Inter Press ServiceEurope in the World – Raising Citizens Voices – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 20 Sep 2017 23:51:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.2 OPINION: Greece Gives EU the Chance to Rediscover Its Social Responsibilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-greece-gives-eu-the-chance-to-rediscover-its-social-responsibility/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-greece-gives-eu-the-chance-to-rediscover-its-social-responsibility http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-greece-gives-eu-the-chance-to-rediscover-its-social-responsibility/#respond Sat, 24 Jan 2015 14:30:34 +0000 Marianna Fotaki http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138804 Marianna Fotaki is a Professor of Business Ethics at Warwick Business School in England. She co-directs pro bono an online think tank, the Centre for Health and the Public Interest, a charity that aims to disseminate research informing the public and policy makers (http://chpi.org.uk).

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Alexis Tsipras (centre), Syriza’s charismatic 40-year-old leader, has been campaigning under the banner “Hope is on its way.” Credit: Mirko Isaia/cc by 2.0

By Marianna Fotaki
COVENTRY, England, Jan 24 2015 (IPS)

The European Union should not be afraid of the leftist opposition party Syriza winning the Greek election, but see it as a chance to rediscover its founding principle – the social dimension that created it and without which it cannot survive.

Greece’s entire economy accounts for three per cent of the euro zone’s output but its national debt totals €360 billion or 175 per cent of the country’s GDP and poses a continuous threat to its survival.

Courtesy of Marianna Fotaki

Courtesy of Marianna Fotaki

While the crippling debt cannot realistically be paid back in full, the troika of the EU, European Central Bank, and IMF insist that the drastic cuts in public spending must continue.

But if Syriza is successful – as the polls suggest – it promises to renegotiate the terms of the bailout and ask for substantial debt forgiveness, which could change the terms of the debate about the future of the European project.

It would also mean the important, but as yet, unaddressed question of who should bear the costs and risks of the monetary union within and between the euro zone countries is likely to become the centrepiece of such negotiations.

The immense social cost of the austerity policies demanded by the troika has put in question the political and social objectives of an ‘ever closer union’ proclaimed in the EU founding documents.The old poor and the rapidly growing new poor comprise significant sections of Greek society: 20 per cent of children live in poverty, while Greece’s unemployment rate has topped 20 per cent for four consecutive years now and reached almost 27 per cent in 2013.

Formally established through the Treaty of Rome in 1957, the European Economic Community between France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries tied closely the economies of erstwhile foes, rendering the possibility of another disastrous war unaffordable. Yet the ultimate goal of integration was to bring about ‘the constant improvements of the living and working conditions of their peoples’.

The European project has been exceptionally successful in achieving peaceful collaboration and prosperity by progressively extending these stated benefits to an increasing number of member countries, with the EU now being the world’s largest economy.

Since the economic crisis of 2007, however, GDP per capita and gross disposable household incomes have declined across the EU and have not yet returned to their pre-crisis levels in many countries. Unemployment is at record high levels, with Greece and Spain topping the numbers of long-term unemployed youth.

There are also deep inequalities within the euro zone. Strong economies that are major exporters have benefitted from free trade and the fixed exchange rate mechanism protecting their goods from price fluctuations, but the euro has hurt the least competitive economies by depriving them of a currency flexibility that could have been used to respond to the crisis.

Without substantial transfers between weaker and stronger economies, which accounts for only 1.13 per cent of the EU’s budget at present, there is no effective mechanism for risk sharing among the member states and for addressing the consequences of the crisis in the euro zone.

But the EU was founded on the premise of solidarity and not as a free trade zone only. Economic growth was regarded as a means for achieving desirable political and social goals through the process of painstaking institution building.

With 500 million citizens and a combined GDP of €12.9 trillion in 2012 shared among its 27 members the EU is better placed than ever to live up to its founding principles. The member states that benefitted from the common currency should lead in offering meaningful support rather than decimating their weaker members in a time of crisis by forcing austerity measures upon them.

This is not denying the responsibility for reckless borrowing resting with the successive Greek governments and their supporters. However, the logic of a collective punishment of the most vulnerable groups of the population must be rejected.

The old poor and the rapidly growing new poor comprise significant sections of Greek society: 20 per cent of children live in poverty, while Greece’s unemployment rate has topped 20 per cent for four consecutive years now and reached almost 27 per cent in 2013.

With youth unemployment above 50 per cent, many well-educated people have left the country. There is no access to free health care and the weak social safety net from before the crisis has all but disappeared. The dramatic welfare retrenchment combined with unemployment has led to austerity induced suicides and people searching for food in garbage cans in cities.

A continued commitment to the policies that have produced such outcomes in the name of increasing the EU’s competitiveness challenges the terms of the European Union’s founding principles. The creditors often rationalise this using a rhetoric that assumes tax-evading unproductive Greeks brought this predicament upon themselves – they are seen as the undeserving members of the euro zone.

Such reasoning creates an unhealthy political climate that gives rise to extremist nationalist movements in the EU such as the Greek criminal Golden Dawn party, which gained almost 10 per cent of votes in the last European Parliament elections.

Explaining the euro zone debt crisis as a morality tale is both deleterious and untrue. The problematic nature of such moralistic logic must be challenged: one cannot easily justify on ethical grounds forcing the working poor to bail out a banking system from which many wealthy people benefit, or transferring the consequences of reckless lending by commercial outlets to the public.

Nor can one explain the acquiescence of creditors to the machinations of the nepotistic self-serving corrupt elites dominating the state over the last 40 years that got Greece into the euro zone on false data and continue to rule it. As I have argued, the bailout money was given to the very people who are largely responsible for the crisis, while the general population of Greece is being made to suffer.

Greece’s voters are determined to stop the ruling classes from continuing their nefarious policies that have brought the country to the brink of catastrophe, but in the coming elections their real concern will be opposing the sacrifice of the futures of an entire generation.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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European Citizens Call for Increased Aid to Developing Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/european-citizens-call-for-increased-aid-to-developing-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=european-citizens-call-for-increased-aid-to-developing-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/european-citizens-call-for-increased-aid-to-developing-world/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 19:12:56 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138607 An overwhelming majority of citizens in the 28-member European Union (EU) – which has been hamstrung by a spreading economic recession, a fall in oil prices and a decline of its common currency, the Euro – has expressed strong support for development cooperation and increased aid to developing nations. A new Eurobarometer survey to mark […]

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In Tapoa, Burkina Faso, a region bordering Niger, the European Commission's humanitarian aid department (ECHO) funds the NGO ACF to provide health and nutrition care as well as food assistance including cash transfers for the poorest families. Credit: © EC/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 12 2015 (IPS)

An overwhelming majority of citizens in the 28-member European Union (EU) – which has been hamstrung by a spreading economic recession, a fall in oil prices and a decline of its common currency, the Euro – has expressed strong support for development cooperation and increased aid to developing nations.

A new Eurobarometer survey to mark the beginning of the ‘European Year for Development,’released Monday, shows a significant increase in the number of people in favour of increasing international development aid."The European Year will give us the chance to build on this and inform citizens of the challenges and events that lie ahead during this key year for development." -- Commissioner Neven Mimica

The survey reveals that most Europeans continue to “feel very positively about development and cooperation”.

Additionally, the survey also indicates that 67 percent of respondents across Europe think development aid should be increased – a higher percentage than in recent years, despite the current economic situation in Europe.

And 85 percent believe it is important to help people in developing countries.

