Posts Tagged ‘Hungary.’

Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban warns of immigration threat at National Day rally — “The situation is that those who don’t block migration at their borders will be lost. They will slowly but surely be digested … [they] will live to see when they become a minority in their own country and lose the only place in the world to call home.”

March 18, 2018

Speaking to tens of thousands of his supporters, Prime Minister Viktor Orban used emotive language as he focused on immigration. He has been branded as a racist, xenophobe and bully by the UN’s human rights chief.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban

The rally in front of the Hungarian parliament building during a national holiday on Thursday was a large one: Up to 100,000 Orban supporters came to hear the prime minister make a 25-minute speech on what has become the main theme of the elections: immigration.

“They want us to voluntarily give [our country] to others, to foreigners from other continents who don’t speak our language, don’t respect our culture, laws or lifestyle,” Orban told the crowd. “They want to exchange ours for their own. There is no exaggeration in this.”

The elections are to be held in three weeks time, on April 8, and Orban has a significant lead in the opinion polls. His policies to block immigration have been the main focus of his campaign to gain the premiership for a third time.

Banners with the words “Homeland before all” and “God protect Hungary and Poland from left-wing ideology!” were prominent in the rally.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban spoke at the rally which also marked the 1848 Hungarian Revolution against AustriaPrime Minister Viktor Orban spoke at the rally which also marked the 1848 Hungarian Revolution against Austria

“The situation is that those who don’t block migration at their borders will be lost. They will slowly but surely be digested,” Orban told the crowd. “The youth of Western Europe will still live to see when they become a minority in their own country and lose the only place in the world to call home.”

Buses brought in supporters from towns across Hungary and several thousand Poles traveled to the Hungarian capital to support the rally.

“Large western European countries bit by bit are losing their own countries, they want to force us to do the same,” he told the crowd. “Africa wants to kick down our door, and Brussels is not defending us.”

Last month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein described Orban as a racist, xenophobe and bully whose “racial rhetoric is increasingly delusional.”

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UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo by Rick Bajornas

Warning for the opposition

Orban also had a warning for the opposition, who he claimed were working with foreign powers to remove the fences his administration had built on the southern border three years ago to prevent migrants coming into Hungary.

“We will take moral, legal and political revenge after the elections,” he said, in what some opposition politicians have interpreted as a threat. He also criticized the Hungarian-American billionaire and philanthropist George Soros, placing him among Hungary’s historical enemies: The Ottoman Empire, the Habsburgs and the Soviet Union.

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The rally was held on the 170th anniversary of the outbreak of the revolution against the rule of the Austrian Habsburgs in March 1848. A year later, combined Russian and Austrian forces defeated the Hungarians.

There were small counter-demonstrations held in Budapest on Thursday, but the opposition remains fragmented.

In February, Orban’s ruling Fidesz party lost a by-election, giving impetus to the idea that the election could be closer than the opinion polls suggest.

jm/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP)


Seeking post-Brexit unity, EU leaders find more fights

February 18, 2018


© AFP/File / by Danny KEMP | European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was picked after European elections in 2014 by a controversial “Spitzenkandidat” system — German for “lead candidate”

BRUSSELS (AFP) – EU leaders face difficult talks this week on the thorny issues of how to plug holes in the post-Brexit budget and choose a successor for European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.A special one-day summit in Brussels on Friday of the 27 leaders without Britain is meant to be a key step in the roadmap to a leaner and more unified bloc after Britain leaves in just over a year.

But cracks have already appeared between French President Emmanuel Macron, leading the charge for a reformed Europe, and Juncker with his federalist vision of how top EU officials should be chosen in future.

The row means the EU’s attempts to overcome the shock of losing a major member are running into the classic problems that have bedevilled it for its six decades of existence: money and sovereignty.

Juncker was picked after European elections in 2014 by a controversial “Spitzenkandidat” system — German for “lead candidate” — under which the political group with the most votes gets to nominate its candidate for the job.

Both the European Parliament and Juncker back a repeat after the May 2019 European election, saying it gives the public a direct say in who heads the commission, the EU’s powerful executive arm.

– ‘Right and obligation’ –

European Council President Donald Tusk — who coordinates summits and represents the EU member states — is expected to lay out options at the summit, including whether to continue with the Spitzenkandidat system.

Leaders are expected to say it is their own “right and obligation” to choose the commission chief, while “taking into account” the views of parliament, as the EU treaties state, an EU source told AFP.

Many national leaders are bitterly opposed to the Spitzenkandidat process, saying it sidelines democratically elected heads of government in favour of a backroom deal by Brussels-based political parties, and also makes the job of commission chief too political.

Macron this week slammed the Brussels establishment as ideologically incoherent and called for a “political revamp” to give the commission a clear mandate, defined by the national leaders.

Juncker however said earlier this week that the Spitzenkandidat system was “completely logical”. He also called for the commission chief’s job to be merged with Tusk’s.

