Advertise On EU-Digest

Anual Advertising Rates

5/25/17

EU-Belgium-NATO: Trump meets with EU officials and scolds world leaders at NATO ceremony in Brussels

"Manneken Pis," Bruxelles most famous fountain
President Trump criticized leaders at a dedication ceremony at the new NATO headquarters in Brussels, May 25, saying they need to increase financial contributions to combat "the threat of terrorism."

"America instead of haggling over money", say most European politicians," must not forget that Europe is on the front-line of the American defense in case of an attack from the Russians. That should be worth every cent the US invests into Europe's defense."

In his speech to NATO leaders, President Trump also said  NATO must focus on terrorism and that “nations owe massive amounts of money” on defense.

Thursday’s NATO meeting was scheduled to allow Trump and leaders of NATO states to take the measure of each other. The 27 other members had hoped to relieve anxiety that arose during Trump’s campaign, when he questioned why the United States was spending its own money to defend Europe, called NATO “obsolete” and ill-equipped to deal with terrorism, and threatened to withdraw if other members failed to pay their “fair share.”

Moreover, though the White House had sent recent signals that the United States would stay in NATO’s mutual defense pact, known as Article 5, Trump made no mention of it as he stood next a monument dedicated to the only time the article had been previously invoked: during the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.

Donald Trump did vow, however, to crack down on leaks that prompted Manchester police to withhold information from the United States about the investigation into this week’s bombing.

Earlier during the day Mr. Trump met with EU President Tusk and other EU officials. 

After the meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels ended, Tusk, who presides over the European Council said:  "I am not 100% sure that we can say today ... that we have a common position, common opinion, about Russia," but Tusk added that both parties remain critical of Russia's military incursions into neighboring Ukraine.

Tusk also said "some issues remain open" with Trump, including climate change and trade policy.

EU members have long questioned Trump's warm comments toward Putin, who has backed many anti-EU candidates in elections throughout the continent. And countries such as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have expressed concerns about similar Russian hacking and disinformation campaigns to undermine elections in their countries.

Trump's meeting with Tusk, who presides over the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, preceded talks with leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The Trump Brussels stop came in the middle of Trump's first foreign trip as president, one that began with visits to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Rome. Trump is spending nine days away from Washington, which is still reeling from a spate of recent revelations related to Trump's links to Russia.

Trump's first foreign trip as president came a week after the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to look into possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russians who sought to influence the 2016 presidential campaign.

The U.S. intelligence community has accused Moscow of orchestrating a high-level campaign of cyberattacks, propaganda and fake news to try and influence the 2016 election, though the president and his aides have denied any collusion.


EU-Digest

5/24/17

NATO under pressure from Trump will symbolically join anti-′Islamic State′ Saudi backed coalition

NATO TO JOIN WITH SAUDI BACKED ISLAMIC COALITION
Several NATO sources on Wednesday said that the strategic military alliance would join the US-Saudi led coalition against the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" (IS) armed group.

The decision is expected to be formally announced on Thursday at the meeting of NATO leaders in Brussels, the sources said.

The leak was made public hours after NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called on the alliance to do more to combat terrorism, following the suicide bomb attack at Manchester Arena that killed 22 people.

Diplomats said the decision comes under pressure from President Trump and is mainly political and symbolic, because all 28 NATO members already contribute to the coalition fighting to retake areas of Iraq and Syria from the extremist group. Some, like Germany, only taking part in support roles such as reconnaissance and logistics.

For America, the lessons of the European tragedy are there to be learned. There is only one solution to the problem of terrorism and it doesn’t involve going abroad in search of monsters to destroy.

The EU must withdraw all its troops from the Middle East – a possibility that doesn’t bear the economic consequences it once did, given the creation of new technologies that make domestic oil production and alternative energy far easier.

For the US the message is that spending billions of dollars defending and sustaining the Saudi monarchy and the Gulf states – some of the most repressive regimes in the world, is throwing money down the drain, and for what?

The interventionists( Republicans and Democrats alike) declare that America’s role as a “global leader” represents the defense of our values. But really, does a regime that beheads “infidels” represent American or European values? Indeed, there is basically no operative difference between the internal rule of the ISIS “caliphate” and the Saudi Kingdom. Yet we are obsessed with destroying the former and cuddling up to the latter.

It’s not too late for the Europeans, who were forced to sleep in a bed they did not make for themselves, to finally step out of that bed, and focus on cleaning-up the ISIS mess at home by themselves, with plans and strategies of their own. 

EU-Digest

Canada: What does Canada get out of restoring diplomatic ties with Iran? (and opposing Trump policies)

Justin Trudeau and Hassan Roubani
believe in open and frank dialogue
It's been almost two years since Iran began to emerge from its international isolation after signing a deal with world powers to ensure its nuclear program is "peaceful." It's been almost as long since Justin Trudeau was elected prime minister on a platform that included restoring diplomatic ties with the country.

