$1.3 billion of weapons flowing from Europe to Middle East

The Guardian reports: Eastern European countries have approved the discreet sale of more than €1bn of weapons in the past four years to Middle Eastern countries that are known to ship arms to Syria, an investigation has found.

Thousands of assault rifles such as AK-47s, mortar shells, rocket launchers, anti-tank weapons and heavy machine guns are being routed through a new arms pipeline from the Balkans to the Arabian peninsula and countries bordering Syria.

The suspicion is that much of the weaponry is being sent into Syria, fuelling the five-year civil war, according to a team of reporters from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

Arms export data, UN reports, plane tracking, and weapons contracts examined during a year-long investigation reveal how the munitions were sent east from Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Montenegro, Slovakia, Serbia and Romania.

Since the escalation of the Syrian conflict in 2012, the eight countries have approved €1.2bn (£1bn) of weapons and ammunition exports to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey – key arms markets for Syria and Yemen. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Sturgeon preparing for Scottish independence to keep post-Brexit options open

Reuters reports: Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon said on Monday she would start preparatory work on splitting Scotland from the rest of Britain in order to keep the option of independence available following the June 23 vote to leave the European Union.

Although Britain voted to end its EU membership at the referendum, Scottish voters overwhelmingly backed remaining inside the bloc, reigniting the debate over Scotland’s future as a constituent nation of the United Kingdom.

Sturgeon renewed her position that a fresh independence bid, only two years after the country voted against it, should remain an option, depending on the shape of Britain’s future ties with the bloc and how well they worked for Scotland. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Austria: The lesson of the far right

Jan-Werner Müller writes: Could Austria become the first Western European country since World War II to have a far-right president? Amid the shock over the Brexit vote, few have noted the extraordinary sequence of events that have played out in this wealthy social democracy. On May 22, Norbert Hofer of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party lost the race for the Austrian presidency by around 31,000 votes to Alexander Van der Bellen of the Green Party. On June 8, the Freedom Party contested that result, alleging several irregularities, among them the premature opening of mail ballots and the release of election data to the media too early. In fact, there was no evidence of manipulations having changed the outcome. But on July 1 Austria’s Constitutional Court nevertheless ruled that the election would have to be repeated. Thus the Freedom Party — a party that was once described as a “party of former Nazis for former Nazis” — will have a second chance at the presidency in early October.

Just why has the far right done so well in Austria in particular? The country enjoys one of the highest per capita income levels in the EU, has an extensive welfare system, and has benefited enormously from the opening to Eastern Europe since 1989 (Vienna used to be shabby compared to Berlin; now it’s the other way around). Nor has Austria, until now, suffered from the devastating terror attacks that have afflicted France and Belgium. Picking up on Pope Paul VI’s praise of Austria as an isola felice, the country’s most important post-war political figure, long-time Chancellor Bruno Kreisky (in office 1970-1983), called it an “island of the blessed.” Nonetheless, the Freedom Party has been growing in Austria for more than two decades. If there were Austrian parliamentary elections today, the far right would win. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Europeans ask if violence is becoming fact of life

The Wall Street Journal reports: In less than two weeks, Western Europe has witnessed the calm of everyday life repeatedly shattered by high-profile, indiscriminate acts of savagery, raising the sense that violence is becoming a new normal.

After the Bastille Day massacre in Nice, then an ax attack on a German train and a shooting spree in Munich, the list of violent acts grew again on Sunday not once, but twice. One Syrian asylum-seeker allegedly hacked a woman to death with a machete in southern Germany; police said it didn’t appear connected to terrorism. Then another Syrian asylum-seeker detonated a bomb outside a concert in Ansbach, killing himself and injuring others.

The motives and circumstances of each attack were different, but the string of violence has thrown Germany — until last week, mostly untouched by the terror that has struck its neighbors — into high alert, assured France will remain in a state of emergency through year’s end and poured fuel on an already contentious debate about Europe’s migration crisis and its security.

Friday’s attack in Munich was committed by Ali David Sonboly, an 18-year-old believed to have been in psychiatric care. He had taken an interest in mass killers such as Anders Behring Breivik, the right-wing terrorist who killed 77 people in Norway exactly five years before.

The Munich attack would be an exception in a year when Islamic State has either directed or inspired most of the terror attacks in Europe. The extremist group — which investigators say orchestrated the massacres in Paris and Brussels and inspired the truck attack in Nice — has promoted a particularly brutal form of terrorism: indiscriminate targets in civilian life, with the goal of killing as many people as possible.