“Almost half of respondents would personally be prepared to pay more for groceries or products from those countries, and nearly two thirds say tackling poverty in developing countries should be a main priority for the EU.”

Presenting the results of the survey, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica said, “I feel very encouraged to see that, despite economic uncertainty across the EU, our citizens continue to show great support for a strong European role in development.

“The European Year will give us the chance to build on this and inform citizens of the challenges and events that lie ahead during this key year for development, helping us to engage in a debate with them,” he added.

Jens Martens, director of the Bonn-based Global Policy Forum-Europe, told IPS the Eurobarometer demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of EU citizens support global solidarity and strengthened international cooperation.

“This is good news. Now, EU governments must follow their citizens,” he said.

EU positions in the U.N.’s upcoming post-2015 development agenda and Financing for Development (FfD) negotiations will become the litmus test for their global solidarity, said Martens, who is also a member of the Coordinating Committee of Social Watch, a global network of several hundred non-governmental organisations (NGOs) campaigning for poverty eradication and social justice.

EU governments must translate the increased citizens support for development now into an increase of offical development assistance (ODA), but also in fair trade and investment rules and strengthened international tax cooperation under the umbrella of the United Nations, he declared.

According to the latest available statistics, only five countries – Norway (1.07 percent), Sweden (1.02), Luxembourg (1.00), Denmark (0.85), United Kingdom (0.72) and the Netherlands (0.67) – have reached the longstanding target of 0.7 of gross national income as ODA to the world’s poorer nations.

In an interview with IPS last November, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon singled out the importance of the upcoming International Conference on FfD in Ethiopia next July.

He said the ICFD will be “one of the most important conferences in shaping the U.N.’s 17 proposed sustainable development goals (SDGs)” which will be approved at a summit meeting of world leaders next September.

Ban cautioned world leaders of the urgent need for “a robust financial mechanism” to implement the SDGs – and such a mechanism, he said, should be put in place long before the adoption of these goals.

“It is difficult to depend on public funding alone,” he told IPS, stressing the need for financing from multiple sources – including public, private, domestic and international.

Speaking of financing for development, Ban said ODA, from the rich to the poor, is “is necessary but not sufficient.”

Meanwhile, the economic recession is taking place amidst the growing millions living in hunger (over 800 million), jobless (more than 200 million), water-starved (over 750 million) and in extreme poverty (more than one billion), according to the United Nations.

In a statement released Monday, the European Commission provided some of the results of the Eurobarometer on development: At 67 percent, the share of Europeans who agree on a significant increase in development aid has increased by six percentage points since 2013, and a level this high was last seen in 2010.

One in two Europeans sees a role for individuals in tackling poverty in developing countries (50 percent).

A third of EU citizens are personally active in tackling poverty (34 percent), mainly through giving money to charitable organisations (29 percent).

Most Europeans believe that Europe itself also benefits from giving aid to others: 69 percent say that tackling poverty in developing countries also has a positive influence on EU citizens.

Around three-quarters think it is in the EU’s interest (78 percent) and contributes to a more peaceful and equitable world (74 percent).

For Europeans, volunteering is the most effective way of helping to reduce poverty in developing countries (75 percent). But a large majority also believe that official aid from governments (66 percent) and donating to organisations (63 percent) have an impact.

The European Commission says 2015 promises to be “hugely significant for development, with a vast array of stakeholders involved in crucial decision-making in development, environmental and climate policies”.

2015 is the target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the year in which the ongoing global post-2015 debate will converge into a single framework for poverty eradication and sustainable development.

2015 is also the year that a new international climate agreement will be decided in Paris.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Diversity and Inclusion for Empowering ‘People of Color’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/diversity-and-inclusion-for-empowering-people-of-color/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=diversity-and-inclusion-for-empowering-people-of-color http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/diversity-and-inclusion-for-empowering-people-of-color/#comments Tue, 23 Dec 2014 23:23:03 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138391 A unique initiative – the Network Inclusion Leaders (NILE) project – has just held its second workshop here to set up a diversity and inclusion network for future leaders from among Germany’s ‘people of color’, or persons from different ‘non-white’ cultural backgrounds. The event was held from Dec. 9 to 13in Berlin’s Rathaus Schöneberg, where […]

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Young inclusion leaders participating in a workshop session to discuss the setting up of a diversity and inclusion network for future leaders from among Germany’s ‘people of color’, Berlin 2014. Credit: Ina Meling/Integration Commissioner Büro Tempelhof-Schöneberg

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, Dec 23 2014 (IPS)

A unique initiative – the Network Inclusion Leaders (NILE) project – has just held its second workshop here to set up a diversity and inclusion network for future leaders from among Germany’s ‘people of color’, or persons from different ‘non-white’ cultural backgrounds.

The event was held from Dec. 9 to 13in Berlin’s Rathaus Schöneberg, where John F. Kennedy delivered his iconic “Ich bin ein Berliner” freedom and solidarity speech to 400,000 West Berliners in 1963.

The workshop brought together 15 talented game changers aged between 18 and 28 from Afro-German, Turkish, Kurdish, Latin American and German-Asian backgrounds, selected from across the country to engage with illustrious key speakers from Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom in sessions designed to discuss instruments for promoting anti-racism, diversity and migrant-friendly agendas."Democracy needs strong, well-networked minorities. When you look around Germany, from parliament to media, public and private sectors, well it's still pretty white, there's a lot of work to be done" – Gabriele Gün Tank, Commissioner for Integration in Berlin Tempelhof-Schöneberg and co-founder of Network Inclusion Leaders (NILE)

The speakers  included Simon Woolley, Director of Operation Black Vote (UK), Mekonnen Mesghena, Director of Migration and Diversity at Berlin’s Heinrich-Böll Foundation, Kwesi Aikins, Policy Officer at the Centre for Migration and Social Affairs, Nuran Yigit, expert in anti-discrimination and board member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Migration Council, Terri Givens, Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a specialist in the politics of race, and Professor Kurt Barling, a BBC special correspondent.

NILE is the brainchild of two alumni of the 2013 German Marshall Fund’s (GMF) Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network (TILN) – 35-year-old Gabriele Gün Tank, Commissioner for Integration in Berlin Tempelhof-Schöneberg, and 28-year-old researcher and social activist Daniel Gyamerah, head of Each One Teach One (EATO), a black literature and media project in Berlin.

“Democracy needs strong, well-networked minorities. When you look around Germany, from parliament to media, public and private sectors, well it’s still pretty white, there’s a lot of work to be done,” Tank told a GMF alumni reception.

NILE was set up through collaboration with NGOs, top institutions including federal ministries and assistance from the influential Heinrich-Böll Foundation which is affiliated with the Green Party, the U.S. embassy and the Eberhard-Schultz-Stiftung (Foundation for Human Rights and Participation).  

“We are moving forward with inclusive governance, inclusion best practices and empowerment training,” said Tank.  “This is of critical importance if we are to bridge the migration gap for a fairer, social and political representation of minorities at all levels.”

Engaging young Muslims within a climate of hostility

Mersiha Hadziabdic, aged 25, said that she joined the NILE initiative confident that networking and coalition building plays a crucial role in steering change relevant to her generation.

Born in Sarajevo, Bosnia, she came to Berlin as a three-year-old refugee when her family fled the Prijedor massacre, one of the worse war crimes along with the Srebrenica genocide perpetrated by the Serbian political and military leadership’s ethnic-cleansing drive, which killed 14,000 civilians.

“My background means a lot to me, and for this reason I am involved with the Bosnian community in Berlin, my home town,” she told IPS.