Last week, we learned Canadian officials are in Tehran for the first time since the previous Conservative government broke off relations with Iran nearly five years ago.

Since coming to power, the Liberals have been careful to remain critical of Iran's human rights violations, and have  reiterated Canada's opposition to its support for listed terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah.

But Canada has also suggested engaging with Iran may change its behaviour, including on human rights and Iran's habit of jailing and abusing Canadian citizens and residents.

"We believe that open and frank dialogue, especially when we disagree, is the best way to effectively address security issues, hold Iran to account on human rights and advance consular cases," Alex Lawrence, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told CBC.

Western nations, including Canada, have been engaging or trying to engage with Iran since 2015.

Note EU-Digest: It is interesting to note that Canada, as is also the case for most EU Countries, is not in-line at all with the thinking of the Trump Administration.  In particular as it relates to their views on foreign policy (specifically Iran), global warming and the handling of Middle East "crises management".  

EU-Digest

Russia-French relations: French President Macron to host Russia’s Putin at Versailles palace

Macron=Putin meeting at Versailles Palace May 29
The meeting coincides with an exhibition to mark Russian Tsar Peter the Great’s visit to France 300 years ago, providing a perfect photo opportunity for the world’s press -- and for people-watchers -- to capture the two leaders shaking hands with Versailles Palace being used as a symbolic backdrop to demonstrate the historic ties between France and Russia.

The meeting between Macron and Putin is set to be a very closely watched event because the two presidents are expected to touch on an array of critical issues, including both Syria and Ukraine.

Macron has previously said Russia's bombing of the Syrian city of Aleppo could amount to a war crime.

Macron's presidential campaign was also subjected to repeated cyber-attacks, with the Japanese cyber-security firm Trend Micro telling FRANCE 24, "We are 99 percent sure that it is attacks from Russia".

His aides accused the Kremlin of mounting a "smear campaign" against him, with one of the major hacking attacks seeing troves of real and fake documents involving Macron’s campaign team being released online just before the vote. The incident seemed to have had little effect on the country’s voters, however, as the French media heeded a call from the election authorities to respect the French law regarding a nationwide press blackout in the final hours leading up to the vote.

Speaking last Friday, Russia's ambassador to France, Alexander Orlov, said Moscow had a "positive perception" of Macron, describing him as "very intelligent, realistic and pragmatic".

"I think he's not very ideological compared with his predecessors," Orlov told a meeting of business leaders. "With him we have more chances of moving forward than before."

The May 30-September 24 exhibition at the Versailles Palace marks Russian Tsar Peter the Great’s trip to France in 1717 and there will be a special exhibition in the Palace’s Grand Trianon. 

Read more: French President Macron to host Russia’s Putin at Versailles palace - France 24

France: Macron′s new environment chief: Greenwashing or green leading?

Nicolas Hulot, France's most famous environmental activist, is known for making waves. As a famous television personality, he has used his television show as a platform to attack pesticides, nuclear power, and even capitalism as a whole. "Our model is not sustainable," he has declared.

Last week, France's new president Emmanuel Macron nominated Hulot, widely known for his nature documentaries, to be the country's next environment minister. It was a surprising name in a list of cabinet nominations that were mostly center-right and market-friendly.

Hulot, who supported Macron's far-left rival Jean-Luc Melenchon, has been a noted opponent of free trade deals - something Macron champions. Hulot ran unsuccessfully as a Green political candidate in 2012.

He stands in particular contrast to Macron's nominee to be prime minister, the center-right Edouard Philippe. Philippe worked as a lobbyist for French nuclear energy group Areva from 2007 to 2010.

Now, companies are scrambling to figure out whether the appointment could mean an increase in environmental regulation - and a drastic phaseout of nuclear power - or whether it is merely a political gesture.

Read more: Macron′s new environment chief: Greenwashing or green leading? | DW Environment | DW | 23.05.2017

Peace and War: Whatever happened to peace? Arms, oil and war by proxy- by Jonas Ecke

The end of the Cold War was one of the few historical moments in which people around the world looked forward to a future that promised to be more just and peaceful for everyone. The Berlin Wall was finally torn down, following years of tireless civil society activism in one of the world’s few peaceful revolutions. Liberal democratic systems seemed to be spreading everywhere, compelling Francis Fukuyama to craft the (nowadays often-scorned) argument that “The End of History” – and consequently the cessation of constant conflict – had finally arrived with the falling of the Iron Curtain.

The promising world 'peace dividend', a term initially coined by US president George H.W. Bush and UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher, was on everyone’s lips. Hope was in the air. The Soviet Union and United States vowed to work together to further cut down on a nuclear arsenal that could have blown up the world many times over. And they also seemed to be hard at work getting rid of another major – and often underestimated – impediment to peace: proxy wars, the type of war waged in the developing world for most of the Cold War, from Latin America to Central Asia to the Horn of Africa. 

