By Anna Porter - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - 5 Comments
Hungary’s crackdown on the media sparks a backlash at home and away
The European Union’s rotating presidency is hardly the stuff of international headlines. Few could name the last two countries presiding (Spain and Belgium). The position is largely honorific, lasts only six months, offers a few opportunities for self-promotion and the occasional memorable moment for the president’s home team.
Not so with Hungary. Perhaps not even the 1956 revolution attracted so much ink and airtime than the weeks leading up to Viktor Orbán’s accession to the EU’s presidential chamber. From the venerable Financial Times to South Africa’s New Age, the press has been on the attack; most of the German, Italian and Spanish papers have been fulminating since early November, and even the China Times has made disapproving noises. The Süddeutsche Zeitung went so far as to accuse the Hungarian government of “murdering” the free press.
The fuss is about new media legislation that sets out a series of rules that apply to all media, including online, and threatens one of democracy’s most cherished hallmarks: freedom of the press. The document is 180 pages long, most of it standard officialese, but it does contain a couple of doozies. Article 13, for example, states that “all media providers shall provide authentic, rapid and accurate information on local, national and EU affairs and on any event that bears relevance to the citizens of the Republic of Hungary and members of the Hungarian nation.” It goes on to demand that all media “provide comprehensive, factual, up-to-date, objective and balanced coverage of local, national and European issues.” It fails to mention according to whom. One viewer’s “balanced” can be another’s “biased.”
By Erica Alini - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 12:00 PM - 22 Comments
Efforts to equate Nazi and Soviet atrocities open old wounds on both sides of the old Iron Curtain
A recent decision by the European Union has evoked the ghosts of horrors past. Last month, the European Commission rejected calls by countries in Eastern Europe to criminalize the denial of crimes perpetrated not only by Nazi but also Communist regimes, reviving a highly contentious debate over whether Soviet atrocities can be equated to the Holocaust. Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic argued that Soviet crimes “should be treated according to the same standards” as the Holocaust. But due to a lack of consensus, the proposal was rejected, though it remains under review.
The idea of a so-called “double genocide” law that links Nazi and Communist crimes concerns some Jewish commentators and Western countries. Critics paint Eastern Europe’s lobbying efforts as an attempt to rewrite history by focusing attention on its role as a victim of the Soviets rather than as a collaborator in the extermination of Jewish minorities during the Nazi occupation. Anti-Semitism, critics say, is alive and well in Eastern Europe. Lithuania, for instance, has shied away from trying some suspected Nazi war criminals, and waged a controversial campaign to investigate alleged crimes committed by Jewish partisans during the Second World War.
By Julia Belluz - Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 12:00 PM - 0 Comments
Illegal migrants crossing into the European Union through Greece’s land border with Turkey
While the world watched Greece burn in response to austerity measures for a failing economy, the country was also quietly trying to quell another crisis: a dramatic increase in the number of illegal migrants crossing into the European Union through Greece’s land border with Turkey.
Though the overall number of undocumented migrants entering Europe has decreased of late, the trend in Greece has gone the other way; it currently accounts for 90 per cent of detected illegal border crossings into the EU. This influx has so overwhelmed Greece that it called on Brussels for help. In response, the EU sent over its Rapid Border Intervention Teams, a multinational armed force set up in 2007 but deployed for the first time to guard Greece’s external borders.
Of the illegal migrants showing up in Greece, about half are Albanians looking for seasonal work. Others claim to be Afghan and Iraqi, seeking asylum. Many will end up in overcrowded detention facilities. And few have papers, so repatriating them can be difficult. So much so that, as of August, the backlog of people seeking asylum in Greece numbered 52,000 cases.
By Erica Alini - Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 11:40 AM - 0 Comments
Among many Serbs, the fugitive general remains popular, and seen as the victim of a smear campaign
Calling up the hotline at the Serbian Intelligence Agency with a crucial tip about war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic could earn you a $14-million cheque from the Serbian government—and a $14,000 bounty on your own head. That’s how much an ad on SerbianNationalists.com, the website of a right-leaning group, is promising as a reward for turning in anyone who informs on Mladic, the Bosnian-Serb general who stands accused of genocide before the UN international criminal court for the massacre of over 7,000 Muslims in Srebrenica during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, and for the siege of Sarajevo.