Wearing a headscarf in Berlin, Mersiha is often mistaken for a Turkish woman, with its attendant stereotypes of submissiveness and low expectations.

But, like 25-year-old Soufeina Hamed, a Tunisian-born graduate in intercultural psychology from the University of Osnabrück, who is active in Zahnräder Netzwerker, an incubator for Muslim social entrepreneurship, Mersiha is an internet savvy and project team member of JUMA (Young Active and Muslim), which offers management, rhetoric and media skills training to young German Muslims.

”I see myself as part and process of this vibrant, committed and capable Muslim youth which has something important to contribute and wants to be involved in the conversation,” she said.

Just like Ozan Keskinkilic, an MA student in international relations from a Turkish-Arab background who is active in the Muslim-Jewish Conference (MJC) for peaceful inter-religious dialogue, she noted that this conversation involves engaging in a climate of anti-migrant and refugee hostility.

That hostility is currently finding expression in populist rallies, such as the Dresden march on Dec. 8, where 15,000 anti-immigrant protesters, mostly from PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West), marched to the former 1989 freedom rallying cry of “Wir Sind das Volk” (We are the People).

Young, talented and ambitious, Mersiha, Soufeina and Ozan are part of Germany’s four million Muslims residents and citizens, about five percent of the country’s population, of whom 45 percent have German citizenship.

According to the Verfassungsschutz, Germany’s intelligence agency, approximately 250,000 Muslims live in Berlin, 73 percent of whom are of Turkish background and one-third of whom have German citizenship. They belong to that population sector whose qualifications and skills are raising inclusion and access expectations which demand more level playing fields.

Creating a critical mass for change

The NILE initiative aims to channel personal issues relating to emotional damage inflicted by racism, discrimination or the traumas of fleeing from conflict zones into a process of empowerment towards common, personal and professional goals.

Empowerment and leadership tools are taught as means of engaging with the world as it is, gaining an understanding that ‘persons of color’ are neither powerless nor invisible.

Kurt Barling, who has carved a role of influence for himself by exposing stories which shape communities but too often remain hidden by a majority oblivious to the perspectives of others, had a clear mentoring message:

Group photo of participants in the Network Inclusion Leaders (NILE) 2014 workshop held in Berlin's Rathaus Schöneberg, where John F. Kennedy delivered his iconic “Ich bin ein Berliner” freedom and solidarity speech to 400,000 West Berliners in 1963. Credit: Francesca Dziadek/IPS

Group photo of participants in the Network Inclusion Leaders (NILE) 2014 workshop held in Berlin’s Rathaus Schöneberg, where John F. Kennedy delivered his iconic “Ich bin ein Berliner” freedom and solidarity speech to 400,000 West Berliners in 1963. Credit: Ina Meling/Integration Commissioner Büro Tempelhof-Schöneberg

“Take control, shape your narratives with the new digital space available and build trust relationships with the authorities to change how the media frames and reflects our communities and our issues.”

Participants learned to be part of a critical mass for change, a “majority complex”, to build strategic coalitions to reduce marginalisation, reframe the migration debate as a socio-economic asset, and challenge discrimination and racism with the tools provided by human rights instruments such as the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), a monitoring body of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

“Freedom of speech definitely stops at racial slander and incitement,” explained Kwesi Aikins, “and you can challenge that in the courts. Even human rights education is a human right.”

“Martin Luther King did not just have a dream, he had a plan,” said Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote (UK). Woolley was invited by NILE to explain to the young participants how they can take advantage of the torch handed to them all the way back from the civil rights movement, including harnessing their own electoral muscle because the black vote counts. “The bottom line,” he said, “is that power talks to power”.

NILE workshop participants agreed that the challenge facing young leaders is to find their role within the constraints of conflicting choices on offer between blending, assertiveness and the tiring fight for a fair share.

Maria-Jose Munoz a native of Bolivia, whose research interests focus on the Madera river energy complex on the Bolivia-Brazil border, knows she has an uphill struggle ahead of her – emerging in a white, male-dominated energy policy field.

Wrapping up her experience at NILE, she said: “We are all just looking for belonging and a way to engage in a personal and public dialogue, building bridges between our often conflicting identities.”

“As minority communities, we often find a blocked path towards common goals. NILE helped me understand that I can be strong and that, by coalescing with others, I can tear down these walls.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: The Suicide of Europehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-the-suicide-of-europe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-suicide-of-europe http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-the-suicide-of-europe/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 17:08:07 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138092 In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the anti-immigrant direction being taken in some European countries, whipped up by right-wing parties on the rise, is suicidal and runs against all evidence.

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In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the anti-immigrant direction being taken in some European countries, whipped up by right-wing parties on the rise, is suicidal and runs against all evidence.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Dec 4 2014 (IPS)

The fact that in a referendum Switzerland has taken a path that goes in the opposite direction from that of Europe is an unusual fact which calls for reflection, especially because Switzerland has taken a much more progressive path, while we all were accustomed to see it as a very conservative country.

On Nov. 30, Swiss citizens were asked to vote on a proposal for reducing immigrants to a maximum of 17,000 per year, compared with 88.000 in 2013. This was rejected by 73 percent of the voters, after a unanimous campaign by the government, industrialists and trade unions that without immigrants there would be serious problems in keeping the economy expanding.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

It is worth noting that foreigners account for 23.5 percent of the population in Switzerland, compared with an average of 4 percent in Europe as a whole.

Another proposal in the same referendum called for dedicating 10 percent of Swiss international cooperation to birth control in poor countries in order to reduce their birth rate. It was clearly a racist proposal, and was also defeated. Swiss citizens have no right to decide birth policies in other countries.

While the Swiss were voting, British Prime Minister David Cameron was making public his proposal to drastically restrict European immigration. Europeans would be expelled if they did not find a job within six months. They would have work continuously for four years before having access to the country’s social benefits of the country. They would also face restrictions to their right to bring their families with them, even after finding a job.“The real problem is that Europe has a dramatic lack of real statesmen or stateswomen who are ready to go against the polls for the good of their country”

The same debate is going on in Germany, where the government is also carrying out a media campaign to popularise its bill of law which also contemplates the expulsion of European immigrants who do not find a job within six months. It is obvious that this will have a cascade effect in several other European countries.

In both cases, this is an attempt to undercut anti-European parties – the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) which is on the rise in Britain and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Germany, although the AfD is not a threat like the UKIP and what Chancellor Angela Merkel is doing amounts to an act of populism.

There is a wave of xenophobia spreading throughout Europe. Marine Le Pen’s National Front is aiming to become the number one party in France. In Italy, the right-wing Northern League is growing by the day. Today there is a xenophobic and anti-European party in every country of Europe, with the notable exception of Spain, where the People’s Party has been able to make a right-wing party redundant.

What is striking is that all those parties are creating alliances and creating a pan-European rejection of the European Union. Marine Le Pen has just chaired a meeting in Lyon of seven extreme right-wing parties, like the Flemish Vlaame Belang in Belgium and the Dutch Party for Freedom of Geert Wilders.

What was even more striking was the presence of two leaders of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. Among Europe’s right-wing parties there is growing support for Putin, and a Russian bank, the First Czech-Russian Bank with headquarters in Moscow, has just given a loan of nine million dollars to the Le Pen’s National Front.

The reality is that Europe is in serious need of young immigrants to remain competitive internationally, and innumerable studies show that immigrants have a positive impact on the economy.

