Inter Press Service » Europe http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 25 May 2017 22:29:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.18 Macron Likely to Diffuse Tensions as Independence Vote Looms in New Caledoniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/macron-likely-to-diffuse-tensions-as-independence-vote-looms-in-new-caledonia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=macron-likely-to-diffuse-tensions-as-independence-vote-looms-in-new-caledonia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/macron-likely-to-diffuse-tensions-as-independence-vote-looms-in-new-caledonia/#comments Mon, 22 May 2017 13:06:44 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150518 Emmanuel Macron speaking at LeWeb 2014. After New Caledonia’s second polling, Macron secured a slight majority of 52.57 percent against Le Pen’s 47.43 percent. Credit: Official LeWeb Photos/ CC BY 2.0

Emmanuel Macron speaking at LeWeb 2014. After New Caledonia’s second polling, Macron secured a slight majority of 52.57 percent against Le Pen’s 47.43 percent. Credit: Official LeWeb Photos/ CC BY 2.0

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, May 22 2017 (IPS)

The political future of New Caledonia, a French South Pacific Island territory of 273,000 people, is a profound question mark as a referendum on independence rapidly approaches next year. Equally, how the newly elected French Government, led by Emmanuel Macron, will perform as arbiter of the challenging process in the months ahead is a relative unknown.

Independence aspirations have risen in New Caledonia since the 1980s when violent unrest signalled growing agitation for political change by the indigenous Kanak peoples who comprise about 40 percent of the population. The territory was reinstated on the United Nations Decolonization List in 1986.Less than 1 percent of France’s population lives in the Pacific territories, but the state’s reluctance to severe ties with its overseas territories is due to ideological and strategic factors.

Michael Forrest, Foreign Affairs Secretary for FLNKS (Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front), proclaimed in a November interview with the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) that Kanaks “want to be free and integrated into the political, social and economic environment of the Pacific.”

“It will be a very complex issue to deal with, but I think that Macron will respect the result of the referendum, whatever it is,” Paul Soyez, Adjunct Professor at France’s Paris IV-Sorbonne University and researcher on international relations at the University of Melbourne, Australia, told IPS.

Thirty-nine-year-old Macron, a former investment banker and Economic Minister in the previous socialist government led by François Hollande, won the second round of voting in presidential elections on May 7 against Marine Le Pen, former leader of the National Front. He galvanised popular support for his centrist independent movement, En Marche! (On the Move!), with a strident call for national revival through economic reform and growth, social unity and strengthening of the European Union.

“Macron will maintain the French state’s conciliatory approach to the referendum, like left-wing politicians have done since 1988. His aim will be to secure a calm referendum for the sake of New Caledonia, and for his own sake. I think that his methods can help to avoid violent tensions in New Caledonia next year,” Soyez predicts.

Yet the territory’s political future was not a key campaign issue as a pressing domestic agenda, including high unemployment and concerns about terrorism and immigration, drove candidates’ rhetoric.

And none of the presidential candidates ventured to New Caledonia during campaigning, where voter abstention of 51 percent was very high. But, after the territory’s second polling, Macron secured a slight majority of 52.57 percent against Le Pen’s 47.43 percent. In Wallis and Futuna and French Polynesia, 80 percent and 58 percent of voters respectively chose Macron, giving him an overall lead across the French Pacific.

French politicians across the ideological spectrum, including socialist Francois Hollande, centre-right Republican François Fillon, and far-right Marine Le Pen, have stated publicly that, while respecting the referendum process, they prefer that New Caledonia remains part of France.

Less than 1 percent of France’s population lives in the Pacific territories, but the state’s reluctance to severe ties with its overseas territories is due to ideological and strategic factors, according to Soyez.

“Firstly, France constitutes an ‘indivisible’ republic. Therefore, as long as the majority of the population want to remain French, France has the duty to maintain its sovereignty. This is extremely important in the French psyche,” he explained.

As well, “French overseas territories enable France to project its military force all around the world, which is very important when France is leading several operations. France’s presence in the South Pacific provides Paris with the second largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the world, many natural resources and influence in its regional institutions.”

Macron also shared his hope for the status quo in an interview with Noumea’s media in May, while advocating that the causes of local grievances be tackled, such as unemployment of 14.9 percent. But Soyez believes that “Macron, like a majority of French citizens, believes that a solution can be found between the status quo and independence, if the local communities want to find a way to compromise.”

While the new President has a long list of domestic issues to progress, disputes over the referendum electoral roll demand resolution as well.

“One of the major challenges for us is to include what we estimate to be between 20,000-25,000 local indigenous Kanak people who are not on the referendum electoral list. This list is the responsibility of the French Government,” Forrest emphasised to local media.

An estimated 84,000 Kanaks and 71,000 non-indigenous citizens are entitled to vote in the referendum.

New Caledonia’s first referendum on Independence was held in 1987, but a major Kanak boycott resulted in a pro-France outcome. Further negotiations with France led to a second referendum being provided for in the 1998 Noumea Accord, which also pledged to address indigenous disparity and the partial devolution of powers.

Two decades later the Kanak population still struggles with hardship and low development outcomes. New Caledonia has a high GDP per capita in the region of 39,391 dollars. But research reveals that the employment gap has changed little since the end of the 1990s. In 2009, the unemployment rate for Kanaks was still high at 26 percent, compared to 7 percent for non-Kanaks.

Anger by indigenous youths during clashes with police near Noumea in recent months is a sign that inequality remains a burning issue.

Yet an opinion poll conducted by New Caledonian television in April points to a loyalist lead with 54 percent of eligible referendum voters opposed to independence, about 25 percent in favour and 21 percent undecided. Concerns about a French ‘exit’ include a possible decline in the economy and living standards. The French government currently injects about 1.1 billion dollars into the island territory every year to fund education and development, social security and the public service.

Another crucial hurdle for the pro-independence lobby is that, after decades of debate about self-determination, there remains a lack of consensus about a vision of nationhood which satisfies people on all sides of the political divide.

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Norwegian Trade Union Boycott Israelhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/norwegian-trade-union-boycott-israel/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=norwegian-trade-union-boycott-israel http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/norwegian-trade-union-boycott-israel/#comments Mon, 22 May 2017 11:23:38 +0000 Linda Flood http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150514 Israel's separation barrier as seen from Al Ram. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D'Amours/IPS

Israel's separation barrier as seen from Al Ram. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D'Amours/IPS

By Linda Flood
STOCKHOLM, May 22 2017 (IPS)

The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) has voted in favour of a boycott against Israel, which is expected to affect cultural, economical and academic ties. Condemnation has come from Isreali politicians, diplomats and unions.

By a vote of 197 for and 117 against, the LO congress passed the motion even though the representative General Council has not been in support of such a step.

According to Norwegian media organisation NRK, the newly elected president of LO, Hans-Christian Gabrielson, had warned delegates that a boycott could have negative consequences for Palestinian workers and trade unions.

Hans-Christian Gabrielsen. Photo: LO Norge

Hans-Christian Gabrielsen. Photo: LO Norge

Histadrut, Israel’s largest federation of trade unions, reacted with great disappointment.

In correspondence with Arbetet Global, the Director of international relations,  Avital Shapira-Shabirow, expressed:

”It would have been better for the organization to concentrate on promoting positive agendas between the parties rather than to adopt this miserable resolution, which is in utter contradiction to the cooperation of the Histadrut and PGFTU”.

She continues:

”Once again this emphasizes the unbalanced and discriminatory policy of LO-Norway towards the Histadrut and its workers.”

LO has also encouraged the Norwegian government to recognize a Palestinian state within the borderlines of 1967.

”Precisely at this time when there is another attempt to renew the negotiations between the parties, it would have been appropriate to show more responsibility and avoid adopting a unilateral resolution that does not contribute at all to promoting a possible solution to the conflict”, Avital Shapira-Shabirow writes to Arbetet Global. 

”Norwegian government strongly opposes Norwegian Labour Union’s decision” stated Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs on Twitter, adding:  ”We need more cooperation and dialogue, not boycott”

LO’s close political ally, the social democratic Norwegian Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) were also critical to the result of the vote. Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre told news agency NTB:

”I am against the boycott. I do not believe it will move us closer to a political solution for Israelis and Palestinians, with the establishment of a Palestinian state and a strengthening of human rights”

The Israel embassy in Oslo condemned the decision. Ambassador Raphael Schutz wrote in an e-mail to news agency AFP:

”This immoral resolution reflects deeply rooted attitudes of bias, discrimination and double standard towards the Jewish state”

Swedish LO though have no plans to follow suit. ILO expert Oscar Ernerot explains their position:

”In Sweden we actively support a two state solution and that Israel will cease to occupy Palestine.  That is why we collaborate with the Isreali labour union Histadrut”

The Norwegian LO has 900 000 members which is about one-fourth of the national workforce.

Linda Flood

This story was originally published by Arbetet Global

]]> http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/norwegian-trade-union-boycott-israel/feed/ 1 Young People: You Didn’t Vote, And Now You Protest?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/young-people-you-didnt-vote-and-now-you-protest/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=young-people-you-didnt-vote-and-now-you-protest http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/young-people-you-didnt-vote-and-now-you-protest/#comments Tue, 16 May 2017 11:33:32 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150432 Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.]]>

Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, May 16 2017 (IPS)

Immediately after the vote on Brexit, thousands of young people marched in the streets of England to show their disagreement over the choice to leave Europe. But polls indicated that had they voted en masse (only 37 percent voted), the result of the referendum would have been the opposite.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

In the political system, it is now taken for granted that youth will largely abstain, and the agenda tends to ignore them more and more. This has created a vicious circle, setting up priorities which do not represent them. Yet, the analysis of the elections after the shattering economic and social crisis of 2008-9 is clear and statistically evident.

The European Parliament conducted research on the European elections of 2014 in the 28 member countries. While the youngest Europeans (18-24) are more positive about the European Union than the oldest (55+), far fewer of them turned out to vote. Turnout was higher among the oldest respondents.

Some 51 percent of the 55+ voted, while only 28 percent did in the 18-24 age group. This is relatively unchanged since the 2009 elections. And young people were more inclined to decide on the day of the elections, or a few days before (28 percent compared with the +55 group).

Already in 2014, 31 percent of the younger group said they never voted, against 19 percent of the 55+ age group. Yet, the younger the age, the more people had the feeling of being Europeans: 70 percent for the 18-24 year-olds, and 59 percent for the 55+ group.

It could be said, of course, that European elections are a special case. But a look at the past national elections in Europe confirms this trend. In the Austrian presidential elections of 2016, youth participation was at 43 percent. In 2010, it was 48 percent.

In the Dutch parliamentarian elections of 2017, the age group 18-24 vote was at 66 percent: it was 70 percent in 2012. In the Italian referendum of December 2016, the youth abstention was 38 percent, against 32 percent of the general population. And in the recent French presidential elections, the data are consistent: 78 percent abstention for the 25-34 age group; 65 percent for the 24-35; a solid 51 percent for the 35-49; and then 44 percent for the 50-64, with only 30 percent for those 65 and over.

In Israel, just 58 percent of under 35s, and just 41 percent of those under 25, voted in 2013, compared with 88 percent of over 55s. In Britain and Poland less than half of under 25s voted in the last general elections, compared with 88 percent of over 55s.

The growing youth abstention has significant implications. Let us take the last American elections that brought Donald Trump to the White House. The so-called Millennials, those of the age group 18-35, now make up 31 percent of the electorate. The Silent Generation (those 71+) are now 12 percent of the voting pool, and Generation X (36-51) makes up about 25 percent of the electorate.

Bernie Sanders’ run was based on 2 million votes from the 19-24 age group – voters who basically abandoned the elections after his loss in the primaries. Young people’s abstention rate, close to 67 percent, made the Millennials equivalent to the Silent Generation, and lost its demographic advantage. Millennials had a favourable view of Sanders at 54 percent, against 37 percent of Clinton. Just 17 percent of young people had a positive view of Trump.

Had only millennials voted, Clinton would have won the election in a landslide, with 473 electoral votes to Trump’s 32.

The first obvious observation is that if the traditional intergenerational rift disappears, we will have little change in politics, as older voters are usually more conservative. And the second obvious observation is that citizens’ participation will progressively shrink, as the young will age.

What is worrying is that we have too many polls on the reasons behind the political disenchantment of young people to think that the political system is unaware. On the contrary, many political analysts think that parties in power don’t mind abstentions in general terms. It shrinks the voters to those who feel connected, whose priorities are clear and simpler to satisfy, as the older generations feel more secure than the younger ones.

And the theme of young people is disappearing in the political debate, or is merely rhetorical. A good example is that the Italian government devoted in 2016 a whopping 20 billion dollars to save four banks, while it dedicated a total of 2 billion dollars to create jobs for young people, in a country which has close to 40 percent youth unemployment.

For youth, the message is clear: finance is more important than their future. So they do not vote, and they are less and less a factor in the political system.

Spending on education and research are the first victims (together with health) when austerity hits. The results are evident. In Australia (where 25 percent of the young people said that “it does not matter what kind of government we have”), those over 65 pay no tax on income under 24,508 dollars. Younger workers start paying taxes at 15,080 dollars.

In rich countries the world over, people over 65 have subsidies and special discounts, such as on the cinema and other activities. Not the young people…. But when somebody with a message for the young comes into the picture, participation changes. In Canada, just 37 percent of the 18-24s voted in the election of 2008, against 39 percent in 2011. But when Justin Trudeau campaigned on a message of hope in 2015, youth participation rose sharply to 57 percent.

What is a real cause of concern for democracy, as an institution based on the waning concept of popular participation, is that young people are not at all apolitical. In fact, they are very aware of priorities like climate change, gender equality, social justice, common goods, and other concepts, much more than the older generation. At least 10 percent of young people volunteer in social groups and civil society, against 3 percent of the older generations.