The row has become particularly fierce after the European Parliament earlier this month dealt Macron a slap by voting against “transnational lists” — which would allow 30 of the 73 seats vacated by Britain to be elected on pan-European tickets, instead of directly to constituencies.

“Why should we have Spitzenkandidaten if we have no transnational list for elections?!” Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel tweeted.

– Fixing a hole –

Filling the hole that Brexit leaves in the EU’s multi-year budget from 2020 threatens to open up even deeper divisions — but this time between member states themselves.

Tusk will ask the leaders at the summit whether they want to increase the budget, decrease it or keep it the same, sources said.

EU Budget Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has said that Britain’s exit could leave a hole of as much as between 12 and 15 billion euros ($15-19 billion) and suggested that contributions be increased to between 1.1 percent and 1.2 percent of GDP from the current level of one percent of GDP in the 2014-2020 budget.

The Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Sweden and Finland, all net contributors, are said to be against that idea.

Warnings by Oettinger of cuts on agriculture — a bugbear for France — and “cohesion funds” that benefit poorer eastern European states are also likely to go down badly.

But there is little appetite for suggestions that the EU could try to bring countries like Poland and Hungary into line on issues including the rule of law and migration by making cohesion funds “conditional” on good behaviour.

With these tensions in the background it is no surprise that the EU has been stressing the need for unity in Brexit talks with Britain.

Tusk is expected to ask leaders on Friday if they want to push ahead next month with issuing negotiating red lines on a post-Brexit future relationship with Britain.

Uncertainty over Britain’s wishes, and difficulties in negotiations on a post-Brexit transition period, could push that back.

by Danny KEMP

German patients turn to Croatia for organ donations — “One life came to an end and helped save another one.”

January 31, 2018

The number of people willing to donate organs in Germany has hit an all-time low. Patients in the country are increasingly dependent on a European cross-border organ exchange program.

Organ transplant surgery (picture-alliance/epa/B. Mohai)

Yasmin Redjepagic will never forget the sunny autumn afternoon in 2010 when her father died. “He had a stroke,” she said. “It happened very fast. He was only 65 years old. Our family was shocked; it was so sudden, so unexpected. It just came out of the blue.”

While Yasmin’s family was mourning his death, she got a phone call from the hospital in Zagreb where her father had been treated. The doctors there asked if they could remove healthy organs from the deceased. Yasmin’s father was registered as a potential organ donor. The family asked for some time to think it over and shortly afterwards, they consented.

“Our parents always thought that it was better to save the lives of other people than to let the organs be wasted,” Yasmin said. “All of our family members are potential organ donors. We have spoken about it often.”

Croatia‘s donor network

Yasmin’s family members are reflective of a growing trend. While the number of potential donors has been dropping drastically in Germany for years now, more and more Croatians are willing to donate organs. Nikola Zgrablic, the president of the Croatian Donor Network (HDM), says that German patients are reaping the benefits of changing habits in Croatia.

“In 2017, we had 132 donors whose organs were actually removed,” he said. “We have more than 30 organ donations per 1 million inhabitants. This makes Croatia one of the most successful of the eight countries in the Eurotransplant Foundation, which allocates donated organs.”

Screenshot HDM Croatia ( patients in Germany benefit from organ transplants through Croatia’s donor network, the HDM

Croatia’s organ donor program is based on an opt-out arrangement. That means every citizen can theoretically become an organ donor if they have not explicitly stated their refusal to do so before they die. In Germany, however, citizens 16 years of age and older must register their decision to donate organs.

The Spanish system

At just 9.3 organ donations per 1 million inhabitants, Germany has one of the lowest percentages of actual organ donations in Europe. Spain lead worldwide with 46.9 donors per 1 million inhabitants in 2017.

“Croatia has practically copied the Spanish system,” Zgrablic told DW. “What is extremely important is the fact that the transplantation managers, meaning the key figures in the organ donor system, are all doctors who work in hospitals.”

This means doctors work locally. They can identify and register potential donors, train staff and provide support to family members.

“Donating an organ is a humane, dignified deed,” said Yasmin. “However, we must not forget that it involves a tragedy, the death of a family member. It is not merely a bureaucratic process, but also a deeply moral issue. People need the support and empathy of medical professionals. That is what helped us in these sorrowful circumstances.”

Heart transplant (picture-alliance/dpa/B. Wüstneck)Germany has one of the lowest percentages of organ donation in Europe

Her father’s organs were removed in the middle of the night. The doctor in charge of the procedure called the next morning to thank the family and tell them it was over.

“That gesture moved us deeply,” Yasmin said. “After the shock and endless grief over the premature loss of my father, I felt that we had done something good. One life came to an end and helped save another one.”

Government support for donor system

The Croatian organ donor system has been kept alive by dedicated doctors like Nikola Zgrablic. In recent years, the government has also been helping the organ donor system with more funding, supportive legislation and infrastructure.