In England, immigrants account for 4.3 percent of the population, their rate of employment is 78.8 percent, slightly higher than the British average (73.6 percent), and just 15 percent of immigrants request some kind of subsidy. According to a study by University College London, European immigrants who arrived in the United Kingdom contributed more than 20 billion pounds to the country’s public finances between 2001 and 2011.

Similarly, all national and European studies on immigration show that immigrants request less subsidies than nationals, are net contributors in terms of taxation, and take jobs that nationals no longer want.

According to United Nations projections, Europe has a deficit of 20 million people if it wants to keep the pension system viable, but this is not simply “politically correct” at this moment. The very small minority of immigrants involved in crime is what everybody sees through strong media exposure, and the parties which are making their fortune are calling for a white and pure Europe again.

Pope Francis speaks about ethics and solidarity with immigrants, but if parties are able to ignore economics, just imagine ethics!

The Spanish National Institute of Statistics has just released its latest findings, and they are in line with similar studies everywhere in Europe. In 1976, 676,718 children were born in Spain – 18.7 babies for every 1,000 mothers. In 1995, there were 363,467 births – 9.2 babies for every 1,000 mothers.

For every 100 Spaniards of working age, 27.6 are over the age of 64 – by 2050, this figure will be closer to 73. An even more extreme figure comes from the Population Division of the United Nations. If the Spanish borders were to be closed and nobody could enter or leave, and with the growing reduction in the number of women of fertile age, by 2100 the Spanish population would stand at around 800,000 people!

We have just to look to the United States to see the opposite policy. Every year, young people bring constant expansion to the labour force and the economy. Not even the most rabid Republican speaks of abolishing immigration, just of keeping it at a lower rate.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is riding the issue of immigration due his shrinking popularity, but in the opposite direction. He wants to legalise as many illegal immigrants as possible … and there are already 52 million immigrants.

The real problem is that Europe has a dramatic lack of real statesmen or stateswomen who are ready to go against the polls for the good of their country. The best example is the powerful Angela Merkel, who has never taken any risk or any difficult decision (except on abolishing nuclear power, and that only because of the general aversion after the Japanese tsunami).

Merkel’s comment on the law on restricting European immigrants was: “Europe is not a social union”. In other words, the flow of capital is protected, the flow of workers is not.

In all this, the European Commission has been silent on immigration. And now, its President, Jean-Claude Juncker, unmoved by the revelations on how he helped hundreds of corporations to avoid taxes in Europe with deals in Luxembourg, is now presenting a development plan to which the Commission would contribute just 10 percent and the remaining 90 percent would be funded by the private sector… and that is his landmark!

Europe is clearly committing suicide and people will find out when it has already lost its position in world competition … only then, maybe, will the difference between a statesman and a politician become clear. (IPS/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Churches at the Frontline of Climate Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 22:29:56 +0000 Melanie Mattauch http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136245 Johannes Kapelle has been playing the organ in the Protestant church of Proschim since he was 14. The 78-year-old is actively involved in his community, produces his own solar power and has raised three children with his wife on their farm in Proschim, a small village of 360 inhabitants in Lusatia, Germany. Now the church, […]

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Jänschwalde open cast lignite mine, close to Atterwasch, Germany. Credit: Christian Huschga

By Melanie Mattauch
LUSATIA, Germany, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

Johannes Kapelle has been playing the organ in the Protestant church of Proschim since he was 14. The 78-year-old is actively involved in his community, produces his own solar power and has raised three children with his wife on their farm in Proschim, a small village of 360 inhabitants in Lusatia, Germany.

Now the church, his farm, the forest he loves dearly and his entire village is threatened with demolition to leave space for expansion of Swedish energy giant Vattenfall’s lignite (also known as brown coal) operations to feed its power plants. Nearly all of the fuel carbon (99 percent) in lignite is converted to CO2 – a major greenhouse gas – during the combustion process.“What we’re seeing today is the result of putting economic thinking at the forefront. Our mantra is to just continue doing things as long as they generate profit. We need to counteract this trend with ethical thinking. We need to do what’s right!” – Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt

For Kapelle, this is inconceivable: “In Proschim, we’ve managed effortlessly to supply our community with clean energy by setting up a wind park and a biogas plant. Nowadays, it is just irresponsible to expand lignite mining.”

The desolate landscape the giant diggers leave behind stretches as far as the eye can see from just a few hundred metres outside Proschim.

“It’s only going to take about a quarter of a year to burn the entire coal underneath Proschim. But the land is going to be destroyed forever. You won’t even be able to enter vast areas of land anymore because it will be prone to erosion. You won’t be able to grow anything on that soil anymore either. No potatoes, no tomatoes, nothing,” says Kappelle.

Some 70 km northeast of Proschim, Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt also sees his community under threat. His church in Atterwasch has been around for 700 years and even survived the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century. Now it is supposed to make way for Vattenfall’s Jänschwalde Nord open cast lignite mine.

The 64-year-old has been Atterwasch’s pastor since 1977 and refuses to accept that his community will be destroyed: “As Christians, we have a responsibility to cultivate and protect God’s creation. That’s what it says in the Bible. We’re pretty good at cultivating but protection is lacking. That’s why I’ve been trying to stop the destruction of nature since the days of the German Democratic Republic.”

“Vattenfall’s plans to expand its mines have given this fight a new dimension,” Berndt adds. “This is now also about preventing our forced displacement.”

Berndt is currently involved in organising a huge protest on August 23 – a human chain connecting a German and Polish village threatened by coal mining in the region. He has also been pushing his church to step up its efforts to curb climate change.

As a result, his regional synod has positioned itself against new coal mines, lignite power plants and the demolition of further villages. It is also offering churches advice on energy savings and deploying renewable energy. The parsonage in Atterwasch, for example, has been equipped with solar panels.

Parsonage in Atterwasch with solar panels. Credit: Christian Huschga

Parsonage in Atterwasch with solar panels. Credit: Christian Huschga

Despite Germany’s ambitions for an energy transition, its so-called Energiewende, the country’s CO2 emissions have been rising again for the past two years, for the first time since the country’s reunification. This is primarily due to Germany’s coal-fired power plants, and brown coal power stations in particular.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently confirmed that it is still possible to limit global warming below 2° C. But there is only a limited CO2 budget left to meet this goal and avert runaway climate change.

The IPCC estimates that investments in fossil fuels would need to fall by 30 billion dollars a year, while investments in low-carbon electricity supply would have to increase by 147 billion dollars a year.

As a result, more and more faith leaders are calling for divestment from fossil fuels. One of the most powerful advocates has been Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former South African Anglican Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, who recently called for an “anti-apartheid style boycott of the fossil fuel industry”.

Tutu’s call to action has been echoed by U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres, who has urged religious leaders to pull their investments out of fossil fuel companies.

Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt. Credit: Christian Huschga

Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt. Credit: Christian Huschga

Many churches have taken this step already. Last month, the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of over 300 churches representing some 590 million people in 150 countries, decided to phase out its holdings in fossil fuels and encouraged its members to do the same.

The Quakers in the United Kingdom, the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the United Church of Christ in the United States, and many more regional and local churches have also joined the divestment movement.

The Church of Sweden was among the first to rid itself of oil and coal investments. It increased investments in energy-efficient and low-carbon projects instead, which also improved its portfolio’s financial performance.

Gunnela Hahn, head of ethical investments at the Church of Sweden’s central office explains: “We realised that many of our largest holdings were within the fossil industry. That catalysed the idea of more closely aligning investments with the ambitious work going on in the rest of the church on climate change. ”

Meanwhile, from the frontline, pastor Berndt calls for putting ethics first: “What we’re seeing today is the result of putting economic thinking at the forefront. Our mantra is to just continue doing things as long as they generate profit. We need to counteract this trend with ethical thinking. We need to do what’s right!”

