Posts Tagged ‘immigration’

Germany’s Merkel backs Austria on stronger EU borders

September 17, 2018

The German chancellor and her Austrian counterpart, Sebastian Kurz, have agreed to stem migrant arrivals to the EU. European leaders are under pressure after the main route across the Mediterranean shifted.

Angela Merkel and Sebastian KurzBoth leaders emphasized the need to bolster Frontex, the EU’s border management agency

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Austrian counterpart Sebastian Kurz appeared to put aside their differences on Sunday, as the two leaders announced a series of efforts aimed at combating irregular migration to Europe.

The pair agreed to collaborate with several African nations to stem migration flows and welcomed plans by European Commission President Jean-Clause Juncker to bolster Frontex staff to 10,000 by 2020.

Although Merkel and Kurz have previously clashed on migration, Austria’s anti-immigration chancellor acknowledged that Berlin had adopted a harder line, thanks in large part to German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.

Ahead of Sunday’s meeting, a spokesman for Austrian chancellery said strengthening the EU’s external borders would be a focal point in the discussions in Berlin.

“There can be no open borders within Europe without proper protection of external EU borders,” Kurz said in remarks provided to the DPA news agency by his spokesman. “That’s why it is so important to strengthen Frontex.”

Following the last formal EU leaders’ summit in June, the Commission vowed to boost the bloc’s border management agency Frontex, and establish migrant processing centers on the European periphery and in North Africa. Those proposals have yet to be translated into policy.

Kurz said he and Merkel agreed that “we have to work out the details of the turning point that we achieved” in June.

Read more: What is the Frontex – the European Border and Coast Guard Agency?

Africa onboard?

Kurz also announced plans to co-host a joint EU-Africa summit in Vienna with Rwandan President Paul Kagame in December.

Austria, which currently holds the rotating European Council presidency, said the summit would focus on improving economic ties between the two continents in a bid to tackle one of the drivers of migration to Europe.

Merkel also stressed the need to engage with the African countries of origin. Areas for collaboration between the EU and the 53 African countries must be clearly defined, the German chancellor said, since “nobody can be expected to have to deal with everything.”

Read more: At Spain’s enclave of Ceuta, African refugees dream of Europe

More talks ahead

Merkel is expected to visit Algeria on Monday. The Austrian chancellor is also set to hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Monday, ahead of next week’s EU leaders’ summit in Salzburg.

dm/ls (dpa, AFP, AP)


Trump, Conservatives, the Religious Right and the Republican Party

September 16, 2018

One of the many paradoxes of the Trump era is that our unusual president couldn’t have been elected, and couldn’t survive politically today, without the support of religious conservatives … but at the same time his ascent was intimately connected to the secularization of conservatism, and his style gives us a taste of what to expect from a post-religious right.

The second point was clear during the Republican primaries, when the most reliable churchgoers tended to prefer Ted Cruz but the more secular part of the party was more Trumpist. But it was obscured in the general election, and since, by the fact that evangelical voters especially rallied to Trump and have generally stood by him.

Now, though, a new survey reveals the extent to which a basic religious division still exists within Trump’s Republican Party. The churchgoers who ultimately voted for Trump over Clinton still tend to hold different views than his more secular supporters, and the more religious part of the G.O.P. is still the less Trumpist portion — meaning less populist on economics, but also less authoritarian and tribal on race and identity.

The survey was conducted by the Cato Institute’s Emily Ekins for the Voter Study Group, who analyzed the views of Trump voters based on their frequency of church attendance — from “never” to “weekly” or more often. The trend was consistent: The more often a Trump voter attended church, the less white-identitarian they appeared, the more they expressed favorable views of racial minorities, and the less they agreed with populist arguments on trade and immigration.

By  Ross Douthat
The New York Times

Image result for donald trump, montana rally, photos

President Trump Holds Rally In Great Falls, Montana. AP photo

The differences were particularly striking on race. For instance, a quarter of Trump voters who never attend church describe being white as “very important” to their identity; for the most frequent churchgoers voters, it was 9 percent. Among non-churchgoing Trump voters, only 48 percent had warm feelings toward black people, compared to 71 percent of weekly populist; the same sort of pattern held for views of Hispanics, Asians and Jews.