Mladic is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the way of Serbia’s entry into the European Union. The EU recently inched closer to starting membership talks with Belgrade, but insists further progress is conditional on serious efforts to capture the fugitive. But although over 60 per cent of Serbs support joining the EU, a roughly equal percentage do not think that Mladic should be arrested and extradited, according to a recent survey.
By Charlie Gillis and Nancy MacDonald - Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 12:20 PM - 0 Comments
A pampered continent protests the rollback of its lavish welfare state
Hugo Christy doesn’t have to worry about his pension for 40 years. He hasn’t even started working yet. None of this has stopped the 21-year-old student from the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris from joining thousands of striking workers in mass protests against the French government’s pension reforms.
Rolling strikes and nationwide demonstrations against the move all but brought the country to its knees, as people from all walks of life decried the hike in the French age of retirement from 60 to 62, and the age for full state pension from 65 to 67. Last week, President Nicolas Sarkozy was forced to call in riot police, who used tear gas and batons to clear key fuel depots and get gas flowing to service stations—more than a quarter had run dry. Strikes shut Marseille’s docks, and left many of the southern port city’s sidewalks filled with rotting garbage. More than 300 high schools were blockaded, and streets from Paris to Nice were flooded with youth and workers carrying drums and bullhorns, chanting slogans, staging sit-ins, and singing the Internationale, the socialist anthem. Children as young as 10 demanded their government withdraw its reforms, suggesting either remarkable awareness, or some early instruction by their parents in the art of dissent.
By Cameron Ainsworth-Vincze - Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
Free trade with the EU could hurt the sick and ailing in the Third World
India’s dream of becoming an economic powerhouse will take a giant leap forward later this year with the scheduled signing of a bilateral free trade agreement with the European Union. The goal of the agreement is to triple the existing $74-billion trade flow between the two regions over the course of the next five years. Yet one outstanding issue is drawing considerable backlash, at home and abroad.
The agreement, according to a new study in the Journal of the International AIDS Society, could significantly harm India’s generic drug industry, which supplies 80 per cent of the cheap, anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) that are sold to low- and middle-income countries. The study, which contains data from more than 17,000 donor-funded purchases of ARVs by 115 countries, suggests that negotiations between India and the EU have included measures that could delay, or in some cases restrict, generic medicines from reaching certain regions due to product patent restrictions, data requirements and tighter border rules. Such a move could significantly increase the cost of India’s ARVs, in addition to limiting dosage availability and delaying access to newer and more advanced drugs, the study argued.
By Patricia Treble - Monday, September 6, 2010 at 12:02 PM - 0 Comments
A new ranking of European countries places the Nordic nations at the top of the list. As for the bottom . . .
Since politicians are fond of mouthing platitudes about how learning is essential for growth, development and prosperity, the Bertelsmann foundation decided to analyze which nations backed up those statements with action. This week, the German think tank unveiled the European Lifelong Learning Indicators (ELLI) Index, a measure of learning from cradle to grave that evaluated 23 European Union nations on everything from Internet access to participation rates in job-related training. While Denmark was thrilled with its No. 1 overall place, education-proud Germany was shocked that its 10th-place spot was just above the EU average. Greece, Bulgaria and finally Romania were consigned to the bottom of the pile, along with most of southern and eastern Europe.
The index originated at the Canadian Council on Learning in Ottawa, which has been releasing a comparable domestic survey since 2006, published annually in the “Smartest Cities in Canada” issue of Maclean’s. The statistics that form the basis of the CCL’s Composite Learning Index as well as the ELLI come from four distinct areas of education: vocational learning, formal education, personal growth and social cohesion. By evaluating data on 36 separate indicators, the Bertelsmann foundation wants Europeans to understand that “learning cannot and should not start or end in the classroom,” Ulrich Schoof, a co-writer of the report at Bertelsmann, states. “We learn on the job, during our leisure time, in the community and in our families.”