They feel much more connected to the causes of humanity, have fewer racial biases, believe more in international institutions, and are more interested in international affairs. A good example is Chile. In 2010 general abstention was 13.1 percent. In 2013 it went to 58 percent. Youth abstention was 71 percent. If young people would vote, they could change the results.

Simply, they have given up on political institutions as corrupt, inefficient, and disconnected from their lives. A report last year found that 72 percent of Americans born before the Second World War thought it was “essential” to live in a country that was governed democratically. Less than a third of those born in the 1980s agreed.

We must note that the decline of participation in elections is a worldwide phenomenon, not just among young people, but also the general population. The last elections at the writing of this article were in the Bahamas; only 50 percent of the population went to vote. In Slovenia abstention is now at 57.6 percent, in Mali 54.2 percent, in Serbia 53.7 percent, in Portugal 53.5 percent, in Lesotho 53.4 percent, in Lithuania 52.6 percent, in Colombia 52.1 percent, in Bulgaria 51.8 percent, in Switzerland 50.9 percent…and this in regions as different as Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia…the crisis of political participation goes from the cradle of the parliamentarian system (Great Britain), 24 percent abstention, in 1964, to 34.2 in 2010 to Italy (7.1 percent in 2063, and in 2013 24.8 percent).

There is a general consensus among analysts that the damages of globalization and the discrediting of political parties are the major causes for the decline in participation. Yet the winners never take into account the reasons of the losers. The victory of Macron in the last French elections was well-received in Germany, but as soon as the new president started to speak about the need to strengthen Europe, for instance by creating a European finance minister, the immediate reaction was: Germany is not going to place one cent of its well-earned surplus with Europe to the service of other countries: those who spend their money on women and drinks and now expect solidarity form the North of Europe (the Dutch President of Eurofin, Jeroen Dijsselbloem).

How long it will it take to get the winners inside the European Union to understand that the political crisis is a global one, and must be addressed urgently? Voter turnout has been dropping precipitously in Germany, from over 82 percent in 1998 to only 70.8 percent in 2009. As at the last election, this year the number of non-voters is expected to surpass the number of voters in favor of the most successful party.

Manfred Güllner, the head of the Forsa polling institute, warns of a non-voter record. “There is reason to fear that fewer than 70 percent of eligible voters will go to the polls,” he says. If the non-voters were included on a conventional TV graphic, they would have the highest bar in the chart. They should actually be touted as the true winners of the election — if it weren’t for the fact that this also represents a defeat for democracy.

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Towards a Global Role for ACP?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/towards-a-global-role-for-acp/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=towards-a-global-role-for-acp http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/towards-a-global-role-for-acp/#comments Sun, 07 May 2017 11:04:33 +0000 Goele Geeraert http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150328 Patrick I. Gomes, Secretary-General of the ACP Group, at the 105th Session of its Council of Ministers in Brussels. Credit: Goele Geeraert/IPS

Patrick I. Gomes, Secretary-General of the ACP Group, at the 105th Session of its Council of Ministers in Brussels. Credit: Goele Geeraert/IPS

By Goele Geeraert
BRUSSELS, May 7 2017 (IPS)

The African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) met this week in Brussels for the 105th Session of its Council of Ministers to discuss the key question of how these 79 countries could play a more effective role for their own citizens and in the international arena.

The ACP-group was established by the 1975 Georgetown Agreement to co-ordinate cooperation between its members and the European Union. At that time, it consisted of 46 countries of the Caribbean and the Pacific that signed the first Lomé Convention on trade and aid with nine European Union member states.“The question of insecurity, peace and crime is also a fundamental question of poverty and development." --Patrick I. Gomes

Since then the ACP’s commercial and political clout has grown. Today it counts 79 states. All of them, save Cuba, have signed the Cotonou Agreement that replaced the succesive Lomé conventions and is better known as the ACP-EU Partnership Agreement.

Post-2020 relations

The current ACP-EU Cotonou Partnership Agreement ends in 2020.  In the lead-up to negotiations for a renewed partnership, future relations between the ACP and EU countries was one of the main points on the agenda of the Council. The current ACP-EU Partnership Agreement is based on three pillars: development cooperation, political cooperation, economic and trade cooperation.

Economic and trade cooperation has been a key component of the ACP-EU partnership. It took the form of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA’s). They replaced the former non-reciprocal preferences the ACP countries enjoyed and had to meet the World Trade Organization (WTO) requirements. The majority of ACP countries are now implementing an EPA or have concluded EPA negotiations with the EU.

Ethiopia’s Minister of Finance and Economic Cooperation Abraham Tekeste said, “We have to be ready to fundamentally reform our cooperation with the EU after 2020 aiming at deepening our relationship in various, differentiated fronts rather than sticking to the traditional cooperation areas. We must ensure a more balanced partnership with Europe based on shared values and mutual respect.”

Therefore the Council of ministers approved its three priority areas to guide future programmes and activities of the Group post-2020: trade, investment, industrialisation and services; development cooperation, technology, science, innovation and research; political dialogue and advocacy.

The ACP representatives reaffirmed their commitment to enhance ACP-EU trade relations. At the same time, they asked the European Union to show flexibility in responding to concerns from ACP countries.

Comparative advantage

Another APC challenge of paramount importance will be to demonstrate its comparative advantage in partnerships with governments, the UN, multilateral organizations, civil society, the private sector, academia, and others.

According to Peter Thomson, President of the UN General Assembly, the ACP Group has an added value on the global scene. “It can play a significant role in multilateral agreements such as the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement.”

This has recently been shown by the joint announcement made by the EU and ACP during the COP21 negotiations, representing 28 plus 79 countries of the world. The partners called for a legally-binding, ambitious, inclusive and durable agreement with clear long term goals, as well as a five-yearly review mechanism and a transparency and accountability system tracking national commitment progress.

The statement became known as the “Ambition Coalition”, quickly growing to include major powers and emerging economies.

Intra-ACP cooperation

To play a significant global role, the ACP-group must also invest in stronger intra-ACP cooperation. There the group wants to play a complementary role to national and regional initiatives.

Patrick I. Gomes, Secretary-General of the ACP Group, said, “Looking at the question of security, peace and stability, we do not have an army to go for example after Boko Haram in Nigeria. But as ACP we can ask ourselves why that ideology of Boko Haram appeals to young people and what gives people purpose in life. And that is where the ACP culture programme comes in.

“The question of insecurity, peace and crime is also a fundamental question of poverty and development: how do we have comprehensive approaches to reducing and addressing poverty in all its forms and aspects? ACP makes a contribution in that direction by complementing what is at the national and the regional level. We have to look for examples of success at the national, we have to learn from each other’s experience and make a difference by our intra-ACP programmes.”

Sustainable financing

No organisation can develop without strong institutions and solid, sustainable financing sources. Therefore the Council asked its member states to invest in a sustainable self-financing capacity of the ACP. It made an appeal to consequently pay their membership contribution and launched the idea of an endowment trust fund.

According to Gomes, “Member countries are receiving millions in grant financing thanks to the ACP. Compared to that amount of money the membership contribution is very little. So we encourage everyone to contribute to keep us going.

“We also encourage voluntary contributions as a start for an endowment trust fund. There is so much wealth and money in our countries. Would our billionaires and corporations not be concerned to look to how they can support their own organisation? We see that as a very important area for our financial sustainability.”

At the end of the two-day meeting, the president of the council, Abraham Tekeste, said, “We have received by our Heads of State and Government clear marching orders to undertake the reforms needed to transform the ACP Group into an effective global player, fit for the 21st century, and responsive to the emerging priorities of our Member States.”

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In France, ‘Us and Them’ Amid Electionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/in-france-us-and-them-amid-elections/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-france-us-and-them-amid-elections http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/in-france-us-and-them-amid-elections/#comments Sat, 06 May 2017 10:55:07 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150325 A scene from the exhibition in Paris at the Musée de l’Homme: “How do we categorise others?” Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

A scene from the exhibition in Paris at the Musée de l’Homme: “How do we categorise others?” Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, May 6 2017 (IPS)

Launched in the run-up to the French presidential elections, a daring exhibition in Paris is sparking dialogue about the origins and nature of racism, both in Europe and elsewhere.

Titled “Nous et les Autres: Des Préjugés aux Racisme” (Us and Them: From Prejudice to Racism), the exhibition’s aim is clear: to have visitors emerge with a changed perspective — especially in a climate of divisive politics that have created tensions ahead of the second and final round of the presidential elections on Sunday, May 7."It makes no scientific sense to attribute a moral value to differences among people.” --Evelyne Heyer

“We hope that visitors will leave different from how they entered,” says Bruno David, president of France’s National Museum of Natural History and of its anthropology branch the Musée de l’Homme, which is hosting the exhibition.

“That’s the objective. What we’re doing is in the tradition of the museum, a humanist tradition, asking questions of society,” he adds.

Many residents of France are in fact wondering how the country reached its current stage, with an extreme-right candidate again making it to the second round of French presidential elections.

Marine Le Pen, the former leader of the National Front party (she has temporarily stepped down from leading the party during the elections), won 21.5 percent of the votes in the first round, placing after independent candidate Emmanuel Macron (24 percent), and beating the candidates of the formerly mainstream conservative and socialist parties, François Fillon and Benoît Hamon.

Polls predict that Le Pen will lose in the second round — like her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002 – and that Macron will be president. But she is still expected to garner around 40 percent of the vote, with her anti-immigration and anti-globalisation platform.

Xenophobia and using cultural differences to promote hatred and discrimination have especially caused concern among institutions with a commitment to human rights and equality, as the museum says it is.

“The first network of the Resistance [during World War II] was born here,” David said in an interview at the museum, which opened in 1937 and is located in the landmark buildings of the Trocadéro area, overlooking the Eiffel Tower. (An infamous visitor to the site was Adolf Hitler in 1940.)

“The exhibition is in line with our principles. It is not militant, because we’re a museum and our approach is scientific, but it is fairly courageous, especially during this time,” David told IPS.

Using photos, film, sculptures and installations in an interactive manner, the exhibition highlights how “differences” have been used throughout history to “imprison individuals in readymade representations and to divide them into categories”.

It stresses that “as soon as these ‘differences’ are organized into a hierarchy and essentialized, racism is alive and thrives.”

The curators have organized the display into three parts, focusing on the processes of categorization, on the historical development of institutional racism and on the current political and intellectual environment.

“It is natural to categorize,” says Evelyne Heyer, co-curator of the exhibition and a professor of genetic anthropology. “But it’s the moral value that we give to differences that determine if we’re racist or not. It makes no scientific sense to attribute a moral value to differences among people.”

Heyer says that based on genetic study, humans have fewer differences among them than breeds of dogs, for example, and that the “categorisation of race is inappropriate to describe diversity”.

The exhibition attempts to give scientific answers to questions such as “if there are no races, why does human skin colour vary,” and it presents information tracing the origins of mankind to the African continent.

Apart from the scientific aspect, the curators have put much emphasis on the historical and international facets of “racialization”, focusing for instance on Nazi Germany and the “exaltation of racial purity”; the treatment of the indigenous Ainu people in Japan; the divisions between Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda; and segregation in South Africa and the United States.

During the opening night, as people crowded in front of a screen showing footage of civil rights struggles in the United States, a Paris-based African American artist commented, “I remember that so well.”

When a French spectator responded, “But you don’t look that old”, the artist stated firmly: “I am. I was there,” and so a conversation began.

The curators are hoping that the exhibition will engender long-term dialogue across political divides, but in the end the conversation might only continue among the already converted, say some skeptics, who also wonder about the display’s target audience: who exactly is “us” or “them”?

Still, for anyone wanting to learn more about the consequences of racism and discrimination, the exhibition presents a range of statistics.

It provides information, for instance, about the lack of access to employment for certain “groups” in France (job applicants with North African-sounding names often don’t receive responses to letters), as well as figures showing that the population most subjected to racism in the country are the Roma.

“Racism is difficult to measure, but many studies have been done on access to employment and on people’s views of those they consider different,” says historian and co-curator Carole Reynard-Paligot. “We want people to see these statistics and to ask questions.”

She said that she and her colleagues also wished to show the move from individuals’ racism to state racism, to examine how this developed and the part that colonization and slavery have played.

Throughout the exhibition, which runs until Jan. 8, 2018, the museum is organizing lectures, film screenings and other events. From May 10 to July 10, it is presenting works by photographers from French territories, Brazil, Africa and the United States in a show titled “Impressions Mémorielles”. This is to commemorate the French national day (May 10) of remembrance of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

Meanwhile, other museums are also taking steps to counter the anti-immigration mindset. The Paris-based Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration (National Museum of the History of Immigration) has invited the population to visit its “Ciao Italia!” exhibition, either “before or after” they vote on Sunday.

This museum, which like the Musée de l’Homme has been controversial in the past because of its “colonialist” displays, says the Sunday free access will be an opportunity to learn about the story of Italian immigration to France from 1860 to 1960.

It will also be a chance to “discover … the numerous contributions of immigrants to French society”, the museum adds.

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Politicians Hijack Macedoniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/politicians-hijack-macedonia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=politicians-hijack-macedonia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/politicians-hijack-macedonia/#comments Tue, 18 Apr 2017 12:28:19 +0000 Frank Mulder http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150014 Thousands of people gather daily in the center of Skopje, Macedonia to express their support for the president. Credit: Aleksandra Jolkina/IPS

Thousands of people gather daily in the center of Skopje, Macedonia to express their support for the president. Credit: Aleksandra Jolkina/IPS

By Frank Mulder
SKOPJE, Apr 18 2017 (IPS)

The political crisis in Macedonia is deepening. With the president and former coalition preventing the formation of a new government, the state threatens to disintegrate in a climate of corruption and nationalism.

The television is turned up loud in a hamburger shop in a suburb of Skopje called Šutka. The ethnic Albanian owner and his workers follow the parliamentary debate live. Their faces, however, are full of contempt. While the owner is preparing an impressively filled bread for less than a euro, he shakes his head despondently."Let's be open: the dispute with the EU about the name is partly the reason for all this mess." --Aleksander Kržalovski

“Those politicians are only getting more and more nationalistic,” one of his clients explains.