Churchgoing Trump voters were still more culturally conservative than Hillary Clinton voters — more likely to support the death penalty, more skeptical of immigration — and their views of Muslims, interestingly, seemed to have been influenced by Trump’s own rhetoric, becoming more hostile between 2016 and 2017.

But in general, churchgoing Republicans look more like the party many elite conservatives wanted to believe existed before Trump came along — more racially-tolerant, more accepting of multiculturalism and globalization, and also more consistently libertarian on economics. Secularized Trump voters look more like the party as Trump has tried to remake it, blending an inchoate economic populism with strong racial resentments.

Interestingly in the survey the different groups make about the same amount of money, which cuts against strict economic-anxiety explanations for Trumpism. But the churchgoers and nonchurchgoers differ more in social capital: The irreligious are less likely to have college degrees, less likely to be married and more likely to be divorced; they’re also less civically engaged, less satisfied with their neighborhoods and communities, and less trusting and optimistic in general.

This seems to support the argument, advanced by Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner among others, that support for populism correlates with a kind of communal breakdown, in which secularization is one variable among many leaving people feeling isolated and angry, and drawing them to the ersatz solidarity of white identity politics.

Meanwhile frequent church attenders, already a minority within the wider society, are also a minority within the Republican coalition. Relatively few Republicans are explicitly religiously unaffiliated (though that number has been climbing too), but only about a third of Trump’s 2016 voters are in church on a typical Sunday, and almost half attend seldom or not at all.

This suggests a possibility that should worry both Trump’s religious supporters and anyone who finds his style of conservatism racially toxic. Despite their resistance to that toxicity, the churchgoers in this survey did vote for him, making a pragmatic bet that his policies on abortion and religious liberty were worth living with his Caligulan personal life and racial demagoguery. To defend that bet, some historically-inclined believers have cited past cases where Christians accepted bargains with a not-particularly moral leaders — including the way the early church accepted the patronage of Roman emperors, from Constantine onward, whose personal piety was limited at best.

But the Constantinian bet involved a rising religion allying with a worldly power to accelerate its growth and gains. The bet under Trump involves the reverse sort of situation: A Christian community trying to make the best of its decline, and allying with a leader whose core appeal depends upon and possibly furthers the de-Christianization of conservatism.

Such a bet might be understandable as an act of desperation. But it’s hard to see how it can reverse de-Christianization, and easy to see how it might accelerate it. Which, on the evidence of this survey, is something that secular liberals should fear as well.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

Ross Douthat has been an Opinion columnist for The Times since 2009. He is the author of several books, most recently, “To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism.”

You can follow him on Twitter: @DouthatNYT

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page SR9 of the New York edition with the headline: Conservatism After Christianity.

Germany: Police arrest far-right ‘vigilantes’ in Chemnitz

September 16, 2018

The suspects targeted foreigners at a park, injuring a 26-year-old Iranian man. The coordinated action followed another far-right demonstration in the eastern German city.

Chemnitz Demonstration at the far-right protest on Friday (picture-alliance/dpa)

Just two weeks after far-right riots rocked the city of Chemnitz, members of a group of self-ascribed “vigilantes” were taken into custody for targeting foreigners in the eastern German city. The group of about 15 men was accused of disturbing the peace and causing bodily harm, prosecutors said on Saturday.

The detentions were based on events that took place after a large far-right rally concluded on Friday, where as many as 3,500 people gathered under the city’s iconic monument to Karl Marx and marched through the town center.

Read more: Crossing Germany’s divide — encounters with far-right protesters

According to authorities, the men allegedly set out to harass foreigners in a city park on Friday night. They first targeted a birthday celebration, ordering anyone they deemed did not look German to show their identification papers. The partygoers, who were said to be young people of foreign descent, fled the scene and called the police.

Later, the vigilantes approached another group at the park, were they allegedly hurled xenophobic insults at seven people of different nationalities. In the encounter, the suspects injured a 26-year-old Iranian man, who suffered a laceration to the head.

Police later arrived and arrested the group. Nine of the suspected assailants were eventually released, while six others, aged 27 to 31, remained in custody as the investigation proceeds. One of the men already had a suspended sentence at the time of the arrest.

