Posts Tagged ‘immigration’

People Seeking The Safety of Strongly Enforced Human Rights Once Came To The EU — “Today there is not so much enthusiasm.” — “the EU is a fair-weather friend to human rights.”

March 23, 2018

How much does the EU care about human rights?

Human rights groups have criticized the European Union for failing to uphold its values while tackling the migrant crisis. Where are its red lines? Conflict Zone meets European Parliament Vice President Ioan Pascu.

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Watch video26:00

Ioan Pașcu on Conflict Zone

Populist success at the polls across Europe. Brexit. Disunity. The European Union continues to face serious problems on many issues, including its handling of the migrant crisis that began in 2015.

But despite its humanitarian rhetoric, the EU has come under fire for its interventions, most recently in Libya.

In December, Amnesty International published a damning report, criticizing EU member states for “actively supporting a sophisticated system of abuse and exploitation of refugees and migrants by the Libyan Coast Guard, detention authorities and smugglers in order to prevent people from crossing the Mediterranean.”

Is the European Union failing to live up to its founding values of “human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity” that each of its members are bound by?

Red lines

This week on Conflict Zone, DW’s Tim Sebastian met European Parliament Vice President Ioan Pascu in Strasbourg and began by asking him why the EU spent so much time talking about human rights but did less to uphold them.

“It’s a question of values of a club,” Pascu told DW’s Sebastian. “They were posted at the entrance door, whoever wanted to become a member of the club would have to abide by them.”

Responding to the suggestion that member states were failing to abide by these rules, Pascu said: “I would agree with you that the attractiveness of the European Union has been affected by the crisis, by the conflicts around, and today there is not so much enthusiasm as there used to be in the late 90s, beginning of the 2000s.”

But Pascu dismissed that there was anything new in Greece’s decision in June 2017 to block EU criticism of China’s human rights record. China has a 51% stake in Greece’s largest port.

Philippinen - Präsident Rodrigo Duterte (picture alliance/ZUMAPRESS/R. Umali)The EU said its deal with the Philippines would “allow better collaboration … in political, economic and development issues”. Human Rights Watch has said that under President Rodrigo Duterte human rights in the Philippines is in crisis

Pascu disagreed too that the EU was failing to offer help beyond its own borders: “We see countries which up until now did not pay too much attention to the EU, being interested in relations with the EU, take India for instance, take Mexico for instance.”

But wasn’t this only driven by trade interests?

“Who is going to come only for values? Who is going to come only for that?” said Pascu, a former defense minister of Romania.

‘Not a great democrat’

On criticism of a recent agreement with the Philippines, Pascu questioned waiting for another leader: “Because they elected Duterte as president and Duterte is not a great democrat we should say, ‘no deals with you until you elect somebody else’?”

Human Rights Watch has saidPresident Rodrigo Duterte has “plunged the Philippines into its worst human rights crisis since the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.”

“We do have to take into account much more than that. What if we don’t have such a treaty with Philippines tomorrow when they elect somebody else than Duterte?” said Pascu.

On the EU’s statements championing human rights, Pascu said: “It does not mean that the world revolves around only about one action or one leader, and then we have to give up everything else because that leader is not a democrat.”

Zitattafel - Conflict Zone: Ioan Pascu

So does it have limits in its dealings with other countries?

“We do have red lines … In February this parliament was very critical to the human rights records of Egypt.”

The European Parliament issued a statement in February condemning Egypt’s use of the death penalty.

In January, the former president of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, said “the EU is a fair-weather friend to human rights: emphasizing them when there’s little risk, de-emphasizing them when interests come into play – often when it is in the interest of individual member states not to raise issues, primarily for commercial reasons […].”

Pascu, a European Parliament vice president since 2014, questioned this view as too generalized: “Not everything in the European Union is bad. Not everything in the European Union, equally, is not to be criticized. So that’s the way we move forward.”

Spanien Katalonien Unabhängigkeits-
Referendum Poilzei schreitet ein (picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Fernandez)“This argument has been made by all the separatists [in Catalonia], that it was police brutality,” Ioan Pascu told Conflict Zone. Human Rights Watch said that Spanish police had used excessive force during Catalonia’s independence referendum

‘Violence can be provoked’

But if there are many matters of division within the Union, one moment of recent unity has arguably been its silence over Spain and Madrid’s response to Catalonia’s failed independence bid.

Human Rights Watch said the Spanish police had used excessive force as they tried to stop the referendum in Catalonia.

Pascu told DW’s Tim Sebastian: “I side with the [Spanish] government because the government has the responsibility to make their constitution respected by their citizens. If that happens in another country the same situation will happen. Why do you think that these separatists have not been supported in Europe?”

However, Pascu insisted that support for Spain was not about the country’s importance to the EU: “It’s the symbolism of it. If you let these things happen and go around, then you never have the member states existing in the European Union.”