These were wars in which the Soviet Union and US did not directly fight, but paid and favored local fighters, often through highly classified operations and byzantine financial networks that have inspired generations of spy novelists. Before the Cold War, colonial regimes paid local proxies to advance their agendas and “divide and conquer”.

As the Cold War finally came to a close, it was hoped and anticipated that weapon donations would be replaced by UN Peacekeepers and a new generation of NGO activists. Indeed, the new crop of peacemakers seemed to be more liberated. Free from the stifling imperatives of geopolitics, they could implement deals that had previously died prematurely at the conference tables of diplomats, anxious over the advances of an enemy superpower. The tit-for-tat strategies that would reap destruction seemed to be a thing of yesteryear.  

The “War to End all Wars” is a coinage that stems from the First World War. In the global public imagination: the Cold War would be the real “War to End all Wars.” Following its conclusion, an era of enduring peace was within immediate reach. Or so it seemed.

Fast forward 28 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and few such promised realities seem to have materialized. On the contrary, we have entered a new era of proxy wars.

Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria,Yemen, Somalia etc.

To bring these complex wars to a halt, we have to be very precise about what keeps them going. Saudi Arabia and Iran, probably the two main players in proxy wars in a destabilizaion of the Middle Eastern region that is steadily increasing, fund proxy forces to bolster their versions of Islam—Sunni and Shiite Islam, respectively. It is safe to assume that from the perspective of Riyadh and Teheran, furthering sectarian interests, inextricably intertwined with access to resources and geopolitical influence, are of more importance than peace in the region.

But it is not only sectarian strife—often highlighted in the western media—but also global unregulated capitalism that pours kerosene on a Middle East that is already in flames. 

Western weapon companies see the newly emerging proxy wars as momentous opportunities for increased revenues. During a 2015 conference of Lockheed Martin in Palm Beach Florida, its executive vice president Bruce Tanner predicted “indirect benefits” from the war in Syria. Similarly, as the Intercept reports, Raytheon chief executive Tom Kennedy spoke of “a significant uptick” for “defense solutions across the board in multiple countries in the Middle East.” Referring to Saudi Arabia, Kennedy elaborates, “It’s all the turmoil they have going on, whether the turmoil is occurring in Yemen, whether it’s with the Houthis, whether it’s occurring in Syria or Iraq, with ISIS.” And sure enough, stocks for arms have soared in recent years.

But it is not only weapons but also oil which disincentivizes policy makers from de-escalating proxy wars. As Christopher Davidson, who the Economist called “one of the most knowledgeable academics” writing about the Middle East, shows in his 688-page long tome “Shadow Wars: The Secret Struggle for the Middle East,” how many covert operations in the Middle East were historically supported to advance the explicit geopolitical or economic interests of the funders. 

According to Davidson, the emergence of the US as a major oil producer has motivated US policy makers (Trump included) to let Saudi forces engage in exhausting proxy wars throughout the region so that a weakened Saudi Arabia is forced to sell its state assets.

Whatever the precise motivations, aside from the publicly touted humanitarian rationales, oil and weapons play a role in the decisions made by states, even when lives are at stake.

But whatever the argument, the evidence in support of proxy wars as an effective means in the interest of peace is scarce. At least this is the case if one follows the analysis coming from the proverbial mouth of the horse, the CIA. The spy agency has funded proxy fighters for most of its history. 

Reportedly president Obama, at least an initial skeptic in the use of proxies, was interested in finding out if funding insurgents generally accomplish the stated strategic goals and commissioned an internal study.

The report concluded that conflicts were not decided in the interest of the US following the funding of proxy actors, unless, according to the report, US personnel were on the ground along with the proxies. The notable exception—according to the study—was the support for the Mujahidin against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. However, although the Mujahidin did ultimately chase the illegally invading Soviet forces out of the country, Afghanistan did not regain stability. One thing to come out of this instability was the merging of the Mujahidin into Al Qaida: the very same enemy the US fights in the current global 'War on Terror'. 

This is not just one war, but multiple new proxy wars that cause immense suffering and which have, according to the Global Terrorism Index, contributed to an almost nine-fold increase in deaths caused by terrorism between 2000 and 2016. If we consider the entire historical context, the Afghanistan example serves, at best, as a very cautionary tale. 

Tthe Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), demonstrates that 2014 saw an increase in the number of active conflicts and also the casualties from battle. Forty armed conflicts were active in 2014, whereas in 2013 34 conflicts were designated active. The increase in conflicts since 1999 stood at 18 percent. Whatever gains were brought about by the 'peace dividend', they have been reversed, with people all over the world paying the greatest price.

