Posts Tagged ‘immigration’

A month before France votes, undecideds in the lead

March 28, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Marie WOLFROM | More than 40 percent of French voters have yet to decide how they will cast their ballot, with less than a month to go
LA FERTÉ-SAINT-AUBIN (FRANCE) (AFP) – Having a flutter on the horses in his local bar, Eric Belouet picks his favourites without hesitation. But when it comes to France’s presidential election, he can’t make up his mind.

“Really, I can’t,” said the 59-year-old, his eyes on the TV screen broadcasting the races. “I’m on the right. But for Francois Fillon, it’s over.”

Belouet, a former funeral goods salesman who lives in the little town of La Ferte-Saint-Aubin in central France, said “the door had been wide open” for Fillon to become president when the country votes in the two-round election on April 23 and May 7.

But that was before Fillon’s campaign was rocked by multiple scandals over expenses and conflicts of interest, including allegations that he paid his wife for years as a parliamentary assistant with little evidence that she did any work.

Unable to forgive Fillon, Belouet finds himself among the 40 percent of voters who have yet to decide how they’ll vote with less than a month to go — or even if they’ll show up on election day at all.

It is the highest rate of indecision France has ever seen at this point in a presidential campaign, and adds yet another element of uncertainty to one of the most unpredictable elections in living memory.

For Anne Jadot, a political science professor at the University of Lorraine, it is the string of scandals and surprises in the campaign so far that have left so many voters on the fence.

“This has created a lot of uncertainty and unexpected developments, so we’re talking less about the issues and policies,” Jadot told AFP.

– Going fishing –

La Ferte-Saint-Aubin was divided at the last election in 2012, voting narrowly for rightwinger Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of the eventual winner Francois Hollande.

Five years on, many in the quiet red-brick town of 7,400 people, at the edge of the hunting forests of Solognes, could hardly be bothered with politics in this election cycle.

“At the outdoor market, only one person in 20 talks to me about the presidential election,” says Constance de Pelichy, the town’s conservative mayor.

“It’s worrying, because that shows a lack of interest.”

France endured many months of speculation before knowing who was actually running for president.

Hollande held off until December to announce he would step down, forgoing a run for re-election after five difficult years at the helm.

It then took until late January, after a two-round primary, for Benoit Hamon to emerge as the Socialists’ candidate.

On the right meanwhile, Fillon suffered weeks of pressure to abandon his presidential bid because of the fake jobs scandal, but he has insisted on staying in the race, even after being formally charged with misuse of public funds.

“There’s major confusion,” sighed 65-year-old Jacques Drouet as he sat in the 1960s-style bar in La Ferte-Saint-Aubin.

“We’re trapped between voting with our hearts and voting tactically,” said the former trade unionist, who usually votes on the left.

The typical election scenario is for the French to vote for their favourite candidate in the first round before trying to eliminate their least favourite in the second.

Drouet’s ideas are closest to Hamon’s — but he’s considering breaking with tradition and voting for centrist Emmanuel Macron even in the first round, hoping to minimise far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s chances of making it into the run-off, as polls predict she will.

For many, the most dramatic example of tactical voting was in 2002, when Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen rocked the political establishment by reaching the runoff. In that second round, voters of various political stripes reluctantly got behind conservative candidate Jacques Chirac to block the far right.

This time, the major remaining unknown is who will face Marine Le Pen. Fillon started the campaign as her most obvious rival, but the scandals have battered his ratings. Polls predict that Le Pen is most likely to square off against Macron, formerly seen as an underdog, at the May 7 run-off vote.

But if her opponent is Fillon, Drouet said: “I’d leave my ballot blank as things stand now.”

Other undecided voters are planning on simply staying away on election day, meaning abstention rates could be high — perhaps beating the 20 percent who abstained in 2012.

Eric Belouet is contemplating doing something else on April 23 instead of heading to the ballot box — going fishing, perhaps, though not even that is a certainty.

“It’ll depend on the weather,” he said.

by Marie WOLFROM

Le Pen plan to jettison euro spooks French business

March 26, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Daphné BENOIT | France’s National Front leader Marine Le Pen blames the euro for driving up prices, hurting exports and adding to France’s already colossal trade deficit

PARIS (AFP) – The euro — and her fervent wish to withdraw from it — is a central theme of every stump speech by French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, topping her list of 144 election pledges.

Le Pen calls the single European currency a “a knife that you stick in a country’s ribs to force it to do what its people don’t want to do”.

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The leader of the National Front (FN) blames the euro for driving up prices, hurting exports and adding to France’s already colossal trade deficit.