That separates today’s violence from terror attacks in the 1970s and 1980s, when militant groups such as The Red Brigades in Italy, the Irish Republican Army, the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany and the Basque separatist group ETA in Spain killed hundreds of people to advance their political goals.

Now the violence is an end in itself, said Raffaello Pantucci, a security expert at the Royal United Services Institute, a think tank in London.

“When they used to hijack a plane, the idea was to swap passengers for some of their imprisoned comrades,” said Mr. Pantucci. “Now, you make a statement through the number of people you kill.”

Experts note that there is a difference between terrorism and mass killings carried out by unstable individuals but say images of one high-profile attack can foment others.

Pathological would-be killers absorb the violence and aggression of these events, potentially driving them to attempt larger acts of violence, says Brice De Ruyver, a professor of criminology at University of Ghent in Belgium. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Theresa May to rule out return of border checks between UK and Ireland

The Guardian reports: Theresa May will reassure the first minister of Northern Ireland that there will be no return to border checks for people entering the UK from the Republic of Ireland despite Britain’s vote to leave the EU.

The prime minister will make the pledge to Arlene Foster during a visit to Belfast on Monday, during which she will also promise to engage with the region’s devolved administration in preparation for Brexit negotiations.

Speaking ahead of the trip that completes a tour of all four parts of the UK within the first two weeks of her premiership, May said: “I made clear when I became prime minister that I place particular value on the precious bonds between the nations of the United Kingdom.

“I want to assure the people of Northern Ireland that I will lead a government [that] works for everyone across all parts of the United Kingdom, and that Northern Ireland is a special and valued part of that union.”

May said she wanted to underline her commitment to the Belfast agreement, arguing that “peace and stability in Northern Ireland will always be of the highest priority for my government”.

She added: “I have been clear that we will make a success of the UK’s departure from the European Union. That means it must work for Northern Ireland too, including in relation to the border with the Republic. We will engage with all of Northern Ireland’s political parties as we prepare for that negotiation.”

It is understood that May will support the position of the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, that there will be no “hard border” between the two countries, which have a common travel area. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Donald Trump: EU was formed ‘to beat the U.S. at making money’

The Guardian reports: Donald Trump has claimed that the European Union was created to “beat the United States when it comes to making money” in an interview with NBC News.

Speaking to Chuck Todd, whom the Republican nominee has repeatedly berated as “sleepy-eyed”, Trump also said of the EU “the reason that it got together was like a consortium so that it could compete with the United States”.

The European Union was founded as the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952 in an effort to promote strong cross-border ties in Europe and avoid future wars. It has since evolved to a customs union and eventually to the transnational entity devoted to removing internal trade barriers, building a common market and a fiscal union. Its development and growth has been repeatedly supported by the United States under presidents of both parties. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

How Brexit has inspired Europe’s far right

 

Facebooktwittermail

Turkey’s president is destroying the democracy that Turks risked their lives to defend

erdogan

The Economist: Much is unknown about the attempted military coup in Turkey on the night of July 15th. Why was it botched so badly? How far up the ranks did the conspiracy reach? Were the putschists old-style secularists, as their initial communiqué suggested; or were they followers of an exiled Islamist cleric, Fethullah Gulen, as the government claims?

But two things are clear. First, the people of Turkey showed great bravery in coming out onto the streets to confront the soldiers; hundreds died (see article here and here). Opposition parties, no matter how much they may despise President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, united to denounce the assault on democracy. Better the flawed, Islamist-tinged strongman than the return of the generals for the fifth time since the 1960s.

The second, more alarming conclusion is that Mr Erdogan is fast destroying the very democracy that the people defended with their lives. He has declared a state of emergency that will last at least three months. About 6,000 soldiers have been arrested; thousands more policemen, prosecutors and judges have been sacked or suspended. So have academics, teachers and civil servants, though there is little sign they had anything to do with the coup. Secularists, Kurds and other minorities feel intimidated by Mr Erdogan’s loyalists on the streets.

The purge is so deep and so wide — affecting at least 60,000 people — that some compare it to America’s disastrous de-Baathification of Iraq. It goes far beyond the need to preserve the security of the state. Mr Erdogan conflates dissent with treachery; he is staging his own coup against Turkish pluralism. Unrestrained, he will lead his country to more conflict and chaos. And that, in turn, poses a serious danger to Turkey’s neighbours, to Europe and to the West.