Outside we hear the call to prayer. The majority of the people here in Šutka are Muslim. A Roma woman with red-streaked hair is selling ten euro jeans from her market stall. A man with a fluffy salafi-like beard and prayer trousers sells knick-knacks ranging from facial masks and incense sticks to Albanian Korans from beneath a Zlatan Dab Pilsener umbrella.

Filibuster

It looks like nonsensical chatter, what happens on television, but it’s not. What we see is a so-called filibuster, which means politicians preventing any decision-making by just keeping on talking. The right-wing party VMRO-DPNME doesn’t want the social democrats to form a government because that would grant the Albanian minority too many rights.

This has had a disastrous effect on the small Balkan country, which a few years ago was still a promising economy. Since the collapse of Yugoslavia there haven’t been any serious tensions between the Macedonian orthodox majority (about one and a half million) and the Albanian Muslim minority (about half a million), except for limited clashes in 2001.

But corruption has grown since then, along with nationalist rhetoric. In this climate a kind of mini-Watergate scandal has broken out, starting two years ago. Leaked secret service documents showed that ruling VMRO politicians had tapped the phone conversations of 20,000 people, for dubious ends. The country burst out in revolt. Finally, last December, after protests and diplomatic pressure, new elections were held.

VMRO won most of the seats again. Yet, they didn’t manage to form a coalition. The quarrelling Albanian parties, brought together by Albania, decided to strike a coalition deal with the social democrats. To which President Gjorge Ivanov, member of the VMRO, responded with a veto, and the VMRO parliamentarians with a filibuster. Their motive is, they say, that the new coalition wants to accept Albanian as official language, and they will not allow this to happen.

‘Captured state’

“It went very well in Macedonia,” says Samuel Žbogar, ambassador on behalf of the European Union in Skopje. “But the last few years we’ve seen a serious backsliding. We call it a ‘captured state’. Independent institutions like the judiciary are used by politicians.”

The European Union itself is partly to be blamed for the misery. For years, Macedonia has been tempted to enact reforms with a carrot called EU Membership, but year after year Greece has demanded that the country change its name first, for fear of territorial claims on its own Macedonia province.

“People feel deeply hurt,” a source within the European representation in the country says. “They have long been a EU candidate member but are overtaken by other countries.” It is an invitation for countries like Russia to step into the void, although this consists more of vocal instead of financial support – so far.

Fake majority

Thousands of people, mostly grey-haired, gather daily in the center of Skopje to express their support for the president. “Ma-ke-donia! Ma-ke-donia!” they chant, waving red-yellow flags and whipped up by nationalist songs.

“We reject the fake majority of the social democrats and the Albanian parties,” says one young demonstrator, dressed in red and yellow and wearing a 130-year-old cap from anti-Ottoman rebels. He smells strongly of of alcohol but is sure about his case. “The Albanian parties are directed by Albania. We can’t let a neighboring country decide what happens here, can we? They want to create a Great Albania. They want the Macedonian country to disappear. We cannot let this happen.”

This is nonsense, says Nasser Selmani, an ethnic Albanian and president of the Association of Journalists in Macedonia. “I am a Macedonian, this is my country. I don’t belong to Albania, I belong here.” Yet others have more to lose if the state should collapse, he explains. “We have Albania with which we have good relations. But what do the ethnic Macedonians have? Do you think there is anyone who would acknowledge their identity? Greece and Bulgaria won’t.”

The breakdown of the state is not unthinkable. Because of the stalemate, the necessary decisions can’t be made anymore. In a few months, local elections are scheduled. If they don’t take place, the local authorities lose their legitimacy, too.

What also will end in June is the mandate of the Special Prosecutor researching the wiretapping scandal. This is the real reason that politicians have hijacked the country, insiders say. They want to escape prosecution by any means possible.

“They are using the fear of Albanians for their own interest,” says Selmani. “They are using more and more nationalist language. The orthodox church is also promoting this. The cathedral in Skopje is even the gathering place for the daily protests.”

Conservatives

In the big cathedral, however, beneath beautiful icons, all looks peaceful. Evening prayer is silently attended by not more than four people. Even among orthodox believers the Macedonian church, which has declared itself independent from the Serbian orthodoxy, is known as a very nationalistic branch. But demonstrators are not there.

A young orthodox priest in Skopje is willing to explain what he thinks about the current crisis, if only on the basis of anonymity. He serves tea with pieces of Turkish fruit. “We have a separation between church and state. We don’t call for demonstrations here and we don’t give any voting advice. That’s forbidden. But if you ask me personally, I’m against Albanian as an official language. I originally come from a region without Albanians. What if all public servants would be obliged to speak Albanian because it’s an official language? That would be impossible. Our only language is Macedonian.”

On the wall behind the black-robed priest there is a small Macedonian flag with an orange-black Saint George Ribbon, a Russian nationalist symbol. When I ask him what he hopes what will happen, he says, “I hope the crisis will soon be over. That we can live in peace with each other again, without politics being between the people.” The priest doesn’t seem radical, rather very conservative.

Alexander

Through the window of a restaurant in Skopje I look down at the paragon of nationalistic Balkan kitsch, made possible by millions of taxpayers’ money. Between the statues of the Macedonian hero Alexander the Great, to the left, and the Father of Alexander, to the right, we see nobody less than the mother of Alexander, in fourfold. Alexander in her belly, Alexander at her breast, Alexander on her lap, and Alexander around her neck. It’s all completely over the top. It’s the way the current leaders want to bring the people together, at least the ethnic Macedonians.

Inside the restaurant I have a conversation with Aleksander Kržalovski, leader of the Macedonian Centre for International Cooperation, which is the second largest NGO of the country and funder of many small NGOs. He is critical of the current nationalistic wave, he says.

“But it doesn’t make sense to demonize the more conservative population. Many left-wing organisations are very radical. They don’t want to work with fascists, they say. We, instead, believe in cooperation. It’s necessary to bridge the divide between different groups.

“To be honest, it’s unfair to blame right-wing politicians for everything,” Kržalovski continued. “The social democrats use very polarizing rhetoric as well. And many Albanians show no respect for the progress we’ve seen, the rights they have got. Many don’t want to wave the Macedonian flag or sing the national anthem. That raises suspicion. Some people have seen their house burnt down by ethnic Albanians three times, in 2001. And now they see them having a much higher birth rate. It’s understandable that people have fear.”

This doesn’t mean that we have to accept corruption, he says. “Impunity has to end now, that’s very important. But let’s not blame one party. And let’s be open: the dispute with the EU about the name is partly the reason for all this mess. We see that reflected in the diminishing support for the EU in the polls that we do. The EU clearly hasn’t done the job.”

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Poland, New Player in Islamophobia Gamehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/new-player-in-polands-islamophobia-game/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-player-in-polands-islamophobia-game http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/new-player-in-polands-islamophobia-game/#comments Sat, 08 Apr 2017 14:55:28 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149868 A Warsaw protest in solidarity with Ameer Alkhawlany. The banner reads 'Free Ameer'. Credit: TV Kryzys

A Warsaw protest in solidarity with Ameer Alkhawlany. The banner reads 'Free Ameer'. Credit: TV Kryzys

By Claudia Ciobanu
WARSAW, Apr 8 2017 (IPS)

Ameer Alkhawlany moved to Poland in September 2014 to pursue a Master’s in biology at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland’s second largest city. Two years later, the Polish state awarded him a scholarship to complete a PhD in the same faculty.

Pawel Koteja, his professor at the institute, told Polish media that Alkhawlany was “very committed to his scientific research, to which he dedicated a lot of time and effort, and was determined to pursue an academic career.”Law and Justice, the party governing Poland since 2015, has a nationalistic and ultra-Catholic discourse, presenting itself as a defender of embattled Poles against its various 'enemies': the European Union, globalisation, Islam.

According to activists in contact with Alkhawlany, the student had an uneventful life in Poland until last summer, when he was allegedly approached by Poland’s secret services (ABW) with the offer to inform on Muslims residing in Poland. He would have to report back from mosques and actively seek out contact with specific people.

Alkhawlany refused. He said he was an atheist so he didn’t attend religious services and that some of the people he was asked to contact were from non-Arabic speaking countries so he might not have a common language with them.
In July, when the man was allegedly approached by ABW, Krakow was hosting the annual Catholic ‘World Youth Day’, attended by the Pope and an estimated three million people. Polish authorities were tightening security.

On October 3, the student was suddenly arrested in the center of Krakow by officials from the Polish Border Guard. He was given no reason for his apprehension. Hours later, during which time he was not allowed to contact a lawyer, a court sentenced Alkhawlany to 90 days of detention followed by deportation to Iraq.

In a letter written from detention by Alkhawlany and published in March by website Political Critique, the man said the court justified its ruling by the fact that the Polish secret services considered him a security threat. Despite the man’s questions, the judge did not offer any explanations as to why he was considered a threat.

“I have been living and studying in Poland since 2014. I have never broken the law ever,” Alkhawlany said to the court, according to his published letter. “I never crossed at the wrong light, never been in the bus without ticket! I did my master’s degree and I started my doctoral studies without any problem. I don’t want to leave Poland!”

At the time of his deportation, Alkhawlany had been detained for six months without break in the detention center for foreigners in Przemysl, in the southeast of Poland.

Polish authorities never explained publicly the reasons why the man was considered a security threat. However, anonymous sources quoted by Polish media claimed the secret services had information that Alkhawlany had been in touch with ‘radicals’ from abroad monitored by other countries’ services.

“The provisions of Polish national law do not provide solutions for a foreigner to defend themselves when the decision of return has been issued on the basis of undisclosed circumstances,” commented Jacek Bialas, a lawyer with the Helsinski Foundation for Human Rights. “This raises doubts as to compatibility with the Polish Constitution, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.”

“It’s as if a controller gave a citation to someone waiting at the bus stop, being sure the person would go on the bus without a ticket,” Alkhawlany commented in a February interview with Wirtualna Polska.

At the time of his arrest, Alkhawlany had just renewed his residence permit in Poland, which was valid until January this year. During his detention, he applied for asylum in Poland arguing that it was unsafe for him to return to Iraq, where the Iraqi military is battling ISIS in the north. He was denied asylum (the final decision following an appeal came April 4) because of confidential information provided by the security services which indicated he was a security threat.

Yet on April 5, after reviewing the same evidence provided by the secret services, the regional court in Przemysl ruled that Alkhawlany should be released from detention as he had been residing legally in Poland and there had been no solid reason for his arrest. The ministry in charge of the secret services retorted that the court ruling ‘did not undermine’ the evidence presented by ABW.

To the surprise of his lawyer and those engaged in a campaign to get him released, Alkhawlany was not released from detention but instead deported on the evening of April 5. Neither his lawyer nor his brother also residing in Poland were informed about the deportation decision.

Alkhawlany himself called from Iraq upon arrival to inform he had been transported to Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Speaking to Polish media April 6, Marek Ślik, the student’s lawyer, said “The deportation is illegal because I have not yet received any notification about his deportation. The procedure of appeal (after asylum was denied) was never completed as I never got a final notification.”

The Polish Border Guard did not respond to a request to justify the legality of the deportation.

An image from the official website of the Polish Border Guard. It says: ‘We defend Polish men and women. We do not agree to the influx of Muslim migrants.’ Credit: Police Border Guard

An image from the official website of the Polish Border Guard. It says: ‘We defend Polish men and women. We do not agree to the influx of Muslim migrants.’ Credit: Police Border Guard

“The way the Polish secret services dealt with this case was absurd: they just picked a random person because he came from a specific country and expected him to inform on the moves of others,” said Marta Tycner from leftist party Razem, who was engaged in the campaign to free Alkhawlany.

“They think that any person coming from a Muslim country is a suspect of anti-state activity,” Tycner told IPS. “They were incompetent and now they are trying to cover it up by deporting him fast.”

Law and Justice, the party governing Poland since 2015, has a nationalistic and ultra-Catholic discourse, presenting itself as a defender of embattled Poles against its various ‘enemies': the European Union, globalisation, Islam. It has overblown fears of a potential terrorist attack by Islamists – although no incidents of this kind or actual threats of it were recorded in Poland – to strengthen its control over society.

Last year, Law and Justice adopted a new anti-terror law which gives authorities the power to fingerprint foreigners or listen to their phones and check their emails without any court order. It also imposed restrictions on the right to protest and online activity.

The right-wing and Catholic media, which are essential in harnessing popular support for the party, routinely associate Muslims with violence. The leader of Law and Justice, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, infamously declared last year that migrants carry ‘very dangerous diseases long absent from Europe’. Alongside Hungary, Poland has been staunchly opposed to hosting refugees under the European Union’s system of relocation quotas.

Poland is one of the world’s most homogeneous countries, with over 97 percent of the population declaring themselves ethnically Pole. Despite very low rates of migration to the country, the most recent ‘European Islamophobia Report‘ showed that over 70 percent of Poles want to see migration of Muslims to Europe restricted, the highest rate among all European countries surveyed. Negative attitudes to refugees increased significantly in the last years.

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Secret Tax Deals Increased Dramatically After Luxleakshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/secret-tax-deals-increased-dramatically-after-luxleaks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=secret-tax-deals-increased-dramatically-after-luxleaks http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/secret-tax-deals-increased-dramatically-after-luxleaks/#comments Mon, 20 Mar 2017 15:39:43 +0000 Ida Karlsson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149493 European Commission Building. Credit: Ida Karlsson

European Commission Building. Credit: Ida Karlsson

By Ida Karlsson
STOCKHOLM, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

Despite the LuxLeaks scandal, the number of secret tax deals is skyrocketing. Such deals between companies and governments across Europe increased by almost 50 percent the year after the scandal broke.

Despite the controversy, the number of these individual secret agreements drawn up between European governments and multinational corporations in the EU have soared from 545 in 2013, to 1444 by the end of 2015, according to official data from the European Commission. It is an increase of 160 percent in just two years.

