Jaroslaw Kaczynski is driving Poland away from European democracy

Der Spiegel reports: The nucleus of Poland’s political power lies not in the parliament in Warsaw, not in the presidential palace, but in a windowless, slightly strange looking building that most resembles a multistory car park. It’s not quite part of Warsaw’s city center, although downtown’s many new glass and steel skyscrapers are still just in sight.

Every day, an official car picks up Jaroslaw Kaczynski from his apartment in the Zoliborz neighborhood and brings him to this office block at 84-86 Nowogrodzka. The building houses a sushi restaurant, a copy shop and an insurance company — and the headquarters of Kaczynski’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Its chairman uses a separate entrance. In the mornings, a team of young staff members supplies him with books, newspapers and printouts. All in Polish, because Kaczynski only reads Polish sources. At midday, a procession of black limos starts arriving, delivering ministers — and occasionally the president of the Polish National Bank — to the Nowogrodzka office to pick up directives and seek advice.

Despite holding no formal government office, Kaczynski is Warsaw’s undisputed leader. Together with his late twin brother, Lech, he founded the PiS party in 2001 and twice led it to victory. In 2015, he hand-picked its presidential candidate Andrzej Duda, at the time an unknown member of the European Parliament, who went on to win the vote. He also personally selected current Prime Minister Beata Szydlo. Both politicians are widely seen as Kaczynski’s willing stooges. [Continue reading…]

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Swedish Nazis trained in Russia before bombing a center for asylum seekers

BuzzFeed reports: By the time Anna Ahlberg arrived at the shelter, the only evidence that remained of the blast was a pool of blood that had melted through the snow in the parking lot.

The makeshift shelter was a rundown concrete motel on a lonely road off the highway running into Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city. It housed people who had come to Sweden seeking asylum, but had been ordered to leave the country. Ahlberg, the director of the local migration agency, rushed to the scene about an hour after the explosion went off on the afternoon of January 5. By the time she arrived, the only person injured had been taken away in an ambulance. He was a janitor who’d been peppered with shrapnel and had both legs broken in the blast.

Ahlberg spent a long hour sitting in the back of a police car waiting for a bomb squad to clear the building before they’d allow her inside to reassure the roughly 60 asylum seekers on lockdown. She clung to the hope that the explosion was caused by a firework, or by a propane canister that one of the residents had been using to fuel a camp stove in their room.

“I didn’t want to think that it was meant to harm any person, that it was just an accident or bad luck,” Ahlberg told BuzzFeed News during an interview in Gothenburg in March.

But Ahlberg’s worst fears were confirmed a week later when investigators revealed that the people behind the blast were members of Sweden’s largest Nazi organization, the Nordic Resistance Movement.

They had found DNA samples on fragments of a bomb and the bicycle it had been strapped to that matched a 23-year-old named Viktor Melin. Melin was the leader of the group’s Gothenburg cell, and prosecutors ultimately brought charges against him and two other members, 20-year-old Anton Thulin and 50-year-old Jimmy Jonasson. The explosive matched devices used in two other attacks that winter: one that exploded in November outside the gathering spot of a left-wing organization without injuring anyone, and another that was discovered before it could go off at a residence for refugees in late January.

This was not the first time Ahlberg had seen one of her facilities vandalized. Two others in her jurisdiction had been damaged just before they were due to open in 2015. Scores of facilities were torched that year, part of the backlash that met the 160,000 asylum seekers who came to Sweden at the height of the EU refugee crisis. But the incident in the parking lot was the first time Ahlberg had heard of a bombing — and someone was nearly killed.

As the case headed to trial six months later, prosecutors dropped a bombshell. The perpetrators weren’t simply inspired by events at home, according to court filings reviewed by BuzzFeed News. Prosecutors presented evidence that two of the men had traveled to Russia, where they trained with paramilitaries who had fought alongside Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine.

The evidence prosecutors laid out to the judge could have far-reaching consequences throughout Europe. They showed how a largely forgotten war hundreds of miles away that has claimed thousands of lives had emboldened fringe nationalists deep inside the EU and built networks into Russia.

Security analysts worry that the Ukraine conflict fueled a transformation of right-wing extremist groups across the West. [Continue reading…]

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This is why Polish people are protesting to defend their democracy

BuzzFeed reports: Tens of thousands of Poles took to the streets on Thursday to protest a law that subordinates the country’s Supreme Court to Poland’s nationalist ruling party. An estimated 50,000 people came out to protest the law in the capital Warsaw alone, with tens of thousands more joining in other cities and smaller towns across the country.