Read more: After Chemnitz, poll shows east-west split on migration

Chemnitz has been the battleground of protests and counter-protests , since three foreigners were thought to be involved in the death of a 35-year-old German-Cuban man during a street festival. The murder triggered far-right riots and it led to a national conversation about xenophobia in Germany and police response to far-right violence.

jcg/sms (dpa, AFP)

Austria, Italy propose processing refugees on ships

September 15, 2018

Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said asylum-seekers would be “well looked after on a ship.” Both governments support curbing immigration in their countries and hope to restrict border crossings from Italy.

A boat with over 900 asylum-seekers in Italian waters (picture-alliance/dpa/O. Scardino)

The interior ministers of Austria and Italy backed a proposal that would hold rescued refugees aboard ships in the Mediterranean Sea until their asylum claims were processed. The suggestion was unveiled Friday in Vienna, during a conference on migration between the EU and several African countries, including Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Morocco, Niger, Mali and Tunisia.

“For those who manage to make it into a European state’s territorial waters and are then picked up by a ship, we should use the ships to carry out the appropriate checks on whether they deserve protection,” Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said in a joint press conference with his counterpart, Matteo Salvini.

“You are well looked after on a ship,” Kickl said. He added that the asylum case processing “should last a few days” and that those with no chance of asylum should be denied entry to Europe.

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Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini (R) and his Austrian counterpart Herbert Kickl
Kickl and Salvini said asylum-seekers could have their applications processed before setting foot in Europe

Since migrant routes from Turkey to Greece were largely shut in 2016, asylum-seekers have been following the Mediterranean route to Italy. The new Italian government has made shutting down the route a policy priority.

Austria, which took in more than 1 percent of its population in asylum-seekers in 2015, is currently led by a conservative government that promised to prevent another such influx and has sought to restrict border crossings from Italy.

The Austrian and Italian proposal represented an alternative to the “regional disembarkation platforms,” located in EU Mediterranean ports, which had been discussed by European nations.

Read more: Viktor Orban and Matteo Salvini strive to forge new European anti-migrant alliance

African countries object

Salvini, who has been fervently opposed to refugee rescue ships landing in Italy, said he was “absolutely in favor” of the proposal to hold migrants at sea.

“In fact, I was saying how ironic it was that having held a group of immigrants on a ship in an Italian port for 10 days, an Italian judge placed me under investigation for kidnapping,” Salvini said.

The Italian interior minister was referring to the formal investigation against him for “illegal confinement” after he refused to let more than 100 rescued migrants disembark on Italian soil.

Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska and EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters that the concept of landing platforms was not supported by any of the African participants.

“It’s very hard for a country to accept something like that. Every country has its dignity, and we should recognize that,” said Grande-Marlaska.

Read more: At Spain’s enclave of Ceuta, African refugees dream of Europe

A heated debate in Vienna

At the conference, Salvini spoke frankly about his country’s view of African migrants and Europe’s aging demographic trends.

“I am in government, paid by my fellow citizens, in order to encourage our own young people to have children… and not to uproot the best of Africa’s young people,” Salvini said in a closed-door meeting of EU interior ministers in Vienna, which he posted on his Facebook page to display a spat with the foreign minister of Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn.

Read more: ‘Germany is below average in tackling population decline’

“In Italy, we feel it’s necessary to help our children make more children. And not to have new slaves to replace the children we’re no longer having,” Salvini said.

Asselborn was visibly upset and interjected, to which Salvini retorted, “if you in Luxembourg need more immigration, I prefer to keep Italy for Italians and that we start having children again.”

But Asselborn did not back down: “In Luxembourg, sir, we have dozens of thousands of Italians! They came as migrants, they worked in Luxembourg so you in Italy would have money for your children.”

The caustic exchange reflected the deep fissures between European nations on migrant policy and exposed the challenges the EU faces in reaching a compromise on the matter.

jcg/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

Sir Frank Lowy: Australia ‘moving in the wrong direction’

September 14, 2018

Describing himself as a “boat person” Sir Frank Lowy has used the 15th annual address of the think tank he founded in his family’s name, the Lowy Institute, to call for the nation to reject the insularity that is sweeping western politics and embrace immigration, innovation and infrastructure.

“When I established the institute, I made it very clear that it would not be a platform for my own opinions,” he said last night in a speech introduced by the former foreign minister, Julie Bishop.

By Nick O’Malley

“I have kept that commitment. Until now.”