“This is obviously deeply concerning and shows that reforms in Luxembourg and elsewhere are a bit of a mirage, in particular since there is still no public scrutinity of these rulings yet,” Fabio De Masi, a politician from Die Linke in Germany and a Member of the European Parliament, told IPS.

The LuxLeaks scandal erupted in 2014 and sparked a major global push against generous deals handed to multinationals, which grew even stronger with new revelations such as the Panama Papers.

The two whistleblowers who exposed the profit-shifting of some multinationals such as Apple, Ikea and Pepsi were convicted again last Wednesday by Luxembourg’s court of appeal, but with reduced sentences compared to the first verdict. Antoine Deltour, a former PWC employee was given a 6-month suspended sentence and a 1,500 euro fine and Raphaël Halet, another PWC employee, was given a 1,000 euro fine.

“It is scandalous that those who did an invaluable service to society, risking their careers, have again been found guilty while the rich and powerful rob hundreds of billions of euros from citizens,” Fabio de Masi said.

Luxembourg’s finance minister, Pierre Gramegna, has described the leak as “the worst attack” his country has ever experienced.

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager appeared to back the whistleblowers in comments last week.

“I think it was a good thing (the leaks),” she told a news conference in Brussels last Wednesday.

“I think it is important when people tell if they find that something is not the way it should be. Then authorities, law enforces, can do their job and do that in a better way. I think that a lot of people actually have benefitted from them telling what they knew.”

Developing countries lose an estimated 1,000 billion dollars annually to corporate tax dodging according to Global Financial Integrity.

For the first time, the group of countries in Europe in favour of transparency around the true owners of businesses is larger than the group against, according to the report “Survival of the Richest” by the European Network on Debt and Development, Eurodad. But there are still more governments against measures to show what multinationals are paying in taxes in the countries they operate in than those in favour.

Eurodad, the coalition of civil society organizations campaigning for greater tax transparency, analyzed European Commission data for 18 countries.

Eurodad also warned that European governments were signing controversial tax treaties with developing countries. The treaties were undermining taxations in those countries, it said. On average these treaties lower tax rates in developing countries by 3.8 percent, according to the coalition.

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Merkel Under Pressure for Refugee Policy in Germanyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/merkel-under-pressure-for-refugee-policy-in-germany/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=merkel-under-pressure-for-refugee-policy-in-germany http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/merkel-under-pressure-for-refugee-policy-in-germany/#comments Thu, 23 Feb 2017 17:57:24 +0000 Wolfgang Kerler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149088 Wolfgang Kerler, a reporter for German public broadcaster ARD, is a specialist on globalization, digitalization, migration and investigative reporting.]]>

Wolfgang Kerler, a reporter for German public broadcaster ARD, is a specialist on globalization, digitalization, migration and investigative reporting.

By Wolfgang Kerler
MUNICH, Feb 23 2017 (IPS)

Internationally, German chancellor Angela Merkel was praised for her humanitarian decision to open the countries’ border to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq. But the decision has considerably reduced her support among Germans. Chances are real that Merkel could lose the chancellorship in the upcoming national elections.

Refugees in Germany

Refugees in Germany

On October 3rd 2016, a bulk of several hundred gathered in the historic center of Dresden, where the official celebration for Germany’s Unity Day took place. Most of the people did not come to celebrate though. They came to protest. When Angela Merkel finally arrived in Dresden, the crowd started to boo and yell “Merkel must go!”, “get out!” or “traitor!”.

Not long ago, a scene like this seemed impossible.

In spring 2015, all national polls saw Merkel’s conservative party at more than 40 percent support among Germans. The Social Democrats, which came in second, reached less than 25 percent. Even after almost ten years as chancellor, Merkel was considered as indispensable by most Germans. She enjoyed an approval rating of 75 percent.

However, after the events of September 2015, her popularity quickly started to drop to levels below 50 percent. Her party fell to 32 percent in recent polls.

Angela Merkel made her famous statement “we can make it” on August 31st of 2015. The number of refugees entering the country had already risen to 100,000 a month and she wanted to assure the public that Germany could tackle the integration of those immigrants.

Within days after Merkel’s comment the situation became even more dramatic.

Hungarian authorities had blocked thousands of refugees, who were fleeing violence and war in the Middle East, from boarding trains to Austria or Germany where they wanted to apply for asylum. Families had to sleep in makeshift shelters outside Budapest’s train station, while volunteers were struggling to provide at least a minimum of aid.

On September 4th, chancellor Merkel and her Austrian counterpart Werner Faymann therefore decided to open their countries’ borders for the people stranded in Budapest. Soon afterwards, first trains arrived in Munich, and many Germans welcomed the refugees and supplied food, drinks and clothing. A total of 890.000 asylum seekers entered Germany in 2015.

“The German government’s reaction was not an open-door policy, but a humanitarian reaction on the basis of international law”, Petra Bendel, a professor for political science at Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen, told IPS.

She also pointed out that Merkel’s grand coalition switched to a more restrictive refugee policy within weeks.

For example, the coalition introduced residence restrictions for asylum seekers. Instead of giving out money, some social benefits are provided in kind. And by granting only subsidiary protection instead of refugee status for Syrians, family reunions were made more difficult. On top of that, the German government started to push forward returns and expulsions.

“Timing suggests that these policy proposals must have existed in the drawers and waited for their time to come, since they were introduced in record time”, Bendel, who is also a member of The Expert Council on Integration and Migration, added.

But the rapid shift to a more restrictive stance on immigration and even the steep decline in the number of refugees coming to Germany in 2016 did not lead to a recovery of Merkel’s popularity.

Those parts of society that saw refugees as a threat to their wealth and security had already turned their back on her. Social networks were flooded with “Merkel must go!”-postings. After the events of Cologne and other cities, where groups of migrants sexually assaulted hundreds of women on New Year’s Eve 2015, tensions within the German society intensified.

“The events clearly had a decisive effect on public opinion”, said Bendel. “Survey data showed that in January 2016 for the first time a clear majority – 60 percent of survey participants instead of 46 percent in December – considered that Germany could not cope with such a large number of refugees.”

In the same time, eurosceptic right-wing party AfD gained momentum with a fierce and populist anti-immigrant rhetoric. The party easily surpassed the long-established Greens, the Left Party, and the Liberals in several regional elections with double digit results. In return, Merkel’s own Christian Democrats suffered one defeat after another.

In recent weeks, however, polls showed diminishing support for AfD. But it was not Merkel’s conservative block that benefitted. Instead, the Social Democrats which have been the junior partner in the ruling coalition made a comeback after nominating Martin Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament, as their candidate for chancellor.

Schulz already outpolled Angela Merkel in personal popularity.

“The few moderate AfD-supporters have migrated to the Social Democrats because they believe Martin Schulz could oust Angela Merkel, whom they hate”, Manfred Güllner, the head of pollster Forsa commented a survey that his institute conducted for TV network RTL and magazine Stern.

However, the resurge of the Social Democrats does not mean that refugee policy will not play a major role in the campaign for the national election due in September.

“Analyzing the party platforms, migration issues are on top of each and every party’s agenda”, Bendel said. “The danger exists that particularly the AfD’s campaign, which has already been leaked, further builds on irrational, explosive contents and appeals to most primitive instincts.”

Political observers now see a chance that after twelve years, Angela Merkel could lose the chancellorship.

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Netherlands to Host Global Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/netherlands-to-host-global-centre-of-excellence-on-climate-adaptation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=netherlands-to-host-global-centre-of-excellence-on-climate-adaptation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/netherlands-to-host-global-centre-of-excellence-on-climate-adaptation/#comments Thu, 23 Feb 2017 14:42:42 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149083 "Our survival depends on learning to live on a hotter planet with more extreme weather" - Ibrahim Thiaw, UN Environment deputy chief “ Credit: UNEP

"Our survival depends on learning to live on a hotter planet with more extreme weather" - Ibrahim Thiaw, UN Environment deputy chief “ Credit: UNEP

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 23 2017 (IPS)

The Netherlands announced that it will work with Japan and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to establish a Global Centre of Excellence to help countries, institutions and businesses to adapt to a warming climate, which is increasing the frequency of natural disasters and causing economic disruptions.

The Global Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptation aims to bring together international partners, including leading knowledge institutes, businesses, NGOs, local and national governments, international organisations and financial institutions.

On this, the Dutch Minister for the Environment, Sharon Dijksma on February 6 said “Many around the world are hit hard by global warming. The ground-breaking Paris Climate Change Agreement puts climate change adaptation on par with mitigation.”

Failure of dealing adequately with climate change will increase a multitude of risks such as natural disasters, social and economic disruptions and increasing political tensions, Dijksma added.

“Many people are looking for good practices and guidance with regard to climate change adaptation. I am convinced the Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptation can help addressing these challenges.”

For his part, Ibrahim Thiaw, UNEP‘s deputy chief, said “Even with the Paris Agreement on climate change, our planet is heading for a global warming of around 3°C.”

“Our survival depends on learning to live on a hotter planet with more extreme weather, erratic rainfall and rising sea levels. This Centre is a welcome step, but other countries need to follow this example and urgently invest in climate adaptation.”

By signing the Paris Climate agreement countries have made climate change adaptation a top global priority and the Global Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptation, a joint initiative of The Netherlands, Japan and UN Environment Programme is an important step to deliver on that commitment.

The Centre will support countries around the world to effectively adapt to climate change. It will collect lessons from recently executed projects and use those to develop guidance to accelerate climate adaptation.

The resulting pool of global knowledge and know-how to understand what works and what doesn’t will be used to support countries, communities and companies to successfully integrate climate adaptation into their investment decisions.

Italy Further Contributes to UN Environment Fund

Meanwhile, Italy’s Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti and Erik Solheim, UNEP Executive Secretary, this month signed a new agreement to intensify collaboration on pressing environmental issues, such as clean energy and environmental education.

Credit: UNEP

Credit: UNEP


On the occasion, the Italian government also made a significant, 5 million euro contribution to the Environment Fund.

The money will help UNEP implement crucial projects to design a sustainable financial system, boost resource efficiency and reinforce the sustainable management of natural resources and the marine economy.

“This generous contribution is yet another signal of Italy’s unwavering commitment to a clean, safe and healthy planet. We look forward to working with the Italian government to build the green future we all deserve,” said Solheim on February 6.

This new donation brings Italy’s total contributions to the Fund to over 10.5 million, euro or 11.2 million dollars since 2014.

Italy’s environmental priorities also include the transition to a green economy, clean energy and environmental education. The country is also expected to play an active role at the third UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, in December, where the world’s environment ministers will tackle the pressing challenge of pollution worldwide.

The UN Environment Fund depends on voluntary national contributions and is the main source of money for UN Environment to follow its programme of work in tackling trans-boundary challenges on topics ranging from climate change to the sustainable management of chemicals and flagging new environmental threats.

Italy is also a major donor to other project work for the environment through sources such as the Global Environment Facility.

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US, EU Food Standards Major Hurdle for Caribbean Exportershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/us-eu-food-standards-major-hurdle-for-caribbean-exporters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-eu-food-standards-major-hurdle-for-caribbean-exporters http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/us-eu-food-standards-major-hurdle-for-caribbean-exporters/#comments Tue, 07 Feb 2017 13:14:27 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148847 Oraine Halstead (left) and Rhys Actie tend tomatoes in a greenhouse at Colesome Farm at Jonas Road, Antigua. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Oraine Halstead (left) and Rhys Actie tend tomatoes in a greenhouse at Colesome Farm at Jonas Road, Antigua. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Feb 7 2017 (IPS)

As Caricom countries struggle to move away from their traditional reliance on a single industry or major crop in the face of growing economic uncertainty worldwide, they are finding it increasingly difficult to enter markets in the EU and North America with new types of food products.

But tariffs are no longer the main barriers to accessing important markets, according to a document produced by the ACP-EU Overcoming Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) programme.Latin America and the Caribbean provide over 90 per cent of the fruits and nearly 80 per cent of all vegetables imported by the US. Nonetheless, some countries in the region have “very high rejection rates” at US ports of entry.

The ACP-EU is of the view that “Non-tariffs barriers will become the main challenge of the future multilateral trade system.” Specifically, technical barriers related to compliance with sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS) in export markets and other standards including those relating to labelling and packaging.

The EU considers these technical, non-tariff, barriers to trade so challenging for its African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) partners that it provided 15 million euros starting in 2013 to help those developing countries upgrade their processes and become compliant, thus giving them a better chance of success on the EU and North America markets.

The Caribbean Agribusiness Association (CABA) is one Caribbean organisation that was able to access funding to help its members move toward HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) certification, which the ACP-EU TBT programme identified as a crucial requirement. Since the early 2000s, the US and EU have stipulated that foods entering their markets must have HACCP certification.

Ten of CABA’s members were present at a regional conference, held at the Radisson Hotel in Port-of-Spain Jan. 29-30, to report on the benefits they received from the HACCP training. They heard some sobering statistics with regard to the EU and US food industry that provided context for the TBT programme.

Dr. Andre Gordon, chief executive officer of TSL Technical Services Limited, told delegates that each year, the UK records approximately one million cases of food-borne illnesses, of which about 20,000 require hospitalisation, and 500 deaths are recorded. The cost to the UK of dealing with food-borne illnesses is 1.4 billion pounds annually.

In the US, approximately 48 million cases of food-borne illnesses are recorded annually, resulting in 128,000 hospitalisations and 3,000 deaths. The cost to the US of dealing with food-borne illnesses is approximately 77.7 billion dollars annually, the delegates heard.

The 2016 report, “Addressing Food Losses due to Non-Compliance with Quality and Safety Requirements in Export Markets: the case of Fruits and Vegetables from the Latin America and the Caribbean Region,” by two Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) experts, underlined how much is at stake for Caribbean agribusiness exporters.