She has pledged that, if elected, she will throw off the shackles of the common currency and restore France’s monetary sovereignty by resurrecting the franc.

With all opinion polls showing her getting past the first round of the election on April 23, making the once-unthinkable prospect of a far-right presidency no longer completely implausible, economists and business leaders are worried.

Although Le Pen, 48, currently looks set to lose the May 7 runoff, probably to independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, no one is being complacent.

“No one knows what will happen,” said Jean-Lou Blachier of France’s Confederation of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses, referring to Britain’s surprise vote to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s shock election in the United States last year.

Le Pen argues that bringing back the franc would help retool France’s ailing industrial sector.

She believes a devalued national currency would make exports cheaper, boosting job creation.

Emboldened by Britain’s taboo-breaking Brexit vote, Le Pen also promises to hold a “Frexit” referendum, saying the EU “shuts us in, constrains us, bullies us”.

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– ‘Whole eurozone could disappear’ –

Most experts however say that scrapping the euro would be disastrous, and not just for France.

Ratings agencies have warned that the eurozone’s second-biggest economy could be headed for a default if the country converts its towering 2.2 trillion-euro debt into francs.

“If France leaves the single currency, the whole eurozone could disappear,” said Mathieu Plane of a French economic think tank, the OFCE, warning of an “unprecedented crisis”.

Benoit Coeure, who sits on the board of the European Central Bank, warned that France’s borrowing costs would rise and that prices would rise, rather than fall.

“Inflation, which would be out of the hands of the ECB, would eat into savings, fixed incomes and pensions,” he said.

“Leaving the euro would be choosing impoverishment.”

– ‘Project Fear’ –

Le Pen has dismissed the criticism as scaremongering.

“That’s called Project Fear. It was used before Brexit,” she told her conservative rival Francois Fillon during a TV debate this month when he warned her programme would trigger “economic and social chaos”.

Le Pen has said she can organise an orderly exit from the eurozone and suggested bringing back the European Currency Unit (ECU), a pre-euro basket of currencies, that businesses could use alongside the franc.

But polls show voters are still unconvinced.

Paris University economics professor Dominique Meurs said that despite the resistance, he expected Le Pen to stick to her guns.

“Leaving the euro and the EU is completely consistent with the FN’s obsession with the national identity (and) its total rejection of multilateral decisions,” she said.

Such a move would be a “dramatic break” with European convention, Meurs said.

“What she is proposing is not some small change, it’s really a big deal because she could potentially be elected.”

It is not just in France that big business is worried about Le Pen’s election pledges.

Giant Swiss bank Credit Suisse said this month a Le Pen victory in May was the biggest risk to European stability.

by Daphné BENOIT

The Real Immigration Debate: Whom to Let In and Why

March 25, 2017

Today’s bitter divides focus too narrowly on enforcement. All sides need to be clearer about what immigration policy is meant to achieve 

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Updated March 24, 2017 10:52 a.m. ET

The immigration debate in the U.S. has been contentious for decades, but Donald Trump ’s candidacy and election have taken it to a new level of polarized animosity. Politicians and the public have focused, understandably, on Mr. Trump’s promise to build a “big, beautiful” wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and on what should be done with the millions of illegal immigrants currently in the country.

These are certainly important issues. But they are enforcement issues. They are less fundamental than a question that too often goes unaddressed in our debates: Why limit immigration at all? Almost everyone at least pays lip service to the need for limits of some kind, but we don’t often enough challenge each other to explain what limits we support and why.

If we are ever to have a rational debate about immigration—rather than a screaming match among combatants mostly intent on signaling their own moral virtue or ideological purity—the starting point has to be a candid acknowledgment of our goals and preferences. Politicians and ordinary voters shouldn’t be allowed to get away with saying “Of course there should be limits on immigration, but…” without explaining what they mean.

Nogales, Arizona border

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At the federal courthouse, Ignacio Sarabia asks the magistrate judge, Jacqueline Rateau, if he may explain why he crossed the international boundary between the two countries without authorization. He has already pleaded guilty to the federal misdemeanor commonly known as “illegal entry” and is about to receive a prison

Almost all of the arguments for limiting immigration share a common theme: protection. Even those advocating much more liberal immigration policies acknowledge the need to protect Americans from terrorists, foreign criminals and people who pose a threat to public health. Supporters of stricter limits, such as me, seek wider protections: protection for less-skilled workers, protection for the social safety net, and protection for the civic and cultural foundations of American society.