In the speech Sir Frank described his memories of being a child refugee at the end of World War II.

Sir Frank Lowy

“As a boy I stood at the doorway of our hiding place in Budapest and watched Russian troops fight house by house to liberate the city and therefore rescue us from certain death.”

“I was also aware back then that Britain and the United States were forces for good in the world.

“I remember huddling around the radio with others, waiting for the chimes of Big Ben to signal the start of the BBC broadcast that would tell us what was happening in Europe.

As a teenager I became a boat person – a refugee – as I made my way to Palestine.

Sir Frank Lowy

“I knew that Britain and the United States were beacons of freedom and democracy at a time when my life – and Western civilisation itself – was at grave risk.

“As a teenager I became a boat person – a refugee – as I made my way to Palestine.”

Sir Frank eventually made his way from Israel to Australia at a time when it was deliberately and rapidly expanding its population and made his fortune with Westfield shopping centres.

Describing Australia as blessed by its social harmony, economy, natural resources and geographic location Sir Frank said, “I look at all this and ask: “Why are we so timid? Why are we so quick to assume that we cannot have an impact?”

Sir Frank said he was an unashamed advocate for a “big Australia”.

“But I note that for the first time in the history of Lowy Institute polling, I am in the minority. In the 2018 [Lowy Institute] Poll, 54 per cent of Australians say the total number of migrants coming to Australia is too high.

“There is a rising crescendo of opinion from columnists and politicians saying we should reduce our immigration intake.

“And in the past year our immigration intake has declined. We have gone from migration targets to migration caps. I think we are moving in the wrong direction.”

Sir Frank argued that despite a “chequered” past that included the white Australia policy, Australia still had the best functioning multicultural society on earth.

For Australia’s remarkable prosperity to continue over the coming years it had to maintain the current massive rate of expenditure in infrastructure, he said.

“You might think this is more idealism. I promise you it is pragmatism. Large scale investment in roads, rail, airports, housing, energy, agriculture and digital infrastructure will make a huge difference to our future.”

Finally Sir Frank argued that while such nation building was difficult, “being prime minister of Australia is even tougher”.

No prime minister can push through the reforms we need if they cannot even finish a term in office.

Sir Frank Lowy

He said that Australian democracy needed to be nurtured with care.

“We need to give the prime minister of the day a chance. If he or she cannot win an election, so be it. But no prime minister can push through the reforms we need if they cannot even finish a term in office.”

Sir Frank’s speech marked the first occasion that he had made the institute’s annual address, which in the past had been delivered by figures including prime ministers John Howard and Malcolm Turnbull, former CIA director David Petraeus, as well as the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

See also:

Migrant Frank Lowy urges more immigration

How Republicans Could Still Win

September 14, 2018

A forthcoming poll suggests ways they can persuade voters in swing districts.


Primary election voters at a polling station inside Boston City Hall, Sept. 4.
Primary election voters at a polling station inside Boston City Hall, Sept. 4. PHOTO: CJ GUNTHER/EPA-EFE/REX/SHUTTERST/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

This was a week of gloomy midterm polls for the Republican Party, with a wave of results projecting a Democratic takeover of the House and maybe even the Senate. But not all polls are created equal. If Republicans bother to read just one, it should be a yet-unreleased survey that tells a more nuanced story.

The data come courtesy of the Club for Growth, a conservative outfit that plays to win. The club’s donors expect it to place smart bets in elections, which it can’t do if it relies on feel-good data. It uses WPAi, the data firm that in 2016 found Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson really did have a shot at re-election, then crafted the messages that got him the money and votes for victory.



WPAi just handed the club in-depth polling of the people who matter most this midterm—1,000 likely voters in 41 competitive House districts. The results are quietly making their way to Republican leaders, and the club agreed to give me an advance look. Bottom line: Many of these races are winnable—if Republicans have the courage of their convictions and get smarter in tailoring their messages to voters.

On the surface, the results mirror other recent polls. President Trump has a net-negative approval rating across these districts, with his unfavorable ratings notably high among women (57%), independents (58%) and suburban voters (52%). Those who answered prefer a Democratic Congress that will check Mr. Trump (48%) to electing Republicans who will pass his agenda more quickly (42%). The biggest alarm bell is the 12-point enthusiasm gap—with 72% of Democrats “very interested” in this election, compared with 60% of Republicans. In suburbia, the 12-point gap widens to 24.

