Europe’s failure on refugees echoes the moral collapse of the 1930s

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Patrick Kingsley writes: In 1938, representatives from 32 western states gathered in the pretty resort town of Evian, southern France. Evian is now famous for its water, but back then, the delegates had something else on their minds. They were there to discuss whether to admit a growing number of Jewish refugees, fleeing persecution in Germany and Austria. After several days of negotiations, most countries, including Britain, decided to do nothing.

On Monday, I was reminded of the Evian conference when British MPs voted against welcoming just 600 child refugees a year over the next half-decade. The two moments are not exactly comparable. History doesn’t necessarily repeat itself. But it does echo, and it does remind us of the consequences of ethical failure. Looking back at their inaction at Evian, delegates could claim they were unaware of what was to come. In 2016, we no longer have that excuse.

Nevertheless, both in Britain and across Europe and America, we currently seem keen to forget the lessons of the past. In Britain, many of those MPs who voted against admitting a few thousand refugees are also campaigning to unravel a mechanism – the European Union – that was created, at least in part, to heal the divisions that tore apart the continent during the first and second world wars.

Across Europe, leaders recently ripped up the 1951 refugee convention – a landmark document partly inspired by the failures of people such as the Evian delegates – in order to justify deporting Syrians back to Turkey, a country where most can’t work legally, despite recent legislative changes; where some have allegedly been deported back to Syria; and still more have been shot at the border.

Emboldened by this, the Italian and German governments have since joined David Cameron in calling for refugees to be sent back to Libya, a war zone where – in a startling display of cognitive dissonance – some of the same governments are also mulling a military intervention. Where many migrants work in conditions tantamount to slavery. Where three separate governments are vying for control. And where Isis runs part of the coastline.

In Greece, Europe’s leaders have forced the bankrupt government to lock up all arriving asylum seekers – and then reneged on a promise to help care for them, or move them to better-resourced countries elsewhere on the continent. The result is a dire situation on the Greek islands, where the world’s richest continent has contrived to jail babies, and then deny them access to adequate amounts of milk formula.

In Denmark, asylum seekers are forced to hand over valuables to pay for their stay, and volunteers have been prosecuted as smugglers for giving them lifts. In America, where boatloads of refugees were turned away from US ports in the 30s, more than 30 governors have refused to accept Muslim refugees. Some called for an outright ban on anyone fleeing a war that is ironically the partial result of catastrophic mistakes in American foreign policy over the past two decades. [Continue reading…]

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Should states take legal action against people who went to fight in Syria but haven’t committed terrorist acts?

The New York Times reports: Ten young Muslim men, bored by a mundane life in France and haunted by a “feeling of uselessness,” as one put it, were seduced by a leading Islamic State recruiter in Europe in 2013. Within months, they were in Syria under the watchful eyes of hooded, Kalashnikov-wielding militants, doing push-ups, fiddling with weapons and imbibing the ideology.

But the harsh regimen, most have since told investigators, was not to their liking, and it was not long before they hastened back to their families in the Strasbourg area, where they were almost immediately picked up by the French authorities.

What to do with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such young men in Europe is now among the biggest challenges facing governments and security services.

After the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks, which were carried out in part by Europeans who had spent time in Syria with the Islamic State, France and other countries are grappling with how far to go in tightening laws to prosecute, monitor and restrict the movements of returnees.

At the heart of the debate is whether to take pre-emptive legal action against people who have not committed terrorist acts or even been implicated in a plot, but who have simply been to Syria and possibly received training in Islamic State camps. [Continue reading…]

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Austrian far-right party’s triumph in presidential poll could spell turmoil

The Guardian reports: Austria is braced for political turmoil with fears that the landslide victory for a rightwing populist and gun-carrying candidate in Sunday’s first-round presidential vote could trigger snap elections.

Norbert Hofer, of the rightwing Freedom party (FPÖ), defied pollsters’ predictions to beat the Green party’s Alexander Van der Bellen into second place, gaining 36% of the vote. The two candidates will go head to head in a run-off ballot on 22 May.