And if there was more violence in Spain over an independence vote?

“Sometimes violence can be provoked. Sometimes it can,” said Pascu.


Italy seizes migrant rescue ship — Owned by Spanish non-governmental organisation — Impounded on suspicion it was aiding illegal immigration

March 19, 2018


© AFP | Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms spoke to the media in Spain after its rescue boat was impounded in Italy

ROME (AFP) – Italian authorities impounded a migrant rescue boat operated by a Spanish non-governmental organisation on suspicion it was aiding illegal immigration, the NGO said Monday.

The group, Proactiva Open Arms, said on Twitter its boat was being kept at the Sicilian port of Pozzallo, where it docked on Saturday after rescuing more than 200 people off the coast of Libya.

A Sicilian prosecutor’s office was quoted by Italian media as saying it had opened an investigation against the NGO and impounded the boat.

On Thursday, the rescue ship went to the aid of two boats that were in difficulty 73 miles off the Libyan coast, after being alerted by the Italian coastguard.

But Italian authorities then informed the Spanish group’s ship that the Libyan coastguard was in charge and a Libyan coastguard speedboat soon arrived at the scene.

In such cases, the Libyan coastguard frequently intervenes before a rescue ship sent by the Italian authorities arrives.

But an NGO spokeswoman said it was the first time that Italy had actually asked a humanitarian ship to participate in an operation coordinated by Tripoli.

If the rescue is coordinated by Tripoli, the migrants will be sent back to Libya instead of being taken to Italy.

For this reason, the Open Arms vessel refused to hand over the rescued migrants and headed north instead, evacuating a mother and her newborn child in Malta, because they were in need of urgent care.

The ship then arrived in Italy and was allowed to dock on Saturday by the authorities because of the “frail condition of the migrants on board.”

According to organisations such as the United Nations Refugee Agency, migrants face appalling conditions in Libya.

A 22-year-old Eritrean, rescued at sea by the Open Arms ship last week after spending 18 months in detention in Libya, died from severe malnutrition just hours after landing in Sicily.

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)

Germany: Is Islam Part of German Culture? Ministers Respond to Seehofer’s “Islam doesn’t belong to Germany.”

March 17, 2018

Chancellor Merkel led the response to the new interior minister’s remarks, saying the 4 million Muslims living in Germany and their religion belong in the country. SPD ministers called for practical integration measures.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and Chancellor Angela Merkel

New Interior Minister Horst Seehofer had told Bild newspaper “Islam doesn’t belong to Germany,” but added that “the Muslims who live with us are, of course, part of Germany.”

Seehofer, a former head of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), has always held a harder line on immigration than his coalition partners in Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU). The CSU also faces state elections in October in which the Alternative for Germany (AfD), anti-immigrant party presents a challenge.

Asked about Seehofer’s remarks, Merkel said on Friday that while Germany was shaped by its Judeo-Christian heritage “there are 4 million Muslims living in Germany.”

“They can live their religion here, too,” the chancellor said. “These Muslims belong to Germany and in the same way their religion belongs to Germany, that is to say Islam.” She added that the form of Islam practiced must conform to the country’s constitution.

belongs to Germany.”

Chancellor reacts to a controversial interview by Interior Minister :

Read moreNet migration to Germany sank by half in 2016: statistics office

SPD ministers look to practicalities

Three Social Democratic Party (SPD) ministers reacted to Seehofer’s comments, calling for practical solutions rather than divisive debate.

Federal Justice Minister Katarina Barley proposed an end to theoretical debate on the affiliation of Islam to Germany. “Theoretical debates have been going on for long enough,” Barley told Saturday’s edition of the Rheinische Post. Instead, the focus should be on practical solutions for problems: “As far as our values are concerned, this is and remains the fundamental law – the basis of our coexistence.”

Family Minister Franziska Giffey expressed a similar sentiment: “Local debates do not help at all,” she said during an interview with broadcaster ZDF. The focus should be on organizing the people who live in Germany, whatever their origin or religion, so they can live together and shape society’s social peace.


'Merkel contradicts Seehofer' was the Bild headline after his remarks‘Merkel contradicts Seehofer’ was the Bild headline after his remarks were put on the front page

Seehofer accused of electioneering

Labor Minister Hubertus Heil told Funke Media Group newspapers on Saturday, “We have to talk about work and education and about rules for our coexistence.”

“The debate that Horst Seehofer is continuing serves no substantive purpose and is being used to create a particular atmosphere ahead of the state election in Bavaria,” he said. Bavarians will vote for a state parliament in October.

Heil called for “fair chances and clear rules” for immigrants under the rule of law. He spoke out against any form of extremism but said that religious freedom existed in Germany and that included “the people of the Muslim faith” who also belonged to Germany.