Yet this thundercloud has silver linings. One is that Republicans still hold a 3-point lead on the generic ballot in these districts, meaning they have a real chance if they get their likely voters out. An even bigger opening: Approximately 25% of those polled remain “persuadable” to vote Republican—if they hear the right things.

The difficulty is that different voters want to hear different things. Republicans have been touting their tax cuts and the economy, and they should. But the club’s data make clear that uncommitted voters want more than past achievements, or a scary picture of Nancy Pelosi, or excuses for Mr. Trump. They want promises for the future. And yes, they remain wary that Democrats will reverse particular economic reforms.

Which is why the message that resonates most strongly by far with persuadable voters is a Republican promise that they will make permanent last year’s middle-class tax cuts. Rep. Kevin Brady, the Ways and Means Committee chairman, has introduced legislation to do just that—and it’s mind-boggling that Republicans haven’t already scheduled votes. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn’t have 60 Senate supporters, but Republican candidates could use Democratic “no” positions to huge effect in their races.

Likewise, Republicans have an opportunity in highlighting the left’s more doolally ideas. Uncommitted voters reacted strongly against Democrats’ calls to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and strongly in favor of GOP promises to defund “sanctuary” cities and states, which refuse to follow immigration law. These were top messages for those crucial suburban voters, who have watched in alarm as urban violence creeps into their neighborhoods. (Interestingly, the other top suburban message was repealing ObamaCare.)

As for the Republican base, the poll finds they are driven most by Democrats’ threats to the presidency, the economy and constitutional rights. They will be inspired by Republicans who promise to protect the Second Amendment. They are likewise stirred by promises to defend Mr. Trump from the partisan impeachment effort that would inevitably accompany Democratic House control. And they want to hear Republicans vow to guard against intrusive and specific Democratic job-killing proposals—a $15-an-hour minimum wage, regulations on autos and drinking straws, government health care, etc.

What muddies all this clear direction is Mr. Trump’s nationalization of the race—his insistence on making it a referendum on his presidency. Polling suggests the Trump rallies and election talk are a double-edged sword. They turn off voters in the suburbs, where Republicans are already behind in enthusiasm. But they drive votes in rural areas, which react most strongly to impeachment threats.

So the trick for Republicans is to target different microcosms of their districts, tailoring their messages via digital marketing, calls, mailings and events. Some issues, like taxes, resonate everywhere, but for the most part the emphasis and message needs to be entirely different depending on block-by-block geography.

That’s doable, though it breaks with the usual mentality that elections are one thing or another—a positive or a negative campaign, a referendum or a choice. Elections during the Trump presidency, like the presidency itself, will be messy. Republicans who are willing to embrace that mess still have a shot.

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Trump’s campaign manager calls Google a ‘threat to the republic’

September 13, 2018

Brad Parscale, Donald Trump’s campaign manager for the 2020 election, wants Congress to investigate Google following the leak of a video that showed the internet company’s top managers lamenting Trump’s election victory in 2016.

The video was recorded during one of Google’s weekly all hands meetings, known as TGIF meetings, and was leaked to the right-wing Breitbart news site on Wednesday.

Image result for Sundar Pichai, photos

“Let’s face it, most people here are pretty upset and pretty sad because of the election…myself, as a immigrant and refugee I certainly find this election deeply offensive and I know many of you do too,” Google cofounder Sergey Brin is seen saying in the video.

The comments do not appear very different from other critical comments Brin and other Google executives have made following the election, particularly with regards to Trump’s inflammatory campaign rhetoric about immigration and other issues.

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“There is a lot of fear within Google,” CEO Sundar Pichai says in the video. “Many groups, women, blacks, people who are afraid based on religion, people who are afraid because they are not sure of their status, the LGBT community, and i could go on.”

But it’s no secret that many people on Google’s management team, and among the company’s workforce as well as many of those living in Northern California where Google is based, possess left-leaning politics. And the leaked video was quickly seized upon by associates of Trump, who have been leading a drumbeat of accusations about anti-conservative bias within the tech industry.

“Google needs to explain why this isn’t a threat to the republic,” tweeted Parscale, the manager of Trump’s 2020 election campaign.