While the presidential post is mainly a ceremonial role, Hofer has threatened to make use of a right to dissolve parliament before the 2018 elections, warning other candidates in a TV debate that “you will be surprised by what can be done [by a president]”.

Hofer, a youthful 45-year-old who is partially paralysed after a paragliding accident, has campaigned for disability rights and is seen as having lent a friendly face to a party that balances virulently anti-immigration and Eurosceptic messages with leftist stances on welfare issues, led by firebrand Heinz-Christian Strache.

Hofer, who claims to protect himself in the “uncertain times” of the refugee crisis by carrying a Glock gun, scored overwhelming victories in all of Austria’s states apart from Vienna. In Styria, Burgenland and Carinthia – border states most affected by the refugee trail from the Mediterranean to central Europe – Hofer managed to gain 40% or more. [Continue reading…]

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Italy’s plan to combat Libyan migrant smugglers could mean chasing shadows

Patrick Kingsley writes: Though migration levels from Libya are no higher than they were last year, European governments are terrified that the closure of the refugee route from Turkey to Greece will lead to a fresh surge through the north African country towards Italy.

Over the past few days, these fears prompted western leaders to discuss a two-pronged response. First, Rome proposed the deportation of Italy-bound migrants back to war-torn Libya. Then Barack Obama agreed at a meeting with European allies to add US ships to ongoing anti-smuggling operations in international waters off the Libyan coast.

Italy’s defence minister, Roberta Pinotti, told Italian media that a Nato-led anti-smuggling mission could be in operation as early as July. But such haste may have both practical and ethical pitfalls. For a start, western navies may not be able to do much against smugglers if the latter stick to international waters. By this point, senior smugglers have left their boats in the hands of either expendable juniors, or co-opted migrants.

Even if Nato gets approval from Tripoli to enter Libyan waters, they will still struggle to make an impact. Most migrant boats from Libya are rubber inflatables that carry no smugglers and are boarded from the country’s shore. Only a ground presence could stop their departure: by the time these dinghies are out at sea, there is little a naval mission can do to apprehend the smugglers who sent them. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS spreading in Europe, U.S. intelligence chief warns

The New York Times reports: The Islamic State is operating clandestine terrorist cells in Britain, Germany and Italy, similar to the groups that carried out the attacks in Paris and Brussels, the top-ranking American intelligence official said on Monday.

When asked if the Islamic State was engaging in secret activities in those nations, the official, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, said: “Yes, they do. That is a concern, obviously, of ours and our European allies.” He then added, “We continue to see evidence of plotting on the part of ISIL in the countries you named.” ISIL is another name for the Islamic State.

Mr. Clapper, speaking to reporters at a breakfast meeting organized by The Christian Science Monitor, became one of the most senior Western officials to publicly acknowledge the Islamic State’s extensive reach into Europe, which has set off growing fears among American and European spy services and policy makers. The Islamic State has vowed to conduct attacks in those three European countries. [Continue reading…]

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Obama warns Europe of the dangers of withdrawing from the world in a challenging age

The Los Angeles Times reports: President Obama challenged European nations on Monday to resist the forces that would divide their increasingly fragile union, calling their cooperation with one another and the U.S. essential to combating a new wave of economic and security trials.

Speaking in Germany on the final day of a three-nation international trip, Obama revived a theme he first expounded on when he visited this country as a candidate eight years ago and spoke of a more collaborative approach to the world’s challenges that would rely on strong European partners. His vision has helped navigate the global economic collapse, forge an international climate agreement and launch a diplomatic approach toward curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Obama said.

“None of those things could have happened if I, if the United States, did not have a partnership with a strong and united Europe,” he argued.

But in the wake of the recent attacks on European capitals by Islamic State, the continued instability of the Middle East that resulted in a refugee crisis that has hit Europe hardest and continued economic insecurity for many, Obama acknowledged a tendency “to withdraw” that was increasingly common on both sides of the Atlantic. Such detachment could only offer “false comfort,” Obama warned. [Continue reading…]

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It took Barack Obama to crush the Brexit fantasy

Jonathan Freedland writes: o wonder they were desperate that he keep his mouth shut. At his podium in Downing Street Barack Obama flattered his hosts, paid lip service to the notion that the referendum on British membership of the European Union on 23 June is a matter for the British people – and then calmly ripped apart the case for Brexit.