By Patricia Treble - Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Applying for Romanian citizenship: Fears of a back-door entry into the European Union
It is now easier than ever for Moldovans to flee the poorest nation in Europe. Neighbouring Romania just opened two consulates to keep up with the crushing demand for passport applications under a special Romanian decree. And that has the European Union worried about a flood of Moldovans legally entering its economically struggling area.
By Thomas Watson - Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 11:40 AM - 11 Comments
Ottawa says it’s on the verge of a historic pact with the EU, but corporate Canada isn’t sold on the idea
Canadian Trade Minister Peter Van Loan wishes the mainstream media would pay more attention to the anti-globalization crowd. After all, if trade naysayers made the front page of national papers more often, then more people might realize Canadian trade negotiators are well on their way to making history with an ambitious plan to better integrate our national economy with the European Union. As Van Loan points out, the Council of Canadians, which claims a deal with the EU could threaten Canadian access to safe drinking water, recently held “a wonderful news conference” to voice its concerns—but it got virtually no media pickup. “I was actually disappointed,” Canada’s trade minister says, “because there should be more of a spotlight on these negotiations.”
True enough. If all goes as planned, Canada will become the first developed nation to land a free trade agreement with the economic grouping of 27 European nations sometime next year. The EU—the world’s largest market, not to mention home to the wealthiest pool of investment capital and some of the largest and most important companies on the planet—is already Canada’s second-largest source of trade and foreign direct investment. In 2008, Canadian exports to the EU totalled $52 billion. Imports amounted to $62 billion. But there appears to be plenty of room for growth. After all, the Canadian economy is 150 per cent larger than the Indian economy, which has similar trade levels with the EU. Furthermore, Europe trades about 25 per cent more with South Korea, which has a smaller GDP than Canada.
By Mark Steyn - Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 8:40 AM - 76 Comments
Still foolish enough to be in the private sector paying for the benefits of the public sector?
I can’t remember exactly when I first encountered a pop-culture jetpack. Was it James Bond’s, courtesy of Q, in Thunderball? Or was it some comic book? At any rate, I no longer have to wait for mine. Martin Aircraft of Christchurch, New Zealand, have put one into production, for the cost of a top-of-the-line automobile—or about $100,000. It’s not clear to me where you’d be able to fly it, since government air-traffic agencies don’t seem eager to contemplate a world of individual human flight patterns. But still: the Bond jetpack is belatedly here.
Other than that, the future seems unlikely to be quite as futuristic as expected. The problem facing the developed world isn’t so very difficult to figure out. We’re living beyond not just our means but everybody’s means. You can strap on your jetpack, but where would you go? In the United States, Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute calculates that if the federal government were to increase every single tax by 30 per cent it would be enough to balance the books—in 25 years. Except that it wouldn’t. Because if you raised taxes by 30 per cent, government would spend even more than it already does, on the grounds that the citizenry needed more social programs and entitlements to compensate for their sudden reduction in disposable income.
In Canada, the average household’s debt-to-income ratio reached an all-time high in 2009. Credit-card holders at least three months behind with their payments increased by 40 per cent.
By Anne Kingston - Tuesday, December 8, 2009 at 3:20 PM - 0 Comments
She has quietly blazed trails for the past four years as Germany’s first female chancellor and as the first to hail from the former Communist East. She’s the “most powerful woman in the world” according to Forbes and, in her slow, plodding way, has emerged as the de facto leader of the European Union.
Outside of Germany, however, there’s been scant interest in Angela Merkel, the earnest, apple-cheeked 55-year-old leader of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU)—but for when she brushed off former president Bush’s frat-boy neck rub at the 2006 G8 Summit or showed off impressive decolletage in Norway in 2008: “Merkel’s Weapons of Mass Distraction!” crowed the British tabloid Daily Mail.
Her re-election to another four-year-term in September barely registered in North America, which tends to think of Europe’s most populous country and largest economy in terms of BMW, not CDU. Far more ink is spilled on beleaguered male EU leaders: Britain’s Gordon Brown, whose Labour Party is slowly committing hara-kiri; French President Nicolas Sarkozy, with his decorous wife and ADD flitting from issue to issue; and Italy’s scandal-prone PM, Silvio Berlusconi.