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Brad Parscale

.@google needs to explain why this isn’t a threat to the Republic. Watch the video. Google believes they can shape your search results and videos to make you “have their values”. Open borders. Socialism. Medicare 4 all. Congressional hearings! Investigate …

4:55 PM – Sep 12, 2018

LEAKED VIDEO: Google Leadership’s Dismayed Reaction to Trump Election

Leaked footage shows Google’s leadership team – including its CEO and Co-founders – reaction to the election of Donald Trump. | Tech
9,658 people are talking about this

Google spokespeople were not immediately available for comment.

A conservative chorus alleging bias

Parscale’s tweet comes amid a full-scale attack by Trump and his allies on Google in the run up to the US mid-term elections. The President took to Twitter two weeks ago and accused Google of rigging search results as part of an effort to silence the voices of people with politically conservative views and to make him look bad.

Trump also alleged that Google had not promoted his state of the union addresses on its famous front door the same way the company had done for former US President Barack Obama. Google refuted the claim and provided evidence that it promoted Trump’s speeches before Congress in the same way as Obama’s.

And as with that claim, there does not appear to be any smoking gun evidence in the video of Google’s internal to back up claims of an anti-conservative bias.

Nowhere on the video does anyone appear to suggest that they can tweak search results so that they can influence people into adopting Google’s values. What most of the managers make clear is that they believe in the democratic system and in the rule of law.

“I’ve been a long-time Hillary (Clinton) supporter,” Ruth Porat, chief financial officer of Google-parent company Alphabet, told Google’s staff during the meeting. “But as Kent (Walker, senior vice president of Global Affairs) said, the most important thing is that I very much respect the outcome of the democratic process and who any one of us voted for is really not the point, because the values held dear at this company transcends politics.”

Sundar Pichai

Google CEO Sundar Pichai at the 2018 Google I/O developer conference.
Greg Sandoval/Business Insider
Google CEO Pichai told his staff that the election reaffirmed his faith in the democratic process.

“It’s important to remember we are in a democratic system,” Pichai said. “It’s heartening to see the proper transition of power… (democracy) tends to make it through ok, and it seems to be better than any other system out there.”

The leaked video violates a Google taboo and is a sign of the turmoil within the company

The fact that a video of the weekly TGIF meeting was leaked underscores the increasingly tumultuous and politicized nature of various factions within the company. The TGIF meetings, in which senior management respond to questions from the staff, is one of Google’s most longstanding and sacrosanct traditions – disclosing what is said in these meetings has long been considered taboo.

Conservative employees at Google rallied around James Damore last year, after he questioned the company’s diversity policies. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, a number of Google insiders have protested the company’s involvement with the military.

As part of a program called Project Maven, Google supplied the US Department of Defense with artificial-intelligence technology that helped analyze drone video footage. That caused an internal revolt that resulted in multiple news leaks, including at least one regarding comments made by managers at all-hands meeting.

Previously, employees who opposed Googles relationship with the military presumably held liberal political views. This time, it appears that those who supplied the video to Breitbart are much more politically conservative.


Germany: Bundestag gets rowdy over far-right violence, immigration

September 12, 2018

MPs are holding a tense debate in the Bundestag in the aftermath of far-right protests in eastern Germany. A pending national budget plan and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies are also in the spotlight.

Merkel and the AfD in the Bundestag (Reuters/H. Hanschke)

Lawmakers in Germany’s lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, gathered for a lively and occasionally bad-tempered debate on Wednesday, with immigration, far-right violence, and the nation’s budget high on the list of issues.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), the largest opposition party in the Bundestag, kicked off the debate by taking aim at German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the government’s criticism of violence at far-right rallies in Chemnitz.

AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland condemned the depiction of protesters who took part in protests in the eastern German city of Chemnitz — many of which were organized by right-wing extremist groups. He described the majority of them as “concerned citizens.”

Gauland speaks in the Bundestag (Reuters/H. Hanschke)AfD parliamentary leader Alexander Gauland rails against the chancellor in the Bundestag

He acknowledged that some protesters did give Hitler salutes during the demonstrations, which is illegal in Germany, but he said that they were “in a minority” and that “the real crime was the bloody act committed by two asylum-seekers in Chemnitz.”