The report reveals that Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) provide over 90 per cent of the fruits and nearly 80 per cent of all vegetables imported by the US. Nonetheless, some countries in the region have “very high rejection rates” at US ports of entry, including Jamaica, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic, the document states.

The report said, “While many LAC countries have a good rate of acceptance in comparison with other countries exporting to the USA and EU, a few countries within LAC perform very poorly, revealing great disparity in preparedness for export trading within the region.” The report noted that “Multiple handling failures along the chain are likely the cause of the most frustrating complaints by international buyers.”

Dr. Gordon, who oversaw the Jamaica ackee industry’s transformation that made it compliant with US Food and Drug Administration regulations in the early 2000s so that it could gain access to the US market, explained to IPS the obstacles facing Caribbean exporters.

“The problem in general with all agribusiness companies in the Caribbean is typically lack of technical capacity and knowledge of the requirements and lack of the resources to implement the systems as required,” he said.

However, Dr. Gordon said, “The cultural change that is required is probably the biggest single limitation to implementing and sustaining certification systems…If the management and ownership [of agribusinesses] do not have a vision of becoming global players then the effort and resources required are going to seem unattainable and not good value for money. A lot of firms have issues with understanding the value for money proposition of embarking on a certification programme.”

The briefing paper “SPS measures lead to high costs and losses for developing countries”, published not long after the EU mandated HACCP certification for all exporters to the EU, noted that “As the income level of developing countries is far smaller, …the opportunity cost of compliance is relatively far higher than that for developed country exporters.

“The rapid change in SPS measures, regulations and notifications of new regulations is another problem facing developing countries in preparing for compliance. It also imposes extra costs on investors and exporters and creates uncertainty for them.”

However, the paper’s author concluded, “while the cost of compliance is high, the cost of lack of compliance is even higher” because of loss of market share or reduced access to markets.

Dr. Gordon revealed that in 2010, the Caribbean had the second highest level of food rejections of any region at US ports of entry.

A March 2016 FAO report highlighted other issues hindering Caribbean agribusinesses in their efforts to export. The report states: “A number of deep-seated challenges inhibit Caribbean agriculture diversification and competitiveness: the small and fragmented nature of most farm units; the absence of strong farmer grass-roots organizations; the cost of agricultural labor; the ageing demographics of Caribbean farmers; an education system that does not prepare youth to seek employment opportunities in the agricultural sector; and extension systems that have historically focused on managing the traditional export crops.”

The problem of small farm units is being addressed head on, said CABA’s president Vassel Stewart, with the formation of CABEXCO, a new umbrella organisation for SMEs in the Caricom agribusiness sector, which will jointly procure raw materials and services as well as market its members’ products and reach out to new buyers.

The resulting economies of scale will also hopefully make it easier to bear the cost of becoming compliant with US and EU food export regulations.

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New, Aggressive Rust Imperils Wheat Crops in Europe, Africa, Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/new-aggressive-rust-imperils-wheat-crops-in-europe-africa-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-aggressive-rust-imperils-wheat-crops-in-europe-africa-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/new-aggressive-rust-imperils-wheat-crops-in-europe-africa-asia/#comments Sun, 05 Feb 2017 05:30:52 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148814 A woman farmer working in a wheat field in rural Nepal. Photo: FAO/Saliendra Kharel

A woman farmer working in a wheat field in rural Nepal. Photo: FAO/Saliendra Kharel

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 5 2017 (IPS)

Wheat rust, a family of fungal diseases that can cause crop losses of up to 100 per cent in untreated susceptible wheat, is making further advances in Europe, Africa and Asia, according to two new studies produced by scientists in collaboration with the United Nations.

The reports, highlighted in the journal Nature following their publication by Aarhus University and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), show the emergence of new races of both yellow rust and stem rust in various regions of the world in 2016, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) informs.

At the same time, well-known existing rust races have spread to new countries, the studies confirm, underlining the need for early detection and action to limit major damage to wheat production, particularly in the Mediterranean basin.

“These new, aggressive rust races have emerged at the same time that we’re working with international partners to help countries combat the existing ones, so we have to be swift and thorough in the way we approach this,” said FAO Plant Pathologist Fazil Dusunceli.

Wheat is a source of food and livelihoods for over 1 billion people in developing countries, according to the UN body. Northern and Eastern Africa, the Near East, and West, Central and South Asia – which are all vulnerable to rust diseases − alone account for some 37 per cent of global wheat production.

“Preliminary assessments are worrisome, but it is still unclear what the full impact of these new races will be on different wheat varieties in the affected regions,” said Dusunceli, adding that this is what research institutions across these regions will need to further investigate in the coming months.

“It’s more important than ever that specialists from international institutions and wheat producing countries work together to stop these diseases in their tracks − that involves continuous surveillance, sharing data and building emergency response plans to protect their farmers and those in neighboring countries.”

Wheat experts examine a research plot near Izmir, Turkey, affected by wheat yellow rust. Photo: FAO/Fazil Dusunceli

Wheat experts examine a research plot near Izmir, Turkey, affected by wheat yellow rust. Photo: FAO/Fazil Dusunceli

Wheat rusts spread rapidly over long distances by wind, FAO says, adding that if not detected and treated on time, they can turn a healthy looking crop, only weeks away from harvest, into a tangle of yellow leaves, black stems and shrivelled grains.

Fungicides can help to limit damage, but early detection and rapid action are crucial. So are integrated management strategies in the long run.

Mediterranean, Most Affected

On the Italian island of Sicily, a new race of the stem rust pathogen − called TTTTF − hit several thousand hectares of durum wheat in 2016, causing the largest stem rust outbreak that Europe has seen in decades, FAO reports. Experience with similar races suggests that bread wheat varieties may also be susceptible to the new strain.

In addition, farmers in the mainland Italy, Morocco and some Scandinavian countries are battling a yet-to-be-named race of yellow rust, while Ethiopia and Uzbekistan fights outbreaks of yellow rust AF2012.

FAO also notes that TTTTF is the most recently identified race of stem rust. Without proper control, researchers caution, it could soon spread over long distances along the Mediterranean basin and the Adriatic coast.

According to the UN agency, various countries across Africa, Central Asia and Europe, meanwhile, have been battling new strains of yellow rust never before been seen in their fields.

Italy, Morocco and four Scandinavian countries have seen the emergence of an entirely new, yet-to-be-named race of yellow rust. Notably, the new race was most prevalent in Morocco and Sicily, where yellow rust until recently was considered insignificant.

Preliminary analysis suggests the new race is related to a family of strains that are aggressive and better adapted to higher temperatures than most others.

Photo: FAO/Fazil Dusunceli

Photo: FAO/Fazil Dusunceli

Wheat farmers in Ethiopia and Uzbekistan, at the same time, have been fighting outbreaks of yellow rust AF2012, another race, which reared its head in both countries in 2016 and struck a major blow to Ethiopian wheat production in particular.

AF2012 was previously only found in Afghanistan, before appearing in the Horn of Africa country last year, where it affected tens of thousands of hectares of wheat, FAO adds.

To offer support, the UN body, in collaboration with its partners, is stepping up its efforts in training rust experts from affected countries to boost their ability to detect and manage these emerging wheat rust races.

As New Races Emerge, Old Ones Continue to Spread

The already established Warrior(-) race of yellow rust −which came onto scientists’ radars in Northern Europe and Turkey a few years ago − continued its aerial march in 2016 and is now widely present in Europe and West Asia, it reports.

The Digalu (TIFTTF) race of stem rust continues to devastate wheat in Ethiopia, while the most well-known race of stem rust – the highly potent Ug99 – is now present in 13 countries.

“Having spread in a northward trend from East Africa to the Middle East, Ug99 has the potential to affect many wheat varieties grown worldwide as it keeps producing new variants. Most recently, it has been detected in Egypt, one of the Middle East’s most important wheat producers.”

The findings of the Aarhus study build on training sessions conducted in 2016 in collaboration between the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Aarhus university, CIMMYT and FAO.

The training, which will be repeated this year, allows rust experts to strengthen their surveillance and management skills, coupled with surveys and collection of rust samples for tests and analysis by Aarhus University. The recently established Regional Cereal Rust Research in Izmir, Turkey, will host the training.

These efforts have been part of FAO’s four-year global wheat rust program, which facilitates regional collaborations and offers support to individual countries eager to boost their surveillance capacity.

It also helps countries act swiftly to control outbreaks before they turn into epidemics and cause major damage to food security. But further research, particularly into breeding resistant varieties, and national response

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“Soares Is Dead: Long Live Soares!” Cries Portugalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/soares-is-dead-long-live-soares-cries-portugal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soares-is-dead-long-live-soares-cries-portugal http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/soares-is-dead-long-live-soares-cries-portugal/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 16:12:25 +0000 Mario Dujisin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148459 Mario Soares in 1975. Credit: Dutch National Archives

Mario Soares in 1975. Credit: Dutch National Archives

By Mario Dujisin
LISBON, Jan 10 2017 (IPS)

The death of Mario Soares, former Portuguese prime-minister, president, and historic leader of Lusitanian socialism, demonstrated just how united the Portuguese are with regards to his past and his historical projection.

Analysts, politicians and foreign journalists have also pointed out that the degree of Soares’ international reputation and prestige was never matched by any other Portuguese public figure.Soares became one of the central figures in the resistance to Salazar, and he was soon to share prison cells with independence leaders from Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and former Portuguese India.

Even his most ardent political opponents have paid homage to him, naming Soares as the undisputed patriarch of democracy. For his role during the democratization process up until his death last Saturday at age 92, Soares was considered a kind of “Father of the Nation”, in its 1974 democratic-constitutional incarnation.

With his death, Europe says goodbye to the last of the great leaders that marked the second half of the twentieth century, a condition he shares with figures of the caliber of Willy Brandt, Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, Jean Monet, Jacques Delors, Olof Palme, Helmuth Kohl, François Mitterrand and Helmuth Schmidt.

During the 1950s the young Lisbon lawyer began to distinguish himself, as noted in a file of the International and State Defense Police (PIDE), the repressive arm of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar’s corporatist dictatorship. In the file, Soares is described as a “defender of communists and terrorists of the overseas provinces,” the official denomination for the Portuguese colonies in Africa, India and the Far East.

From defender to actor, Soares became one of the central figures in the resistance to Salazar, and he was soon to share prison cells with independence leaders from Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and former Portuguese India.

He went through PIDE concentration camps in the former African island colonies of Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe, right before heading for France in a long and forced exile. This was to be his last residence before his return to Portugal with the triumph of the “Captain’s Revolution” on April 25th 1974.

During the ensuing revolutionary period pro-communist and radical military sectors took center stage, allowing Soares to side with the moderate left.

The political battle was settled by late 1975, as Soares defeated the most revolutionary sectors of the Armed Forces. The latter lacked external support in a Europe where Conservatives, Socialists and Social Democrats shared fears of Portugal becoming communist.

When PS won the 1976 elections, Soares became the first head of a democratically-elected government, famously admitting his tenure “for some time, will put socialism in the drawer.”

It was his role in the Portuguese democratization process that earned him the title of “father of the nation”.

Until the death of his wife Maria de Jesus Barroso in July 2015, Soares was lucid and in good physical shape. He was frequently spotted climbing the many stairs and alleys of Lisbon with admirable agility.

Over the years, he increasingly shifted leftwards and became critical of neoliberal globalization, while also taking part in public demonstrations against the Iraq invasion or previously against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for its attack on Serbia.

He never forgave Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder for promoting the so-called “Third Way”, which according to Soares dealt a fatal blow to the socialist and social democratic project for Europe.

His opinion articles, published weekly in various Portuguese media, were translated into Spanish by IPS columnist service and published in several countries.

The death of his lifelong companion was unbearable to him, sending him on a steady path of deterioration that increased on a day to day basis.

In a message addressed to the Portuguese government and Soares’ family, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Portugal “owes its democracy, freedom and respect for fundamental rights to Mario Soares.”

His legacy, concluded the UN head, “far exceeds Portugal’s borders,” describing Soares as “one of the few political leaders of true European and world stature.”

Analysts agree Soares’ main trait, which accompanied him throughout his life, was the he never shied away from a political battle. And in that battle, he always stood on the same side of the trench: that of democracy, freedom, and unconditional support for human rights.

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Mário Soares, a Rebel with a Cause – Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/mario-soares-a-rebel-with-a-cause-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mario-soares-a-rebel-with-a-cause-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/mario-soares-a-rebel-with-a-cause-freedom/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 08:07:08 +0000 an IPS Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148456 Photo: Mario Soares attending a rally to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, 25 April 2014 in Lisbon. Photo: FraLiss. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Photo: Mario Soares attending a rally to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, 25 April 2014 in Lisbon. Photo: FraLiss. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

By an IPS Correspondent
LISBON, Jan 10 2017 (IPS)

Hardly a leader could reap so much respect, even from most relentless political rivals, both throughout his life and after his death on Jan 7 at the age of 92, like Portuguese Mário Soares.

Characterised as “an indefatigable political animal,” by the New York Times, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres hailed the commitment to freedom and democracy that made Soares “one of those rare political leaders of true European and global stature.”

The UN chief, who is himself Portuguese, said Soares has left an “indelible mark” on political life in Portugal, the result of his “steadfast and courageous political commitment and the principles and values that he consistently pursued throughout his life. Liberty was always his foundational value.”

Soares Legacy Goes Far Beyond Portugal – UN Chief

To a great extent, Guterres said, we are indebted to him for the democracy, the freedom and the respect for fundamental rights that all Portuguese have been able to enjoy in recent decades, and that are today established values in our country.”

Paying tribute to Soares, “who will, I am certain, remain in our memory and in the history of our country as a man of freedom, who wanted all to live in liberty, and fought for his entire life to realize that hope,” the UN Secretary-General added that the late leader’s legacy goes far beyond Portugal.

Indeed, this is not only because Soares was responsible for Portugal’s full integration into the international community, “but also because his commitment to freedom and democracy make him one of those rare political leaders of true European and global stature,” concluded Guterres.