Saturday’s newspapers in Germany also commented extensively on Seehofer’s remarks. Most focused on Seehofer’s use of his new role as federal interior minister to make political points ahead of his state election.

jm/sms (Reuters, dpa, AP)


Lessons From the Rise of America’s Irish

March 15, 2018

They arrived dirt poor and uneducated in the 1840s. After decades of struggle, they achieved prosperity.

Riders pass St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City during the St. Patrick's Day parade on March 17, 2017.
Riders pass St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City during the St. Patrick’s Day parade on March 17, 2017. PHOTO: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES

Every year in the runup to St. Patrick’s Day, the Census Bureau releases a demographic profile of Irish-Americans. For anyone familiar with the arduous history of the Irish in this country, the progress report is an annual reminder of America’s ability to assimilate newcomers in search of a better life.

It was the potato famine that began driving large numbers of Irish to leave home in the late 1840s. This migration, along with mass starvation and disease, would eventually cost Ireland around a third of its population. Some went to Great Britain, but the overwhelming majority came to America. Today the number of Americans of Irish descent (32.3 million) is nearly seven times as large as the population of Ireland (4.7 million).

The peasants fleeing Ireland had a shorter life expectancy than slaves in the U.S., many of whom enjoyed healthier diets and better living quarters. Most slaves slept on mattresses, while most poor Irish peasants slept on piles of straw. The black scholar W.E.B. Du Bois wrote that freed slaves were poor by American standards, “but not as poor as the Irish peasants.”

The Irish who left for America were packed into the unused cargo space of wind-driven ships returning to the U.S., and the voyage could take up to three months, depending on weather. These cargo holds weren’t intended to carry passengers, and the lack of proper ventilation and sanitation meant that outbreaks of typhus, cholera and other fatal diseases were common. Emigrants slept on 3-by-6-foot shelves, which one observer described as “still reeking from the ineradicable stench left by the emigrants of the last voyage.”

In 1847, 19% of the Irish emigrants died on their way to the U.S. or shortly after arriving. By comparison, the average mortality rate on British slave ships of the period was 9%. Slave-owners had an economic incentive to keep slaves alive. No one had such an interest in the Irish.

The 19th-century immigrants from Europe usually started at the bottom, both socially and economically, and the Irish epitomized this trend. Irish men worked as manual laborers, while Irish women were domestic servants. But not all ethnic groups rose to prosperity at the same rate, and the rise of the Irish was especially slow. They had arrived from a country that was mostly rural, yet they settled in cities like Boston and New York, working “wherever brawn and not skill was the chief requirement,” as one historian put it. In the antebellum South, the Irish took jobs—mining coal, building canals and railroads—considered too hazardous even for slaves.

In the 1840s, New York City’s population grew 65%. By midcentury, more than half of the city’s residents were immigrants, and more than a quarter of those newcomers had come from Ireland. At the time, half of New York’s Irish workforce and nearly two-thirds of Boston’s were either unskilled laborers or domestic servants. “No other contemporary immigrant group was so concentrated at the bottom of the economic ladder,” writes Thomas Sowell in his classic work, “Ethnic America.”

It wasn’t just a lack of education and urban job skills that slowed the progress of the Irish in America. So did social pathology and discrimination. The Irish were known for drinking and brawling. Irish gangs were common. When an Irish family moved into a neighborhood, property values fell and other residents fled. Political cartoonists gave Irishmen dark skin and simian features. Anti-Catholic employers requested “Protestant” applicants. Want ads read: “Any color or country except Irish.”

Yet none of these obstacles proved insurmountable. Charitable organizations, such as the Irish Emigrant Society, emerged. Temperance societies formed to address alcoholism. The Catholic Church took a leading role in tackling poverty, illiteracy and other social problems through the creation of orphanages and hospitals and schools. For millions of Irish immigrants, the church was not simply a place of worship. It was the focal point of the community.

According to the Census Bureau, today’s Irish-Americans boast poverty rates far below the national average and median incomes far exceeding it. The rates at which they graduate from high school, complete college, work in skilled professions, and own homes are also better than average. What’s so remarkable about this social and economic trajectory among the Irish is how many times it has been replicated among other immigrant groups.

Whether this kind of upward mobility is still possible today given the changes to our economy and culture is an open question. My guess is that it’s still possible but more difficult—not because of our modern economy, but because of our modern attitudes toward assimilation. The type of Americanization of newcomers that once was encouraged is now rejected by activists who push for bilingual education, Spanish-language ballots and the like. The multiculturalists have turned assimilation into a dirty word. Perhaps they’re the ones we should be deporting.

Appeared in the March 14, 2018, print edition.