It was the Vote Leavers’ worst nightmare. For years – no, decades – the anti-EU camp has suggested that Britain’s natural habitat is not among its continental neighbours but in “the Anglosphere”, that solar system of English-speaking planets which revolves around the United States. Break free from Brussels and we could embrace our kindred spirits in Sydney, Toronto and especially New York, Washington and Los Angeles. The Brexit camp has long been like the man who dreams of leaving his wife for another woman, one who really understands him.

Obama is that other woman. And today he told the outers their fantasies were no more than that. First in print and then, more explicitly, in person he spelled out that America has no intention of forming some new, closer relationship with a Brexited Britain. On the contrary, a post-EU Britain would be at “the back of the queue” if it sought to agree its own, new trade treaty with the US.

America, he told his British audience – hence his use of “queue”, not “line” – likes the fact that Britain is already married: it works out really well for all three parties involved. His message was unambiguous. Don’t rush into a hasty divorce because you think we’re waiting for you with open arms. We’re not. [Continue reading…]

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Barack Obama: As your friend, let me say that the EU makes Britain even greater

Barack Obama writes: As citizens of the United Kingdom take stock of their relationship with the EU, you should be proud that the EU has helped spread British values and practices – democracy, the rule of law, open markets – across the continent and to its periphery. The European Union doesn’t moderate British influence – it magnifies it. A strong Europe is not a threat to Britain’s global leadership; it enhances Britain’s global leadership. The United States sees how your powerful voice in Europe ensures that Europe takes a strong stance in the world, and keeps the EU open, outward looking, and closely linked to its allies on the other side of the Atlantic. So the US and the world need your outsized influence to continue – including within Europe.

In this complicated, connected world, the challenges facing the EU – migration, economic inequality, the threats of terrorism and climate change – are the same challenges facing the United States and other nations. And in today’s world, even as we all cherish our sovereignty, the nations who wield their influence most effectively are the nations that do it through the collective action that today’s challenges demand. [Continue reading…]

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Obama says loves Churchill in British row over ‘part-Kenyan’ remark

Reuters reports: U.S. President Barack Obama told Britons on Friday he loved Winston Churchill, rebuffing suggestions that he had disrespected the wartime leader because of a grudge against Britain linked to his Kenyan ancestry.

Obama was visiting London to press Britons to vote to stay in the European Union, and the Churchill issue arose after London Mayor Boris Johnson, who is campaigning for an “Out” vote, brought it up in an article criticizing Obama.

“I love Winston Churchill, I love the guy,” Obama said when asked at a news conference about Johnson’s article.

“Right outside the door of the Treaty Room, so that I see it every day, including on weekends when I’m going into that office to watch a basketball game, the primary image I see is a bust of Winston Churchill,” said Obama, referring to his private office on the second floor of the White House.

“It’s there voluntarily because I can do anything on the second floor,” he said, standing alongside Prime Minister David Cameron, who is leading the “In” campaign.

Obama did not name Johnson, but his remarks were a humiliating put-down for a man who is widely touted as a potential successor to Cameron, especially if voters do opt to leave the EU in a June referendum.

Johnson was accused of racist undertones by an opposition Labour politician over the opening paragraphs of an article he wrote in the Sun newspaper criticizing Obama’s stance on the EU.

In the passage, Johnson speculated about the reasons for the removal of a bust of Churchill from the Oval Office in 2009, during the early days of Obama’s presidency.

“Some said it was a snub to Britain. Some said it was a symbol of the part-Kenyan president’s ancestral dislike of the British Empire, of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender,” Johnson wrote in the mass-market Sun tabloid. [Continue reading…]

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Ex-CIA officer faces extradition from Portugal to Italy for alleged role in cleric’s rendition

The Washington Post reports: More than 13 years after an Egyptian cleric was kidnapped off the streets of Milan by CIA operatives, one former agency officer now living in Portugal faces extradition to Italy, where she was sentenced to four years in prison for the abduction.

Sabrina De Sousa, 60, was one of 26 Americans convicted in absentia by Italian courts for her alleged role in the February 2003 rendition of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar.