 
In prior centuries, the vast distances that people had to cross to get to the U.S.—to say nothing of the difficulty of communication and of gathering information about prospects here—proved quite effective at limiting immigration. But now that we can talk to anyone in the world at any time and reach anywhere on the planet in a matter of hours, the oceans no longer pose such a formidable barrier.

Census data show that more than 43 million foreign-born people are now living in the U.S., close to half of them naturalized citizens. Each year, about 1.5 million new immigrants arrive, most of them legally. But the actual demand for immigration to the U.S. is far higher than these levels.

Even with our current rules, which give out about a million green cards each year (plus hundreds of thousands of work visas), more than four million people are on immigration waiting lists, according to the State Department. And the universe of potential immigrants to the U.S. is much larger still. A 2009 Gallup poll found that 700 million people would permanently leave their countries if they could, with the U.S. as the top choice for some 165 million of them.

Many of these people wouldn’t actually follow through, of course, but there is every reason to think that the flow of immigrants to the U.S. would expand enormously if current limits, which are already badly enforced, were to be relaxed or abolished. Under much more liberal rules, immigration to the U.S. could easily reach 10 million people a year.

And what would be wrong with that? What interests of American citizens would warrant protection from much higher levels of immigration?

 
Victoriano De La Cruz, 36, a carpenter from Mexico, stands outside a basement entrance as Sergio Ajche, 29, from Guatemala, finishes a painting job, New York, May 7, 2013. PHOTO: BEBETO MATTHEWS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

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The most obvious is jobs and workers. Importing large numbers of people from abroad would depress the wages of workers already here. In some cases, Americans would lose their jobs or not get jobs they otherwise would have. Over time, the economy would adjust, absorbing the new workers, but not without significant cost to American workers.

An authoritative study of the economic effects of immigration, published last year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, or NAS, provides important context for thinking about the issue. The NAS study found that immigration boosts economic growth in the long term and modestly improves the country’s demographic profile as the native population ages. Immigration also creates a small net economic benefit—an “immigration surplus”—of roughly $50 billion a year, raising the income of the average native-born American by 0.3%.

That net benefit is derived from lowering the wages of Americans who compete with immigrants by about $500 billion. Businesses, in turn, benefit to the tune of about $550 billion, resulting in the $50 billion immigration surplus. In effect, immigration functions as a program of redistribution, shifting wealth from labor to capital.

As the study shows, the native-born workers facing competition from immigrants are mainly those least sought-after by employers: the less-educated, teenagers, recovering addicts, ex-cons, the disabled, single mothers needing flexible hours. The claim that native-born workers don’t compete with immigrants because the two groups are in different occupations—“jobs Americans won’t do” is the shorthand term—is generally false.

Mexican farm workers harvest lettuce in a field outside of Brawley, Calif., Jan. 31.
Mexican farm workers harvest lettuce in a field outside of Brawley, Calif., Jan. 31. PHOTO: SANDY HUFFAKER/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

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Of the hundreds of categories into which the Census Bureau classifies American jobs, only a half-dozen smaller ones in the data for 2009-11 were majority immigrant, and even in those, nearly half the workers were native-born. Most immigrants were found to be working in sectors where most of their co-workers are native-born. This includes maids, taxi drivers, landscapers, construction laborers and janitors. Janitor cannot logically be a “job Americans won’t do” if nearly three-quarters of janitors in the U.S. are native-born Americans.

No specific immigration policy inevitably follows from these facts, but they do help us to see who gets protected by limits on immigration. As Harvard’s George Borjas, the nation’s leading immigration economist, puts it in his recent book, “We Wanted Workers,” we need to ask ourselves, “Who are you rooting for?” Are the costs to less-favored native-born workers worth the benefits reaped by those who enjoy the fruits of immigrant labor? Different answers are possible, but the question can’t be dodged.

Immigration limits are also designed to protect the social safety net. The late free-market economist Milton Friedman argued that you can’t have both relatively open immigration and a generous welfare state. This is because large-scale immigration, whether under current arrangements or more permissive rules, attracts large numbers of less-skilled workers, who will only be able to earn low wages. These low wages mean, in turn, that they would pay little in taxes but are eligible for many means-tested government benefits.