Kushner Heads to Mexico After Trump’s Trade and Border Wall Tirades

March 7, 2018


March 7, 2018

Kushner will visit Mexico on Wednesday and meet President Enrique Peña Nieto amid strained relations over trade and Trump’s demands that Mexico pay for a border wall

FILE PHOTO: Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser, listens during the Brookings Saban Forum in Washington, D.C., December 3, 2017.
FILE PHOTO: Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser, listens during the Brookings Saban Forum in Washington, D.C., December 3, 2017. Bloomberg

Senior adviser to U.S. President Donald TrumpJared Kushner, will visit Mexico on Wednesday and meet President Enrique Peña Nieto, amid strained relations over trade and Trump’s demands that Mexico pay for a border wall.

The visit by Trump’s son-in-law comes after Trump and Peña Nieto late last month postponed plans for the Mexican leader’s first visit to the White House.

The Mexican foreign ministry announced Kushner’s trip in a statement late on Tuesday. A senior U.S. administration official confirmed the visit, adding that meetings will focus on security, immigration and trade, among other issues.

Trump wants Mexico to pay for the wall he wants built to keep out illegal immigrants. Mexico’s leaders have consistently rejected the demand, and the planned White House summit was postponed following a telephone call between the two leaders that turned sour over Trump’s insistence.

On Monday, as the latest round of the negotiations over a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) were wrapping up, Trump repeated that the trade deal was bad for the United States and that Mexico was not doing enough to stop drugs flowing into the country.

Kushner is a top foreign policy adviser, but has recently lost access to the most valued U.S. intelligence report, U.S. officials told Reuters last week.

Some analysts in Mexico view the visit as a chance to repair a key U.S. relationship and for Kushner to prove his usefulness to the White House.

Read more: The Downfall of Crown Prince Kushner – Opinion

“I see it as one of the few things of consequence that he can do that don’t require security clearance,” said Agustin Barrios Gomez, a former federal congressman and head of the working group on the future of U.S.-Mexico relations at the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations.

Mexican officials did not say whether the plans for a Trump-Peña Nieto summit was on the agenda.

Accompanied on his visit by other U.S. diplomats and security officials, the foreign ministry statement said Kushner will also meet Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray.

Among Peña Nieto’s closest advisers, Videgaray helped orchestrate then-candidate Trump’s visit to Mexico in 2016, a trip that was widely panned in Mexico as the Mexican president failed to confront the New York businessman and reality TV star over his anti-Mexican rhetoric on the campaign trail.


FILE PHOTO: U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto shake hands at a press conference at the Los Pinos residence in Mexico City, August 31, 2016.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto shake hands at a press conference at the Los Pinos residence in Mexico City, August 31, 2016. HENRY ROMERO/ REUTERS

Videgaray lost his job as finance minister over the trip’s fallout, but was later appointed foreign minister after Trump’s surprise win in the U.S. presidential election.

Videgaray has maintained close ties with Kushner ever since, including several high-profile visits to Washington, most recently an unsuccessful effort to try to broker a Trump-Peña Nieto meeting.

Despite Trump’s sharp criticism of Mexico and its migrants, Videgaray said last month during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that ties between the two countries were closer than during the previous U.S. administration.

The bilateral relationship was again rocked last weekend as Trump announced plans for tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum that he later said served as an incentive to reach a favorable NAFTA re-negotiation.

Trump has repeatedly blamed the pact for the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs and has threatened to quit it unless it can be reworked to better suit U.S. interests.

Trump’s remarks on trade have unsettled financial markets, often causing the Mexico’s peso currency to shed value.

Europe’s Fragile Center Takes New Blows

March 5, 2018

Italian parliamentary vote, German coalition deal reflect populists’ advances, wider dissatisfaction with establishment

Dietmar Nietan, treasurer of Germany’s Social Democrats party, and SPD members look on as Olaf Scholz, interim SPD leader speaks about the decision to join a coalition government with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives on March 4 at SPD headquarters in Berlin. Photo: john macdougall/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

By Marcus Walker
The Wall Street Journal
March 4, 2018 7:35 p.m. ET

ROME—Europe’s months of electoral showdowns between mainstream and populist parties have ended with the establishment weakened in Germany and defeated in Italy—and trouble brewing for both countries.

A new bipartisan governing pact sealed Sunday in Germany could further fuel voter discontent with longtime incumbents in the European Union’s most important country, potentially sapping Chancellor Angela Merkel’s authority in what is expected to be her final term.

Germany’s center-left Social Democrats said rank-and-file members had approved joining a coalition led by Ms. Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats. The country is expected to have a new government by mid-March, ending an unprecedented political paralysis since September’s national elections, when a fragmented vote exposed a decline in support for traditional parties.

Meanwhile antiestablishment, EU-skeptic parties won about half the vote in Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Italy, leaving the shape of the next government murky. Backlashes against immigration, the euro’s fiscal constraints and politicians decried as corrupt boosted support for populists such as the antiestablishment 5 Star Movement and the right-wing Lega.