Despite growing protests at home and warnings from the EU, the lower house of the Polish parliament passed a bill strengthening the grip of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) over the judiciary. Under the new law, all current judges on the Supreme Court will be dismissed and the justice minister will appoint new ones.

The bill still has to be passed by the upper house of the Polish parliament, the Senate, and signed into effect by Polish President Andrzej Duda.

In a last desperate attempt to block what they see as the end of democracy in the country, the opposition called on protesters to gather outside the presidential palace in Warsaw demanding that Duda veto the law. Poles also brought candles to local courthouses and chanted “Free Courts!” across the country. [Continue reading…]

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ACLU urges senators to oppose bill targeting Israel boycotts

JTA reports: The American Civil Liberties Union called on U.S. senators to oppose a measure targeting boycotts of Israel and its settlements.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, introduced in March by Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, would expand 1970s-era laws that make illegal compliance with boycotts of Israel sponsored by governments — laws inspired at the time by the Arab League boycott of Israel — to include boycotts backed by international organizations. Those adhering to boycotts would be the subject of fines.

While the measure is aimed at the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, it also targets efforts by the United Nations and the European Union to distinguish products manufactured in Israel from those manufactured in West Bank settlements.

In a letter Monday, the ACLU urged senators not to co-sponsor the measure and to oppose its passage.

“We take no position for or against the effort to boycott Israel or any foreign country, for that matter,” wrote Faiz Shakir, ACLU’s national political director. “However, we do assert that the government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, punish U.S. persons based solely on their expressed political beliefs.”

Shakir added that “the bill would punish businesses and individuals based solely on their point of view. Such a penalty is in direct violation of the First Amendment.” [Continue reading…]

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There’s still a real chance for a second Brexit referendum

Jonathan Freedland writes: roject fear is becoming project reality. Each day brings new evidence of the dire consequences of Brexit. Sometimes it takes the form of a big company announcing that it’s moving operations from the UK to the continent, taking hundreds or thousands of jobs with it. It could be JP Morgan or Goldman Sachs or Samsung, depending on the day of the week.

Or it may be a plea from a key industry voicing its fears of a mismanaged departure from the EU. This week it was medicine and aviation. Eight pharmaceutical trade associations wrote a joint letter warning that the supply of “life-saving medicines” faces disruption, while UK airports cautioned that all flights to Europe could be suspended if there’s no deal to replace the EU “open skies” agreement.

A fortnight ago came figures showing that investment in the UK car industry had plummeted, with uncertainty over Brexit the culprit. Meanwhile, MPs are nervously realising that when they voted to trigger article 50 they also voted to leave Euratom, the body that safeguards the movement of nuclear materials. That’s scary enough, but if we’re outside Euratom medical equipment involved in x-rays and radiotherapy could be stopped at the border. [Continue reading…]

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Macron’s California revolution

Sylvain Cypel writes: Among the many ideas put forward by Emmanuel Macron, the new French president, was to institute an annual speech to the French parliament, a sort of State of the Union à la française. It seems that he couldn’t wait more than ten days after the legislative elections to give it a try. On Monday, in a major speech in the French Parliament, Macron compared his election to a “new start” for a country that is “regaining optimism and hope”; he also introduced a raft of bold proposals for streamlining government. But even bolder than his proposals was the speech itself, and the American-style executive it seemed to usher in.

Along with the speech, there has been Macron’s quasi-official investiture of his wife, Brigitte, as a highly visible First Lady. And then there are the market-driven economic policies he has endorsed. All this has seemed—from the French point of view—emblematic of Macron’s fascination with the United States. Or to be more exact, with the California version of the United States, where Silicon Valley libertarianism mixes with a general progressivism on social issues—access to education and health care, openness to immigration and minorities, support for gay marriage, efforts to control climate change, etc. Didn’t he declare, on June 15, visiting VivaTech, a technological fair, that he intends to transform France in “a nation of start-ups” able to “attract foreign talents”?

Among other proposals announced on Monday, Macron said he planned to reduce by one third the number of representatives and senators in parliament, while offering them bigger staffs to make their work more “fluid” and “efficient.” He wants to abolish parliamentary immunity, so that ministers of the government and members of parliament will remain “accountable for their acts” and can be judged just like normal citizens by regular courts during their mandate. He also wants to lift the current state of emergency by fall, following the passage of a new antiterrorist law. Last but not least, he announced that he will indeed come back once a year to address the Parliament.

It was stunning: a man with hardly any political past or party apparatus rising to win the presidency—and then a vast majority in the National Assembly. It was the French electoral system, a legacy of General de Gaulle, with its two-round voting system, that allowed Macron to pull this off. That system, which emphasizes stability over political fairness, strongly favors the leading party: with only 28.2 percent of the votes in the first round of the legislative elections, the macroniens managed to get 60 percent of the seats in the National Assembly. [Continue reading…]

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Yanis Varoufakis: A New Deal for the 21st century

Yanis Varoufakis writes: The recent elections in France and Britain have confirmed the political establishment’s simultaneous vulnerability and vigor in the face of a nationalist insurgency. This contradiction is the motif of the moment — personified by the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, whose résumé made him a darling of the elites but who rode a wave of anti-establishment enthusiasm to power.

A similar paradox is visible in Britain in the surprising electoral success of the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in depriving Theresa May’s Conservatives of an outright governing majority — not least because the resulting hung Parliament seemingly gives the establishment some hope of a change in approach from Mrs. May’s initial recalcitrant stance toward the European Union on the Brexit negotiations that have just begun.

Outsiders are having a field day almost everywhere in the West — not necessarily in a manner that weakens the insiders, but neither also in a way that helps consolidate the insiders’ position. The result is a situation in which the political establishment’s once unassailable authority has died, but before any credible replacement has been born. The cloud of uncertainty and volatility that envelops us today is the product of this gap. [Continue reading…]

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Poll finds that 60% of Britons want to keep their EU citizenship

The Guardian reports: Six out of 10 Britons want to keep their European Union citizenship after Brexit – including the rights to live, work, study and travel in the EU – and many would be prepared to pay large sums to do so, according to research led by the London School of Economics.

Support for retaining the rights is particularly strong among 18- to 24-year-olds, 85% of whom want to retain their EU citizenship in addition to their British citizenship. Around 80% of people living in London also want to maintain the same rights.

The findings come as pressure on Theresa May mounts from UK business groups, led by the CBI and Remain politicians in both houses of parliament, as well as cultural figures from across Europe, to pull back from her plans for a “hard Brexit” in favour of a deal that maintains the strongest possible trade and other links with the EU after the UK leaves in 2019. [Continue reading…]

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Overwhelmed by immigrants, Italy threatens to bar the door to rescue ships

The Washington Post reports: More than 12,000 immigrants have been rescued in the blue seas of the Mediterranean in the past four days, a spike that has some overwhelmed Italian policymakers threatening to partly bar their ports to rescue ships.

The drastic step would, in theory, force ships bearing people fleeing wars and economic deprivation to find other places to dock, shifting some of the burden of Europe’s grinding migration crisis to nations such as France and Spain. Both nations are on the Mediterranean Sea, but they are far more distant from Libya, through which nearly all the migrants are passing.

The proposal probably is a bargaining position taken ahead of a meeting of European migration ministers next week to discuss the continent’s challenges.

But it is also a reflection of Italy’s years on the migration front lines with little help from the rest of Europe. More than 82,000 people have arrived in Italy this year, a 20 percent increase over the same period last year, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Migrant flows into Greece from Turkey have mostly dried up, meanwhile, a result of a March 2016 deal with Ankara to halt the traffic. [Continue reading…]

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Tensions rising in Balkans as hopes for EU future fade

Der Spiegel reports: The man who hopes to become the prime minister of Kosovo has a past, documented under case file IT-04-84 at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Forty-eight-year-old Ramush Haradinaj, aka Smajl, was accused of crimes against humanity in 37 cases, including murder and torture.

The allegations are from the 1990s, when he was a field commander for the Kosovo Liberation Army (UÇK) in the war against the Serbs. The court ultimately found Haradinaj not guilty, a product of witnesses declining to testify at the last moment or, in some cases, dying suddenly. The United Nations police force in Kosovo has accused the UÇK veteran of dealing cocaine, while Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, described him in a 2005 analysis as being the head of a group involved in “the entire spectrum of criminal activities.”

Despite his past, though, Haradinaj’s alliance of former fighters managed to emerge victorious in Kosovo parliamentary elections earlier this month. With 34 percent of the voters supporting his alliance, it is now up to him to form a governing coalition.