Friedman’s preference was to abolish the welfare state rather than to limit immigration, but in the real world, no such thing is possible. Some form of extensive social provision for the poor is an inherent part of modern society. Tightening is possible, but simply eliminating it is not.
The Biggest Threat to Mexico’s Economic Well-Being Isn’t Trump, Say Some of the Country’s Economists

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The progression from little education to low wages to high welfare use is not a moral critique of immigrants. Our welfare system is designed to subsidize the working poor with children, and immigrants are the working poor with children. My center’s analysis of data from a 2012 Census Bureau survey focusing on “program participation” (that is, welfare use) showed that 51% of households headed by immigrants use at least one means-tested welfare program. The most widely used are Medicaid and the nutrition programs (food stamps, the WIC nutritional program, school lunches), which immigrants use at nearly double the rate of the native-born.

This safety net would buckle under the weight of much higher levels of immigration. Even our current flow of 1.5 million immigrants a year creates a significant fiscal deficit. The aforementioned NAS study examined these costs—the balance between services used and taxes paid by immigrants and their dependent children—and found immigrants to be a net fiscal drain, with the loss as large as $299 billion a year.

There is no avoiding the reality that admitting large numbers of poor people into the U.S. inevitably creates costs for taxpayers. As with the effect of immigration on the labor market, no specific policy follows from these facts, but they clearly show the impact of decisions about immigration limits.

Mexican immigrants work on a housing construction site, Denver, May 3, 2013.
Mexican immigrants work on a housing construction site, Denver, May 3, 2013. PHOTO: JOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES

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Finally, limits on immigration also protect the stability of our social arrangements. To be successful and harmonious, any society needs to cultivate a sense of fellow-feeling and solidarity among its members. Most of our fellow citizens are strangers to us, and yet we tax ourselves for their benefit, yield to their political choices at election time and perhaps serve in uniform to protect them. We do this precisely because they are our fellow citizens and have a claim on our loyalty and affections that citizens of other countries do not.

In more homogenous societies, like Japan or Denmark or Swaziland, this fellow-feeling may arise organically from kinship ties and a shared cultural heritage. But in a more heterogeneous society like ours, it must be cultivated if it is to flourish, and we can’t ignore factors that undermine it.

This is not to say that immigrants don’t learn English, get jobs, join the military and drive on the right side of the road. They do all those things. But the deeper and more important process of reorienting one’s emotional and psychological attachments from the old country to the new has not fared well in recent decades in the U.S. and would be overwhelmed, I believe, by any dramatic increase in immigration.

In “Legacies: The Story of the Immigrant Second Generation,” a classic study published in 2001, the sociologists Alejandro Portes and Ruben G. Rumbaut followed thousands of children of immigrants in San Diego and Miami over several years, surveying them when they began high school and then again as they were finishing. Their research covered many issues, including the students’ national self-identification.

At the beginning of high school, the majority identified as American in some form, either simply or in some hyphenated form as, say, a Filipino-American or Cuban-American. After several years of American high school, the primary institution tasked with imparting civic consciousness to young people, barely one-third still identified as American, with most adopting either a foreign national identity (Cuban or Filipino) or a pan-racial identity (Hispanic, Asian). Our educational system continues to do an abysmal job at civic education, not least because of the influence of multiculturalism as a pedagogical principle.

These problems aside, modern society is marked by the loss of what the Harvard political scientist Robert Putman calls social capital. As he showed in his influential book “Bowling Alone” (2000) and in his subsequent research, this decline in connections among individuals and in social trust manifests itself in many areas: falling membership in unions, civic organizations and professional societies, declining church attendance, less participation in politics, even a drop in having friends over for dinner.

This social atomization wasn’t caused by immigration, but it has two important implications for it. First, the institutions that in the past helped to assimilate immigrants into American life are not what they once were. Unions, churches, urban political machines, even broad-based ethnic self-help organizations either no longer exist or are have been significantly enfeebled.

In addition, Dr. Putnam’s research shows that high levels of immigration actually exacerbate the bowling-alone tendencies in the wider society, overloading it with ethnic diversity than it cannot handle. It is not that diversity causes increased hostility between groups, as one might expect. Rather, it causes people to disappear into their shells like turtles. As Dr. Putnam writes: “Inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more but to have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.”

It is no coincidence that Los Angeles, which immigration has made into what Dr. Putnam calls “among the most ethnically diverse human habitations in history,” had the lowest level of social trust among all the communities that his team studied.

So if there must be limits on immigration, for these or other reasons, what should those limits be? That depends on what you think needs protecting and how much protection you think it needs.

My own primary concerns are the stagnating prospects of much of our workforce, the dysfunction of our public finances and the fragility of our civic culture. This leads me to advocate much narrower criteria than those we currently use. I would limit immigration to the husbands, wives and young children of U.S. citizens; to skilled workers who rank among the top talents in the world; and to the small number of genuine refugees whose situation is so extraordinary that they cannot be helped where they are.

Others will reach different conclusions, but they must address the same questions: What family relationships should give rise to special immigration rights? How should skills be determined? And given the misery that prevails in so much of the world, what should the limiting principle be for admitting refugees?

If we can get politicians, analysts and the public to grapple with these questions and answer them forthrightly, we can have a cooler, more reasoned immigration debate. There will still be much disagreement—over what the limits should be and how they should be enforced—but we will at least know where everyone stands.

Mr. Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C.

What does a multi-speed EU mean for central and eastern Europe? — “Poland is EU’s problem child”

March 25, 2017

Central and eastern EU member states are wary that a so-called “multi-speed” Europe will relegate them to the bloc’s second tier. However, a more flexible Europe may just be the boost they’ve always needed.

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Saturday’s summit commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaties was always going to be more than just a celebration of peace and unity. It will be a landmark for the bloc’s next leap of faith as it sets out its post-Brexit roadmap.

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Top of the bill is the proposal for a so-called “multi-speed” Europe, which is likely to form the basis of any declaration coming out of the Rome summit.

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Under this new, looser framework, EU member states will be able to cooperate on various initiatives if they so choose, while those that would rather opt out will be allowed to do so. This means, in theory, that no country will be forced to commit to any deal it deems practically or ideologically untenable.

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The notion of a “multi-speed” Europe is by no means new: the single currency and Schengen agreement can already be regarded as part of such an approach. Yet the idea has been spurred by recent policy deadlocks in Brussels, namely over defense and migration.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel was among the first leaders to raise the prospect of a “multi-speed” EU at February’s summit in Valletta, before it quickly gained the backing of the bloc’s other founding members. Accelerated integration among some is preferred to standstill for all.

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Broken eastern promises?

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However, the prospect has made some eastern and central European nations wary that it could hollow out EU institutions and enforce larger members’ dominance.

Poland’s Kaczynski says EU on path toward disintegration

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Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party – currently the EU’s problem child – has decried the move, warning that it could tear apart the EU. Reports suggest that Poland could try to veto the proposal..

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“Kaczynski mentions that in Europe it is hegemony of Germany, and Merkel twists arms so that any decisions that are taken are good for Germany and nobody else,” Jakub Wisniewski, vice president of GLOBSEC think tank and Poland’s former ambassador to the OECD, told DW. “When seen through these lenses, any future integration will reinforce this trend… when other countries on the European peripheries will be deprived of rights and of their entitlements, such as money flowing from Brussels through structural funds.”

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Meanwhile, the EU’s newest member states – Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia – have voiced concerns that the EU institutions that give them clout on the continent could be hollowed out. All three countries have made tremendous efforts in their transitioning to democracy and EU values. However, if the western European economies choose their integration path, the countries could fear they will find themselves relegated to the second tier of European policy making.

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How the region benefits

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However, any protest from central and eastern members against the two-speed concept would to be self-defeating for the region.

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EU leaders discuss different speeds

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First, more flexibility would only enforce the region’s more practical approach to EU integration. “The likes of Austria and Poland already have a pragmatic attitude towards the EU,” Dina Pardijs, program coordinator at the European Council of Foreign Relations and co-author of the report “How the EU Can Bend Without Breaking,” told DW.

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“They embrace the parts that work for them and disregard the parts that don’t. More flexible cooperation, even if it weakens the EU’s structures, wouldn’t be that bad for them.”

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Second, while a multi-speed approach would see new circles of cooperation emerging, they would likely be established within the current EU treaties rather than through the formation of new structures.
“Countries are being very careful not to put any very disruptive proposals forward,” Pardijs said. “So if anything they will be too careful and probably make too small a step for the goal of breaking deadlock to be achieved.”

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Perhaps the most positive bearing will be enjoyed by the region’s EU candidate states. According to Wisniewski, any tapering within the single market or freedom of movement among the peripheral countries would dramatically lower the threshold for EU membership. It would also be less disruptive on the economy of any new state.

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Integration within the European Union finds itself at a crossroads. If a multi-speed framework comes to fruition, Western European states will likely embark on their own accelerated path for integration, while central and eastern European states will coordinate when it suits them and pursue their own initiatives.

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The end of ever-closer union may prove to be just the impetus EU integration needed.

Includes video:

http://www.dw.com/en/what-does-a-multi-speed-eu-mean-for-central-and-eastern-europe/a-38016484

Related:

” (Poland’s Kaczynski says EU on path toward disintegration)

EU seeks post-Brexit unity by going back to roots at Rome — Pope Francis points out a “vacuum of values”

March 25, 2017
By Alastair Macdonald and Crispian Balmer
March 25, 2017
EU seeks post-Brexit unity by going back to roots at Rome

By Alastair Macdonald and Crispian Balmer

ROME (Reuters) – Sixty years ago, Britain shunned a meeting in Rome where six war-scarred neighbors founded what became the EU; on Saturday, it is again absent, this time from a somber birthday party as it quits a bloc which now embraces most of Europe.

It might have been a modestly hopeful summit to mark the 28-nation European Union’s 60th anniversary in the palazzo where old foes France and Germany, with Italy and the Benelux countries, signed the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 1957.

Instead, it will be overshadowed by the unprecedented departure of a member state, which Prime Minister Theresa May will initiate next Wednesday.

All the bloc’s economies are growing after a slump that has blighted the past decade and recent border chaos has largely abated as refugees are, for now, being held in check.

But Brexit, which should take effect in March 2019 if a two-year timetable holds, has undermined the self-confidence of a Union that might see its 60 years of strengthening peace and growing prosperity as a success, and has encouraged eurosceptic nationalists challenging governments from Stockholm to Sicily.

It has also amplified the petty frictions among the more than two dozen national governments and obliged leaders’ aides to water down a grand birthday declaration of unity.

Britain originally snubbed the Treaty of Rome, but changed its mind about the Common Market three years later. It was made to wait however by the suspicious French until 1973 before joining and it voted to leave the Union last June in a divisive referendum whose consequences remain unclear.

After days of carping from Poland and Greece, seeking to show home voters they were getting Brussels to give assurances about equal treatment and social welfare, the Rome Declaration the 27 will sign in the late morning offers ringing phrases about peace and unity.

But it may disappoint those who think more ambition and coordination is the answer to malaise.

PAPAL MESSAGE

At the Vatican on Friday, Pope Francis told the assembled leaders, Roman Catholics and non-Catholics alike, that their Union had achieved much in 60 years but that Europe faced a “vacuum of values”. He condemned anti-immigrant populism and extremism that he said posed a mortal threat to the bloc.

“When a body loses its sense of direction and is no longer able to look ahead, it experiences a regression and, in the long run, risks dying,” said the Argentinian pontiff.

Their response, he said, should be to promote Europe’s ideals and values with more vigor and passion.

He urged states to show more “solidarity”, a vexed word today, where Germans, say, complain Poles are not taking in refugees or Greeks bemoan a lack of debt relief from Germany.

And the first non-European pope in over 1,000 years reminded them of the diminishing share of the world’s wealth and people in Europe. They were a “peninsula of Asia”, Francis told them, urging them to remain open to the rest of the world.

Security will be tight around the muted celebrations in the Campidoglio palace in central Rome, with protesters planning to gather through the day and police on high alert after the latest attack in Europe, on Wednesday in London.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, although it was unclear what links – if any – the attacker Khalid Masood, who killed four people, had with the militant group.

The attack on the first anniversary of suicide bombings in the EU capital Brussels underlined the common threats Europeans face and drew renewed expressions of concern and reassurance on continued security cooperation between Britain and the Union.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Related:

Pope Francis Tells The European Union it “Could Die Without New Vision”

March 24, 2017

Putin Meets Le Pen as Far Right Leader Criticizes Sanctions

March 24, 2017

By Henry Meyer
Bloomberg News

March 24, 2017, 6:10 AM EDT March 24, 2017, 8:15 AM EDT
  • Putin says not trying to influence French presidential poll
  • Le Pen fighting for top spot in first-round vote on April 23

Russian President Vladimir Putin held an unprecedented meeting with French presidential contender Marine Le Pen at the Kremlin Friday, hours after the National Front leader had urged a joint fight against terrorism and an end to European Union sanctions against his country.

“We’re not trying in any way to influence events but we reserve the right for ourselves to meet with representatives of all political forces of the country, as our partners do, for example in Europe and the U.S.,” Putin said in televised comments of the opening of their meeting, which wasn’t announced in advance.

Vladimir Putin and Marine Le Pen at the Kremlin on March 24.

Photographer: Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP via Getty Images

“This meeting is especially important now that a serious terrorist threat hangs over all of us,” Le Pen said, according to a transcript provided by the Kremlin. At talks with Putin ally, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, earlier Friday, Le Pen said she’s always opposed EU sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine conflict as “counterproductive.”