The failed putsch may well become the third shock to Europe’s post-1989 order. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014 destroyed the idea that Europe’s borders were fixed and that the cold war was over. The Brexit referendum last month shattered the notion of ineluctable integration in the European Union. Now the coup attempt in Turkey, and the reaction to it, raise troubling questions about the reversibility of democracy within the Western world — which Turkey, though on its fringe, once seemed destined to join. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

These Brexiters will grind our environment into the dust

George Monbiot writes: The more urgent the environmental crisis becomes, the less we hear about it. It exposes the economic policies of all major parties – whether neoliberal or Keynesian – as incompatible with the times in which we live. To remark on what we are doing to the living planet is to fall into cognitive dissonance. It is easier to ignore it.

This is the spirit in which our new prime minister has engaged with our greatest predicament. Climate change clashes with the economic model, so let’s scrub it from the departmental register. Wildlife is collapsing and, at current rates of soil erosion, Britain has just 100 harvests left. So let’s appoint an extreme neoliberal fiercely opposed to constraints on industry as secretary of state for the environment. When the model is wrong, adjust the real world to make it fit.

I do not see the European Union as a lost Avalon. It brought us much that is good, such as directives that enable us to hold our governments to account for their environmental failures. But the good things it has done for the living world are counteracted – perhaps much more than counteracted – by a few astonishing idiocies. They arise from remote, unresponsive authority that is accessible to corporate lobby groups but not to mere mortals. In some respects the Brexit campaigners were right – though generally for the wrong reasons. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

IMF says Brexit has ‘thrown a spanner in the works’ of global recovery

The Guardian reports: The International Monetary Fund has slashed its forecast for UK growth next year after warning that the decision to leave the EU has damaged the British economy’s short-term prospects and “thrown a spanner in the works” of the global recovery.

The IMF, which voiced strong misgivings about a vote for Brexit in the runup to the EU referendum, said it expected the UK economy to grow by 1.3% in 2017, 0.9 points lower than a previous estimate made in its April world economic outlook (WEO).

The fund said it had cut its forecasts for the global economy due to the likely knock-on effect of the vote on other countries, particularly in Europe. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The EU must move closer to reality

Vernon Bogdanor writes: ow should Britain leave the European Union? The question hangs over Theresa May’s new administration as it considers when to invoke article 50, which will lay out the procedure for a withdrawal agreement, and indicate what sort of future relationship Britain wants with the EU.

Will it be membership of the European Economic Area, like Norway? A trade agreement with the EU, or reliance on World Trade Organisation rules? Yet the future relationship depends not only on the conditions in Britain but also on developments in the EU. And in that respect there are encouraging signs that European leaders are, at long last, listening to what their peoples have been telling them.

As Donald Tusk, president of the European council, declared before the referendum, the EU needs to take a “long hard look at itself and listen to the British warning signal”. After the vote for Brexit, that is needed more than ever. During the campaign much was made of the dangers of an overweening Europe, aiming to become a federal superstate. Yet things have changed following the eurozone and migration crises.

Despite the rhetoric of ever closer union, the member states are no longer prepared to sacrifice more of their sovereignty. Germany has no appetite for fiscal union, and Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, has said that integration has gone “too far”. Poland has no wish to adopt the euro; there is clearly little desire for a common migration policy; and anti-EU feeling is growing throughout the continent. The EU has become economically, politically and culturally too diverse for any drive towards ever closer union to be successful. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Ireland could see ‘reunification referendum’ says opposition leader

Press Association reports: The leader of Ireland’s main opposition party said he hopes Brexit will move Ireland closer to reunification.

Micheál Martin said a reunification referendum should be called if it becomes clear a majority want to see an end to Irish partition over the UK decision to leave the EU.

The Fianna Fáil leader added that Northern Ireland’s 56% majority vote to remain within the bloc could be a defining moment for the region. He made his remarks delivering the annual John Hume lecture at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal.

“It may very well be that the decision of Northern Ireland to oppose the English-driven anti-EU UK majority is a defining moment in Northern politics,” he said.

“The remain vote may show people the need to rethink current arrangements. I hope it moves us towards majority support for unification, and if it does we should trigger a reunification referendum.

“However, at this moment the only evidence we have is that the majority of people in Northern Ireland want to maintain open borders and a single market with this jurisdiction, and beyond that with the rest of Europe.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail