012, 4 out of 10 people would use social media to help them decide who to vote for on election day.

A study published in early 2013 entitled “The 2012 Social Media Election survey: Key Lessons to Inform Decision Making and Business” set out with the following objectives:

  • Understand how closely the public watched the elections
  • Assess the value placed on various sources of information about the candidates and issues in the election
  • How the public was using social media to learn about and engage in discussions about the elections
  • How people shared their political opinions on social media

Some of the top line results from that study include:

  • 29% of American’s said that social media was moderately to extremely influential in their opinions of the candidates and the issues
  • 63% of Americans said the quality of information about the candidates and issues on social media was was the same or better than traditional media

Similar studies are currently on-going in the US to ascertain the influence of social media in the 2016 Presidential Election.

General Election 2015

An Ipsos Mori poll, carried out with King’s College London looked at the impact of social media on the 2015 General Election.
Some 34% percent of those aged 18-24 said that reading something on social media was likely to influence their vote, second only to TV debates.

The study found that TV debates was the most likely source of information set to influence the vote of the population as a whole, followed by newspapers, election broadcasts and then social media.

Some 71% of the population of the United Kingdom said they believe social media provides a platform and a voice to people who wouldn’t normally take part in political debates, but 50% believe that social media makes political debate more superficial than it used to be.

Social media helped break down the barriers between voters and politicians.

So, what can we take from these stats?

Social media has an impact on what the public thinks of the politicians and their parties. It is influential, particularly with young people, but a lot of people acknowledge that it’s not the be-all and end-all.

Last Thursday’s seven leader debate on ITV was important in the lead up to polling day. Journalists and political nerds live tweeted every element of the two hour event. While there were funny quips about the set-up and the little jibes each of the leaders took at one and another, social media managed to capture the essence of the debate. Nicola Sturgeon’s strong performance caught the attention of many while a number of viewers questioned Cameron’s inability to move on from the actions of the last Labour government.

More than 1.5 million tweets were sent relating to the leaders debate, that’s an average of 8,657 tweet per minute. Interestingly, Labour were the most discussed party, followed by SNP and then UKIP.

There were two very noticeable spikes in the Twitter conversation based on the information we have on “tweets per minute”.


The first of these came when Nigel Farage stated that 60% of HIV sufferers in the UK are not British Nationals. The second spike came when a woman in the audience stood up and heckled Prime Minister David Cameron.

While no election campaign can be fully run and won on social media, it’s clear to see that it does impact how representatives are portrayed and received by the general public. A social media strategy is a key part of any main political party’s planning process.



IMF welcomes Greek agreement not to default

Posted on 06/04/2014

Policy discussions over the terms of Greece's €110bn debt resumed in Brussels today.

The head of the IMF has welcomed a promise by Greece not to default on its debt repayments.

Christine Lagarde says she's pleased that part of the money owed to the Fund will be paid in just three days time.


She's also praised Greece's Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, saying she "exchanged views on current developments and we both agreed that effective cooperation is in everyone’s interest."

"I reiterated that the Fund remains committed to work together with the authorities to help Greece return to a sustainable path of growth and employment,” she said.

Greece has told the International Monetary Fund that it will repay a loan to the organisation that is due this Thursday.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis held talks with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde in Washington.

He said the discussions had been extremely productive and insisted that his government was reforming the economy.

Greece's interior minister suggested last week the government would prioritise wages and pensions over the IMF payment, although the government later denied that was its stance.


Ms Lagarde said in a statement after meeting with Mr Varoufakis that she welcomed his confirmation that the loan payment due would be made on schedule.

She said due diligence efforts in Athens and talks with teams in Brussels over the terms of Greece's bailout.

Speaking to a Greek newspaper today, Mr Varoufakis said he wants the negotiations with the country’s official lenders to reach a preliminary deal at a eurozone meeting of finance ministers on 24 April.

Greece has not received bailout funds since August of last year and has resorted to measures such as borrowing from state entities to tide it over.

Greece offered a new package of reforms last week in the hope of unlocking remaining bailout funds, but has yet to win agreement on the proposals with its EU and IMF lenders.

Source: Reuters



Slow walk to European Energy UnionRaquel JimenezRaquel Jimenez

Posted 02/04/2015

By Raquel Jimenez

Last month European heads of state largely backed European plans for an energy union. This is one of the ten main priorities of the Juncker’s Commission focusing on ensuring security of supply, sustainability and competitiveness.

The proposal of a single market for energy, based on improving connections between member states, includes options for collective purchasing of gas during a crisis and where member states are dependent on a single supplier. However Heads of States during the last Summit were hesitant of the idea of the EU negotiating energy contracts on behalf of the bloc or interfering with member states’ energy mix.

The official position of the European Commission states the policy’s main goal is to provide access to secure, sustainable, competitive and affordable energy. However it is obvious that the justification behind the scenes is the current unstable relations with Russia, and our dependency on its gas supply. Let’s not forget that in 2009 Russia turned off the gas taps, causing shortages in the EU.

The European Union imports more than half of the energy it consumes, 53% to be exact, thus making it vulnerable towards market fluctuations and diplomatic crisis, such as the one triggered by Moscow’s aggressive behaviour in Ukraine and Crimea.

In fact, Europe relies on the Russian firm Gazprom for a third of its gas needs.             Some countries in the bloc are totally dependent on gas imports from Russia, such is the case of Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Lithuania; others, such as Slovakia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic heavily rely on it.

Under this prospect, on 19 March 2015, the European Council issued a declaration on the European energy market, reflecting to a large extent a compromise between the German position and the plans of Eastern European states, the most noteworthy being Poland.



Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, tried to push the idea of common purchasing and common negotiating for gas delivery contracts with third parties. The proposal responds to the concern that countries with better political ties with Russia could get a considerably different price for the very same Russian gas, and, moreover, that Russia could use its leverage as a monopoly-supplier to small Eastern European states for strategic and political purposes.

However, Germany was not satisfied with Tusk’s initiative, not only because it will strengthen the role of states and intergovernmental agencies vis-à-vis private industry, which will potentially jeopardize companies incentives to be more competitive, and ultimately make gas more expensive.

On the other hand, Germany, France and Spain enjoy the luxury of a functioning domestic energy market. The notion that the market should take care of the energy needs – particularly the interconnecting infrastructure to trade electricity or gas between states – may be a feasible idea for Western Europe. But in many small Eastern and South-Eastern European states, the markets are simply too small and local energy enterprises have too little capital at hand to make that happen. And for obvious reasons, they should not rely on Russian capital to realize domestic infrastructure projects, as Austria or Hungary have done.

Nevertheless, maintaining and building reliable energy connections in the bloc will be convenient in situations of tight supply when states could ensure their supply from their European neighbours.

Back to the Russian dilemma, one can suggest that the reasons behind the EU’s ineffectiveness at dealing with Putin’s aggressions in Ukraine lay on the uncertainty of how and to what extend he would play Russia’s energy card to further his goals.

Some environmentalists criticise the idea of searching out new supplies of gas as it diverts from the path of EU’s commitments to cut carbon emissions.
Tara Connolly, Greenpeace energy policy advisor, said: “The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing with this plan, the Commission says the EU should move away from fossil fuels but it also wants to chase after new supplies and doesn’t rule out the burning of coal.”

Video courtesy of the S&D Group at the European Parliament



On a more positive note, another of the strong pillars of the European Energy Union is improving energy efficiency, which would increase security and help to meet climate change targets.

The European Commission estimates that rates of building refurbishment are insufficient, with efficiency investments in buildings for low-income tenants or owners being particularly slow. Heating and cooling remains the largest single source of energy demand in Europe.

The Commission will therefore carry out a review of the Energy Efficiency and Energy Performance of Buildings Directives to create the right framework for further progress in delivering energy efficiency in buildings. Based on the on-the-ground experience in the member states, the Commission will support ways to simplify access to existing financing to make building stocks more energy-efficient. Investments in buildings’ efficiency are amongst the most profitable for citizens and industry today.

As part of their role monitoring the European Commission's Energy Union proposal, Socialist & Democrat members of the European Parliament have been investigating innovative examples of sustainable energy use as illustrated in the following video.

Putin allies publically criticise the economic damage done by Russia's foreign policy

Posted 01/04/2015

The country's economy is currently experiencing its steepest decline since Vladimir Putin took office in 2000

Two former allies of Vladimir Putin have publicly criticised the Russian president's foreign policy - particularly the impact that it is having on the country's economy.

In a rare act of public dissent, Alexei Kudrin who acted as Russia's finance minister between 2000 and 2011, and also served as deputy prime minister, said that the country is likely to experience a long period of stagnation - and that current policies do not "reflect Russia's ability to be competitive in the global economy."

The former-minister predicts that growth between 2012 and 2018 will be close to 1.5 percent - he added that "priority is given to political goals" and that Mr Putin is ready to "pay an economic price" to pursue nationalistic policies.

It is widely predicted that the Russian economy will shrink by between three and six percent in 2015.

Mr Kudrin predicts that the fallout of the Kremlin's annexation of Crimea, and the cost of running the region will be between $150bn and $200bn USD in the next three to four years. Business Insider reports that this figure is close to half of Russia's foreign currency reserves.

The comments came at a round table to mark Putin's 15 years in power, it was chaired by the president's spokesperson.

Support for Vladimir Putin peaked in Russian opinion polls after the country formally claimed the region during spring 2014 - his approval rating passed 80 percent.

Igor YurgensIgor YurgensIgor Yurgens, a former Kremlin adviser also raised concerns about the political climate in the country - particularly the maringalisation of dissenting liberal voices.

"Without them (liberals) and without the necessary structural reforms, our economy will not survive the policy that the president is pursuing," Yurgens said.


Mr Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov brushed off the criticism, and said that there is a new generation of Russians who are loyal to the president, and who believe in his policies.