Melanie Mattauch is 350.org Europe Communications Coordinator

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Train on the Move to Unite Basques, Scots and Catalanshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/train-on-the-move-to-unite-basques-scots-and-catalonians/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=train-on-the-move-to-unite-basques-scots-and-catalonians http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/train-on-the-move-to-unite-basques-scots-and-catalonians/#respond Mon, 09 Jun 2014 15:16:41 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134880 “Around 150,000 showed up to claim that we, Basques, want to decide the future of this country,” Urtzi Urrutikoetxea, journalist, writer and member of the Basque people’s organisation Gure Esku Dago (GED), told IPS after on the 123-kilometre long human chain “for the right to decide” organised Sunday. “This is just the beginning of a […]

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Demonstrators in the village of Beasain, halfway along the 123-km long human chain “for the right to decide”. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
BEASAIN, Spain, Jun 9 2014 (IPS)

“Around 150,000 showed up to claim that we, Basques, want to decide the future of this country,” Urtzi Urrutikoetxea, journalist, writer and member of the Basque people’s organisation Gure Esku Dago (GED), told IPS after on the 123-kilometre long human chain “for the right to decide” organised Sunday.

“This is just the beginning of a train that will link the Basque Country with both Scotland and Catalonia,“ said the Basque intellectual.

“Initially we thought we´d be done with 50,000 so it is definitely been a huge success,” he noted, referring to the number of demonstrators that lined up holding hands between Durango and Pamplona, respectively 418 and 450 km north of Madrid.

Gure Esku Dago, which stands for “It lies in our hands” in the Basque language, was set up in June 2013 as a platform which, according to Urrutikoetxea, “vows to serve as an umbrella organisation for local initiatives aimed at the activation and citizen support for the right to decide of the Basques.”"We cannot but adhere to an initiative that is rooted in the most fundamental right to decide within a democracy. And this is the very basic point where both Spanish and Basque nationalists should come together" – Laura Mintegi, Basque MP

The Basque people have their own language and culture and live on both sides of the Pyrenees. Theirs is a territory divided into different political-administrative organisations: the Basque Autonomous Community and the Chartered Community of Navarre in Spain, and three provinces in France. Their total population is estimated at about three million. Well over two-thirds live in the Basque Autonomous Community.

Alongside several trade unions and social agents, the two main political forces in the Basque Parliament, the right-wing Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and the left-wing Euskal Herria Bildu – with 27 and 21 seats respectively of the 75 in the Basque chamber – supported the demonstration.

“The citizenship has remained expectant for too many years, trying to figure out what the political parties´ next moves would be. Today they have lost the fear to remain ignored and unheard so they have decided to take the initiative,” Laura Mintegi, Basque MP and Parliamentary spokesperson for Euskal Herria Bildu, told IPS.

Mintegi summed up the reasons behind her group joining the human chain: “We cannot but adhere to an initiative that is rooted in the most fundamental right to decide within a democracy. And this is the very basic point where both Spanish and Basque nationalists should come together.”

But key actors such as the Popular Party (PP) – Spain´s ruling party – are still far from following suit. Laura Garrido holds one of the ten seats the conservative coalition has in the Basque chamber, where the Popular Party is the fourth force.

The 43-year-old MP labelled the Basque nationalist parties´ attitude as “disruptive”, while she accused them of “fostering instability.”

“Theirs is a dangerous challenge to the established order. Far from uniting the Basques, it only encourages confrontation among us,” Garrido told IPS.

Asked about the reasons for her party preventing a vote on independence, the conservative political leader was categorical:

“The Spanish Constitution does not provide any such legal instruments, so a referendum of this kind is simply not a feasible option.”

The “Basque nationalists versus Spanish constitutionalists” equation may not coincide with today´s national political scenario. Even members of the opposition Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and other left-wing Spanish parties have publicly showed support for Sunday´s demonstration.

Gemma Zabaleta, who served form many years as a Minister of Employment and Social Affairs in the Basque Government, has repeatedly stated that she would not favour an independent Basque Country, and that she would like to defend her position in a plebiscite.

“It is, by far, the most democratic, healthiest and most clarifying formula. Hampering such a referendum only boosts nationalist feelings even further,” said Zabaleta during a conference last April.

But perhaps one of the biggest arguments to refute the thesis that a referendum lies exclusively in the agenda of Basque nationalist sectors is the call on the citizenship to participate in the human chain by the Podemos (“We can”) political party, created in March this year by Spanish leftist activists.

Only three months after it was registered as a political party, Podemos won five seats in the European Parliament elections on May 25. Their arrival in the Spanish political arena has been spectacular and many political analysts see them as the outcome of the so called “Indignants´ movement”, which led a series of massive protests in demand of radical changes in Spanish politics back in 2011.

“The right of the peoples of Europe to become a state, provided that´s the citizenship´s will, is clearly stated in our political programme,” Carolina Bescansa, head of Podemos’ Unit of Political Analysis told IPS.

“The right of the people to decide on their future is not a nationalist claim, but a purely democratic demand,” insisted Bescansa, a professor of Political Science who calls for an “urgent restoration of democracy and participation lost at the hands of the ruling oligarchy in Spain.”

Public disenchantment with key institutions formed in the 1970s after a four-decade long dictatorship is, indeed, widespread in Spain after long and deep economic crisis, and an endless list of corruption scandals.

Also touched by the latter, Spanish king Juan Carlos I abdicated on June 2 after a 39-year reign, so the Spanish Government is currently working around the clock over the coronation of Philip VI. Meanwhile, thousands keep marching across the country for the abolition of the monarchy that was reinstated in 1975.

The next crucial date on the agenda will likely be November 9, when 7.5 million Catalans will hold a referendum over independence from Spain. The plebiscite date was announced by Catalan President Artur Mas in December 2013, only three months after a massive human chain criss-crossed Catalonia

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New EU Rules ‘Fail’ Against Shipbreaking Dangershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/07/new-eu-rules-fail-against-shipbreaking-dangers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-eu-rules-fail-against-shipbreaking-dangers http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/07/new-eu-rules-fail-against-shipbreaking-dangers/#respond Wed, 17 Jul 2013 06:48:22 +0000 Ida Karlsson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=125772 Hundreds of European vessels are scrapped under hazardous conditions in South Asia every year. European parliamentarians have approved a new regulation to tackle the problem – but critics say it will have very limited impact. The European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted last in favour of a proposal aiming to put an end to European ships […]

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At a shipbreaking yard in Dhaka. Credit: Mahmud/Map.

By Ida Karlsson
BRUSSELS, Jul 17 2013 (IPS)

Hundreds of European vessels are scrapped under hazardous conditions in South Asia every year. European parliamentarians have approved a new regulation to tackle the problem – but critics say it will have very limited impact.

The European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted last in favour of a proposal aiming to put an end to European ships being recklessly scrapped in developing countries.

“With this, we will have a safer disposal of ships. About 90 percent of the European vessels are scrapped illegally and the Basel Convention has failed to do something about this,” said Swedish Green MEP Carl Schlyter, who negotiated the agreement with the Council and guided the legislation through the European Parliament."Last year one European ship was sent to a substandard beaching yard in South Asia every day."