Taking aim at Merkel’s comments on the protests, Gauland said: “Hatred is not a crime.” “Who is endangering public peace in this country? Not us,” he concluded.

‘The means of fascism’

Gauland’s speech drew an extraordinary intervention from Martin Schulz, the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) chancellor candidate from last year, who stood up to accuse the AfD of adopting “the means of fascism” — specifically, the strategy of reducing complex political problems to a single topic, “in general related to a minority in a country.”

“‘Migrants are to blame for everything’ — there have been similar words in this house before,” Schulz said. “It’s time for democracy to defend itself against these people.” His fellow Social Democrats stood up to applaud their former leader’s impassioned statement.

Merkel also pushed back against Gauland’s comments, saying that outrage over a German man’s death cannot justify the violence that took place. “There is no excuse or justification for attacking people who look different,” she said.

Merkel’s speech was then promptly answered by an AfD intervention, from MP Stephan Brandner, chairman of the Bundestag’s justice committee, who called Merkel’s “general statements” about “migrant crime” a “mockery of the victims of your policies.”

The mother of all problems

The leader of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), Christian Lindner, used his speech to rail against both sides. Lindner, who has himself been criticized for making populist right-wing overtures in the past few months, said the German people were tired of seeing the “ritualized” outrage from the AfD being answered by equally routine outrage from the left.

Lindner expressed frustration that political debate in Germany was being reduced to the question of migration. After listing all the things that the government should have done better in its budget (driving digitalization, investing in research and education, unburdening taxpayers), Lindner complained that “we could deepen all these problems, but there’s no point, because once again all we talk about is migration.”

Lindner also addressed Interior Minister Horst Seehofer’s contentious statement that “migration was the mother of all problems,” widely read as an attempt to field the populist right-wing vote ahead of an election in Seehofer’s native Bavaria next month.

“Mr. Seehofer, migration is not the problem,” Lindner said. “The problem is the management of migration, for which your party has also been responsible over the last five years.”

Hungary’s Viktor Orban accuses EU of ‘abuse of power’ — “We have a different picture about the nature of Christianity in Europe.”

September 12, 2018

The Hungarian premier has told EU lawmakers that Brussels’ actions against Budapest “violate the EU treaty.” Viktor Orban is facing pressure to correct measures that have undermined “fundamental values” of the EU.

    Image may contain: 5 people, people standing and suit

Hungary’s Orban defiant as EU lawmakers debate action

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Tuesday told the European Parliament that potential disciplinary measures against his country are a “moral decision” that amount to “abuse of power.”

Under pressure from the European Commission, Orban is facing a vote that could see Hungary lose its voting rights in the bloc for undercutting democracy and EU core values.

Read more: Could Hungary lose its EU voting rights?

Orban said:

  • “I stand here in front of you and I defend my country because, for Hungarians, liberty, democracy, independence and Europe are matters of honor.”
  • “What you are doing here is a slap in the face of the Union”
  • “We have defended Hungary, and we have defended Europe.”
  • “We have a different picture about the nature of Christianity in Europe and the role of nations and cultures in our country.”

‘Between nationalism and Europe’

Judith Sargentini, who launched the debate to sanction Hungary under Article 7 of the EU treaty, said Orban has orchestrated the “structural erosion of the rule of law.”

Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the EU Commission, said “civil society is the very fabric of democratic society and is threatened by measures taken by the Hungarian government.”

Manfred Weber, the German leader of the EU parliament’s conservatives who has signaled his intention to head the EU Commission, said Hungary must decide “between nationalism and Europe.”

Nigel Farage, the former head of the far-right UK Independence Party (UKIP) who led the “No” campaign for the Brexit vote, defended Orban, saying “at least one EU politician is ready to stand up for his principles.” He urged him to “join the Brexit club.”

Other EU lawmakers made clear that possible disciplinary actions against Hungary are “not an attack on the people of Hungary.”

Losing support: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who has long supported Orban’s hard-line stance on refugees, signaled his intention to vote against Hungary. “There are no compromises on the rule of law,” Kurz told ORF television. “Fundamental values have to be protected.”

Why is the EU putting pressure on Hungary? Under Orban, Hungary has witnessed what critics have called an authoritarian turn. The far-right premier has continuously targeted press freedoms, the judiciary’s independence, asylum seekers and non-governmental organizations.