Germany benefits greatly from the willingness of other countries to donate organs. In 2017, as in past years, German hospitals received hearts, livers and kidneys from Eurotransplant — around 200 organs from Belgium, the Netherlands, Croatia, Hungary, Austria and Slovenia reached Germany through the network.

According to the German Organ Transplantation Foundation (DSO), around 10 thousand seriously ill people nationwide are on a waiting list for organ donations. On average, three of them die every day because a suitable organ is not available on time.

Palestinians search for alternatives to US-led peace process

January 29, 2018

A Palestinian student from the Balata refugee camp near Nablus in the Israeli occupied West Bank protests against the reduction of the services of the UN agency and against US president’s decision to cut aid, on Sunday. (AFP)
AMMAN: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has triggered a frantic search for a new strategy toward ending Israeli occupation and establishing a Palestinian state.
During the Palestine Central Council meeting earlier this month, Abbas angrily declared that US-brokered negotiations were over after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Abbas’ two-hour speech in front of the 80-member council was followed by a boycott of the visiting US Vice President Mike Pence.
The Palestinian leadership has triggered the pursuit of a more even-handed mechanism to handle negotiations with Israel.
Hani Al-Masri, a Ramallah-based Palestinian analyst, described Abbas’ speech as having delved “deep into history, passed quickly over the present, and largely — almost totally — ignored the future.”
But Abbas did give some hints about possible options ahead.
Palestinians have long claimed the talks were biased in favor of Israel and Abbas called for any further discussion to be brokered by an international committee.
He also said they would pursue Israel at the International Criminal Court for war crimes, encourage popular resistance and continue to work with Israeli peace activists.
International sponsors
Abbas dispatched emissaries to Russia and China soon after Trump broke with decades of US policy with his Jerusalem declaration last month.
But the focus of Palestinian diplomatic strategy has been on Europe where the hope is that Brussels can provide balance to the pro-Israel US role.
Abbas visited Belgium last week and urged European countries to respond by recognizing the state of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem. But the plea was met with a muted response.
Slovenia’s foreign minister said he hoped his country would later this year become the 10th European nation to recognize Palestine. Sweden is the only country to have recognized Palestine while being part of the EU. Countries like the Czech Republic and Hungary did so before joining the bloc. Ireland, Portugal, Luxemburg and Belgium are debating whether to follow suit.
While the EU assured Abbas of its commitment to a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital, there was little support during his visit for his call to immediately recognize the Palestinian state, Reuters reported.
The EU is the biggest donor of aid to Palestinians but it is also the largest trade partner with Israel.
In a meeting in Washington on Wednesday, the head of Palestine’s mission to the US, Husam Zomlot told a delegation of European diplomats that the issue is no longer one of the negotiations but of implementation.
“The time is ripe for the activation of the international community led by Europe to take a lead role in a peace implementation process that is based on international law,” he said.
While efforts in Brussels and other international moves will continue, it is not expected that this alone will lead to significant progress in the near future.
Non-violent resistance
For many Palestinians, the only realistic and possible alternative to US-led peace talks is what Abbas referred to as “peaceful popular resistance.”
The Palestinian president praised the tactics deployed during the first intifada, which started in 1987, and made it clear that he abhors violence.
Mubarak Awad the founder of the International Center for Nonviolence told Arab News that peaceful resistance must be a dedicated strategy, not a short-term tactic.
“We are requesting many groups, organization, colleges, universities, and churches to boycott, divest and sanction Israel yet we eat Israeli products.”
He suggested that Palestine begin forming local communities to take care of people in preparation for an economic struggle against Israel that will inevitably lead to a cut in the Palestinian budget.
“Local bodies need to organize, prepare and help their members to be prepared for the cost and sacrifice that will come with the struggle for freedom and independence. They need to work towards bringing unity and self-reliance.”
At the present time, Awad and others are aware that neither Abbas nor most of his Fatah movement are capable of leading a physically demanding national non-violent campaign.
The majority of Fatah activists are deeply embroiled in the Palestinian government and most of its leaders are over 65.
Awad also suggested that Palestinians should consider using a different currency than the Israeli Shekel, such as the Jordanian dinar, Egyptian pound, or create a Palestinian currency.
There is also the challenge of political apathy among Palestinian parties and factions, especially in Gaza where living conditions are the worst and people feel they have been pawns in the hands of local and regional powers and ideologies.

The Alarming Reason Israeli and Palestinian Activists Are Growing Closer

January 27, 2018



Israeli freedom of speech is being called into question, and that’s pretty ironic

From Mai Da’na's video.
From Mai Da’na’s video.From Youtube

What’s the exact measure of “Israeli democracy” these days? For that, it’s helpful to get a reading through the lens of a Palestinian.

Mai Da’na lives in Hebron. Late on a winter’s night in February 2015, Israeli soldiers entered her home. For Palestinians in the West Bank, this is an everyday part of life: As the Order Regarding Security Provisions stipulates, “An officer or a soldier is authorized to enter, at any time, any place” No search warrant is required, no legal standards such as “probable cause” or “reasonable suspicion” are even relevant.