European Union-registered ships will now have to be recycled at EU-approved facilities that meet specific safety and environmental requirements and are certified and regularly inspected. The European Commission would be obliged to act if NGOs report irregularities.

Both EU ships and non-EU ships would also have to carry an inventory of hazardous materials when calling at ports in the EU. The regulation is likely to enter into force in the beginning of 2014.

Patrizia Heidegger from Shipbreaking Platform, a global coalition of organisations working for safe and sustainable ship recycling, is not pleased with the outcome.

“European shipping companies will continue to profit by having their ships scrapped on the beaches of South Asia. It is positive that the beaching of vessels is technically prohibited, but generally the new regulation won’t change much,” she told IPS.

She says that the regulation will not have a large impact since ship owners can easily flag out and circumvent the regulation if they don’t want to comply. The coalition wants the regulation to apply to all ships calling at European ports, instead of only the EU-flagged vessels.

“Last year one European ship was sent to a substandard beaching yard in South Asia every day. It has to be proven that the system is able to trace hazardous waste and make sure it is disposed properly. We remain skeptical until we see that the monitoring actually works.”

Heidegger also claims that the new regulation is in breach of the Basel Convention, an international treaty of environmental law ratified by the EU. This view is shared by Ludwig Krämer, an expert on EU environmental law. In his opinion the new regulation does not provide better protection than the Basel Convention.

Schlyter pushed for an EU fund to subsidise safe recycling of the ships. The fund would have been financed by fees on ships docked in EU ports, but the parliament rejected this part of the proposal.

“Without the ship recycling fund the new regulation won’t be effective. A ship recycling fund would put obligations on the ship owners beyond the flag,” Heidegger said.

“The fund was supported by all the political groups, but then the parliament voted it down after strong lobbying from ship owners and EU ports. The ports claimed that the arrangement would result in over 100 percent increase in fees, which is not true,” Schlyter told IPS.

Schlyter says that with a fund in place it would not pay to flag out. He says that the commission might propose creation of a fund later if the new regulation proves insufficient.

European ship owners dumped 365 toxic ships on South Asian beaches last year, according to the Shipbreaking Platform.

Of the top 10 European “global dumpers” in 2012, Greek ship owners were number one, dumping 167 ships on Asian beaches. German ship owners represented the second largest group of toxic ship dumpers with 48 ships, followed by ship owners from the UK with 30 ships, and Norway with 23 ships scrapped on beaches in South Asia.

According to the coalition most of the end-of-life ships sent by European ship owners did not fly an EU flag but flags from Panama, Liberia, the Bahamas or St Kitts-and-Nevis.

Bangladesh tops the list of countries having the greatest number of ships scrapped every year, with India and Pakistan trailing far behind. Unskilled and unprotected workers manually handle poisonous chemicals and are also exposed to the risk of explosion while dismantling old vessels.

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Biofuels Get a Dubious Boosthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/07/biofuels-get-a-dubious-boost/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biofuels-get-a-dubious-boost http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/07/biofuels-get-a-dubious-boost/#respond Fri, 12 Jul 2013 07:29:57 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=125662 In an unexpected move, European parliamentarians have approved a new biofuel regulation that will take emissions from indirect land use change into account. The new text allows the biofuel sector to expand, sending a clear signal to world food markets and jeopardising food security for the world’s poorest. The European Parliament’s Environment Committee (ENVI) voted […]

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The United States Environmental Protection Agency designated sugarcane ethanol as an advanced biofuel because it lowers GHG emissions by more than 50 percent as compared to gasoline. Pictured here is a sugarcane harvester in Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava /IPS

By Daan Bauwens
BRUSSELS, Jul 12 2013 (IPS)

In an unexpected move, European parliamentarians have approved a new biofuel regulation that will take emissions from indirect land use change into account. The new text allows the biofuel sector to expand, sending a clear signal to world food markets and jeopardising food security for the world’s poorest.

The European Parliament’s Environment Committee (ENVI) voted Thursday in favour of a proposal that limits the use of biofuels to 5.5 percent. This percentage is a compromise between the European Greens who asked for a cap of three percent and the centre-right European People’s Party that wanted a cap of 6.5 percent.

The cap was introduced by the European Commission a year ago after criticism that the policy boosted food prices, causing hunger in developing nations.

The approved proposal also requires companies to measure the amount of indirect land use change (ILUC) caused by their fuels. ILUC refers to the clearing of rainforest, peatlands and wetlands rich in sequestered carbon to fulfill the demand for more land, and causing extra emissions. When the indirect land use change factor is accounted for, many biofuels turn out to cause more emissions than fossil fuels.

“The introduction of indirect land use change is the most important element in this vote,” Bas Eickhout, member of parliament for the European Green Party told IPS. “Furthermore, the cap of 5.5 percent includes all land-based biofuel crops that compete with food production in the use of land and water. This is a setback for the industry that just wanted to continue business as usual.

“But it is not over yet. This text still has to be approved at the plenary meeting. We know the industry is now getting ready for a heavy fight.”

Environmental campaigners have mixed feelings about the approved regulation. “From the point of view of the climate, this result is unexpectedly positive: from now on only truly sustainable biofuels will be subsidized,” Marc-Olivier Herman, Oxfam International’s biofuel expert, told IPS.

“But as far as food security is concerned, the result is outright negative. Last year the Commission proposed 5 percent to protect the existing industry while blocking its expansion. Everything higher than this percentage is unjustifiable. It signifies a subsidised growth of the sector, resulting in more speculation on land and food, causing more food insecurity and hunger.”

The move to increase the percentage comes despite calls from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter. De Schutter wrote to parliamentarians on Apr. 23 and visited the European parliament on Jun. 19 to make clear what detrimental effects the European Union’s policy has on food security in developing nations.

“The EU’s agriculture and energy policies have huge impacts on developing countries whose markets are interlinked with those of the EU,” De Schutter told IPS ahead of the meeting. “Biofuel mandates send a strong signal to investors, and therefore trigger commercial pressures on land in developing countries and increase price volatility.”

De Schutter cites research by the EU Joint Research Centre showing that by 2020 EU biofuel targets could push up the agricultural price of vegetable oils by 36 percent, maize by 22 percent, wheat by 13 percent and oilseeds by 20 percent.

Furthermore, according to De Schutter, smallholders in developing countries fall victim in two different ways.

“EU biofuels demand has increased the existing pressures on land in developing countries,” he said. “It has stacked the odds in favour of large-scale export-oriented projects and against the interests of small-scale farmers who need secure access to land and resources.

“Indeed, the smallholders whose access to land and resources is threatened by large-scale investments are often among those most affected by rising food prices. The poorest farmers, though they depend on subsistence agriculture for part of their consumption, are often net food buyers, contrary to common perception.

“My mandate is to offer a rights-based assessment of major policies which have impacts across the world and to remind policymakers of the requirements of the right to food,” De Schutter told IPS.

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The “Secret Treasure” of Food Wastehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/the-secret-treasure-of-food-waste-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-secret-treasure-of-food-waste-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/the-secret-treasure-of-food-waste-2/#respond Fri, 14 Jun 2013 09:00:28 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=119851 Twenty-nine-year-old Andrzej W. and his partner lived for almost a year off of food found in the trash bin of the upscale supermarket Piotr i Pawel in Muranow, a neighbourhood near the centre of the Polish capital Warsaw. And they ate in style. “I can hardly name now the expensive cheeses and chocolates we found […]

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Poland wastes at least 8.9 million tonnes of food every year. Credit: Claudia Ciobanu/IPS

By Claudia Ciobanu
WARSAW, Jun 14 2013 (IPS)

Twenty-nine-year-old Andrzej W. and his partner lived for almost a year off of food found in the trash bin of the upscale supermarket Piotr i Pawel in Muranow, a neighbourhood near the centre of the Polish capital Warsaw. And they ate in style.