President Donald Trump, by contrast, initially critical of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy, has stepped up military activities since he took office. For example, drone strikes, an important component in the theater of war in Yemen, have gone up by 432 percent and his $ 110 billion weapons sale to Saudi Arabia also won't help in getting hostilities slowed down.

A new type of vigorous and principled peace movement must be formed in this time of crisis. Peace movements in rich countries should join Middle Eastern peace movements that rally for more democratic and less sectarian governance. Social movements can become stronger by integrating divergent points of view, histories and ideologies, which inform interpretations of complex conflicts. It necessarily has to look at the various internal roots of conflict, and also at how foreign governments, from Moscow and Washington to Riyadh and Teheran, fuel conflicts.

Supporting and holding political platforms accountable will be key to demilitarizing political ideologies and stopping the world in its “ruinous race” to global war, to use the words of Gorbachev. More often than not, a call to arm a party to a conflict prolongs said conflict. 

The public’s immediate question with regards to conflicts probably shouldn’t be “Whom should we support militarily?” Instead, we should more seriously consider questions such as “Who keeps a conflict going?” and “How can we de-escalate it?”

Somehow we the people—who, against all odds, want to raise our children in a more peaceful world—have to let our politicians know that arms should be removed from most regions of conflict.

Far from being out of touch with reality, the global peace movement—though worryingly weakened—in fact holds the most realistic solutions to conflict. Given the data, it is clear that negotiation with the actors in a conflict is the best route to peace. De-escalation is the only framework in tune with the realities of the contemporary world as well as the lessons of recent history. 

We the people have to compel and force if necessary regional and global political forces to work towards de-escalating conflicts. Challenging the financial conglomerates that bring weapons into the hand of proxies may be one of the most effective ways to do so.

Please get out of your comfort zone and act- the future of your children and grand-children are at stake. 

EU-Digest

5/23/17

TURKEY - EU In Depth: What is all the EU-Turkey uproar about? - Cengiz Aktar

The euobserver notes that for some time now, Turkey-Europe relations have been reduced to monologues and non-coordinated actions by decision-makers on both sides.

Turkish leaders take every opportunity to disregard European norms, values and principles in order to claim Turkey’s singularity, if not superiority. This trend has accelerated since the 15 July 2016 coup attempt, after which the ruling regime happily took the opportunity to suppress all meaningful dissent.

Centuries-old anti-Western sentiment in Turkish politics is now riding the wave, and Europe-bashing is the favourite topic of endless Turkish electoral consultations.

EU accession negotiations are stuck with no less than 14 chapters blocked in connection with the ongoing disputes over Cyprus. The northern part of the island is under Turkish control.

There is no progress whatsoever on the 15 chapters under negotiation. Talks have been concluded on only one chapter so far and the Turkish side is, understandably so, not interested in opening the remaining 3 chapters as they pertain to social policy, competition policy and public procurement.

Meanwhile, the European Commission’s yearly Progress Report on Turkey’s advancement towards membership is thrown ostensibly into the wastepaper basket.

Relations with the European Parliament are at their lowest level. The latest recommendation of the parliament to freeze the negotiations with Ankara has been declared null and void by Turkey's EU minister.

The rapporteur for Turkey at the EU parliament is an undeclared persona non grata in the country. Indeed, the last meeting of the Joint Parliamentary Commission between members of the Turkish parliament and the EU parliament dates back to May 2015.

Bilateral relations with EU member states’ politicians are also at their lowest point. We see a situation where any non-complacent declaration or action from European side is countered with accusations of being “Nazis” or “fascists”.

There is no more political dialogue on any issue of common concern except the shameful refugee deal of March 2016, in which Turkish authorities are acting on behalf of the EU to patrol for refugees moving towards the European continent.

Turkish society no longer feels the benefits of the so-called pre-accession phase, during which a candidate country thoroughly prepares for membership.

The harmonisation of national legislation with the acquis communautaire, the body of shared EU laws and principles, already brings with it a sort of preview of what's to come after joining the bloc. Although it could be felt strongly between 2000 and 2005, the EU dynamics began to slowly fade away ever since.

Sub-committees in charge of EU preparations in the Turkish administration are being dismantled and the pre-accession funds (around €4 billion for 2014-2020) are under-used due to a lack of adequate projects.

All in all, there is an obvious backlash in terms of European political and economic and criteria. This was demonstrated spectacularly by the political push for the reinstitution of the death penalty, abolished since the year 2000.

Today, Ankara openly rejects EU membership through its actions and intentions.

On the European front, the EU commission - i.e. the secretariat in charge of preparing any candidate country for membership - is busy with paper pushing, as the negotiations are basically at a total standstill. This is due to the opposition of Austria and the Netherlands, in addition to the above mentioned “old” blockages.

Moreover, there has been a decision to halt any substantive contact with Turkish authorities, at least until the end of German elections in autumn.