The news from Kosovo, the mini-republic located northeast of Albania, is consistent with the atmosphere in the Western Balkans these days. Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, all part of former Yugoslavia, have spent years waiting to become members of the European Union, but it seems in the early summer of 2017 as though they have almost been forgotten. And people there are beginning to lose their patience. The result: increasing numbers of people leaving the region, accelerated Islamization and rising nationalism. Violent protests recently in the Macedonian capital of Skopje along with ranting about a Greater Albania in both Tirana and Pristina, the capitals of Albania and Kosovo respectively, have served to demonstrate just how tense the situation has become. [Continue reading…]

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Europe has been working to expose Russian meddling for years

The Washington Post reports: As the United States grapples with the implications of Kremlin interference in American politics, European countries are deploying a variety of bold tactics and tools to expose Russian attempts to sway voters and weaken European unity.

Across the continent, counterintelligence officials, legislators, researchers and journalists have devoted years — in some cases, decades — to the development of ways to counter Russian disinformation, hacking and trolling. And they are putting them to use as never before.

Four dozen officials and researchers interviewed recently sounded uniformly more confident about the results of their efforts to counter Russian influence than officials grappling with it in the United States, which one European cyber-official described as “like watching ‘House of Cards.’ ”

“The response here has been very practical,” observed a senior U.S. intelligence official stationed in Europe. “Everybody’s looking at it.”

In the recent French elections, the Kremlin-friendly presidential candidate lost to newcomer Emmanuel Macron, who was subjected to Russian hacking and false allegations in Russian-sponsored news outlets during the campaign. In Germany, all political parties have agreed not to employ automated bots in their social media campaigns because such hard-to-detect cybertools are frequently used by Russia to circulate bogus news accounts. [Continue reading…]

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Sadiq Khan adds voice to calls for UK to remain in single market

The Guardian reports: Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, is calling on the government to fight to keep Britain in the single market, as senior opposition politicians step up the pressure on Theresa May for a softer Brexit after her Commons majority was wiped out at the general election.

Khan said: “The prime minister sought a mandate from the British people for her version of hard Brexit but the electorate registered their opposition. It’s time she heeded the message.

“The Brexit goalposts have been moved. The government must now listen to the will of the people by putting aside ideology, and negotiating a sensible Brexit that ensures continued membership of the single market.”

He said continued single market membership represented the best chance to preserve London’s tech, pharmaceutical and financial services industries.

Some of the prime minister’s cabinet colleagues, including the chancellor, Philip Hammond, appear to have taken the election result as a vindication of their view that the economy must take priority in the negotiations, which started on Monday.

Hammond told the BBC on Thursday morning, as May prepared to travel to Brussels to meet her EU counterparts, that transitional arrangements as the UK leaves could last as long as four years, to avoid a “cliff edge” for businesses. [Continue reading…]

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France’s Macron says sees no legitimate successor to Syria’s Assad

Reuters reports: President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday he saw no legitimate successor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and France no longer considered his departure a pre-condition to resolving the six-year-old conflict.

He said Assad was an enemy of the Syrian people, but not of France and that Paris’ priority was fighting terrorist groups and ensuring Syria did not become a failed state.

His comments were in stark contrast to those of the previous French administration and echo Moscow’s stance that there is no viable alternative to Assad.

“The new perspective that I have had on this subject is that I have not stated that Bashar al-Assad’s departure is a pre-condition for everything because nobody has shown me a legitimate successor,” Macron said in an interview with eight European newspapers.

“My lines are clear: Firstly, a complete fight against all the terrorist groups. They are our enemies,” he said, adding attacks that killed 230 people in France had come from the region. “We need everybody’s cooperation, especially Russia, to eradicate them.” [Continue reading…]

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America in retreat, Europe en marche

Sylvie Kauffmann writes: As British conservatives licked their wounds a week ago, and French voters were electing hundreds of rookies to Parliament to strengthen the hand of President Emmanuel Macron, Ukrainians at last had a reason to celebrate — and they did, partying by the thousands in Kiev. For them, June 11 was the dawn of the long-awaited era of visa-free travel to Europe. One local magazine called it “Ukraine’s Berlin Wall moment.”

This event, little noticed in the midst of so many political upheavals, is a fresh sign that Europe is moving forward. Giving some 45 million Ukrainians the right to travel freely through the 26 countries of the Schengen area is something of an achievement at a time when, across the European Union, the word “immigration” sounds like a recipe for electoral disaster.