Like the other convicted Americans, De Sousa never really faced the threat of Italian imprisonment, because she had moved back to the United States long before the Italian trials began.

But last spring, De Sousa moved to Portugal to be near relatives. In the fall, she was detained by local authorities at the Lisbon airport on a European arrest warrant.

This week, Portugal’s highest court upheld the country’s lower courts’ rulings, declared that they did not violate the constitution, and said De Sousa should be sent to Italy as soon as May 4. Portugal’s Constitutional Court also reiterated a condition set by the lower courts — and guaranteed by Italy in De Sousa’s European arrest warrant — that once she arrives in Italy, she must be given another trial or a chance to appeal with new evidence, and the ability to call Italian and U.S. witnesses, because she had been tried in absentia. [Continue reading…]

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Failed state: Can a unity government succeed in divided Libya?

Der Spiegel reports: This may be the only thing you need to know about the situation in Libya: For security reasons, the headquarters of the United Nations Special Representative for Libya is situated 500 kilometers (311 miles) away from Tripoli in the Tunisian capital of Tunis. Martin Kobler’s office is located in a non-descript building in the city’s Les Berges du Lac diplomatic quarter.

For trips to Libya, he has an 18-seat propeller plane at his disposal, parked at the nearby airport. He uses it to commute several times each month to Libya. But sometimes, he isn’t given permission to land, for no apparent reason. On such occasions, the plane remains grounded, along with Kobler, in Tunis.

On a recent Sunday in April, Kobler has invited us to a meal in the restaurant Au Bon Vieux Temps in a posh suburb of Tunis. The view of the Mediterranean is spectacular. A slight man with a warm glint in his eyes, Kobler, 63, was once chief of staff to former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. He has also served as German ambassador to Cairo and Iraq and, most recently, as the UN special representative to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Today he has one of the most difficult jobs in the world. His task is to help create a state out of Libya at the behest of the international community. The fact that Libya was never truly a state, even under dictator Muammar Gadhafi, who was toppled in 2011, doesn’t make things any easier. Considering what he’s up against, Kobler is pursuing his mission with astounding optimism.

The situation in Libya is important for Europe for two reasons. First, because Islamic State (IS) is continuing to spread unhindered in the civil war-torn country. Second, because one of the most important routes for migrants making their way to Europe runs through Libya. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on a prominent Libyan politician as part of a broader Western effort to force Libya’s warring factions to accept the authority of a unity government backed by the United Nations.

The Treasury Department said it was adding the politician, Khalifa al-Ghweil, the leader of a self-declared government in the capital, Tripoli, to its sanctions list and would freeze any assets he might have in the United States.

The sanctions are a boost to the new unity government, which was formed under the auspices of the United Nations in December, has strong support from Western countries that are desperate to end years of turmoil in Libya. It also enjoys the allegiance of Libya’s national oil company, the central bank and some of the militias that guard the country’s oil fields. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: The United Nations envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, has called for western forces to help combat Islamic State in partnership with the country’s new government.

With Barack Obama due to meet four European leaders in Germany on Monday for a summit that is likely to focus on Libya, Kobler said foreign powers should offer training and military support, combined with an end to the UN arms embargo.

“The Daesh [Isis] expansion can only be stopped militarily,” he said. “There is a consensus that a united Libyan army needs training; the lifting of the weapons embargo is very important. We need the most modern weapons to finish Daesh.”

Isis has been stepping up its offensive against Libya’s oilfields. An assessment circulating in foreign missions reports that in the last two weeks the group has broken out of its base in the coastal town of Sirte in three thrusts. [Continue reading…]

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Think Merkel’s got problems now? Wait until she takes on Libya

Arne Delfs writes: Angela Merkel is pushing the boundaries of her realpolitik.

A leader whose pragmatism trumps ideology every time, the German chancellor faces international criticism, alienated voters and a rift in her coalition because of her choices in combating the refugee crisis.

That might just be the start of her difficulties. With the European Union deal she pushed with Turkey beginning to deter illegal migration, Merkel is shifting her focus to the surge in refugee flows across the central Mediterranean to Italy. And that means engaging with Libya and Egypt.

Merkel will host U.S. President Barack Obama and the leaders of the U.K., France and Italy in Hanover, western Germany, on Monday to discuss Libya and migration, Syria and Islamic State, along with what the White House described as additional steps NATO allies must take to address the “challenges on Europe’s eastern and southern periphery.”

German intelligence suggests some one million refugees are waiting in the Maghreb countries to cross to Europe, causing alarm in the Chancellery in Berlin, according to an official from Merkel’s party who asked not to be named discussing internal deliberations.

German foreign policy is now “driven by the domestic imperative to bring down the number of refugees: this is Merkel’s live-or-die issue,” said Josef Janning, head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. Germany is set to become “much more active” in North Africa, and “for Merkel this is a challenge, because you have to be cautious about doing things that the public doesn’t understand.” [Continue reading…]

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Europe says U.S. regulations keeping it from trade with Iran

The New York Times reports: With the completion of the nuclear deal with Iran and the opening of its market, European businesses expected a trade bonanza.

But three months after the lifting of many sanctions against Iran, there is growing frustration among European politicians, diplomats and businesspeople over the inability to complete dozens of energy, aviation and construction deals with the Iranians.

The main obstacle, the Europeans say, is their ally, and the driving force behind the historic nuclear agreement, the United States. Wary of running afoul of new sanctions imposed by Washington over Iran’s missile program and accusations that Iran sponsors terrorism, European banks are refusing to finance any of the deals, effectively perpetuating Iran’s isolation from the global financial system.

Europeans also point to new American visa regulations that make it more difficult for them to enter the United States if they have traveled to Iran. Those financial and travel restrictions, they say, make it nearly impossible to reach agreements with their Iranian counterparts. [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s disdain for Europe’s ‘free riders’ makes this an awkward transatlantic trip

By Scott Lucas, University of Birmingham

Barack Obama’s visit to Britain, brings with it plenty of chatter about the so-called “special relationship” between the US and the UK. Coming as Britain prepares for a referendum on European Union membership, the visit has already kicked off a political bunfight about the Americans “ordering” Britons how to vote on June 23, with Obama to weigh in explicitly on why a Brexit would be a seriously bad idea.

But this neurosis about being bossed around by Washington misses the bigger point about how Obama sees Britain and its neighbours. Whenever he swings through Europe, he makes a public show of friendship and unity – but he clearly thinks the US is being exploited by a troublesome continent that relies on American power to shore itself up.

This is a misdiagnosis on his part. The issue here is not European fecklessness, but Obama’s imperative to gloss over his own foreign policy failings.

While he can rightly claim credit for achievements such as the rapprochement with Cuba, a steady, pragmatic relationship with China, and a step back from the confrontation, aggression and abuse of the George W. Bush years. The problem is that he wants the catastrophes that unfolded on his watch dismissed as beyond his control.

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What the European Union can learn from CERN about international co-operation

By Roger Barlow, University of Huddersfield

Can Europe work? This is the real question being asked of British people on June 23. Behind the details of subsidies, regulations and eurozones lies a more fundamental puzzle: can different nationalities retain their own identities and work together, without merging into some bland United States of Europe?

I would like to suggest that there may be an example to follow in the history of CERN, the international research organisation based in Switzerland, and home to the world-famous particle accelerators used recently by teams of thousands of scientists from many nations to confirm the existence of the Higgs boson.

There are many similarities between CERN and the EU. The former was founded in 1954 and the latter in 1957, when the Treaty of Rome was signed (although it was then called the European Economic Community). Both CERN and the EU have grown over the years. The EU started with six countries and now brings together 28. CERN has grown from an initial 12 members, including the UK, to 21.

Both also emerged as a response to a post-war world in which the two superpowers dominated, not only militarily but also economically and scientifically. The US and the USSR were supreme on either side of the iron curtain, and with their great resources they pushed ahead with prestige research: space travel, electronics, and nuclear physics.

The European nations were impoverished by the financial and human cost of the war. Many of its greatest (often Jewish) scientists had fled to the US and were slow to come back. None had the people or the capacity to compete on their own.

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