In occupied Palestine, Giorgio Agamben’s constant state of exception is not philosophy: It is reality. In fact, this reality has been going on for 50 years, almost double 26-year-old Da’na’s lifetime. To fully grasp its meaning, one need only watch the video she took that night, when soldiers barged into her home, demanding that her young children be awakened.

Unlike Da’na, I am a Jewish, Israeli citizen. I live in West Jerusalem. My situation is very different, in the million ways in which the lives of subjects and the lives of masters diverge. And yet, our spaces are interconnected.

In recent years, Da’na began volunteering with B’Tselem’s Camera Project. Women videographers have consistently distinguished themselves among the 200 or so volunteers in this citizen journalism project, which aims to depict the reality of the occupation. So, it was no wonder that, in August 2017, when the project marked its 10th anniversary, B’Tselem decided to present at the Jerusalem Cinematheque a program entitled “Palestinian Women, From the First Intifada Until Today,” featuring footage entirely shot by women – including the video by Mai Da’na.

Screening the reality of life on one side of the Green Line on the other side of that line is easy enough. But what crossed the line through that screening was much more than only those images from Hebron and other West Bank locations. Following that evening, the Israeli Ministry of Culture very publicly wrote the Ministry of Finance, demanding that funding for the Jerusalem Cinematheque be re-examined in light of its screening of films by B’Tselem volunteers. The legal basis for such a demand was codified by the Knesset back in 2011, in the shape of the “Budget Foundations Law (Amendment 40): Reducing Budget or Support for Activity Contrary to the Principles of the State.”

In recent months, Culture Minister Miri Regev has been waging a campaign against artists, screenwriters, theaters – and yes, cinemas – that dare to go ahead with events, plays or films that “incite against Israel.” According to Regev, showing the truth about Israel’s rule over Palestinians is incitement.” She wishes to exercise what she calls, in true Orwellian fashion, “freedom of funding”: the liberty not to fund artistic speech that deals with that constant state of exception in effect just a few kilometers away from the Jerusalem Cinematheque.

Non-options, non-citizens

Citizens – especially Jewish citizens – living on the Israeli side of the Green Line are generally used to exercising their free speech rights. But in occupied Palestine, free speech has been a non-option ever since August 1967, two months after the occupation began, when Order No. 101 was issued. Its point of departure is that Palestinian residents have no inherent freedom of protest or freedom of expression, and that even nonviolent resistance and civil protest involving peaceful assembly are forbidden. For 50 years, we have been defining almost any Palestinian opposition to the occupation regime as incitement, while denying basic human freedoms as free speech. Is anyone really surprised that the screening of a video collection focusing on the occupation is now framed as – of course – incitement, and that the freedom of speech of Israelis is being called into question? One cannot deny the irony in this process, which brings Israeli and Palestinian NGOs and activists closer: not because the civil space is widening in occupied Palestine, but because it is shrinking in occupying Israel.

Of course, for the millions of Palestinian non-citizens, with no political rights, whom we have been ruling by military decrees for decades, democratic space collapsed long ago. The casual vulnerability of Palestinian homes is just one example of how fragile life can be, in a place where Israel controls with impunity through arbitrary administrative decisions people’s ability to travel abroad, receive a work permit, get married, access their land, build a home – to name just a few examples.

And what of life in Israel? Equating NGOs that oppose the occupation with treasonous servants of suspect foreign powers has become routine, from the prime minister down. In this current reality, an ongoing blend of intimidation, infiltration and legislation is the new normal. The need to maintain the appearance of democratic norms has now been mostly set aside, replaced by a political appetite to demonstrate to a cheering public that the government is after the fifth column.

The efforts led by the culture minister are only a few of many like-minded initiatives. Together, these spell out the shrinking of space for free speech and for civil society. It is a process that took place mostly in the last seven years, moving forward parallel to similar downward spirals in places like Hungary, India and Turkey. The rising authoritarianism in Jerusalem can be spotted even from as far as Berlin: In June 2017 a spokesperson for the German Foreign Affairs Ministry said of Hungary that it has joined “the ranks of countries like Russia, China and Israel, which obviously regard the funding of NGOs, of civil society efforts, by donors from abroad as a hostile or at least an unfriendly act.” A few months later, Israel had the dubious honor of being featured in the UN secretary-general’s annual report on “Cooperation with the United Nations, Its Representatives and Mechanisms in the Field of authoritarianism ,” known informally as the “reprisals report.”

Funding cuts

From Mai Da’na's video.
From Mai Da’na’s video.From Youtube

Of all the efforts made to act against human rights NGOs, the most steadfast one has been to try and curtail access to international funding. But the government cannot simply pass a law to which an addendum with the list of undesirable groups will be attached – that would be too blunt. It took several years and a few legislative iterations, until an administrative criterion that would apply almost exclusively to the, well, undesirables was identified: groups with a relatively high percentage of “foreign state-entity funding.” As foreign governments quite obviously are more likely to invest in promotion of human rights than in the advancement of the occupation, by looking at an NGO’s relative funding from such sources, one can assemble a de-facto list of the NGOs the government is after, without having to resort to listing them individually.

The above logic was at the core of the 2016 amendment to the Law Requiring Disclosure by NGOs Supported by Foreign State Entities, which stipulates that groups receiving 50 percent or more of their funding from “foreign state-entity” sources will practically need to identity themselves as foreign agent NGOs. The amendment was initially marketed as “advancing transparency.” Yet that was never the real issue, as NGOs were already required by law to make a public annual report of all donations they received of 20,000 shekels (about $5,900) and above. Moreover, since 2011, non-profit organizations are required to file quarterly reports of all donations from foreign state-entity sources. At all events, since the law was passed, it has served as the staging ground for further legislation, completely removed from “transparency,” but rather quite transparently about yet more public shaming and administrative limitations and burdens on human rights NGOs.

The amendment does not prevent receipt of foreign funding. However, in June 2017, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly confirmed that he had tasked Tourism Minister Yariv Levin with formulating a new bill that would block foreign governmental funding to nonprofits, in an effort explicitly targeting human rights groups opposing the occupation. Minister Levin explained to Haaretz the change in the government’s position, from promoting a bill that did not limit foreign governmental funding to seeking legislation that would block it. He explained that the new U.S. administration has made it possible: “It wouldn’t have made it through in the period of the Obama administration. They were very uneasy about the bill. The present administration has no problem with it.”

Crossing the line

Palestinians cannot easily cross the Green Line and enter Israel: special permits are needed. Authoritarian thinking, however, needs no such permit, a green light from the powers that matter will suffice. Similarly, the winds blowing from Washington appear to be felt on both sides of the Green Line. A few weeks after Levin’s interview, it was Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman who used almost identical language – but now in the context of actions on the other side of the Green Line, namely, the possibility of going ahead with the demolition of entire Palestinian villages – Khan al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem, and Sussia in the South Hebron Hills.

Mai Da’na’s footage also crossed the Green Line. Its modest screening in Jerusalem to an audience of 100 or so viewers was sufficient to trigger a McCarthy-style governmental review of one of Israel’s most established cultural institutions. For, to enable further oppression of Palestinians, stronger silencing of Israelis is now deemed necessary. Our fates are intertwined.

Similarly, the international mechanisms that somewhat delayed these developments are intertwined. Not only are many international actors used to taking their cue from Washington – now under Trump – but Israel’s leadership is also currently empowered by the favorable winds blowing from the rising authoritarian powers across the globe.

As rightfully worrying as these negative developments inside Israel are, they are not the reasons why the country cannot be considered a democracy. For that, we need not focus on recent years, but open our eyes to the past half century. Israel’s rule over millions of Palestinians with no political rights has been in effect for all but the first 19 years of Israel’s existence as an independent state. That is why Israel is not a democracy, and indeed has not been one for many a decade. We live in a one-state reality between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, a state whose constant state of exception is one of masters and subjects, of millions with political rights – and millions without.

Yet, here is what I genuinely embrace: Yes, the authoritarian global realignment is real. If you have any doubts, just listen to Netanyahu, Trump, Modi, Orbán, and the many others contending to join their ranks. But it is not preordained that this will be the only global realignment witnessed by humanity in the 21st century. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is too precious an achievement, won after unimaginable human suffering. We know what is at stake. We might as well stand together so that “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” are realized, so that “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” is rock solid. There are no assurances of success: only the certainty that it is a future worth fighting for.

Hagai El-Ad is executive director of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This piece originally appeared in a longer version in “Reclaiming civic space: Insights and learning from and for activists,” a special edition of the Sur International Journal on Human Rights.

Eastern EU states tell Brussels to back off — Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia want talks talks among all EU leaders on how to reform the bloc following Britain’s departure

January 26, 2018

BUDAPEST/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The four eastern European Union states who are often at loggerheads with the bloc’s executive told Brussels on Friday not to overstep its mandate in policing national capitals.

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Czech Republic’s Prime Minister Andrej Babis, Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban attend a Visegrad Group panel discussion in Budapest, Hungary, January 26, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Meeting in Budapest, the leaders of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic agreed a joint stance for talks among all EU leaders on how to reform the bloc following Britain’s departure next year.

The four ex-communist countries are pushing back as leading, western EU powers Germany and France, backed by the European Commission in Brussels, are floating proposals for more integration among the remaining 27 EU states.

“Europe needs a new blueprint. We must speak about an alliance of free nations,” said nationalist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

He was echoed by Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki who said a “strong, integrated Europe” should be based on a group of sovereign, national member states rather than an increasingly centralised federation as some western states want.

Warsaw and Budapest have become the enfants terribles of the EU under right-wing populist leaders who promote Catholic, conservative values and often clash with Brussels as it singles out deviations from EU standards on democracy and rule of law.

Poland has drawn the sharpest criticism from Brussels since the conservative, nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party won election in late 2015 and swiftly acted to tighten control over publicly-owned media, as well as the judiciary.

The bloc has taken unprecedented punitive steps against Warsaw, the largest, ex-communist EU state, for violating the rule of law and democratic principles. Warsaw has lashed back, accusing Brussels of double standards and saying its judicial overhaul is ridding Poland of lingering communist influence.

All four Visegrad countries have repeatedly rebuffed requests from Brussels and western EU states to host some of the hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim refugees that have streamed into the EU since 2015. The bitter row has undermined trust between the bloc’s members and weakened their unity.

Such differences were redolent in a joint document issued by Bratislava, Prague, Budapest and Warsaw on Friday.

“EU institutions should treat all member states equally and act strictly within the remits of their respective… competencies. The right of member states to carry out domestic reforms within their competences should be respected,” it said.

On migration, the four restated their focus on “effective, responsible and enforceable (EU) external border protection to avoid obligatory quotas (being) applied, which are ineffective and have already divided Europe.”


All parties in the EU agree the quotas have proven divisive but have stuck to sharply divergent views on how to mend the bloc’s failed asylum system by a June deadline.

The four Visegrad premiers also said they should not be punished for having different opinions within the bloc.

“I reject any criticism of us just because we have a different opinion … about the (migration) quotas. We are not black sheep,” said Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico.

They called for preserving generous EU spending on agriculture and development to help the poorer, ex-communist east catch up with wealthier peers in the west of the bloc.

But, as negotiations in the EU are starting to heat up on the bloc’s next budget for 2021-27, Brussels and other EU states say they want to link EU handouts to upholding the rule of law and assigning extra funds for managing migration.

While the details are in the making, such decisions could cost Poland and Hungary billions of euros in the future if their nationalist-tinged feuds with Brussels are not resolved.

“We are discussing preparing the definition of what conditions must be fulfilled by member states to be able… to receive the money of European taxpayers,” EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said on Friday in Sofia.

“The definition will be a more precise description of what we understand by the rule of law … For me, it is a functioning system of independent judiciary, which should be in place in member states.”

Editing by Mark Heinrich

As Trump Heads to Davos, the Question Is Which Trump Will It Be?

January 23, 2018

No one knows quite what to expect of the president who rode populism into office when he appears at the summit of the globalists

“If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.”

It takes a mighty effort of the imagination to see Donald Trump in the role of the prophet from Francis Bacon’s famous proverbial retelling of an ancient story. But as an exercise in the execution of something quite improbable, the trip of the president of the United States to Davos this week is right up there, as it were, with any historical precedent.

Mr. Trump, political agent-provocateur, scourge of the global elite, blunt-speaking polite-society gate-crasher, tribune of the deplorables, will indeed ascend the famous Swiss mountain and address the well-heeled, bien-pensant, self-appointed leaders of the globalist establishment—right in the inner sanctum of their most sacred temple: the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. As with most things Trump, no one quite knows what to expect, what he will tell the assembled political leaders, bankers, chief executives, NGO leaders and cultural celebrities when he speaks on Friday. Or, having delivered his speech, and perhaps more important, what tweeted invective will come forth from his fingers before and afterward. But as a spectacle and perhaps a symbol of the defining dialectic of our political age, it can hardly be bettered: “America First” meets “We Are the World.”

It will be the first time a U.S. president has attended Davos since Bill Clinton in 2000, and Mr. Trump may have with him the highest-profile U.S. delegation perhaps ever: cabinet members and top White House advisers. Back then President Clinton was in his final year in office and there was a kind of rock-star farewell-tour quality to the exercise; the ultimate American globalist coming back for one last rousing encore with his fellow-travelers, safe in the embrace of a widening international consensus about the way things should be ordered. But Mr. Trump’s presidency is in its infancy, and the fire and fury of his rhetoric has already torched many of the institutions and nostrums that the Davos crowd hold dearest. The question this time is: Where do the twain meet? Will Davos get a little Trumpian? Or does the Trump administration take on a Davosian quality?

More in Outlook 2018

  • Nationalism Grows—and Changes
  • ‘America First’: Rhetoric and Reality
  • Global Economy Gets a Second Wind
  • Read the full Outlook 2018 report

View From the Top

  • CEOs offer their visions for the year ahead—and beyond

Mr. Trump was elected on a platform that might almost define opposition to the globalization that has driven the international system for the past 30 years. That system rested on several largely unchallenged principles: free trade and frictionless international capital markets; open borders; aggressive but collaborative measures to tackle climate change; a multilateral approach to the world’s security challenges that emphasized cooperative diplomacy over martial rhetoric and threats.

Pivotal moment

But “Davos Man” has been under siege for the past few years—and not just in the hollowed-out communities of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin or Michigan. The populist-nationalist backlash that began with Brexit and continued with Donald Trump didn’t sweep, as some thought it would, across Europe last year. The rising tide stopped some way short of the Élysée and the Bundeskanzleramt. But even in France and Germany, countries that have been in the vanguard of the globalists’ march, with their steady push toward an ever-closer European Union, the rise of a nativist, anti-globalism current laps at the eroding political consensus. Elsewhere in Europe, especially in the east—Poland, Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic—the institutions of democratic government have already been breached by populists. And even world-wide, nationalist sentiment vies with a powerful anti-Trump backlash for political advantage.

It feels like a pivotal moment in history: Will the current turbulence really topple the system the world has embraced for the past few decades, or will the forces of global economic and political integration eventually prevail?

It’s possible that the nationalist-globalist dialectic may resolve itself into a synthesis. This certainly seems to be the hope of the leaders of some of the international institutions that sit, somewhat uneasily, atop the snowy peaks of the global system.

Achieving some kind of new consensus certainly seems to be the motive behind the invitation to Mr. Trump to attend his first Davos. Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, has invested time in trying to broker a dialogue with some the leaders of populist-nationalist movements. In an interview with the Journal, excerpts from which we publish with this special report, Prof. Schwab expresses optimism that a new kind of “equitable globalization” may emerge from the current political stress.

How Mr. Trump chooses to respond to this olive branch isn’t clear. Some will point out that his populist tweeted bark is often worse than his more conventional policy bite. And with the arch-nationalist Steve Bannon, who provided an intellectual framework for Mr. Trump’s instincts, now officially out in the cold, some of the more confrontational rhetoric may be set aside. But with big decisions looming on some of the more contentious trade issues—China, Japan, Nafta—and given his self-acclaimed negotiating skills, the president is unlikely to be in an overly generous mood.

Beyond the conference

Mr. Trump and his consequences may loom large over this year’s gathering, but of course there will be much else for the thousands of delegates and others to ponder. The usual procession of political leaders will unfold—most prominently, Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister; Emmanuel Macron, the French president; Theresa May, the British prime minister; and the chief executives of some of the biggest companies in the world. Much business-as-usual gets done away from the conference halls and set-piece events, and this year will be no different.

But it will surely be the big geopolitical picture that will figure largest in the deliberations in Davos and, more important, beyond in 2018. The official theme of this year’s meeting is “creating shared values in a fractured world.” It’s an ambitious idea in the current climate. The fissures that have appeared in the global system in the past few years seem to be deepening, and the very idea of a global community is under challenge.

These fissures have raised fundamental questions about global political leadership and America’s role. Last year’s gathering coincided with Mr. Trump’s inauguration, and in the absence of a significant American presence, Xi Jinping, China’s president, stepped into the literal and figurative void, claiming for his country the mantle of global leadership, sweet-talking the nervous delegates with soothing bromides about the importance of maintaining an open and integrated international system.

That speech, and the one Mr. Trump will deliver this week, offer vital clues to the resolution of the global tensions that have arisen in the past few years. We can expect the contest—of ideas, for leadership—to intensify.

Mr. Baker is editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal.

EU rules on asylum are splitting Europe, says EU presidency holder Bulgaria

January 22, 2018

Bulgaria Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, right, welcomes Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis prior to their meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova)
SOFIA: The European Union’s rules on asylum which state that requests be handled by the country where asylum is first claimed are splitting Europe, the prime minister of Bulgaria, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said on Monday.
Nationalist-minded, euroskeptic governments in Poland and Hungary have refused to take in a single asylum-seeker under a scheme to have each member state host a number of refugees to ease pressure on the main sea gateways of Greece and Italy.
Slovakia and the Czech Republic, citing security concerns, have also been reluctant to accept migrants from other EU countries.
“The Dublin Regulation does not work the way we want it to,” said Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, referring to one of the main EU laws on asylum.
“It not only divides but also literally splits Europe,” Borissov said at a news conference with Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis in Sofia.
“I think that, with the trust we have with each other, we will find a compromise,” he said, adding that borders should be closed with people entering only through official border ccheckpoints.
Borissov also said security centers should be built in non-EU countries such as Turkey and Libya to accommodate migrants.
Bulgaria, the EU’s poorest country, assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the bloc three weeks ago for the first time since it joined the EU in 2007.
Babis stressed that the Czech Republic, sharing similar views on migrant quotas with other countries from the Visegrad Four, including ex-communist states Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, would not change its stance.
“It is known that we want to fight against these quotas,” Babis said. “The quotas are ineffective and a compromise is needed.”

Hungary plans ‘Stop Soros’ laws amid refugee row

January 18, 2018


© POOL/AFP/File / by Peter MURPHY | George Soros has been branded a ‘public enemy’ by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban

BUDAPEST (AFP) – Hungary published details Thursday of tough anti-immigration laws named after “public enemy” George Soros amid a row over claims Budapest covered up a hike in refugee arrivals.Hungarian-born US billionaire Soros has been called “a public enemy” by Prime Minister Viktor Orban who accuses the 87-year-old of orchestrating migration into Europe since the refugee crisis began in 2015.

Hungary erected fences on its southern borders in 2015 and last year began holding all adult asylum-seekers in guarded border camps.

The latest three laws — called the “Stop Soros law package” — aim to shut remaining loopholes that allow “illegal immigration” to persist, government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said in a radio interview.

The proposed measures include entry bans on foreigners and restraining orders stopping Hungarians approaching the border areas if they are deemed to be “supporting” or “organising” illegal immigration, according to the draft legislation published on the government website.

A 25-percent tax will also be levied on foreign funding received by organisations that support illegal immigration to help pay for border defence, the government says.

The proposals could go before parliament in February.

Although Soros is not mentioned by name in the bills, Kovacs accused the financier and philanthropist of destabilising Europe’s future by “wanting as many migrants as possible” to arrive.

“It is a political programme in which migrant-assisting groups disguised as human rights organisations take part,” he said.

The latest measures follow laws brought in last year that target nongovernmental organisations backed by Soros and the prestigious Budapest-based Central European University he founded in 1991.

The 87-year-old’s face also featured on billboards nationwide during a so-called “national consultation” campaign attacking his alleged pro-immigration “Soros Plan”.

Soros has accused Orban of using “distortions and outright lies” in his campaigns against him.

The government has “sought to create an outside enemy to distract citizens” from issues like corruption, he said last year.

– Not publicised –

Orban’s government meanwhile has been forced to reject claims that it covered up a sharp increase in the number of refugees it let in despite its anti-immigration campaigns.

The row was sparked by a government official telling the Times of Malta newspaper on January 10 that Budapest had “not publicised” its acceptance of 1,291 refugees in 2017, up from 432 in 2016.

Opposition parties have accused Orban, who only last week called migrants “Muslim invaders” of Christian Europe, of hypocrisy given his relentless attacks on Soros and the EU’s mandatory refugee resettlement quota scheme.

Brussels has taken legal steps against Hungary over its refusal to take in 1,294 refugees under the plan.

Government officials have said Hungary has merely been fulfilling its international obligations to asylum seekers, and that the numbers have always been publicly available.

The controversy is an unexpected bump for Orban whose tough anti-immigration line has proved popular at home and kept him comfortably on course to win a third consecutive term in power on April 8.

According to Orban the election will decide if Hungary stays a “land for Hungarians or becomes a country of immigration”.

“The ‘Stop Soros’ package can be used to deflect attention from the secretly accepted refugees,” said Andras Biro-Nagy of the Policy Solutions think-tank.

“But it fits into a wider strategy of keeping alive the Soros campaign and the theme of protecting Hungary from foreign domination at all costs,” he told AFP.

by Peter MURPHY

Merkel and Austria’s Kurz clash over migrant quota

January 17, 2018


© AFP | German Chancellor Angela Merkel andAngela Merkel new Chancellor Sebastian Kurz stressed the ‘close cooperation’ between the two nations

BERLIN (AFP) – Angela Merkel and her Austrian counterpart Sebastian Kurz clashed over immigration in their first meeting Wednesday, with the seasoned German chancellor saying Vienna’s resistance to sharing out refugees across the bloc was “wrong”.Kurz, at 31 the world’s youngest leader after forming a government with the far right last month, said following talks with Merkel that the debate about mandatory migrant quotas “took up too much space”.

“I’m convinced that the solution to the migrant problem lies with decent border protection and stronger help in countries of origin,” Kurz told reporters after he was received in Berlin with military honours.

While Merkel echoed those priorities, she also chided the member states that have refused to take in their share of migrants and refugees under the European Union’s quota system.

When external border protection fails, “it cannot be, in my view, that there are some countries that say ‘we don’t want to participate in European solidarity’,” she said.

“I believe that’s wrong.”

Austria has sided with countries such as Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic that reject the scheme, agreed by a majority of EU leaders in 2015, to share 160,000 migrants around the bloc to help frontline states like Greece and Italy.

Just some 32,000 were relocated by the end of 2017.

Kurz, who was foreign minister at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis, was one of the fiercest critics of Merkel’s contentious decision in 2015 to open Germany’s borders to those fleeing conflict.

The move prompted an influx of nearly 900,000 asylum seekers to Germany that year alone, although arrivals have slowed significantly since then.

Kurz came to power after taking over the conservative People’s Party (OeVP) last year and yanking it to the right, with a hardline stance on immigration.

His government is the only one in Western Europe to feature the far right after he struck an alliance with the controversial Freedom Party (FPOe).

Merkel stressed the “close cooperation” between Germany and Austria and their shared positions on many issues.

She said she would judge the new government in Vienna “by its actions”, but added that she would be watching closely.

“We will keep an eye on everything else — perhaps I will a bit more than I would have otherwise done. But what matters are actions,” she said.