A populist-led government appeared possible, albeit politically challenging, given the 5 Star’s strong performance. Lengthy wrangling is expected.

The weekend’s events capped a year of elections in which the EU’s broadly centrist governing establishment faced its strongest-ever challenges from insurgent movements, ranging from far-right nationalists to far-left anticapitalists. The outcome: The center’s hold is slipping, and its enemies are here to stay.

At stake is the survival of Europe’s order since the end of the Cold War, based on steadily deeper economic and political integration among liberal democracies ruled by pragmatic, postideological elites. That model faces challenges from the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU, along with authoritarian tendencies in some of the EU’s eastern members such as Hungary and Poland. The assumption of power by nationalists and other populists in the EU’s founder countries in Western Europe would greatly increase those centrifugal pressures.

Whether Europe’s insurgents grow stronger in coming years, and how much pressure they put on the EU’s cohesion, depends in large part on whether mainstream politicians can win back ordinary Europeans’ trust. That would require tackling issues such as economic inequality and the stifled opportunities for young people, barely controlled immigration that is spreading fears about security and cultural identity, and a pervasive perception that technocratic elites are offering voters little choice, hollowing out democracy.

The battle also hinges on how well Europe heals from the economic and migration crises of recent years, which did much to inflame popular discontent. A belated but spreading economic recovery is one source of hope for the establishment. So, too, are stronger efforts to tighten immigration policies. Mainstream conservatives in countries such as Austria, the Netherlands and Germany have sought to stem the influx of people from Europe’s poor and war-ravaged neighboring continents that was proving politically destabilizing.


  • No Winner Emerges in Italy Election
  • What Happens Next After Italian Vote
  • Merkel’s Fourth Term Likely Her Last as Chancellor
  • Europe’s Center Holds, but Just Barely
  • Stocks Weak as Markets Digest Italian Elections

“The center is shifting right in response to non-European immigration. The nation-state will take back some of its powers from the EU, notably control over borders,” said Josef Joffe, a senior fellow at Stanford University and publisher of German weekly newspaper Die Zeit. “As Europe shifts rightward, populism will be absorbed and contained.”

Others aren’t so sure. “Our mainstream politicians aren’t learning,” said Cas Mudde, a specialist on populism at the University of Georgia. Some think economic growth alone will save them, while others are betting on copying populists’ messages, he said.

Italian populist parties won close to 50% of the vote in Sunday’s elections according to exit polls. In 2008 elections, antiestablishment parties won barely 15%. Italy’s adherence to unpopular EU rules, including its curbs on budget deficits and on government aid for small savers when banks fail, could come under increasing pressure.

Whether Italy benefits or suffers more from the euro has become contested in this once staunchly pro-EU country, even though populist parties have lately backed away from demanding a referendum on the euro.

Those populist parties might be able to form a governing majority in Italy’s new parliament, depending on the final seat count. In practice, though, it is unclear whether the 5 Star Movement would be sufficiently willing to share power to entice others to cooperate.

Italy shows how populists can drive the national debate even in opposition. “They don’t need to win to force the mainstream onto the back foot, making them reactive,” said Wolf Piccoli of political risk consultancy Teneo Intelligence in London.

Germany’s bipartisan coalition between Ms. Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats, or SPD, will be the third such pactsince 2005. Back then, the two long-dominant parties had around 70% of voters’ support. Now it has declined to barely 50% in recent opinion polls. Many people in both parties have strong reservations about the new governing pact because they fear it will strengthen the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, now Germany’s largest opposition party.

SPD members approved the coalition pact partly because they feared new elections would decimate the party, which is suffering a long-term decline along with many other moderate-left parties in Europe.

Many Christian Democrats aren’t happy either, blaming Ms. Merkel’s consensus-oriented, centrist style for alienating conservative voters. The discontent on the party’s right and September’s weak election result are likely to constrain Ms. Merkel’s authority in negotiating overhauls to the EU with France’s President Emmanuel Macron in coming months.

Mr. Macron is pushing for deeper integration and mutual economic support among eurozone countries. He swept France’s elections last year on a centrist, strongly pro-EU platform, defeating a nationalist, EU-skeptic opposition. EU elites greeted the French outcome with relief and enthusiasm.

France increasingly looks like Europe’s exception, however. The fragmented politics of Germany and Italy appear to be Europe’s new norm.

Write to Marcus Walker at

Congress looks for more clarity from Trump as it weighs response to Florida school shootings

February 28, 2018

President Trump pauses as he listens to people recount stories of the school shooting in South Florida during a listening session with high school students and teachers at The White House on Feb. 21. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

The Washington Post
February 27 at 7:39 PM
Ahead of a bipartisan meeting at the White House, Capitol Hill struggles to coalesce around a response to the school shooting in Florida.

President Trump has backed off his call on raising the minimum age for rifle purchases — or at least that’s what Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) believes.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), meanwhile, thinks the administration is seriously weighing expanding background checks for gun purchases. Yet Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.), a close ally of the White House who has spoken with Trump on the issue, has personally gotten no such indication.

Lawmakers, in other words, have no real idea what Trump wants from them on gun policy in the wake of the massacre at a South Florida high school.

“It’s really unclear what they’re for and what they’re not for,” Murphy, one of the most prominent gun-control advocates on Capitol Hill, said Tuesday. “I don’t think there’s a secret agenda that they have not released. I think it’s just hard. I think they’re trying to figure it out.”

In advance of the bipartisan gun summit at the White House on Wednesday, lawmakers are searching for signals from the administration on how it wants Congress to respond to the Feb. 14 shooting and how serious Trump is about the various proposals he has floated in the days since 17 people were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

There is also an open question in Congress over how much Trump will actually affect the debate, with some Senate leaders pushing for more guidance from the president given his continuing focus on the shootings, while other top senators are skeptical that any guidance from the mercurial president — such as during the stalemate on immigration — will ultimately matter much.

Trump and his senior aides have publicly floated several gun-related proposals since the shooting in Parkland, including legislation to encourage agencies to report relevant information to a federal database used to screen potential gun buyers, banning devices known as “bump stocks” and arming teachers, a controversial proposal Trump has emphasized in his public remarks.

Trump has also discussed raising the minimum age for rifle purchases to 21, despite opposition from the National Rifle Association — a policy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that the president still supports for “certain firearms.”

The White House has invited an assortment of lawmakers to Wednesday’s meeting, including Murphy; Cornyn; Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who co-authored a universal background checks measure in 2013; and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, who wrote the 1994 assault weapons ban.

Sanders said the administration plans to release some policy proposals this week, probably giving some clarity to the GOP-led Congress on where Trump wants to focus and whether there will be any areas of tension between the White House and congressional Republicans — particularly the most conservative lawmakers.

“The president, as you know, has made a number of statements over the past few days,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the third-ranking Senate Republican. “Him weighing in probably matters quite a bit with a lot of members, and, you know, what he would like to see done. But the Congress is going to work its will on this, like it usually does.”

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a close Trump ally, said lawmakers want Trump to take the lead on the gun debate.

“I don’t think there’s any consensus whatsoever that there’s anything on, quote, gun control,” Collins said. “We’re an independent body, and we will do what our members think is best.” But, he added, “I would say the president’s leadership on this is going to be key; there’s no doubt.”

Republican leaders have been hesitant to weigh in publicly on how to respond to the Parkland shootings until they know where Trump stands and what policies could be supported by their members.

On Tuesday, neither Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) nor other House GOP leaders would commit to holding a vote on modest gun-related measures that have broad bipartisan support. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to pass the Fix NICS Act, meant to improve reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. He also began promoting a separate proposal from Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) that would provide grants to states for school safety programs, including training to identify threats and improving physical security through such things as improved locks on classroom doors.

The House passed a version of the Fix NICS measure in December, in conjunction with a controversial provision that would force states to recognize concealed-carry licenses from other states. The Senate is exploring passing the background check proposal as a stand-alone measure as soon as this week, but Ryan would not say Tuesday whether he would bring that bill or a ban on bump stocks — devices that allow a semiautomatic rifle to mimic the rapid fire of an automatic weapon — up for a vote.

“We’re waiting to see what the Senate can do,” he said, adding, “We obviously think the Senate should take our whole bill, but if the Senate cannot do that, then we’ll discuss and cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Cornyn said that he spoke with Trump over the weekend and that the president has “a lot of ideas” but that he hasn’t discussed with him any legislation on background checks broader than the Fix NICS Act. Murphy, meanwhile, said he thinks the White House would be willing to go beyond the bare-bones bill for a more expansive background-check measure.

“There’s something stirring over there on background checks,” Murphy said. “I just haven’t exactly figured out what it is yet.”

Democrats said that after years on inaction in Congress following mass shootings, they believe there is momentum to do something substantive and that even members from states and districts where restrictions on gun purchases have traditionally been unpopular are feeling emboldened.

“Not every Democrat will run on banning assault weapons, but every Democrat should be running on background checks,” Murphy said. “Background checks is popular in every state and every congressional district, it’s a loser for Republicans everywhere.”

While lawmakers are left waiting for the administration’s policy proposals, they’re doing their own pitching.

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), who wrote the doomed background checks measure with Manchin five years ago, spoke directly with Trump earlier Tuesday and is urging him to get behind the duo’s legislation to expand background checks to gun shows and online sales. Trump was “listening,” Toomey said simply of the president’s reception of their idea.