The Schengen visa exemption for Turkish citizens, which has been negotiated since 2013, looks impossible to implement under the present regime.

MEPs are now, with a few exceptions, against Turkey’s membership, especially since the 16 April referendum.

In the EU member states, Turkish authorities had been marginalized even before the present strains - now they are avoided even for photo-ops.

Finally, every single European decision-maker knows that Turkey doesn’t comply with the Copenhagen Criteria, a compulsory set of benchmarks for every future candidate country.

To cap it all off, following an unfree and unfair referendum, Turkey has now been forced to adopt a presidential regime without checks or balances - much like the 1930s fascist governments of continental Europe.

So, what is all of this noise about pretending, on both sides, that membership negotiations are on track and relations are going to continue like before?

What is all of this fuss by some European politicians who are suddenly choosing to stand by the Turkish democrats, especially those in jail for months?

What is all of this tragic comedy by Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign affairs chief, to declare to the same democrats, with a disgraceful disdain for the European values, that Europe “respects” the result of the referendum, i.e. the choice of a fascist regime?

Let’s start with the Turkish obsession of maintaining a relationship by angrily reacting to warnings about human rights violations and other misdoings.

Economic vulnerability is probably the answer.

The administration of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has accumulated mistakes over years, refrained from in-depth reforms and ended up by becoming dependent of high interest rates to continue to attract speculative capital, to run the economy and fill the deficits.

High unemployment, reduced growth, feeble research and development, a weak education system, poor savings rates, the drying up of foreign direct investment from EU countries - all these structural problems are potentially explosive.

The regime - despite its natural tendency towards Europe-bashing - naively thinks that the present status quo with the EU is sufficient to keep the economy afloat. No more, no less.

As for the Europeans, things are more complicated - as can be seen in the chaotic responses to a clearly lifeless candidacy.

Firstly, the failed candidacy of Turkey since 1973 is a unique case in the history of enlargement. Europe does not have an institutional memory on how to deal with the problems it throws up, exactly like Brexit.

Secondly, the economic and strategic interests are a cause for concern.

In 2016, Turkey was the EU's 4th biggest export destination with €78 billion worth of trade, and 5th biggest import source at €66 billion.

Many of these companies are European at both ends, yet they display a cautious approach to any radical move.

Strategically speaking, Europe and the West in general are adamant about keeping Turkey in Nato and out of the Russian sphere of influence. As for the refugee deal, although it is important, it is still a temporary issue which will lose steam sooner or later.

Thirdly, speaking gently to Turkish democrats may be a cost-free way of soothing consciences. However, the fact remains that the “support” cannot go beyond words and, without governmental commitment, there is no viable indirect channel to civil society.

Fourthly, and these concerns notwithstanding, Europeans seem rather pleased with the failed candidacy of Turkey. Right from the beginning, the prospect of Turkey joining the EU has never inspired a completely determined and resourceful response from Europe.

in addition to open foes like Nicolas Sarkozy, a former French president, the EU considered Turkey’s candidacy to be no different from any other candidacy.

Today, the historic rendezvous that started in 1959 has lamentably ended at the cost of all. The official end of negotiations is not 'if', but instead 'when'.

Now if one needs to be serious and concentrate on the “achievable” regarding the future of EU-Turkey relations, as well as the containment of the regime, there are not many options left.

The revision of the customs union agreement of 1995 as the second best formula looks bleak, both technically and politically.

In an editorial the euobserrver notes : A customs union cannot function without the final objective of membership. Politically, those who hope to tie the revision of the agreement into conditions of economic and political good governance are following a pipe dream - in view of the present regime.

One should understand that the Erdogan regime’s codes are structurally anti-European. Likewise, member states that are against the continuation of negotiations are also against the revision of the customs agreement.

The free trade agreement (FTA) option still remains, like with any other non-EU country, but maybe an enhanced one in the case of Turkey, which has already integrated to a certain degree.

As for the containment, with a lack of any concrete leverage, there are no quick fixes.

The only principle, though, should be to avoid the appeasement of that kind of regime, unlike what had happened in Munich in 1938.

EU-Digest


EU: Handle the EU with more care and bring back solidarity in EU - by Annie Schreijer-Pierik

United we stand divided we fall
Europe seems almost to crumble over the large number of crises. The Brexit, Greek debt, TTIP, problems with ratification of the EU- Ukraine-treaty and CETA, as well as a number of eurosceptic politicians entering national governments.

This is not a very positive mid-term review of the EU-politics.

But let us realize that we are dealing with practical problems of current cooperation. The EU in total has a wonderful track record: More peace, security, freedom of expression and adequate work and food.

These goals have been achieved during more than 60 years. The problem is that too much people take these benefits for granted: as if peace and prosperity naturally will also remain without the EU.

The reality is that we cannot and should not throw EU cooperation overboard. Do not believe those political arsonists who set the EU House on fire and then do not know how to control the fire or rebuild the house.

The British already face great uncertainty in anticipation of the end of its EU-membership around 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May preliminary asked for a guarantee so UK residents would be allowed to continue live in the EU: a very clear “no” was the answer from the EU: “first start negotiating, then we will see about your rights”. Businesses in Britain are in limbo: If the EU imposes import tariffs on British products, this will hurt British companies even more.

It is clear: without the EU, we all lose a lot. Not only does the EU facilitate trade on the continent, it is also a tremendous cost saving that Brussels officials are doing the work for officials in 28 EU 

countries. Only the EU has the power to stand up to mobile operators and abolish its roaming charges; 

Only the EU has the power to stand up to foreign multinationals who try to avoid paying reasonable taxes; Only the EU could agree with Turkey on managing the refugee influx. And only the EU has the power to introduce a free InterRail card for 18 year olds in so many countries.

The EU is a good thing. It needs to be handled with more care. Most importantly, a feeling of solidarity should return among the governments of the EU countries. Too often we see the attitude of “every man for himself”. But this attitude does not bring anyone further in the long term: like cyclists facing headwind, we know that it is better to form a group instead of facing the wind alone.

So, the EU-agreements should be fairer for everyone. Leaders should comply with the agreements, who says “yes” in Brussels cannot say “no” back in the Member State. It is bad for EU-credibility when leaders agree that diesel vehicles must emit less harmful substances, but in the meantime do otherwise. Also, it does not look good if Member States compete with each other on secretive national tax deals with multinationals.

The founding fathers of the EU had a Christian vision of sharing, trusting and reaching out to nations in need. I am reminded by this, every time I see the EU-flag with its twelve stars.

Although Christianity might be in decline, and the EU may face problems, I am of the opinion that solidarity should remain. EU-countries must stand together, right now there is even an urgent need.

Anyone can see that Russian devious power and influence is growing. The new American president Donald Trump seems not to bother about helping Europe or NATO.

So the EU itself must provide a solid defense, internet safety and peace. That goes for the European continent, but also for nearby Ukraine and the Middle East.

A bishop from Iraq, whom I invited to Brussels for a conference on Christian persecution, told me he was impressed by the terrorist attacks on the Brussels airport and subway. “Madam, we see such attacks three times a day,” the Bishop told me.

I do not want Europe to become such a world. Amid the worldwide problems, the bickering about the EU looks futile. let us realise: EU countries are prosperous and peaceful because we removed barriers for people and business.

Only through European cooperation, we maintain that peace, security, freedom of expression, enough work and food.

Read more: Bring back solidarity in EU

EU, Iran sign first-ever nuclear safety cooperation project

Nuclear Safety agreement EU-Iran
The European Commission  recently announced that it has signed the first ever project for nuclear safety cooperation with Iran, under the framework of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

EU-Iran relations have been through different stages and most recently, over the last decade, conditioned by the international dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme, and the consequent sanctions regime that was in place against Iran. The lifting of sanctions against Tehran recently has opened the way for a renewal of broader relations.

The €2.5 million project aims to enhance the capabilities of the Iranian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (INRA), the Commission said, adding that it will do so by preparing feasibility study for the Nuclear Safety Centre foreseen in the JCPOA. It will support the INRA in developing a nuclear regulatory framework, working toward the accession by Iran to several international nuclear conventions, including the Convention on Nuclear Safety, and reviewing the results of the stress test to take place in the Bushehr nuclear power plant.

The project is the first of a €5 million action approved by the European Union in 2016 under the Instrument for Nuclear Safety Cooperation. A second project for the stress test at the Bushehr nuclear power plant is going to be signed in the coming weeks.

Read  more: EU, Iran sign first-ever nuclear safety cooperation project

Alternative Energy: Germany approves onshore wind farms expansion

German authorities have approved hundreds of megawatts in additional capacity at onshore wind farms. The price at which it awarded the projects was below expectations, pointing to stronger competition.

The German Economy Ministry announced Friday it had approved 807 megawatts of capacity at onshore wind parks.

The projects were granted at an average price requiring a subsidy of 5.71 eurocents ($0.89) per kilowatt hour of power, marking a price reduction of 20 percent on previous deals.

Approval procedures had been closely watched by turbine manufacturers, project developers and utilities after recent offshore wind farm auctions included bids for zero-subsidy deals for the middle of the next decade as the industry is requested to cut costs.

Friday's auction was the first for onshore wind projects under the latest changes to the renewable feed-in tariff law in Germany accompanying the nation's transition from fossil fuels to green energy excluding nuclear.

Read more:  Germany approves onshore wind farms expansion | Business | DW | 19.05.2017

EU: Russia Seeks to Influence European Politics Through Youth Wings of Far-Right and Far-Left Parties -

The bad bear trying to deflate the EU
Evidence suggests the Kremlin is reaching out to youth organizations, including the youth wings of European parties in order to work on goals such as campaigning to lift EU sanctions against Russia.