The visit by the far right firebrand comes a day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hailed Le Pen and U.S. President Donald Trump as “realists” and not as representatives of “populist” political views. Le Pen, who’s seen in polls as likely to reach the May 7 run-off for the presidency, is Putin’s most outspoken admirer among the top five French candidates. She openly backs his 2014 annexation of Crimea that along with the covert Russian military intervention in eastern Ukraine prompted the EU to impose punitive measures.

Le Pen’s visit to Moscow was an “excellent opportunity” to meet Putin for the first time, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call. They didn’t discuss financial aid for the National Front, Peskov said.

Campaign Finance

Le Pen is seeking money to help her finance her presidential run and says French banks are refusing to lend her the millions of euros she needs. So far, she has a 6-million-euro loan from Cotelec, according to wealth filings with authorities made public this week.

Russia’s First Czech-Russian Bank OOO helped Le Pen finance an earlier campaign with a 9-million-euro loan in 2014. In the same year, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen’s political fund Cotelec received another 2-million-euro loan from a Russian-backed fund based in Cyprus, news website Mediapart reported.

Russia appeared to switch its support from Le Pen to Francois Fillon when he emerged as the conservative Republicans’ contender for the French presidency, with Putin telling reporters in November that they had “very good” relations. With support for Fillon sliding ahead of next month’s first-round voting, polls show Le Pen is likely to face and lose to Emmanuel Macron in the run-off, a 39-year-old independent who backs the EU sanctions and accuses the Kremlin of cyberattacks on his campaign.

https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-03-24/le-pen-urges-russia-france-to-join-effort-in-fighting-terrorism

Le Pen visits Russia ahead of French presidential election

March 24, 2017

AFP, Reuters and The Associated Press

© Alain Jocard, AFP | An admirer of Vladimir Putin, France’s Marine Le Pen has described the Russian president as “good for world peace”.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-03-24

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen was due in Moscow on Friday for meetings with lawmakers less than a month before a presidential election clouded by allegations of Russian interference.

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The leader of the National Front, an anti-immigrant and anti-European Union party, is seeking to bolster her international credentials ahead of the two-round French election on April 23 and May 7.

Her visit comes on the heels of a trip this week to Chad, base of a French military operation that’s aimed at rooting out Islamic extremists from a swath of Africa.

The head of the Russian Duma’s international affairs committee, Leonid Slutsky, was quoted by the Tass news agency as saying Le Pen would hold meetings on the “international agenda such as the war on terrorism”.

There was no official word as to whether the French far-right leader would meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom she has described as “good for world peace”.

The trip comes at a time when lawmakers in the US are investigating President Donald Trump‘s campaign links to Russia.

Le Pen, an admirer of both Trump and Putin, has made multiple visits to Russia, as have her father, niece and other members of the National Front, often meeting with Russian legislators.

IS LE PEN’S RUSSIAN CASH PIPELINE DRYING UP?

She received a $9 million loan from a Russian bank in 2014 that raised concerns over Moscow’s potential influence on her and her party.

Moscow has courted far-right parties in Europe in an influence-building campaign as friction between Russia and the West has mounted over the conflict in Ukraine and the Syrian civil war.

Le Pen has said she considers Crimea – which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014 – a part of Russia, and would cultivate closer ties with Russia if elected president rather than pressuring it over Putin’s authoritarian policies.

National Front Treasurer Wallerand de Saint-Just said Le Pen’s trip is not a cash-raising exercise, though party members have said they are seeking millions to fund both the presidential and the ensuing parliamentary election campaigns.

Current polls suggest Le Pen could win the first round of voting but would lose the second round to centrist Emmanuel Macron.

A senior aide to Macron has accused Russia of using its state media to spread fake news to discredit Macron and influence the outcome of the vote.

The Russian connections of the number three presidential contender, François Fillon, have also been a feature of the campaign ahead of the first-round vote in a month’s time.

The Kremlin has denied meddling in the campaign. It also said this week that a French media report alleging Fillon was paid to arrange introductions to Putin was “fake news”.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

Africa’s Agony Won’t Go Away Without Help — More Migrants Die Fleeing Toward Europe

March 24, 2017

Five bodies found and hundreds feared dead as migrant boats sink off .

Remains of a migrant raft are seen in central Mediterranean Sea

Remains of a migrant raft are seen in central Mediterranean Sea CREDIT: REUTERS

 Five migrants were found dead in the sea off Libya on Thursday after the boats they were travelling in sank, likely carrying hundreds more to their deaths, a Spanish aid organisation said on Thursday.