Mário Soares was Prime Minister of Portugal from 1976 to 1978 in the aftermath of the Carnation Revolution that ended decades of right-wing dictatorship. He returned as PM in the early 1980s, and served as Portugal’s president between 1986 and 1996.

After flirting briefly with communism at university and then embracing Portugal’s democratic movement as a Socialist, Soares was jailed 12 times and then exiled for his political activities during the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar.

The Carnation Revolution

Soares played a key role after the 1974 Carnation Revolution –a military-led coup that soon turned in a massive popular movement of civil protest characterised by carnations that were handed out and placed in the barrels of soldiers’ rifles and tanks—that put an end to 48 years of Salazar rule.

A fierce critic of the military Junta that ruled Portugal for the next two years, Soares in 1976 became the first post-war democratically elected prime minister.

Soares spearheaded the country’s entry into the European Union. But, in recent years, he became a vocal critic of the austerity policies associated with the massive euro-zone bailout Portugal sought in 2011.

He left the presidency in 1996 after the maximum tenure in the office permitted under the constitution, with his popularity at a peak. For years, he remained one of the country’s most influential politicians.

He ran again for president in 2006 at the age of 82, but finished in third.

“President Mário Soares was born and graduated to be a fighter, to have a cause to fight – freedom,” President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said. “Soares never gave up on a free Portugal, a free Europe, a free world and what was decisive… he was always victorious.”

IPS President and Member of International Board of Trustees

As part of his unflagging commitment to freedom –in this case freedom of expression—lawyer, historian and politician Mário Soares, chaired the International Board of Trustees of Inter Press Service (IPS).

He graduated in Historical-Philosophical Sciences in 1951 and in Law in 1957 at Lisbon University. He taught at a private secondary school and was director of the Colégio Moderno, in Lisbon.

Soares practised law for some years and during his exile in France he was “Chargé de Cours” at Vincennes University and at the Sorbonne. He was associate professor at the Faculty of Arts of Haute Bretagne (Rennes).

More recently, he was guest professor in International Relations at the School of Economics of the University of Coimbra.

Mário Soares was the fourth president of IPS International Board of Trustees, succeeding the agency’s founder, Roberto Savio; former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, and former Prime Minister of Japan, Toshiki Kaifu. UNESCO’s former director general, Federico Mayor Zaragoza, succeeded Mario Soares as president of IPS International Board of Trustees.

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Migrants Seeking Europe Catch Their Breath in Moroccohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/migrants-seeking-europe-catch-their-breath-in-morocco/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrants-seeking-europe-catch-their-breath-in-morocco http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/migrants-seeking-europe-catch-their-breath-in-morocco/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 13:35:58 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148422 City of Rabat, Morocco. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

City of Rabat, Morocco. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
NADOR, RABAT and CASABLANCA, Morocco, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

With a stable economy and a peaceful political climate, Morocco – which has always been a transit country for migrants — is becoming a potential new destination for settlement. The elusive dream for most of those who cross the Sahara, though, is still Europe.

No more than 15 kilometers separate the Spanish enclave Melilla and the Moroccan coastal city of Nador, in the northeastern Rif region. This tiny Spanish town of 70,000 people became a major crossing point for those seeking to reach asylum in Europe."The image of living in Europe is changing and some of them prefer to stay in Morocco as long as they can access rights. It’s not a super-developed country, but neither is it a super-poor country." --Miguel Hernandez Garcia

Melilla, together with Ceuta, are the remaining Spanish territories on the African continent and the European Union’s only land border. Precisely for that reason, many Sub-Saharan Africans and increasing number of Syrians dream of reaching the other side as a promised land and better life.

Both cities erected fortified borders as the pressure from migrants increased. Every year, hundreds of Sub-Saharans (many of those undocumented in Morocco) endeavor to cross the fences or embark on the perilous journey by boat across the Mediterranean.

Last month, rescue ships saved around 60 migrants who were adrift not far from Melilla. In early December 2016, at least 400 people broke through the border fence of Ceuta. On Jan. 1, another wave of 1,100 African migrants attempted to storm the same fence.

Mohamed Diaradsouba, 24, risked his life after he decided to depart Ivory Coast. He traveled almost 5,000 kms from Abidjan to Nador, passing through Mali and Algeria. He left his wife and one-year-old son with the hope of one day coming back.

“Where I lived there was no employment, I couldn’t get money to survive. I came to Morocco because I want to cross to Spain. But here there is no job either. I’m sure I’ll find a job in Spain, France, Belgium or Germany and make my living,” he told IPS.

He and a group of four companions rely on small donations provided by activists and the Catholic Church in Nador. Undocumented migrants are not tolerated by local police, who frequently conduct street sweeps and arrest those without legal papers.

When IPS talked to Diaradsouba on a cold November night, he was living in a rural community called Khamis-akdim, a 15-minute drive from Nador. It had been three months since he and some 300 other people Sub-Saharans Africa had set up a makeshift camp in the surrounding forest due to fear of entering the city.

Campsite where Sub-Saharan migrants live near Nador, Morocco. Credit: Mohamed Diaradsouba

Campsite where Sub-Saharan migrants live near Nador, Morocco. Credit: Mohamed Diaradsouba

“We’re camping in the bushes up on a hill. Life here is not easy. We have to walk every day to fetch water and food. We sleep in plastic tents, so when it rains everything gets wet. I didn’t bring any suitcase with me, I’m only wearing my clothes. We’re afraid of the police, they don’t know what human rights are, I’d better stay in the forest,” he said, noting that other nationalities like Cameroonians, Guineans and Malians share the same campsite.

The Ivorian migrant did not have any legal papers, refugee card or asylum seeker certificate of any kind. He is among the thousands of invisible undocumented foreigners in Morocco who are not recognized by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or the Moroccan government.

“It’s difficult to get a paper or a residency permit. I’d have to travel to the capital Rabat (10 hours by train) to make a request. I’m waiting for my luck, one day it will come,” he said.

Diaradsouba had no idea how long he would have to wait to attempt his crossing to Europe. He was still unsure whether he would risk getting through the fences to Melilla, hide himself in the backseat of a car or go by boat. “There’s no fixed price to pay for a boat. We try to gather [funds] among 30 or 40 people. Everything will depend on how much money we’ll have to pay.”

Aziz Kattouf, an activist with the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), confirms that those people camping on the forest live in terrible conditions, but he says at least they are in a “safer place” than Nador.

“They’re far from the police’s eyes. They don’t want to stay, their only hope is to cross,” he told IPS, adding that there are other four large camps in the forest where undocumented people have erected tents.

Every two or three weeks, the police raid the camps. “They apprehend men and sometimes children, destroy their tents and take their phones. Many are sent by buses to further areas in the south of Morocco. But they always come back to the camps,” said the activist.

Living alongside the foreigners altered the daily life of residents of Khamis-akdim, but there has not been a case of mistreatment or racism against them. In fact, the local Berber farmers have shown solidarity, said Alwali Abdilhate, a Tamazight speaker.

“We have good relations with the people who are camping. Early in the morning, they go to the streams or waterholes to wash their clothes and buy food in our local market. There’s a bar that allows them to recharge their cell phones,” said Abdilhate, whose family home is located right by the path migrants take to reach the camping area.

A few weeks after the initial interview, Diaradsouba contacted IPS to say he had managed to reach Spain by boat entering through Almeria. He had to pay 2,500 euros to embark on the 12-hour sea journey.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), between January and December 2016, 8,162 migrants arrived by sea in Spain, while 69 people died attempting the crossing.

The majority of migrants in Morocco are Sub-Saharan male adults between 18 and 59 years old, says Miguel Hernandez Garcia, coordinator of a program run by the Association Droit et Justice that provides legal assistance for refugees and asylum seekers.

“There are different reasons for leaving their countries, threats of physical violence or political reasons. Some are in touch with members of their communities who have reached Europe and say living conditions aren’t what they used to be in the past. The image of living in Europe is changing and some of them prefer to stay in Morocco as long as they can access rights. It’s not a super-developed country, but neither is it a super poor country,” Garcia told IPS.

Morocco became the first Arab country to develop a policy that offers undocumented migrants the chance to gain permanent residency. In 2013, the King of Morocco Mohammed VI gave momentum to a new policy on migration after receiving recommendations from the National Council for Human Rights.

“Morocco ratified international conventions and needed to implement policies. It wanted to show a good image to the world as a welcoming country. It was a clever idea to put out this strategy to the international community as an open mind State with humanitarian will. Besides, it’s also a good thing for the economy,” said Garcia.

During a full one-year campaign for regularization, more than 90 percent of the 27,000 migrants who applied were documented. The government is now discussing in Parliament a raft of related legislation – the first law approved on the scope of the new policy was against human trafficking. A second law that still pending is about asylum.

“It’s basically to guarantee the access to rights for migrants. It’s only three years now that this policy is running and still no official body is in charge of it,” Garcia added.

Jean-Paul Cavalieri, the UNHCR representative in Morocco, said the first challenge is to finalise the law on asylum and extend medical benefits to refugees and regular migrants.

“Another challenge has to do with the territorialization of the policy, how you implement the policy on the ground in remote areas. The migrants are spread out across the country. That could be a model for [other] countries in the region. What we want is that refugees are able to find asylum and a protected space. It’s just the beginning, the policies are being developed, but it has to expand and be implemented.”

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Poland’s Morbid Politicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/polands-morbid-politics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=polands-morbid-politics http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/polands-morbid-politics/#comments Fri, 23 Dec 2016 10:53:44 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148292 Lech Kaczyński at an energy conference three years before his death. Credit: Archive of the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland/GNU license

Former President Lech Kaczyński at an energy conference three years before his death. Credit: Archive of the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland/GNU license

By Claudia Ciobanu
WARSAW, Dec 23 2016 (IPS)

Despite the pain to victims’ families, critics say the Polish government is turning the Smolensk plane crash into a macabre reality show for political gain.

The remains of former president Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria were exhumed Nov. 14 from Wawel Castle in Krakow as part of a state-sponsored investigation into whether the plane crash that killed them in Apr. 10, 2010 was an accident or foul play."This catastrophe ...initially united us in mourning [and] later became a tool in the political fight between Law and Justice and Civic Platform.” --Barbara Nowacka, whose mother Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka, a former deputy prime minister, died at Smolensk.

A state-owned Tupolev plane went down while taking Lech Kaczyński and top Polish military and political figures to Russia to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre in which more than 20,000 Polish soldiers and intellectuals were killed by the Stalinist secret police. Ninety-six people died in the crash.

An investigation conducted under the previous government — the center-right Civic Platform — concluded that the crash was an accident caused by adverse weather conditions and pilot error.

But Jaroslaw Kaczyński, leader of ruling party Law and Justice and twin brother of Lech, has an alternative reading. “The one interpretation that clarifies everything is an assassination,” Kaczynski said, as quoted by the web portal natemat.pl. “If that’s not 100 percent sure, then it’s 99 percent.”

Victimisation

Since the Kaczynski twins founded the party in 2001, Law and Justice has represented a counterbalance to the pro-European, liberal direction of the Polish post-communist transition. Law and Justice are Euro-skeptic and nationalist, Catholic and socially conservative, and advocate for a statist economy.  They speak to those left behind by the transition.

To build up political support, Law and Justice relied on a vision of a Poland under persecution by foreign enemies (especially Russia and Germany) and of Poles as victims of political elites at home, an alleged alliance of communists and liberals.

The Smolensk plane crash happened right at the start of the campaign for the 2010 presidential elections in which incumbent Lech Kaczynski faced Civic Platform’s Bronislaw Komorowski. During the previous three years, Lech’s presidency had been marked by conflicts with Donald Tusk, the head of Civic Platform and prime minister since 2007.

The shock of the tragedy was absorbed into the Law and Justice grand narrative, answering the needs of the campaign: Lech Kaczyński, claimed Law and Justice, was a national hero who fell victim to a lurid alliance between his foreign and domestic enemies, as had happened to Poles many times before.

While Jaroslaw Kaczyński did not win the 2010 presidential election (he ran instead of his brother) nor did his party win the parliamentary election in 2011, Law and Justice spent the next four years in opposition building up a cult of Smolensk which contributed to it winning last year’s election.

The party organised monthly commemoration events and its message was echoed by the Polish Catholic Church and the influential media empire centered around Radio Maryja.

Civic Platform’s strategy of waiting it out and letting Law and Justice politicians make fools of themselves by endorsing a conspiracy theory was a mistake.

According to an October poll by Ipsos, 27 percent of Poles believe Smolensk was not an accident, at least twice as many as five years ago.

Ireneusz Krzeminski, from Warsaw University’s Institute of Sociology, who has looked into responses to Smolensk in Polish society, said the Law and Justice version of the air crash resonated with Poles who “felt unhappy in their lives for different reasons.”

The feeling of perceived injustice was fertile ground for Law and Justice’s rhetoric about a Poland martyred by its enemies, said Krzeminski. The result was hatred towards the alleged enemies, especially Russia and Civic Platform.

Escalation

Since it got to power in 2015, Law and Justice intensified the instrumentalisation of Polish history. Sociologist Krzeminski notes that commemorations of historical events where Poles have suffered (like the 1944 anti-Nazi Warsaw uprising) are a bigger deal now. School curricula have changed to include more on the traumatic episodes. Krzeminski argues that Law and Justice keeps Poles “in a state of permanent mourning” – it brings support for the party.

This year, Poland announced that it would not back Donald Tusk for a second mandate as President of the European Council. Law and Justice members have mentioned the possibility of putting Tusk on trial for treason over Smolensk, once his Brussels term finishes. With Law and Justice moving to control the justice system in Poland, Tusk’s prospects if prosecuted could be bleak.

The focus on Smolensk is a useful distraction from socio-economic woes. Law and Justice remains popular among its voters because of measures such as subsidies for families with children or lowering the retirement age, but the economy has been slowing down this year and foreign investments are dropping.

Crossing the line?