What is Article 7? Article 7 of the EU Treaty allows for the suspension of certain rights of a member state if “there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a member state of the values referred to in Article 2.” Those values comprise “human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.”

Upcoming vote: The European Parliament will vote on Wednesday whether to recommend disciplinary measures against Hungary under Article 7.

ls/aw (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

Includes videos:


Hungary’s Orban vows to defy EU — “Hungary shall not bow to blackmail.”

September 12, 2018

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told the European Parliament on Tuesday he would not bow to EU “blackmail” as lawmakers prepared to vote on whether to punish Budapest for eroding democracy.

Some momentum might have been building against Orban during the evening ahead of the Wednesday vote. But it was still unclear whether the 751-strong European Parliament would be able to muster the two-thirds majority needed to pass the censure motion, which accuses Hungary of breaching core EU values.

© Ludovic Marin, AFP | Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban (L) arrives for an EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia on May 17, 2018.

Since sweeping to power in 2010, Orban has pressured Hungary’s courts, media and non-governmental groups, as well as refusing to take in asylum seekers arriving in Europe. Though the European Union has often protested, it has largely failed to stop what his critics decry as his growing authoritarianism.

>> Can the EU halt the Eastern slide toward authoritarianism?

If approved, the motion would go to the EU’s national leaders, theoretically opening the way for sanctions such as a suspension of Hungary’s voting rights in the bloc.

But in practice that is sure to be blocked by Orban’s ally, the nationalist government in Poland that is locked in its own dispute with the EU over undercutting the rule of law.

Directly addressing EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, Orban cast Wednesday’s vote as an act of revenge for his refusal to host refugees who have fled to Europe from the Middle East and North Africa since 2015.

“Hungary shall not bow to blackmail,” said Orban, whose right-wing Fidesz party was re-elected with a landslide majority last April.

“Hungary shall continue to defend its borders, stop illegal immigration and defend its rights – against you, too, if necessary,” he said, drawing applause from the eurosceptic, far-right lawmakers in the assembly.

Orban has said the mostly Muslim refugees pose an existential threat to Europe’s Christian civilisation. He has also waged a vociferous campaign against Hungarian-born, Jewish American billionaire philanthropist George Soros and the liberal causes he backs in formerly-communist eastern Europe.

Broad criticism

The motion against Orban’s Hungary goes well beyond the migration issue.

The deputy head of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, said on Tuesday he shared its authors’ concerns about “fundamental rights, corruption, the treatment of Roma and the independence of the judiciary” in Hungary under Orban.

Former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, a leading liberal, said Hungary would never have been allowed to join the EU in 2004 had it been back then as it has now become under Orban. The group of leftists and greens in the assembly said “Orban’s authoritarian moves must be curbed”.

Dutch lawmaker Sophie in ‘t Veld urged the EU to consider cutting generous subsidies to Hungary, asking: “Why are we giving Mr Orban 87 million euros a week in order to destroy the European Union?”

Even Orban’s fellow migration hardliner, Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, unexpectedly said his party’s five European lawmakers would vote against Budapest.

“We believe that there can be no compromises on the rule of law and democracy,” Kurz told ORF television.

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Sebastian Kurz

Greek members of the group were planning to do the same.

But Italy’s anti-immigration Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said his League party’s six EU lawmakers would support Orban.

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Matteo Salvini

The parties of Kurz and Orban both belong to the biggest faction in the European Parliament, the conservative European People’s Party (EPP), which also includes lawmakers from the party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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The EPP membership has muted EU reaction to Orban’s policies over the years and the big question mark is what the group’s 217 members will now do.

The vote represents a particular challenge for EPP’s German head Manfred Weber since he announced his bid for the presidency of the EU’s executive Commission next year.

On Tuesday Weber said the EU might need to consider launching the sanctions procedure, under Article 7.1 of the bloc’s Lisbon Treaty, if Budapest did not address the criticisms.

The EPP decided on Tuesday evening that its lawmakers would vote freely without a unified stance from the whole group. Orban might have lost some key allies as EPP lawmakers said their caucus meeting showed many would vote in favour of Article 7.

But the vote was still hard to call.

To become the first-ever case of the European Parliament asking EU capitals to launch the punitive mechanism against one of their own, it must win the backing of at least 376 lawmakers and two thirds of the votes cast.