Meanwhile, Hatch has discussed his school safety bill with White House officials. “They’re interested,” he said Tuesday.

In coordination with the departments of Education and Health and Human Services, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is working on his own proposal to bolster security at schools, such as by encouraging additional school counselors, a spokeswoman said.

The White House has sought in some instances to feel out what types of legislation may get introduced by lawmakers who have spoken publicly about how Washington should respond to the latest school shooting.

After Roberts said last week that he would support increasing the minimum age to purchase certain rifles to 21, the administration contacted him and asked whether he planned to introduce legislation along those lines, the senator recalled Tuesday.

Roberts said he wasn’t, and added, “I think they’ve backed off it now, though.”

But Trump has discussed raising the purchasing age for rifles with Cornyn, according to the Texas Republican, who isn’t eager to support the idea but said he could probably live with it as part of a bigger gun package.

An unpredictable factor in the ongoing debate are the surviving students from Stoneman Douglas, who have taken a visible role in pushing officials to take action and enact new gun restrictions.

Eight of the students took their case to Capitol Hill this week, culminating in a private meeting Tuesday with Ryan. The students were joined in the meetings by Rep. Ted Deutch, the Democrat who represents the district that includes the school. He described a frank meeting in which Ryan acknowledged that some of the more ambitious gun restrictions the students are advocating — such as a ban on military-style semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity magazines — would not pass the Republican Congress.

But, according to Deutch, Ryan said he was interested in quickly bringing consensus legislation to the House floor on issues such as background checks and school security. Deutch is a co-sponsor alongside Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.), a former county sheriff, of a school safety bill unveiled Tuesday that would provide federal aid for security and prevention measures.

“Look, I’ve been very clear about what I think needs to happen, but I’ve also been clear that it’s important that we show that we can act and that we can take steps forward,” Deutch said. “This is a bipartisan piece of legislation. If we can’t come together around something that already has bipartisan support, I’m not sure where we can.”

In a statement released after the meeting, Ryan thanked the students for sharing their experiences and said they “had an important discussion about how to keep our kids and our schools safe.”

“We will continue to work to find common ground on solutions that can help prevent the kind of senseless violence these students endured,” he said.

Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.

Shedding past scandals, Berlusconi barrels ahead with comeback — “He’s constantly on TV or the radio.”

February 25, 2018


© AFP / by Céline CORNU | Silvio Berlusconi wowed supporters of his Forza Italia party ahead of elections next week

MILAN (AFP) – Sidestepping sex scandals, serial gaffes and legal woes, Silvio Berlusconi’s astonishing return to frontline politics rolled on Sunday at a party gathering where adoring supporters feted the billionaire mogul as Italy’s next kingmaker.Berlusconi, dressed in black with oiled-back hair and a dayglo smile, spoke for more than two hours at the event in Milan, beguiling the audience just a week before general elections with his trademark mix of populist rhetoric and baudy humour.

“He’s an exceptional man,” said Elga Morati, a 70-year-old retired nurse. “He’s a real pillar of Italy, someone blessed by the gods.”

Although barred from public office owing to a tax fraud conviction, Berlusconi is hoping to position himself as a key dealmaker in the next government if his coalition wins a majority in parliament on March 4.

An average of the last major opinion polls suggested Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition — which includes his Forza Italia (Go Italy) party, The League and the far-right Brothers of Italy — could finish on top.

While surveys suggest the two time divorcee derives much of his support from the older generation, there was no shortage of young cheerleaders on Sunday.

“He’s young on the inside,” said Giuseppe Porta, a 20-year-old student. “The election campaign proves it: he’s constantly on TV or the radio.”

For Simone de Giorgio, also 20, Berlusconi — whose media empire dovetailed with a career in politics and his ownership of footballing giant AC Milan — is a peerless operator.

“Whatever he does, he’s always shown he’s number one: in business, television, football, politics… he’s a phenomenon.”

The former cruise ship singer was Italy’s longest-serving post-war prime minister until a blaze of sleaze scandals and fears of a Greek-style financial collapse ended his stint in power in 2011.

Two years later he was forced out of parliament after his conviction for corporate tax fraud was upheld by Italy’s highest court and he was sentenced to seven years in jail for paying for sex with a 17-year-old prostitute, though that conviction was later overturned.

– ‘Persecuted’ by judges –

Although the man the Italian press calls “the knight” has been unable to escape the clutches of judges determined to see him go down, Berlusconi’s return to the political bigtime is just the latest in a string of improbable comebacks.

And he has even managed to make an asset of his history of legal woes, with supporters claiming attempts to prosecute the Forza Italia leader amount to politicised justice.

“In Italy, part of the judiciary is always involved in politics and judges have persecuted him because he’s always won elections,” said De Giorgio.