In a country with a strong cult of the dead, unearthing bodies and examining them breaks the biggest taboo.

“The (planned) exhumation of my wife represents for me a big trauma and pain, it destroys the peace of my family, it affects our privacy, and it encroaches on our personal wellbeing, which is based on the cult of the memory of our dead,” said Pawel Deresz, whose wife Jolanta Szymanek-Deresz, a lawyer and politician, died in the crash.

Before answering a single question, Deresz pulled out a large photo of his wife and a copy of the Polish Constitution, before reading out Article 47 about “the right to the legal protection of private and family life.”

Deresz had written to Poland’s prosecutor general Zbigniew Ziobro asking him not to exhume his wife. He said he was prepared to sue the Polish government if needed.

He’s not the only relative angered by the decision.

Last month, Izabella Sariusz-Skąpska, the daughter of Smolensk victim Andrzej Sariusz-Skąpski, published an open letter to President Andrzej Duda, asking for the exhumations to be halted.

“We stand alone and helpless against this ruthless and cruel act: our beloved are to be dragged out of their graves despite the sacred taboo of not disturbing the dead,” Sariusz-Skąpska wrote in the letter, which was signed by 238 family members of 17 victims.

Other families, however, want their loved ones dug up and given a proper burial. In six of the nine exhumations carried out under the previous government, there was evidence that Russian authorities had mixed up body parts or coffins in the chaos after the crash.
 Others share the government’s suspicions that the crash was no accident.

“This catastrophe …initially united us in mourning [and] later became a tool in the political fight between Law and Justice and Civic Platform,” said Barbara Nowacka, whose mother Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka, a former deputy prime minister, died at Smolensk.

“What is most difficult for me is that now Smolensk has become a kind of religion for some core Law and Justice supporters and they would do anything to prove it was more than a plane crash,” said Nowacka. “And on the other hand the majority of society is either getting tired or trying to get rid of the topic by turning it into a joke, which is painful.”

The Ipsos poll in October showed that only 10 percent of Poles are in favour of the exhumations.

The government is treading carefully and has sought the official backing of the powerful Polish Catholic Church. The unearthing of Lech and Maria Kaczyński was accompanied by a religious mass.

However, the Catholic Church warned that Smolensk should not be exploited for political purposes. Some individual priests have publicly objected.

The government wants to unearth all the bodies by the end of next year, but the investigation could last years.

Unearthing the remains of those whose families think the dead should rest in peace will be hard to justify to the public, especially if nothing suspicious is found upon inspecting the first coffins.

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The End of a Cycle ?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/italian-politics-the-end-of-a-cycle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=italian-politics-the-end-of-a-cycle http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/italian-politics-the-end-of-a-cycle/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 22:02:56 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148117 By Roberto Savio
ROME, Dec 6 2016 (IPS)

Is the demise of Renzi really a local affair? There is no doubt that a referendum on a constitutional change can be a matter of confidence in him, having personalized the issue to a point that it became basically a vote on the young Prime Minister. But if you look at the sociology of the vote, you find that the No vote was again coming from the poorest parts of Italy. A case study is Milan. Voters living in the centre voted Yes, and those in the periphery voted No. Is this not similar to what has happened in Brexit and in the US elections? And Renzi fell into the same trap like Cameron, calling for a referendum on a very complex issue and putting at stake his own credibility and prestige, to be swept away by an unexpected tide of resentment. Lamented Renzi: “I had no idea I was so hated”.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

This is important. It shows how politicians, even those as brilliant as Renzi, do not realize that there is a tsunami of resentment that has been out there for some years, has been ignored by the establishment, by the media and by politics. Finally, everybody is linking the next elections in the Netherlands in March, in France in May and in Germany in August, as dates when the populist, nationalist and xenophobia tides will rise even more.

A huge sigh of relief was heard all over Europe after the candidate of the extreme right wing Freedom Party, Hofer, lost 47% to 53%to a Green Party candidate, Van der Bellen. Ulrich Kleber, a German minister declared: “Trump was the turning point. The liberal majority is pushing back.” Business as usual. In the last meeting of the Eurogroup, the proposal of the Commission for a loose fiscal budget was defeated following German pressure.

In fact, polls indicate today the Freedom party appears poised to win over the old coalition of social democrats and Christian democrats which have been running Austria since the end of the war. And as Dutch polls show today, in mid March, the xenophobe Party for Freedom, run by the oxygenated Geert Wilders, is close to getting 21%, over the Party for Freedom and Democracy, that would get 19%. And in France to block Le Pen from winning, at the end everybody will be obliged to vote for Fillon, who is so far to the right that on several issues is barely distinguishable. Finally in Germany, Angela Merkel has announced that she will run a campaign devoid from any ideology, so as not to accentuate any difference with the extreme right wing party AfD in the coming elections in August.

What is also disconcerting is that the political system is still looking to elections as conditioned by local factors. Clearly, Trump could be elected only in the United States. But it should now be clear that what is happening is a result of a global reaction from citizens. But how can we expect from those who have been supporting and singing neoliberal globalization since 1989 to admit their guilt? It is a sign of the time that now the IMF, World Bank and OECD are those who are calling for a return to the role of the state as the regulator and decrying how social and economic inequalities are a brake to growth.

The question is whether it is too late. By now, it will be extremely difficult to bring finance again under regulation (especially with Trump who will eliminate the few regulations still in place, and made by bankers, the backbone of his cabinet). For more than a generation the market has been considered as the only legitimate actor in economy and society. The values inscribed in the large majority of constitutions, like justice, solidarity, participation, and cooperation have been substituted by competition, enrichment, and individualism. Today, children in China, Russia, the United States and Europe are not united by values, but by brand: Adidas, Coca Cola. Citizens have become consumers. In the near future, data collected about each citizen through Internet, on their lives, activities and consumes, will further steer their lives. Fropm 16 % now , robotization will become 40% of the total production of goods and services in 2040. Just think how many drivers will lose their job with car automatization. And those displaced in factories are the cream of workers, not the low level job holders who vote for populism.

What went also unnoticed is that all the populist parties are totally against all international agreement, and international treatyies. The European parties are against unity in Europe. Trump wants to get out from any existing agreements. And together they look to the Climate Treaty as something which goes against their individual interests. They all speak of their national identity, of their glorious past, and how to get rid of multilateralism and internationalism. As a matter of fact, now in the Trump administration the term “globalist” is a derogatory one. A globalist is the enemy who wants to link the US to other countries and views. And yet, the UKIP in England, the Front National in France, the 5 Stelle in Italy and so on, beside some highly publisized meetings, have never been able to establish a platform together on any international issue, other than the abolition of the European Union. Now that Trump has named as his chief strategist Brennon, who has announced that part of his job is to strengthen the populist and right wing parties in Europe, it will be interesting to see how and on what basis they can establish an alliance, besides excluding gay marriages and extra uterine births.

Yet, there is a common trait on international issues. The sympathy for Putin, who is seen as a defender of national values and the inventor of the “illiberal democracy” that Orban in Hungary has officially adopted, followed by other members of the Visegrad pact – Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia – with Erdogan looking benevolently from Turkey. Putin has a growing support from Fillon in France, Salvini in Italy, Farage in England, Wilders in the Netherlands, and now Trump giving the final push for Putin’s legitimization.

But the question is if the response to the neoliberal globalization elected by its victims is organic and adequate? Will they be able to do what the discredited system that globalization has put in crisis, has not been able to do? This is the central question to consider.

If we look at the cabinet that Trump is assembling, there is a great space for doubt. It is a good image of what would be to put Dracula as the guard of a blood bank. The candidate for Secretary of Education is for increasing private education. The candidate for Secretary of Health is for dismantling the public health system. Almost all or a good part of them are multimillionaires. The advisers are all from large corporations. How such a gathering of the rich and powerful will be able to identify with the victims of globalization is difficult to comprehend. Trump speeches against Wall Street, social injustice and a precarious existence who pout him in parallel with Sanders, have disappeared. The energy companies got their biggest boost in several years, supported by the fact that Trump wants to quit the Paris Treaty on Climate, and enlarge the use of fossils. But at the same time hundreds of cities are passing legislations for climate control. It is impossible to say what the Trump administration will mean for the world, or for the United States itself. But signs are that greed certainly will be legitimized. Historians say that greed and fear are the two main factors for any change in history. Fear of immigrants is the main fuel for xenophobia . No wonder that nationalism, xenophobia and populism are on the rise.

The problem is that the growing debate on globalization’s victims is based on symptoms and not on the causes. If we asked a passer-by on a street during the Soviet Union period : “ What is the paradigm that guides the political economic and social options here?”, The answer most certainly would have been “Communism, or socialism”. Here such a question since 1989 would have provoked a blank stare, while we were living in a similar tight and all pervasive paradigm: market, elimination as much as possible of the state, of the public and reduction as much as possible of non productive social costs. Individualism and competition are winning factors – protect and support wealth and reduce personnel and costs as much as possible. There is a different generational change. Young people have dropped out of politics, lost vision and become just administrative options that have become more corrupted and have found refuge in the virtual world of the Internet. But they gather in clusters, of like-minded people. If I am a leftist, I gather with another leftist. I will never meet a right wing guy, as I would do in real life. And in those clusters the ones who emerge are the most radical. So we have a growing world of radicalized and self-reverent young people, who have lost the ability to debate. When they meet, they talk music, sports, fashion, but never ideas or ideals to avoid conflict and quarrels.

Without the young people who want to change the world they are in, the elevator of history gets stuck. And if many other anti historical trends are added together, the ability to correct mistakes and imbalances disappear. It is anti historical to block immigration when industrialized countries all have negative birth rates and productivity and pensions are in danger. It is anti historical to erect again customs, reduce trade, reduce incomes and increase costs. It is anti historical to accept that fiscal paradise subtracts 12% of the world budget. It is anti historical to eliminate international agreements, international cooperation, and go back to small national boundaries. It is anti historical that the rich become richer (today 62 individuals have the same wealth as that of 3,6 billion people), and the poor even poorer. It is anti historical to ignore the looming problem of the climate for which we are already late in waking up. It is almost like breaking a large glass we think it is advantageous because we will have many little fragments. China, India, Japan, Russia and now the US are all going nationalists. The US always took the lead, not without resistance, to be the guarantor of world stability, giving themselves their manifest destiny of an exceptional country. Now they want to have a manifest destiny by thinking only about themselves. Trump will find out that this is a diminutio capiti of the US.

We are therefore at a historical juncture. We are coming from 70 years of growth of international cooperation, the creation of a United Nations devoted to peace and development, the creation of a European Union based on the same philosophy, and an enormous flourishing of pacts on trade, health, education, labour, sports, tourism and whatever else that brings people together. This trend is now getting inverted. The neoliberal globalization pushed all those trends in a specific and unchallengeable direction: market is the only player; man is not any longer the centre of the society. The trend where we are going is clear especially after 9 November – to a world of Trumps. But is that the response to the problems that are bringing large masses to change their political representation? Not if we do not discuss and adopt a paradigm, shared by a large majority, and assure again social justice, democracy and participation. Is it so difficult to read history?

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Europe to Decide on Use of Mercury in Dentistryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/europe-to-decide-on-use-of-mercury-in-dentistry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europe-to-decide-on-use-of-mercury-in-dentistry http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/europe-to-decide-on-use-of-mercury-in-dentistry/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 07:25:56 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148108 By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 6 2016 (IPS)

Europe will soon decide the future of a common but controversial dental practice: mercury in tooth fillings.

Three major European institutions, namely the European Commission, Parliament and Council, are due to meet on 6 December to discuss regulations on mercury, particularly its use in dentistry.

Mercury fillings removal

Mercury fillings removal

Mercury makes up 50 percent of amalgam, which is commonly used for dental fillings. Europe is currently the world’s largest amalgam user.

A coalition of over 25 international non-governmental organisations launched a global campaign in July to end the use of mercury in dentistry, citing health and environmental risks.

“Mercury is globally one of the 10 chemicals of major public health concern, yet the Commission proposes we maintain the status quo,” said Health Care Without Harm Europe’s Chemicals Policy Advisor Philippe Vandendaele

Amalgam is often the largest source of mercury releases in municipal wastewater and is also an increasing source of mercury air pollution from crematoria.

Mercury entering water bodies can contaminate fish and other animals, further exposing consumers to dangerous levels of secondary poisoning.

Though direct health risks from amalgam are still uncertain, mercury is known to cause damage to the brain and nervous system of developing fetuses, infants and young children.

As a result, the European Commission’s health advisory committee recommended a ban on mercury-based fillings in children and pregnant women.

“An ambitious regulation is needed to reduce the use of mercury in the European Union and phase it out of dentistry…over 66 percent of dental fillings in the EU are now made without mercury and it is now time that this becomes the norm,” said European Environment Bureau’s Elena Lymberidi-Settimo.

The European public also voiced their concerns over amalgam.

Following consultations, the European Commission found that 88 percent of participating Europeans recommended to phase out the toxic material while 12 percent called for its use to be phased down.

Some countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark have already banned or restricted the use of mercury-based dental fillings.

“European dentists know the end is near for amalgam. Alternatives are available, affordable, and effective. It is time for Europe to say good-bye to amalgam, a material clearly inferior to composite or ionomers,” said German Dentist Hans-Werner Bertelsen.

Composites and ionomers are both alternative dental restorative materials that use various glass and plastic compositions.

There is a growing consensus on the issue within the European Parliament as members have received over 17,000 signatures on petitions calling to ban amalgam in Europe.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the use of mercury in tooth fillings represents approximately 10 percent of global mercury consumption, making it the largest consumer uses of mercury in the world.

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“Bonn Has Become an Insider Tip on the International Stage”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/bonn-has-become-an-insider-tip-on-the-international-stage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bonn-has-become-an-insider-tip-on-the-international-stage http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/bonn-has-become-an-insider-tip-on-the-international-stage/#comments Tue, 29 Nov 2016 07:00:04 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147958 VN Campus Bonn (© Michael Sondermann/Bundesstadt Bonn)

UN Campus Bonn (© Michael Sondermann/Bundesstadt Bonn)

By Baher Kamal
ROME/BONN, Nov 29 2016 (IPS)

With around 320,000 inhabitants on 141 square kilometres, no other relatively small city has played such a historically critical role like the City of Bonn.