Other youth groups have been targeted to help boost Russia’s image abroad. While these tactics are reminiscent of Soviet efforts to win the hearts and minds of Western youth, Russia has shown a readiness to work with groups across the political spectrum. This includes working with both the far-right AfD and with the far-left World Federation of Democratic Youth to host a large youth gathering set for later this year.

The day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the “Freedom for Europe” conference was held in Germany. The conference was attended by the key European far-right leadership candidates like the Netherlands’ Gert Wilders, France’s Marine Le Pen and Frauke Petry of Germany’s AfD. Russia’s Izvestia provided some of the earliest coverage in the run up to the conference. Izvestia spoke to the leader of AfD’s Youth Wing, Markus Frohnmaier, recently married to a Russian journalist who has written articles for Izvestia on EU and German relations with Russia.

Izvestia suggested the main point of the conference was the “the creation of a road map for the Alliance of Eurosceptics for year 2017”.

But even though the conference was meant to have nothing to do with Russia, Frohnmaier’s connections hint at Russia’s developing relationship with far-right parties, and they show Russia is paying attention to coming elections throughout Europe.

Last December, Frohnmaier had a meeting with Konstantin Petrichenko, head of international links of Vladimir Putin’s party United Russia and leaders from the youth organisation United Youth Front. During the same trip, Frohnmeier also met with Anton Morozov, Russian member of parliament and part of its committee for international affairs. United Youth Front’s Ksenia Shlyamina wrote on her Facebook page that the meeting was about “perspective cooperation between Russia and Germany in terms of sanctions”.

On its website, the United Youth Front outlines its projects. One of these is titled “Europe: a new turn”. This is described as a campaign to have dialogue “between Russian politicians and representatives of youth wings of major European parties which campaign for the repeal of the sanctions against the Russian Federation”.

The United Youth Front describes itself as a “public movement” which “campaigns in support of the policies of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin”. Ksenia and her husband Nikolai Shlyamin, who both run the United Youth Front had a number of meetings with Frohnmaier over the past year. Last July, the couple attended a conference hosted by the AfD’s youth wing in Bingen Am Rhein, Germany. Shlyamina wrote one proposal from the conference was to “create a common security zone with Russia instead of NATO: from Lisbon to Vladivostok”.

But Russian officials have not limited their scope to Germany’s AfD, a similar methodology has been used with the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO). Last December, it was reported that Russia’s ruling party and the Austrian nationalists signed an agreement, pledging to work together on “youth, women, education, aid and other social organisations” with the aim of “strengthening the friendship and education of the young generation in the spirit of patriotism and joy of working”.

Along with members of the OMF, Frohnmaier also met the international secretary of the Young Guard of United Russia, Daria Sharova in December 2016 in Moscow. The Young Guard of United Russia has also been instrumental in fostering links with between Russia and foreign youth movements.

A group of young people who took part in the Generation Next trip to Russia were also invited to a follow-up meeting at the Russian Embassy in the Hague in October 2014 – The meeting was organized by Erik Havenaar, the head of the Expertise Centre of the Russian Federation.

The Expertise Centre has a Facebook group that it generally uses to post pro-Kremlin propaganda. Its mission “is to promote a deeper understanding of Russian affairs in The Netherlands and Belgium”. They are also “cooperating with Rossotrudnichestvo and the Russian Embassy at many projects” and “are also the youth organisation of the Russian Embassy and Rossotrudnichestvo in The Netherlands for people who want to do something with Russia” and “have special programs for Dutch  hogescholen and Universitys to collaborate with Russian Universitys”.

In 2017 Russia’s outreach to the young-wings of foreign parties is no trivial matter, given the controversy over Russian interference in US elections. Serious concerns have already been expressed for the Kremlin’s support to “extremist, pro-Moscow candidates”. Russia’s focus on youth groups is therefore amplified in a key year for European elections and as evidence of Russian meddling in US and European politics continues to mount.

Read more: bellingcat - Russia Seeks to Influence European Politics Through Youth Wings of Far-Right and Far-Left Parties - bellingcat

Russia: Inside Putin’s Campaign to Destroy U.S. Democracy - by Bill Powell

It was a few days after the start of the new millennium, and the U.S. Embassy in Moscow was holding a reception at Spaso House, for decades the elegant residence of the American ambassador. Russia’s tumultuous Boris Yeltsin era had come to an abrupt, shocking end on New Year’s Day, when the Russian president who had brought down the Soviet Union and turned his country into a chaotic, fledgling democracy announced his resignation. His successor was the man he had named his prime minister just four months earlier, a man barely known to most Russians, let alone to the outside world: former KGB officer Vladimir Putin.