“I can hardly name now the expensive cheeses and chocolates we found there, because I never buy them normally, they are luxury goods,” he says. “There was everything in these bins — vegetables, fruits, dairy, sweets, eggs, some close to expiry date, others past, eggs thrown away only because one or two were cracked, just like you see in American movies about dumpster diving.”"Europe ignores the waste it generates abroad just as it ignores polluting emissions created by its outsourced industries.” -- Tristram Stuart of Feeding the 5000

When he discovered Piotr i Pawel, Andrzej had occasionally retrieved vegetables and fruits thrown away at other markets in the city, but this was a whole new experience.

“I felt like Ali Baba finding the secret treasure!” he says. “I was so happy to find all this great food, but at the same time I felt angry that so much gets wasted and sad that I cannot take it all away with me.”

So he told friends, who told other friends, and the bin gradually became the go-to place to get food for squatters, as well as homeless and poor people. When the managers of the store caught on to the practice earlier this year, they locked the bin and refused to discuss its reopening with Andrzej.

The ambit of two categories of people – activists and the poor – dumpster diving is not common in Poland. But the practice probably has a future this country: with a population of 38.5 million, Poland, the largest among the post-socialist states which joined the European Union, already ranks fifth in the EU when it comes to food waste.

According to data from the European Commission, 89 million tonnes of food are wasted yearly in the EU, equalling 179 kilogrammes per person. Poland alone wastes 8.9 million tonnes every year, followed by the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and France. This data, the most recent available, is from 2006 and some food activists argue that it is a gross underestimation.

At the same time, explains Maria Gosiewska from the non-profit Polish Federation of Food Banks, recent years have seen a serious push by the EU to reduce waste levels: at the end of 2011, the EU executive (the European Commission) called for reducing edible food waste by 50 percent by 2020; the European Parliament also passed a resolution setting a reduction target of 50 percent of all food waste by 2025. With time, national governments will have to take on such objectives.

Gosiewska’s organisation coordinates 29 food banks operating across Poland which collect rejected food from producers and intermediaries and pass it to the needy. She hopes activists in her country will be able to use this European wind of change to push through legislative reforms.

For example, her organisation argues for a scrapping of the VAT tax for food donations. While NGOs have been calling for this measure for 10 years, for the moment only producers who donate food are spared the tax, while retailers are not, so the untapped potential is huge.

Tristram Stuart, founder of the UK anti-food waste movement Feeding the 5000, says his group is working in partnership with the U.N. and the EC to replicate their campaign globally, including in Central and Eastern European locations such as Budapest and Prague.

“Food waste in these countries may become more of a problem as consumption increases,” he said, “so it might be a good idea to nip the worst effects of Western food systems in the bud before they take root.”

Consumers in rich countries are wasting as much as 10 times more food than those in poor countries.

According to Stuart’s book Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal (Penguin, 2009), the U.S. and Europe have twice as much food as needed to meet the nutritional needs of their people and up to half of this food is wasted. The approximately 40 million tonnes of food wasted annually in the U.S., claims the book, would be enough to feed the world’s one billion malnourished people.

Irrigation water used to produce food that is wasted globally would be enough for the domestic needs of nine billion people (as many as we are expected to be in 2050).

According to a report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, between 1.2 and 2.0 billion tonnes of food are wasted annually in the world: in poorer countries, lack of infrastructure and supermarket demands on producers cause field waste, the primary component of food waste there; in rich countries, consumer waste is the greatest culprit.

The report recommends intervening at all levels where waste is produced – on the farm, and on the side of retailers and consumers. It also advises specific technological fixes that could be implemented to reduce waste on farms in developing countries.

Stuart’s group, meanwhile, focuses on Western consumers, businesses and decision-makers. For one, they work on persuading supermarkets to relax their own esthetic standards (i.e., accept for sale products that do not have perfect shapes), which despite public perception are tougher than those imposed by the EU. At the same time, they conduct public awareness campaigns to teach consumers that “ugly” produce has the same nutritional value as the perfectly shaped sort.

Importantly, Feeding the 5000 wants Western countries and commercial actors to take responsibility for producer-level food waste in countries that export to Europe.

“The esthetic standards imposed by Western supermarkets on their suppliers in countries like Ecuador, Kenya and others generate farm waste there, and this is something that Europe needs to include in its food waste accounting,” Stuart tells IPS. “At the moment, Europe ignores the waste it generates abroad just as it ignores polluting emissions created by its outsourced industries.”

Finally, the group is working on changing EU legislation related to animal feed. The focus of a campaign launched Jun. 5 called The Pig Idea is on making it legal again in Europe to feed pigs with catering food waste. The current model, whereby European meat producers import cereals for animal feed (the EU imports 40 million tonnes of soy products annually, most for animal feed) is unsustainable, claims the group.

It is causing deforestation and biodiversity destruction in exporting countries, and contributes to the increase and overall volatility of global prices for staples. In turn, this makes it too expensive for poorer consumers around the world to afford food and for producers outside of Europe to feed their own stock.

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Reactions to Gay Marriage Contradict French, Portuguese Stereotypeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/05/reactions-to-gay-marriage-contradict-french-portuguese-stereotypes-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reactions-to-gay-marriage-contradict-french-portuguese-stereotypes-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/05/reactions-to-gay-marriage-contradict-french-portuguese-stereotypes-2/#respond Fri, 31 May 2013 10:42:14 +0000 Mario Queiroz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=119463 The heated reaction to the legalisation of same-sex marriage has run counter to the widespread image of France as the cradle of the modern republic and equal rights since the 1789 revolution. In contrast, Portugal with its reputation for prudishness, has shown itself to be much more open and tolerant. The violent backlash of wide […]

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By Mario Queiroz
LISBON, May 31 2013 (IPS)

The heated reaction to the legalisation of same-sex marriage has run counter to the widespread image of France as the cradle of the modern republic and equal rights since the 1789 revolution. In contrast, Portugal with its reputation for prudishness, has shown itself to be much more open and tolerant.

Gay activists march on Apr. 25, the anniversary of the Carnation Revolution in Portugal. Credit: Anette Dujisin/IPS

Gay activists march on Apr. 25, the anniversary of the Carnation Revolution in Portugal. Credit: Anette Dujisin/IPS

The violent backlash of wide sectors of French society against the Apr. 23 parliamentary approval of the bill allowing same-sex marriage, signed into law May 18, perplexed many observers accustomed to regarding this country as a haven of tolerance.
Clashes between police and protesters, many of them members of traditionalist Catholic organisations who view gay unions as an affront to the sanctity of the family, continued late into the night of Sunday May 26.

However, tempers cooled, and on Wednesday May 29 the first French marriage between two men took place without incident in the southern city of Montpellier, with 500 people celebrating, 140 journalists in attendance, and only five far-right protesters who were easily controlled by around 100 police officers.

Prominent figures who oppose gay marriage include Archbishop of Paris Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, and the bishop of Bayonne, Lescar and Oloron, Marc Aillet. In contrast, in Portugal, also a Catholic country, when the law on same-sex marriage was approved in 2010, the then Patriarch of Lisbon, Cardinal José da Cruz Policarpo, maintained a respectful silence because of the separation of church and state.