The effective Merkel, who spends her leisure time hiking in the Alps and attending the Bayreuth opera festival, is glaringly dull in contrast. Her husband, chemistry professor Joachim Sauer, is so publicity-shy he’s known in Germany as the “Phantom of the Opera.” Slate dubbed her the “anti-Obama,” citing her “zero charisma, zero glamour, beige pantsuits, and a spouse who rarely appears in public.” Continue…
By Paul Wells - Friday, July 17, 2009 at 11:00 AM - 31 Comments
The provinces have been so eager to keep one another out, they’re reluctant to let European investors in
The occasion was a recent economic conference in Montreal. The place was crawling with reporters, but the president of Colombia was in town so none of the reporters bothered to attend one particular breakfast session. Well, almost none.
The topic at the breakfast was trade between Canada and the European Union. Guests included Roy McLaren, the former trade minister under Jean Chrétien, who runs something called the Canada-Europe Round Table. Also Ross Hornby, Canada’s ambassador to the EU. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 7, 2009 at 12:46 PM - 20 Comments
Adam Radwanski wonders why no one’s asking questions about free trade with Europe.
The fact that yesterday’s Question Period yielded nary a single question on this matter, on the day that the Prime Minister was meeting with European officials in Prague to discuss it, is rather telling of the ability of that forum to shed light on the government’s activity.
Granted, the answers would probably all have come back to the scurrilous Liberals’ dastardly plans to raise taxes. But if opposition politicians felt no compulsion to at least attempt to find out what the government is aiming for and how it’s progressing, I’m really not sure why they bother going to work each day.
By Nancy Macdonald - Wednesday, February 25, 2009 at 8:40 AM - 1 Comment
Corruption runs rampant in the EU’s newest member state
When Alexander Tasev was gunned down in his black Mercedes in an suburb of Sofia in May 2007, the wealthy Bulgarian businessman became the third president of the soccer club Lokomotiv Plovdiv to be assassinated in as many years. Tasev, who was shot in broad daylight, was also thought to control political interests in southwest Bulgaria. His death came a week ahead of state elections, and four days after a city councillor in the Black Sea resort town of Nessebar was shot and killed with seven bullets—the same number used earlier to kill Yanko Yankov, the mayor of the central Bulgaria resort town of Elin Pelin.
So went the last election season in Bulgaria, the newest European Union member state, where graft and contract killings are routine and a shady group of businessmen are muscling for their take of everything from new hospitals to billions in European aid. Brussels had hoped to encourage reform in Bulgaria—by any measure the poorest, most corrupt and violent country in Europe—by drawing the traditionally pro-Russian state into its orbit. Since it joined the EU in 2007, however, promised reforms have gone unmet, the legal system remains a shambles, and corruption, which taints everything from sausage-making to highway construction, has actually increased, according to the Sofia-based Center for the Study of Democracy.
By selley - Tuesday, June 10, 2008 at 2:23 PM - 0 Comments
Must-reads: …Andrew Cohen on Judaism in Poland; Jonathan Kay on the decline of jihadism;
Apologies, accusations and advice
The pundits weigh in on parliamentary contrition, Oily the Splot and a gender-balance promise too far.
The Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin believes tomorrow’s apology to the victims of Canada’s residential school system is “doomed to disappoint in some quarters,” which in turn creates a risk that Canadians will become “flippant or fed up with the government response to the … tragedy.” (It’s already beginning—on National Post property, anyway.) And on both sides of the aisle in the House of Commons, Martin says there’s a growing sense of weariness over the number and frequency of the apologies Ottawa is handing out. “Sincerity can’t be bought,” he warns, “but cynicism can.”
You can’t blame the Tories for “framing [Stéphane Dion's] foolishly free-form carbon tax musings to their advantage,” says the Toronto Star‘s James Travers. “Blame them instead for being parsimonious with their own truths and, most of all, for slamming shut the government doors they promised, hand solemnly over heart, to throw open”—that is, for those who don’t speak the Traversian dialect, blame them for making government less open and accountable having promised to do the exact opposite. In fact, he argues, juvenile ad campaign creations like Oily the Splot are a necessary “diversion” for a government perpetually using “minority guerrilla tactics” to keep Parliament’s various committees out of its Cadscam, in-and-out and NAFTA-disasta business.