Proactiva Open Arms, one of several groups operating in the area, said it was notified that an inflatable boat was sinking early on Thursday and found another going down shortly afterwards.

“We brought on board five corpses recovered from the sea, but no lives. It is a harsh reality check of the suffering here that is invisible in Europe,” the group wrote on Facebook.

Lifeguards from the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms lift the body of a migrant onto the former fishing trawler Golfo Azzurro during a search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea
Lifeguards from the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms lift the body of a migrant onto the former fishing trawler Golfo Azzurro during a search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea CREDIT: REUTERS

Laura Lanuza, a Proactiva Open Arms spokeswoman, said each rubber boat usually holds 120 people, but smugglers tend to fill them over capacity to maximise their benefits in each trip.

A spokesman for Italy’s coast guard, which coordinates and participates in rescues, confirmed the five bodies were on board Proactiva’s ship, the Golfo Azzurro, which he said would remain in the area in case of any emergency calls.

View image on Twitter

Hoy 2 naufragios sin supervivientes.A bordo 5 cadáveres rescatados del agua y los que habrá en el fondo. Estupor. Vía @giacomo_zando

She said the NGO confirmed the sinking of two boats but was only able to find the bodies of five men of African origin on Thursday morning, about 13 miles (21 kilometers) north of the Libyan town of Sabratha.

The UN Refugee Agency said it was “deeply alarmed” by the reports.

“Those incidents come after an intense week of arrivals through the Central Mediterranean route, with almost 6,000 migrants and refugees rescued in just five days this week,” said the UNHRC in a statement released on Thursday.

A rising number of migrants is attempting to cross the central Mediterranean this year after a deal between the European Union and Turkey largely shut down a route to Greece.

A total of 559 deaths, excluding this latest incident, have been recorded in the Mediterranean so far this year, according to the International Organisation for Migration. About 5,000 were recorded for the whole of 2016.

 

Anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats move into second place in polls

March 23, 2017

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Sweden took in more refugees per capita than any other country in Europe

Reuters

Thu Mar 23, 2017 | 8:45am EDT

The anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats have overtaken the center-right Moderates and are the second most popular party in the Nordic country, polls showed this week.

Growing worries about immigration in Sweden, which received a record 160,000 refugees in 2015, have boosted support for the Sweden Democrats, echoing the rise of populist parties across Europe.

The party got 19.2 percent support in a poll published on Thursday by Novus for Swedish Television, up from 18.5 percent a month ago. That compares with the 13 percent they polled in the general election in 2014.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, crowd and outdoor

Photo: Sweden — Protesers burn the national flag

In a second poll in daily Dagens Nyheter they got 18 percent, up from 17 percent.

Both polls showed that the party was in second place for the first time behind the Social Democrats, who form the minority government with the Green Party.

“If we become the second largest (second most popular) party, or even the biggest party, it will of course be harder for the other parties to leave us out in the cold,” party secretary Richard Jomshof, told Swedish Television.

The Sweden Democrats have re-drawn Sweden’s political map, making it impossible for either the center-left or the center-right to form a majority government without them.

All the mainstream parties had refused to have any contact with them, but faced with the prospect of political deadlock, center-right Moderate party leader Anna Kinberg Batra said recently she was prepared to work with the Sweden Democrats.

Support for the Moderates, the biggest party in the center-right Alliance has slumped since Batra broke ranks.

The Moderate Party – the biggest in the opposition Alliance bloc – saw their support drop to 18.0 percent in the Novus poll and down to 17.0 percent in the Ipsos survey.

As late as January, the Moderates were polling around 22-23 percent.

Batra’s move has widened divisions in the four-party center-right Alliance with the Centre and Liberal parties ruling out cooperation with the Sweden Democrats.

However, the government has little to celebrate. Support for the Social Democrats, the biggest party in the coalition, was around 27 percent, down from 31 percent in 2014’s election.

The Green Party is polling close to the 4 percent threshold for seats in parliament.

(Reporting by Johan Sennero; Editing by Toby Davis)

Related:

© AFP/File / by Fanny CARRIER | Hellish conditions in Libya (and other parts of Africa) drive a surge in the numbers of migrants trying to reach Europe

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 (Contains links to several other related articles)

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Migrant children from Syria sleep outside the Swedish Migration Board, in Marsta, Sweden. Photo by AP

Image may contain: 6 people, crowd, hat and outdoor

Sweden took in more refugees per capita than any other country in Europe last year. Getty