And Portugal went one step further. Following a proposal by the left, supported by several rightwing members of parliament, the Portuguese legislature on May 17 approved a bill allowing “co-adoption” by a same-sex couple of the children (biological or adopted) of one of the partners.

Rui Tavares, Portuguese Member of the European Parliament for the Greens, told IPS the apparent contradiction was because “France is a conservative country, but most foreigners do not believe this because they are only familiar with historic moments like the 1789 revolution, the Liberation (resistance against German occupation 1940-1945) and (the student movement of) May 1968.”

But Tavares said those events “were exceptions to the rule,” and that since 1945, “France has only twice elected leftwing presidents, François Mitterrand (1981-1995) and François Hollande (the incumbent). “The rest have all been conservatives: Charles de Gaulle, Georges Pompidou, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Jacques Chirac, and Nicolas Sarkozy.” Extreme rightwing leader Jean-Marie “Le Pen even got to the second round of voting in the 2002 presidential elections,” he said.

“What a fine example France is, as the first European republic, but paradoxically retaining many aristocratic and monarchical features, a country with structures that are more authoritarian and hierarchical than those of Portugal,” Tavares said.

“Large pockets of reactionary and retrograde Catholicism remain, that hid under cover during the Liberation, reappeared with the Algerian War and are very well organised,” he said. In Portugal, in contrast, “there is no extreme right, nor organised Salazarist supporters,” he said, referring to António de Oliveira Salazar (1889-1970), the founder and leader of the dictatorship established in 1933 and overthrown in 1974 by the Carnation Revolution, led by leftwing army captains.

“This country has been liberalised, urbanised and modernised a great deal in the last 30 years, and the majority of the population identify with those changes that have improved their lives, and are now much more open and plural,” he said. In spite of this, “homophobia continues to exist in Portugal, as reflected in language and attitudes, although it is more broad than deep, and many people opt for an attitude of non-interference in other people’s lives, even in aspects that might be regarded as objectionable.

“In general, Portuguese people do not tend to have absolutist views about anything,” Tavares said. In Portugal, “family ties are strong, and have even become an argument in favour of gay marriage,” he said, describing a personal experience: “My mother, who is 80 years old, telephoned me to say that from now on she is in favour of same-sex marriage, because she heard a gay man say how much his mother would like him to get married.”

In France, “distances are greater, even between close relatives, so opposition to same-sex unions appears to be a rational or values-based issue, and is not undermined so much by experiences of family affection,” the Member of the European Parliament concluded.

For his part, Fernando Fernández, a writer and retired journalist for Agence France-Presse (AFP), said “what is striking about the protests in the country against the law legalising same-sex marriages is that they are an apparent contradiction in a society that has a world reputation for being tolerant, open and liberal.

“It’s true that French society can appear liberal from the perspective of countries that are deeply marked by the Catholic Church, like Spain or Poland,” Fernández told IPS in a telephone interview. “But in addition to the religious influence, French society is no doubt much more determined by what it regards as its values, and will not accept homosexuals having the same rights and responsibilities” as heterosexuals, he concluded.

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Is Aid to South Africa Drying Up?http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/05/is-aid-to-south-africa-drying-up/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-aid-to-south-africa-drying-up http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/05/is-aid-to-south-africa-drying-up/#comments Fri, 17 May 2013 07:33:44 +0000 John Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=118924 Commentators and business leaders in South Africa believe that the recent announcement of an end to the United Kingdom’s aid programme to South Africa may be the start of a new trend to cut back on aid to this country, and possibly to the rest of Africa. “This British announcement was not entirely unexpected,” Neren […]

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South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world. It is estimated that nearly 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By John Fraser
JOHANNESBURG, May 17 2013 (IPS)

Commentators and business leaders in South Africa believe that the recent announcement of an end to the United Kingdom’s aid programme to South Africa may be the start of a new trend to cut back on aid to this country, and possibly to the rest of Africa.

“This British announcement was not entirely unexpected,” Neren Rau, the head of the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told IPS.

“There is currently a lot of discussion of Africa as a whole being vulnerable to less aid – the funding just isn’t there.”

The announcement in April by the U.K.’s International Development Secretary Justine Greening that her country’s direct aid to South Africa, which is currently worth 19 million pounds a year, will cease in 2015 has drawn widespread criticism in the U.K. and elsewhere, not least because there was no prior dialogue with the South African government.

“There is a high probability of other donors following suit,” Rau said.

“The (possible) loss of aid from the European Union and the United States is something we have been debating for a while. I think that African countries should have planned for this, and expected this. It is very naive to expect aid to flow indefinitely.”

Former Belgian ambassador to South Africa Jan Mutton, who is a research associate in the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria, told IPS that it would be wrong for any country to depend forever on handouts.

“South Africa is a perfect example to consider for a mixture of trade and aid together,” he suggested.

“There is a classical opportunity to see how we can work together in a new way. So what the U.K. is doing is most appropriate – to look at the most appropriate way of helping South Africa.”

Pretoria-based economist Dawie Roodt of the Efficient Group told IPS: “I have plenty of sympathy with the U.K.’s decision. It doesn’t make sense that a recipient has to agree before aid is halted. That decision is the prerogative of the donor only.

“But apart from that, I am very sure there are, in the view of the British, more urgent aid cases than to give money to South Africa.”

Spokesman at the EU Embassy in Pretoria Frank Oberholzer told IPS that currently EU aid is continuing as planned, but that there are discussions on how best to handle longer-term assistance to South Africa.

“The current EU programme in SA is 980 million euros (1.2 billion dollars), from 2007 to 2013,” he told IPS.

Head of the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Neren Rau, says the U.K.'s cutting of aid to South Africa was not unexpected. Credit: John Fraser/IPS

Head of the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Neren Rau, says the U.K.’s cutting of aid to South Africa was not unexpected. Credit: John Fraser/IPS

“While all commitments under this programme come to an end this year we expect to continue disbursing on average some 100 million euros (129 million dollars) per year until 2015.

“Discussions on future assistance in terms of funding and the areas of cooperation are currently ongoing at European Parliament, European Commission and European Council of Ministers level – it is too early to predict an outcome at this time,” Oberholzer said.

“While I do not believe there is debate on development assistance, there is a discussion on how best to assist middle income countries, South Africa being one of these,” he added.

Britain’s opposition Labour Party has been fiercely critical of the aid decision, with a leading Labour member of the European Parliament, Michael Cashman, attacking it in a statement on his website.

Cashman, the chair of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with South Africa, protested that the decision “was taken unilaterally”.

“It is clear (Greening) is either ignorant of the depths of poverty in South Africa or she is badly advised. Either way she should review this decision immediately, or at the very least work a solution bilaterally with her South African counterpart.”

He confirmed that the EU is reviewing its own development cooperation strategy and stated that “fights have begun to differentiate countries who should still benefit from aid and those who should not, South Africa being one of the most controversial cases.”

“The country is somewhat of a development success story and is the continent’s largest and most developed economy,” Cashman said.

“However, it remains one of the world’s most unequal societies and is blighted by high unemployment and widespread poverty. It is estimated that nearly 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line,” he added.

Privately, some diplomats in Pretoria suggested that one reason for the U.K.’s decision to end aid to South Africa has been the inability of some government departments to handle it, and to report back efficiently to the donor on how the aid has been spent.

There is also a suspicion that South Africa’s recent enthusiastic alliance with the Brazil, Russia, India and China grouping of leading emerging nations might have sent the wrong signals to traditional development partners such as the U.K.

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