Don’t expect European Union leaders to boast about it; that is not something they are good at. Yet a new mood is taking hold in Brussels and other European capitals these days, a wind of hope and optimism rarely felt in the last two decades.

After so many existential crises, believers in the European Union are suddenly waking up to realize that the reports of its death were greatly exaggerated. The eurozone has not collapsed. Britain’s exit, which shocked and destabilized the union a year ago, is now perceived as an opportunity for the 27 remaining members to regroup. [Continue reading…]

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Outside Britain, the mood in the EU is on the upswing

Natalie Nougayrède writes: That Helmut Kohl, the man who oversaw the reunification of Germany and was for so long a giant on the European stage, should die on the eve of negotiations leading to Britain’s withdrawal from the EU seems symbolic. The former German chancellor made the best of the extraordinary circumstances and public mood that followed the collapse of communism and the opening up of eastern Europe.

Today’s European leaders are, by contrast, confronted with an especially adverse set of circumstances. Trump, Putin, Erdoğan, terrorism, unprecedented flows of migration, unemployment, the rise of populism and, of course, Brexit. But, just as Kohl and his French contemporary François Mitterrand relaunched the European project in the early 1990s, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are, as Britain prepares to leave, readying their ambitions and vision for the continent.

At stake is no less than Europe’s role in defending liberal democratic values and a rules-based international order at a time when – as one former Obama administration official put it to me recently – Trump’s America is “missing in action and the UK is disappearing into oblivion”. The words may be harsh, but they underscore that Britain’s central weakness lies not only in its internal political confusion – but also with a dangerous ignorance of what its European neighbours are setting their sights on.

The Franco-German engine is not focusing on Brexit but rather on consolidating the 60-year-old European project through further integration and cooperation. At the heart of this stands an emerging Macron-Merkel deal, intended to act as Europe’s new powerhouse. On 15 May, the French and German leaders met and spoke of a new “roadmap” for the EU. The thinking goes like this: in the next two to three years, as France carries out structural economic reforms to boost its credibility, Germany will step up much-needed European financial solidarity and investment mechanisms, and embrace a new role on foreign policy, security and defence. [Continue reading…]

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France polls: Macron’s party wins clear parliamentary majority

BBC News reports: French President Emmanuel Macron’s party has won a clear parliamentary majority, results show, weeks after his own presidential victory.
With nearly all votes counted, his La République en Marche, alongside its MoDem allies, won more than 300 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly.

The winning margin is lower than some expected, with turnout down from 2012.

The party was formed just over a year ago, and half of its candidates have little or no political experience.

The result has swept aside all of the mainstream parties and gives the 39-year-old president a strong mandate in parliament to pursue his pro-EU, business-friendly reform plans. [Continue reading…]

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The murder of Jo Cox

 

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France’s new president won’t be shy about using military power

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry writes: Macron has given many more signals that he intends to be a hawkish commander-in-chief, and one that will act first and seek alliances later. Alongside trade, the first item on the agenda of his first bilateral summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was strengthened defense and nuclear cooperation, a move that reflects France’s strategic ambitions in the Pacific (where it has a significant presence through its overseas territories) rather than its NATO or EU commitments.

But the most telling sign came in a little-noticed moment during his joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin after their first meeting. Asked about the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Macron responded, “there is a very clear red line on our side,” a blatant dig at Barack Obama’s refusal to enforce that red line. What’s more, he added, “any use of chemical weapons will be met with reprisals and a counterstrike, at least from the French.”

The message wasn’t just intended for Moscow and Damascus, but for Washington, Brussels and Berlin as well: France will act when it must, alone if it must. [Continue reading…]

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Emmanuel Macron says door to remain in EU is open to Britain

The Guardian reports: The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has claimed the door to the EU will remain open to Britain during Brexit negotiations that get underway next week.

In remarks that will be taken as an encouraging sign by opponents of a hard Brexit that there may be room for compromise, the newly elected French leader said the decision to leave the EU could still be reversed if the UK wished to do so.

Speaking in the gardens of the Élysée Palace in Paris in a joint press conference with Theresa May, Macron made it clear that he respected the sovereign decision of the British people. However, he added: “Until negotiations come to an end there is always a chance to reopen the door.”

And Macron suggested that time was of the essence, saying: “As the negotiations go on it will be more and more difficult to go backwards.” [Continue reading…]

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