A COUNTRY BY COUNTRY LOOK AT THE EU ELECTIONS

Here is a quick glance at what we know so far on Monday.

With the European elections results coming in overnight there are some surprises, but many predictable outcomes. The elections have ramifications for Europe’s position in the world because the more Europe is unstable and fractured by infighting, the less it will play a role in world affairs. In addition, the more extreme parties in Europe will fuel the continued cycle of the instability, likely exacerbating the inability of the continent to act as a whole on policies, leaving such issues as immigration and security in the hands of states that have deepening societal divisions.

Here is a quick glance at what we know so far on Monday.

Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party remakes map of UK politics

The pro-Brexit leader Nigel Farage, who appeared to leave politics after the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, led a new party to a surprising thirty percent of the votes in the UK European elections. These elections weren’t supposed to even happen because the UK was already supposed to have left the EU. His message was that his party wants to take responsibility for leaving the EU and that if the ruling Conservatives don’t act then they will be crushed at the next polls.

The Conservatives already were humiliated in the EU elections in the UK, receiving less than ten percent. The Liberal Democrats performed well with almost 20 percent of the vote while Labour slipped to 14% and the Greens grabbed 11%. It’s clear that a coalition of Labour, the Greens and Liberal-Democrats, with the Scottish Nationalists, likely could run the UK after the next general election. For now it is the EU that will be getting Farage back.

Germany goes Green

In Germany the centrist and historically dominant Christian Democrats and Social Democrats lost votes to the Green Party. The Greens took twenty percent of the vote while the right wing AfD took ten percent. For Germany, any notion that right wing parties might do well always conjures up comparisons to the past. But the reality is that there is no massive swing to the far-right in Germany, yet. Instead the major parties are simply being weakened. The smaller leftist Die Linke party, for instance, took five percent of the vote. Liberals took another five percent.

Le Pen wins, again, in France

Marine Le Pen’s National Rally defeated President Emmanuel Macron’s party by a whopping 23.3% to 22.4%. This is supposed to make us all gasp that Lep Pen has “won,” but she hasn’t really won anything. Macron has been beset by massive protests by the “yellow vests” and French politics is fickle. They tend to dislike their presidents. The Le Pen phenomenon has continued for twenty years in France. In 2002 Jean-Marie Le Pen received 17% in the presidential election. Marine Le Pen got 33% of the vote in 2017. So her 23% isn’t a win, it’s a loss for her party. It just looks good in comparison to Macron’s failure. The real winners, in a sense, in France were the Greens with 13% of the vote, an increase from last time. See a pattern here with the Greens doing better in Germany and the UK?

Italy’s one third

A third of Italians voted for the Lega, Matteo Salvini’s party that is popular in the north of the country. Another 23% voted for the social democrats while only 16% chose the Five Star Movement, a new party that had got around a third of the vote in the 2018 elections. It appears that Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia got 7% of the vote. One supposes that means former Italian leader Mr. Berlusconi is back in politics, something he has been trying to achieve for the last few years. The end result in Italy is that although the right wing is doing well, they are still divided and kept at a third of the votes.

Sweden’s moderate politics

Not so long ago Sweden thought that it might be swept up in populist politics with the rise of the Sweden Democrats. The wave appears to be cresting as they now have 15% of the vote, a continual rise from 2018 when they had 13% in national elections. But the rest of Sweden’s politics is predictable. The Moderate party got 16% and the center-left took 23%. The Greens now have 11%.

Flemish Nationalism rises in Belgium

The new Flemish Alliance, which had 20% in the 2014 vote got only 13% in the EU elections, but its more far-right Vlaams Belang got 11%. On the left the socialists took 10%, the French speaking Greens 7% and the Flemish speaking Greens another 7%. Flemish socialists also got 6%. All in all the politics in Belgium is so divided that it’s hard to make any real conclusions, besides the obvious fact that the Flemish right is rising. Previously the the Vlaams Belang had only around 3% of the vote. But a previous incarnation of the far-right, the Vlams Blok, once got 12% of the vote in 1994 and 15% in 1999. So the new far-right Flemish speakers have merely gone back to what they used to have.

Puigdemont gets a seat in Spain

The Catalan separatist Carles Puigdemont secured a seat in Spain while another group supporting local regions, Ahora Republicas, got 5% of the votes. Its leader Oriol Junqueras has been in imprisoned on charges of “rebellion.” The populist Vox party got 6% of the vote in Spain. Overall Spain’s politics are largely dominated by the normal parties with the socialists getting 32% and the center-right People’s Party getting 20%. Another center-right Citizens party got 12%.

Orban’s Hungary

Viktor Orban continued his dominance of Hungarian politics, taking more than 50% of the vote in the EU elections there. He has been the leader of the Fidesz party for years and a dominant figure since the late 1990s. It is the only European country where a party got over 50% of the vote.

Poland goes for two big parties

Poland looks the way western European countries used to look in its voting pattern for two large parties. Forty-three percent chose a right wing conservative party called Law and Justice, while 38% chose the European Coalition. In general Poland’s politics have not fractured like many other countries in Europe.

Austria’s Greens and Freedom Party

Austrian politics also looks relatively normal in the EU election, with the People’s Party taking 34% and the Social Democrats taking 23%. The Freedom Party, with is more right wing, has 17% and the Greens 14%. This looks like the 2017 Austrian legislative elections in which the Freedom Party got 20% and the Greens got 12%. Basically there is no news from Vienna.

Romania’s socialists lose out

In Romania the center-right National Liberal Party got 27% of the vote while the Social Democrats got only 24%. A centrist party called USR-PLUS got another 18%. The Social Democrats had 45% of the vote as recently as 2016. They now have been handed a major defeat. Romania matters to the Eu because it has 32 seats in the 751 parliament, making it one of the larger members in the 28 member block. Germany, Italy, France and the UK are the largest, followed by France and Poland.

Ireland also goes Green a bit

Ireland largely voted for the parties one would expect, Fine Gail got 29% and Fianna Fail got 15%. This represented a defeat for Fianna Fail while the Green Party grabbed 15%, much more than in the 2016 elections in Ireland. Sinn Fein got 13%, which is exactly what it got in 2016. No big surprises here, except for the Greens.

Netherlands says goodbye to populism

The Party for Freedom (PVV) once had 16% and 13% in EU elections in 2009 and 2014. But it slipped to a dismal failure in the 2019 elections, illustrating the far-right nationalism may not be on the march. It came in second with 13% of the vote in the 2017 general elections in Holland. But the Dutch decided on more traditional politics this election, sending Labour to the EU with 19% of the vote and the People’s Party with 14%. The Greens got 10% of the vote. The surprising failure of the populists and nationalists in Netherlands may point to a turning point in that country and others. After almost two decades, since the days of the Pim Fortuyn List, politics in the low country seem a bit more traditional.

The article was published on The JPost


EU Civil Protection Mechanism to help Israel stop wildfires

To help contain the spread of devastating wildfires, Israel has requested European assistance through the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism on 24 November.

Substantial assistance has been offered via the Mechanism. Spain will shortly send four fire-fighting airplanes, and France has offered two fire-fighting airplanes as well as one investigation airplane.

In addition, bilateral support from Italy and Cyprus will be channelled through the Union Mechanism, concerning the return trip of the fire-fighting airplanes.

EU High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini said: “We stand by the Israeli people and authorities at this time of need. Not only in words but with concrete support. I’m pleased that EU Member States are showing their solidarity in action. We will continue to be in close contact with the Israeli authorities to mobilise further offers of assistance as required.”

The EU has immediately responded to the call for assistance and has helped mobilise 7 airplanes to support Israel so far, thanks to the generosity of our Member States. Our solidarity and thoughts are with all those affected and the first responders working to save lives. We stand in solidarity with Israel at this time of need” said Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides.

The Commission’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) is coordinating assistance through the Union Civil Protection Mechanism, which can be activated by a Member State or a country outside the EU when it is overwhelmed by a natural or man-made disaster.

Background

The European Commission coordinates the voluntary offers made by participating states though the Mechanism, and can co-finance the transport of relief items and experts to the country in question.

The mobilisation of assistance is coordinated through the Commission’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC), which closely monitors developments and offers the possibility of transport co-financing for the offered assistance.

The assistance can consist of items for immediate relief as well as experts and supporting intervention teams. In the case of fires, this can include fire-extinguishing aircraft. The Commission cannot send planes or equipment itself via the Mechanism.

Overall, the Mechanism facilitates the cooperation in disaster response among 34 European states (28 EU Member States, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Iceland, Norway, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey).

The piece was published on the EEAS website.

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Italy’s Prime Minister: UNESCO’s Jerusalem Resolution ‘Shocking’ !

Matteo Renzi says he will summon his foreign minister to find out why Italy abstained from the vote on the resolution that disregarded the ties between Jews and Jerusalem.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Friday assailed the anti-Israel resolution adopted by UNESCO last week, saying that he found it “shocking.”

The resolution adopted by the UN’s education, science and culture agency disregards Judaism’s historic connection to the Temple Mount and casts doubt on the link between Judaism and the Western Wall.

Renzi made the remarks in an interview with Italian radio while on a trip to Brussels. He said that upon his return, he will summon Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni to find out why Italy abstained from the vote instead of voting against the resolution.

“I think this is a mistaken, inconceivable resolution,” Renzi said. “It is not possible to continue with these resolutions at the UN and UNESCO that aim to attack Israel. It is shocking and I have ordered that we stop taking this position (i.e, the abstention) even if it means diverging from the position taken by the rest of Europe. I have asked diplomats handling these issues to cease doing so.”

Renzi added: “If anyone wants to say something about Israel, let them say it, but they shouldn’t use UNESCO… To say that the Jews have no links to Jerusalem is like saying the sun creates darkness.”

A senior official in Jerusalem said Renzi’s remarks follow strenuous protests by the Israeli embassy in Rome, headed by Ambassador Ofer Zaks, and the Jewish community in Italy. Since the vote last week the Jewish community had demonstrated against the Italian position in its UNESCO vote, and senior members of the community have published articles and public letters in the press.

“Renzi’s reaction shows he understands the significance of historic truth and the attempt that has been made to erase a part of the history of Judaism and Christianity in Jerusalem,” the official said.

Italy is the third country to notify of a change in position since the vote, against the backdrop of protests by Israel and Jewish communities. A few days ago Mexico considered triggering a special clause in UNESCO’s charter to hold another vote on the resolution, so it could change its position from support to abstention.

In the end, the Mexican government decided to suffice with a statement that it does not support the resolution because its wording is offensive and imbalanced toward the Jewish people and its historic connection to Jerusalem.

The Mexican foreign ministry has also said it has launched an internal investigation to examine why Mexico’s UNESCO representatives voted in favor of the resolution while the Mexican president’s position was to abstain.

The government of Brazil, which voted in favor of the resolution, also said afterward that it would change its position. Brazilian representatives at UNESCO said they were dissatisfied with the wording despite the revisions made and that they would have difficulty supporting such a resolution in the future.

The Foreign Ministry in Brasilia made the same statement in April after its envoy voted in favor of a similar resolution, but that did not prevent Brazil from voting in favor last week.

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The piece was published on Haaretz on the 21th October 2016


We can learn from Italy and Israel

We Arabs may be the people in the world who write the most poetry and romantic odes about human virtues such as brotherhood, justice, equality and the need to protect humanity, its soul and its right to inheritance. Our emotions, though, are nothing more in today’s reality.

The fact that we are in this position comes as no surprise. I say this as we are see Italy’s media campaign centred on politics, humanitarianism and civil liberties; as we witness its dedication to these virtues in its reaction to the death of student Giulio Regeni who was killed in Egypt a few months ago. Italy did not let the death of its citizen pass without comment just so that it could maintain its “economic” relationship with Egypt. It has pursued this case so that Regeni’s death has become a pan-European if not global issue. The Egyptian government now finds itself in an unenviable position because the Italian media in particular, and the world in general, has turned Egypt and its credibility into dust.

Giulio Regeni

Giulio Regeni

There is no doubt that the regime in Cairo is facing a crisis because of the unbelievable conditions that are experienced by the majority of Egyptians. This is not due to price increases, nor to the political authoritarianism in the country, but is because the regime is in the middle of an international scandal due to the death of an Italian university student in Egypt at the hands of the intelligence services or some other agency. It does not matter who killed Regeni, according to the Italians, but what is important is that an Italian citizen was killed in Egypt under mysterious circumstances. From an Italian perspective, therefore, it is important to shake the ground under the feet of the Egyptian authorities.

Not a day goes by without members of the Italian parliament mentioning Regeni’s name. Not a day goes by without the Italian newspapers covering every detail of the case and its progress. Not a day goes by that Egypt is not criticised. Not a day goes by that demonstrations do not take place on Italian streets and they are happening because of Regeni’s death. Not a day goes by that the Egyptian government does not find itself in a predicament because it has yet to provide the Italian government with any reasonable explanation about what happened to the student.

It was sad to see Egyptian representatives at a televised press conference answering questions as if they were in the dock in a court. They struggled to answer embarrassing questions. Both the Egyptian government and media have expressed their regret with regards to Regeni’s death, and there is now no other option but to find a way to free them from the consequences of this issue. Regeni’s ghost has become a nightmare for the regime that finds itself preoccupied with the death of a European citizen and Italy’s recall of its ambassador from Cairo.

Notice how the Italian government and people responded to the death of one university student in Egypt, and compare that to the tens of thousands of Arabs dying every day without anyone ever hearing of their story or knowing their name. Who is seeking justice on their behalf? A country which views the death of one citizen as the death of an entire nation is one which will work to protect human rights and force anyone who seeks to violate them to think twice about it. This is how self-respecting governments protect themselves and their people. Nobody can take governments seriously if they swat their own people like flies.

Eli Cohen

Eli Cohen

Regini’s case reminds me of the Israeli hostage Gilad Shalit, the soldier who was held captive by Hamas for more than 5 years. Not a single day went by that Israel did not try to rescue him. Shalit’s case became a cause célèbre across the globe. As it took centre stage, an article appeared under the following title “Shalit the Israeli and Shalout the Arab”. Shalout is an Arabic vernacular term meaning to “to be kicked aside”. The article painted a clear picture of the differences between an Israeli or Western citizen on one hand and an Arab citizen on the other by making the distinction that the former is treated like a citizen while the other is thrown aside like an old shoe. When we Arabs call for the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one Israeli hostage, we are admitting to the discrepancies in the value of human beings, and that one Israeli, or westerner, is worth thousands of Arabs.

Now look to how the Israeli government is trying everything within its power to retrieve the remains of the famed Israeli spy Eli Cohen who was captured by the Syrian regime years ago and killed. Did you know that the Israelis have been speaking with the Russians in an effort to convince the Syrian regime to release Cohen’s remains so that he can be reburied in Israel? Do not be surprised if Bashar Al-Assad releases them via the Russians so that he can gain more Israeli support.

Notice the difference between Israel and the Syrian regime; while the Israeli government has been asking Putin for his help to retrieve the remains of one person, Assad has been asking him for his help to slaughter Syrians. His regime has been using all of Russia’s new weaponry to kill Syrians and destroy Syria. Putin himself admitted recently that Syria is the best place to try out new weapons and munitions.

A leader who makes little of his people gives the green light to outsiders to disrespect and hate him and them. Respect your citizens so that others can respect you.

The Piece was written by Faisal Qassem and it was Published on the MEMO website on the 22 April 2016