“What he’s suffered has been outrageous, immoral,” added retired businessman Giacomo Zecchini.

Ruling Italy for a total of nine years between 1994 and 2011, Berlusconi became renowned for his buffoonish gaffes, friendships with the likes of late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi, and a colourful private life epitomised by his notorious “bunga bunga” sex parties.

But for Raimando Suriano, 76, such longevity is a sign that the gaffe-prone ex-premier belongs in power.

“Berlusconi is the most solid, the most prepared, and he’s got the most experience,” he said.

by Céline CORNU

Labour wants new customs union treaty after Brexit – Starmer — Archbishop of Canterbury urges British society to change, to create “a richer way of life”

February 25, 2018

BBC News

Image may contain: 1 person, suit and outdoor

Keir Starmer on BBC February 25, 2018

Jeremy Corbyn is to confirm a shift in the Labour Party’s position on remaining in the customs union after Brexit, Sir Keir Starmer has indicated.

The shadow Brexit secretary said Labour’s front bench was “unanimous” in its backing for striking a new deal with the EU after Brexit.

The UK would leave the customs union but then negotiate a treaty that will “do the work of the customs union”.

Mr Corbyn is due to make a speech on Monday setting out Labour’s position.

Asked on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show how the UK could strike its own trade deals if it is in a customs union, Mr Starmer said: “We will have to have say.”

“How that is done will have to be negotiated,” he added.

Speaking on the same programme, Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, said the UK can only strike its own trade deals if it is not part of a customs union.

More than 80 senior figures in the Labour Party have, meanwhile, urged Mr Corbyn to commit to remaining in the EU single market after Brexit.

The group of MPs, MEPs, council leaders and trade unionists say investment plans cannot be funded if the UK retracts its membership.

In a statement seen by the Observer, figures including Lord Mandelson and trade union leaders Bill Morris and Tony Young said the party as a minimum “must clearly and unambiguously” set out to remain part of the European economic area.

They added that “if we want to build a modern, low-carbon economy that protects workers and tackles tax avoidance, we will only achieve it through collaboration and frictionless trade with our nearest neighbours.”

This is “the only way” of keeping existing benefits, they said.

Although they regard Mr Corbyn’s expected commitment on Monday as a “step forward”, they said this falls “way short” of where Labour should be on Brexit.

The group added: “We can only properly fund services, schools, hospitals, social care and international development if our businesses thrive and our economy grows.”

The Labour leader has previously said membership of the single market is dependent on EU membership.

He came under pressure in the summer and committed to a policy of staying in the single market and the customs union for a “transitional” period.

Mr Corbyn said some form of customs union would need to be in place after Brexit but suggested existing arrangements needed improvements.

‘Streamlined’ customs checks

In a position paper published in August, the UK set out two potential options for future long-term customs operations.

A “partnership” arrangement would see the UK “align precisely” with the EU in terms of imports and exports, removing the need for any customs checks between the two.

The UK would continue to operate its own checks on goods coming from outside the EU – and safeguards would be needed to prevent goods entering the EU that had not complied with its rules.

An alternative scenario would involve the UK extending customs checks to EU arrivals but under a “highly streamlined arrangement” to minimise disruption at ports and airports.

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury has called for “solidarity, courage, aspiration and resilience” as the UK heads towards Brexit.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, the Most Rev Justin Welby said while the future remains uncertain “we must heal the divisions caused by the vote and accept the dissenting voice as well as the majority”.

Referring to immigration, he added that while integration is important, British society must also change, to create “a richer way of life”.


Justin Welby warns of divisive Brexit and crushing austerity

Archbishop of Canterbury calls for new narrative based on solidarity and resilience

Austerity is “crushing the weak” and Brexit has divided the country, the archbishop of Canterbury has warned. In a dramatic assessment of the state of the country, Justin Welby said there is a danger of a “schism” in society that the most vulnerable are falling into.

The Anglican leader issued a plea for Britons to be “generous” in adapting to newcomers to the country and called for people to show “care for each other”.

In an article for the Mail on Sunday, he raised concerns about the government’s austerity drive.

Welby wrote: “Brexit has divided the country and now we need a new narrative. One that is rooted in all that is best in our history – solidarity, courage, aspiration, resilience and care for each other.

“There is a danger that there is a schism in our society into which the most vulnerable are falling. Austerity is crushing the weak, the sick and many others.”

Welby, who backed the remain campaign in the EU referendum, called for tolerance. He said: “Welcoming strangers to our own country and integrating them into our own culture is important.

“We must be generous and allow ourselves to change with the newcomers and create a deeper, richer way of life.”

The archbishop also called on the government to tackle the housing crisis and warned of the importance of creating new communities. He added: “We must build proper homes – and have a housing policy that is about creating communities, not just bricks and mortar.”