As Jim Collins, a soft-spoken career diplomat who was then the U.S. ambassador to Russia, made the rounds at that reception, querying guests as to what they thought of the dramatic shift atop the Kremlin, the overwhelming sentiment was relief. The Yeltsin era, which had begun with so much promise, had turned into a shambolic, deeply corrupt dystopia. Yeltsin, who had burst to prominence with a burly energy—his climb atop a tank in central Moscow to turn back revanchists who sought to save the Soviet dictatorship is one of the iconic moments of the Cold War’s end—had become chronically ill and increasingly fond of his vodka. A group of politically connected businessmen had raped the country economically and spirited most of their gains offshore. Its budget was busted, its civil servants unpaid. (I did a story then about a colonel in the Soviet Rocket Forces who killed himself because he could not afford to throw his wife a birthday party.) The once mighty—and mightily effective—KGB had to watch its best officers go off to work for private businessmen, leaving the state security services demoralized and increasingly corrupt. Russia was in chaos.

Collins listened to the various opinions offered and then offered his own. “They need someone,” he said, “who can get control of this place.” In other words, he too was relieved that Yeltsin was gone.

We forget now, in the midst of the intensifying hysteria in Washington, D.C., about all things Russia, that Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin—now commonly portrayed as a cartoon villain by Western politicians and press—had a honeymoon period. Many people back then chose to disregard Putin’s career in the KGB and focused instead on the fact that he had been an energetic aide to the reform-minded mayor of his native St. Petersburg in the immediate post-Soviet era. Madeleine Albright, then Bill Clinton’s secretary of state, called him a “reformer,” and both sides of the political aisle in Washington were conned by Putin in the following decade. George W. Bush, desperately seeking Russian help in the post-9/11 war on terror, famously said he had “looked into [Putin’s] soul.” ("So have I,” cracked Senator John McCain, "and I saw three letters: KGB.”) As recently as the 2012 election, President Barack Obama mocked Mitt Romney for calling Putin a threat to the United States. "The 1980s called, and they want their foreign policy back,” Obama cracked.

That was one U.S. election cycle ago. Now, according to its critics, Russia is a mortal threat to all the West holds dear, and it attempted to intervene, largely through cyberspace, in the 2016 election. America’s most prized possession—its democracy—was attacked in what McCain, speaking for much of the Washington establishment, called “an act of war.” The new Trump administration is beset by an FBI investigation into whether members of his campaign colluded with Moscow in an attempt to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House. Trump had to fire his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for dissembling about what he said to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition. Then, on May 10, he fired the man overseeing the FBI’s investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign, Director James Comey, in part because he wouldn’t publicly clear the president of having any ties to Moscow.

Suddenly, an undeniable whiff of Watergate-style crisis was in the D.C. air. But this scandal has a distinctive feature: As the multiple investigations unfold over the coming weeks and months, remember that this is not a homegrown scandal but one made in Moscow. Rarely, if ever, during the Cold War did Russia so effectively roil American politics.


Set aside, for the moment, whether this is a crisis or, as Trump would have it, a “fake” story manufactured by Democrats angry that they lost the election and peddled by their allies in the press. Less than two decades ago, Putin had inherited an exhausted, bankrupt country. Once a superpower, it wielded almost no geopolitical clout, not even in its own backyard. (The United States had humiliated Moscow—and infuriated Putin, then running the Federal Security Service, the KGB’s successor, for Yeltsin—when it bombed Russian ally Serbia during the Kosovo war in 1999.)

Now Russia is again public enemy No. 1 in the United States, and Putin is on offense around the world. He is the primary backer of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, thanks to his audacious deployment of Russia’s military to combat the anti-Assad Islamic rebels. He annexed Crimea and sent Russian troops and special operators into eastern Ukraine, where they remain today. In the Far East, he is moving Russia closer to a military alliance with Beijing. And in Europe and the United States, Putin’s cyberwarriors are wreaking havoc.

Read more: Inside Putin’s Campaign to Destroy U.S. Democracy

EU: Brussels hits back against Trump on trade deficit – by Hans von der Burchard

Brussels has rejected criticism of the EU’s €134 billion trade surplus with the U.S. by stressing Europe is a “very open market” that has only imported less than the U.S. in recent years because its recovery from the financial crisis has been slower.

“The EU combines a surplus with the U.S. with a generally very open market in goods, services, and procurement,” the EU ambassador to Washington David O’Sullivan wrote Wednesday in a letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

“It is important to place trade deficits in the longer context of business cycles,” the letter said.

“One of the main drivers of the increased EU-U.S. imbalance in goods trade over the last years is that the U.S. economy has rebounded relatively quickly and robustly from the ‘great recession’ of 2009, while the EU is experiencing a more protracted period of necessary fiscal adjustment and subdued growth,” it added.

Read more: Brussels hits back against Trump on trade deficit – POLITICO