Founded 2,100 years ago by the Romans, from being the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven to being the capital of Germany for over 50 years (1949-1990; seat of the Federal Government and Parliament until 1999), Bonn is also one of the best-guarded safe-deposit boxes of European and recent world history.

IPS interviews the City of Bonn’s Mayor Ashok-Alexander Sridharan.

IPS: For over half a century Bonn was the centre for top world leaders deciding on the future of Germany and Europe. What in your opinion is the City of Bonn’s best-kept political secret from that period?

Ashok Sridharan, Mayor of the City of Bonn

Ashok Sridharan, Mayor of the City of Bonn

Sridharan: The fact that Bonn today has become an insider tip on the international stage – especially in the area of sustainability – certainly originates from those roughly five decades when Bonn acted as capital city for the most successful democracy on German ground. It was this valuable heritage that Bonn could draw back on when the decision was taken in the Federal Republic of Germany to make Bonn Germany’s United Nations City.

IPS: After New York and Geneva, Bonn has become one of the world’s biggest venues for United Nations organisations, with the presence of a total of 19 agencies. And your City is strongly involved in international development cooperation at the municipal level, on international youth projects and on the international dialogue of cultures. What are your current and future plans for the City?

Sridharan: At international level, Bonn is successfully establishing itself as Germany’s United Nations City with a strong focus on sustainability-related issues. ‘UN Bonn – Shaping a Sustainable Future’ is the joint slogan of our Bonn-based UN agencies. With the UNSSC Knowledge Centre for Sustainable Development, we have been able to welcome another important UN agency on board this year. And in December, the UN SDG Action Campaign will open its central campaign office in our city.

Bonn has increasingly developed into a sustainability hub. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) play a central role in this context.

Naturally, our city is also called upon to take up this issue in its own affairs. It is for a number of years now that we have successfully engaged in municipal development cooperation. We maintain partnerships with Bukhara (Uzbekistan), Cape Coast (Ghana), Chengdu (P.R. China), La Paz (Bolivia), Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) and Minsk (Belarus), for instance.

Moreover, we are integrating the sustainable approach locally in our own day-to-day affairs. We promote fair trade and sustainable procurement, as well as eco-friendly mobility. Also, we are stepping up the use of renewable energies and advocate social interaction and a sense of togetherness in our local community.

IPS: The City of Bonn is also one of the largest international media hubs. Deutsche Welle, based here, organizes an annual Global Media Forum bringing over 2,000 professionals from all continents. Are there any new initiatives by your City in the field of international information and communication?

Sridharan: We use every opportunity to raise awareness for the special capabilities in our city among journalists from all over the globe coming to Bonn for whatever reason. We do so as Germany’s United Nations City with a focus on sustainability, but also as birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven, as important IT centre in Germany, and much more.

Bonn is home to tens of thousands of migrants, representing nearly one third of its total population. ​​While migration and refugees have occupied the front pages of newspapers in Europe for long now, London has overwhelmingly welcomed their Mayor, Sadiq Khan, whose Pakistani father drove buses to send his children to school.

The City of Bonn has an elected Mayor in Sridharan, born of Indian and German parents. It’s a win-win for all parties no doubt and yet so little is highlighted in the North of the value migrants bring to European economies; and even less is known to the potential migrants themselves in the South what lay ahead for them in Europe, a shock that they can hardly visualise from their positions of hardship and the manipulation of human traffickers.
Our communication is internationally oriented and we release quite a lot in English, such as on our special service website www.bonn-international.org or in our Bonn International Newsletter.

IPS: How are you managing your City’s share of migrants and what measures have you initiated on integration? How many are there now waiting for formal migrant status and have the number of migrants gone up this year? Are there any climate migrants? How do you strike a balance between what is considered humane and the need to adhere to and execute policies?

Sridharan: Between September 2015 and February 2016 the number of refugees reached a peak with roughly 150 people arriving here every single week, persons who were seeking shelter in Germany.

This was a big challenge for all: for the refugees with an unclear future in their new surroundings, for our administration that was faced with the tremendous task of providing temporary accommodation for a great number of people, including very traumatized refugees.

Last, not least, for our local citizens, now encountering many different new neighbors with a foreign language and culture! These were difficult months, especially since we had to accommodate several hundred refugees in our gymnasiums. At the same time, innumerable volunteers saw to it that Bonn was able to truly welcome these refugees and to take good care of them.

It is with relief that I can say that today’s situation is a little more relaxed. At this time, we are accommodating 3,000 refugees in municipal housing, an increasing number of them with permanent resident status.

Another 3,000 people in Bonn have received residence permits after their application for asylum had been granted. The number of people applying for asylum has decreased, as no more refugees are being sent to the City of Bonn by our authorities at this time. People coming from what is considered a safe country must go back home, which they often do voluntarily.

At the same time, we have been able to improve the type of accommodation we offer. Nobody must sleep in gymnasiums without any private space. The temporary housing we are able to offer now still has provisional character, but with some private space and independence. Also, we are managing to build more reasonably priced apartments, which we were already lacking before the refugees arrived in Bonn.

The birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven

The birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven

We do our best to integrate the refugees here: They can visit language classes. International classes preparing for the German schools have been established. Our Job Center runs a special Integration Point offering services for the people seeking work in Germany and wanting to stay.

Refugees come from many countries. People from Syria make up the largest group, comprising roughly 1,100 persons at this time. Whether or not the small number of other refugees from Africa includes so-called climate migrants, we do not know.

Finally: We have many migrants in Bonn. However, refugees who need special support for their integration in our city and community only make up a small share. It helps that the structures that have been established for our growing international community in Bonn are already there – for people who come to work or to study in Bonn or even to move here with their entire family.

The thought behind Agenda 2030 ‘Leaving no one behind’ is something we are living here in Bonn – just like elsewhere in cities in Germany, Europe and all over the world.

In December, the Pope has invited to a European meeting of mayors at the Vatican for an exchange of experience among city representatives on the ways refugees are being welcomed here. I will be delighted to share our experiences on that occasion.

IPS: The City of Bonn has always worked on sustainable project partnerships and contributed to international cooperation. What are your new initiatives on international cooperation?

Sridharan: In a globalized world with tight networks and strong dependencies cities must cooperate at international level. This holds true especially for cities like Bonn – a city that has always maintained close contacts around the globe, as United Nations City, business location and science hub.

We have joined a number of different international city networks. In October, I was elected Vice President of ICLEI. ICLEI is a city network for sustainability with over 1,500 members worldwide.

Every year, several hundred city representatives meet here in Bonn to discuss topical issues on climate adaptation and urban resilience during our annual ICLEI Resilient Cities Conference. We will seek to intensify this type of cooperation in the future.

Cooperating with our partner cities from Africa, South America and Central Asia plays an important part in this context as well. In recent years we have run a project with our partner city of Cape Coast in Ghana for the restoration of a fresh-water lagoon. With La Paz we have just initiated a joint project tackling waste separation and disposal. I am convinced that municipal cooperation will become ever more important still.

By 2050, four out of five people worldwide will live in cities. The heads of state and government will have to learn that the global development goals may not be reached without including the cities. This implies that cities will receive the necessary funds to fulfill their important tasks.
Functioning cities and municipalities are of utmost importance when it comes to keeping up state order and structures. This holds true especially if we take a look at the crisis regions in North Africa, the Middle East and South-Western Asia.

I have every confidence that municipalities can render highly important contribution, even when it is small,  towards consolidating administrative structures in these countries.

IPS:  Your City hosts key conferences; the City is pro-active on climate change. Although Mayors deal on a daily basis with the most pressing development issues, very little global development funding, reported to be 1%, is channelled through local governments. Are you working with other Mayors globally to correct or revise the allocation of resources?

Sridharan: Municipal development cooperation, the cooperation of cities and municipalities worldwide, is an area of politics which is increasingly gaining importance. The Federal Government has recognized this and has considerably stepped up funding for municipal cooperation with emerging and developing countries. It is a matter of fact that cities and municipalities can only render their small proportion towards global cooperation.

However, practical experience, face-to-face contact with local citizens and an exchange at eye level make municipal cooperation an indispensable element of international development cooperation.

Laying down a separate goal for cities under Agenda 2030 and adopting a New Urban Agenda during the Habitat III conference in Quito at the beginning of October are encouraging signals.

By 2050, four out of five people worldwide will live in cities. The heads of state and government will have to learn that the global development goals may not be reached without including the cities. This implies that cities will receive the necessary funds to fulfill their important tasks.

Together with my fellow mayors from other cities, I will continue to advocate for more support of the local level.

IPS: Where do you want to see your City? What is your dream, vision for the City of Bonn? How do you want to see Bonn further evolving?

Sridharan: I think Bonn is on a good way: as second political center in the Federal Republic and Germany’s United Nations City, we fulfill a number of national tasks for our country. We have gained a sound reputation as IT center and rank fourth Germany-wide as far as the number of employees in this field is concerned.

We are home to some global players like Deutsche Post DHL Group and Telekom and to some extraordinary scientific institutions doing top-flight research. Being birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven, we are looking forward to celebrating the 250th birthday of our most famous son in 2020.

I am aware that this is a lot that needs to be maintained and consolidated. We will continue to develop Bonn into a location for dialogue and exchange on global issues concerning the future of mankind.

This is my declared goal. But most importantly and our biggest asset: that is Bonn’s citizens – well educated, willing to excel, open-minded and with a Rhenish cheerful nature.

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Beyond Calais: A Perspective on Migration, Agriculture and Rural Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/beyond-calais-a-perspective-on-migration-agriculture-and-rural-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beyond-calais-a-perspective-on-migration-agriculture-and-rural-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/beyond-calais-a-perspective-on-migration-agriculture-and-rural-development/#comments Mon, 07 Nov 2016 06:15:10 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147657 José Graziano da Silva is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).]]> José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

By José Graziano da Silva
ROME, Nov 7 2016 (IPS)

Migration is part of the process of development. It is not a problem in itself, and could, in fact, offer a solution to a number of matters. Migrants can make a positive and profound contribution to the economic and social development of their countries of origin, transit and destination alike. To quote the New York Declaration, adopted at the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants on 19 September, “migrants can help to respond to demographic trends, labour shortages and other challenges in host societies, and add fresh skills and dynamism to the latter’s economies”.

So far this year, already more than 320,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean in search of a better future. Thousands have lost their lives doing so. Those that have survived face uncertain prospects at their destinations. Many are confronted with hostility and inhumane new realities. Migrants and refugees are often perceived negatively in their host communities, deemed to “steal’’ jobs and drain financial and social services. At personal and collective levels, this creates a certain sense of disquiet.

Tighter border controls are not the solution. They have instead resulted in more deaths at sea and more human rights violations. Without adequate policies that respond to migrants’ need to leave and that offer accessible, regular, safe and affordable avenues for migration, countries risk being left alone to deal with very complex challenges, possibly falling into chaos and disorganization.

In many cases, this translates into the adoption of less than desirable informal solutions, where the risk of abuses of the rights of migrants and asylum seekers is high. What has been happening in the Jungle camp near Calais in France shows that the most vulnerable, such as unaccompanied children, are those most at risk.

The challenge is huge. If we do not act in a timely manner, tensions will only rise further.

We need to address the root causes behind large movements of migrants and refugees, bringing together humanitarian and development responses. We also need channels for regular migration, facilitating migrants’ integration and contributions to development.

FAO argues that investing in sustainable rural development, climate change adaptation and resilient livelihoods is an important part of the solution, including in conflict-affected and protracted crisis situations.

Forty percent of international remittances are sent to rural areas, indicating that a large share of migrants originate from rural locations. Globally, three-quarters of the extreme poor base their livelihoods on agriculture. And by 2050, over half of the population in least developed countries will still be living in rural areas, despite increased urbanisation.

Agriculture and rural development can help address the root causes of migration, including rural poverty, food insecurity, inequality, unemployment, and lack of social protection, as well as natural resource depletion due to environmental degradation and climate change.

Agriculture and rural development can create sustainable livelihood options in rural areas. This kind of support can also help prevent the outbreak of conflicts over natural resources, and help host communities and displaced people cope with and recover from shocks by building their resilience.

Youth deserve particular attention. One-third of international migrants from developing countries are aged 15-34, moving mainly in search of better employment opportunities. By making agriculture a sustainable and attractive employment option and developing food value chains, millions of new and better jobs could be created.

Together with its partners, FAO supports global and country efforts on migration, bringing its specialized expertise on food security, resilience-building and sustainable agriculture and rural development. It does so by generating data on migration and rural development, supporting capacity development at country and regional level, facilitating policy dialogue and scaling-up innovative solutions to enhance agriculture-based livelihoods, social protection coverage and job opportunities in rural areas, as well as to build resilience in protracted crisis situations.

Since 2014, FAO has been a member of the Global Migration Group (GMG). The GMG has played an important role in coordinating inputs from different UN agencies for the process of intergovernmental negotiations that led to the adoption of the New York Declaration during the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants.

GMG will assume the same role in preparation of the adoption of the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration by 2018. FAO stands ready to lend its technical expertise and share best practices, to ensure that the need to address the root causes of migration, including from rural areas, is taken into account in major global fora.

FAO will also enhance the collaboration with key partners in the area of migration and development, at global, regional and country level. In this regard, FAO is discussing ways to foster country-level collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Note on the terminology: FAO uses the term migration to refer to the movement of people, either within a country or across international borders. It includes all kinds of movements, irrespective of the drivers, duration and voluntary/involuntary nature. It encompasses economic migrants, distress migrants, internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees and asylum seekers, returnees and people moving for other purposes, including for education and family reunification.

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