Category Archives: Europe

Independent defeats extremist in Austrian vote


The anti-immigrant extremist who was running for Austrian presidency in Sunday’s election [previously] was narrowly defeated by a candidate with no party affiliation.

From Deutsche Welle:

Europe came within a hair of having its first far-right head of state in the post-war era, but Austria’s Interior Minsiter Wolfgang Sobotka announced that right-wing Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer has lost the second round run-off election to Alexander van der Bellen after more than 700,000 absentee ballots were tabulated.

The margin of victory was 31,000 votes, out of more than 4.6 million ballots cast, with Van der Bellen winning 50.3 percent. Turnout was 72.7 percent.

But in conceding defeat, Hofer said Austria’s far-right would live to fight another day.

“Of course I am sad,” Hofer said on Facebook. “But please don’t be disheartened. The effort in this election campaign is not wasted, but is an investment for the future.”

UPDATE: Some more details, first from BBC News:

Although Mr Van der Bellen, 72, is officially independent, he led Austria’s Greens for a decade and some European Green politicians were hailing him as the world’s first elected Green head of state.

The campaign was fierce at times. Mr Van der Bellen said he did not want Austria to be led by a “populist right-wing, pan-Germanic fraternity member” and even urged voters “who don’t like me but perhaps like Hofer even less to vote for me”

>snip<

In nine out of Austria’s 10 main cities Mr Van der Bellen came top, whereas Mr Hofer dominated the rural areas, the Austrian broadcaster ORF reported (in German).

Support for Mr Hofer was exceptionally strong among manual workers – nearly 90%. The vote for Mr Van der Bellen was much stronger among people with a university degree or other higher education qualifications.

Support for Mr Hofer among men was 60%, while among women it was 60% for Mr Van der Bellen.

A map [screencap] of the voting results on a county-scale basis from Der Standard, the national newspaper published in Vienna, strongly echoes U.S. presidential voting results, with Democratic votes concentrated in urban areas and Republicans capturing rural counties:

BLOG Austria

Finally, from the Guardian, a snapshot of a country divided:

Mirroring the rise of populist parties across Europe, the Freedom party exploited anti-EU and anti-immigrant sentiment amid the continent’s refugee crisis, leaving a deep split over the direction Austria should now take.

In a reflection of voters’ dissatisfaction with mainstream politics, the candidates of both the centre-left Social Democrats and conservative People’s party, which have dominated Austria’s politics since the second world war, were eliminated in the first round of voting in late April.

Werner Faymann, the social democratic chancellor, resigned earlier this month. Viennese coffee houses reportedly set aside separate areas for supporters of the rival candidates over fears of clashes.

Greece surrenders to the troika, more austerity


As thousands of Greeks demonstrated in Syntagma Square outside the national legislature, the national parliament drank the Kool-Aid and passed the austerity measures demanded by the Troika of international lenders, a move that may foreshadow the end of the Syriza Party’s term at the helm of the national government.

Alexis Tsirpras and his party emerged as the victors last year on a promise to overwthrow the yoke of imposed austerity.

Instead, they have embraced it.

From eKathimerini:

Greek MPs approved on Sunday night a multi-bill containing a range of measures, including another 1.8 billion euros in tax hikes and the framework for a vast new privatization fund, paving the way for the Eurogroup to release more loans to Athens.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras saw 152 of his 153 MPs back the controversial package of legislation, meaning the government’s slim parliamentary majority was not put at risk.

Vassiliki Katrivanou voted for the legislation “in principle” but against the articles regarding the privatization fund and an automatic mechanism applying fiscal cuts if the primary surplus target is not met.

Eurozone finance ministers are due to meet in Brussels on Tuesday to decide whether Greece has done enough to complete the first review of its latest bailout program. If the green light is given, Athens is set to receive a minimum of 5.7 billion euros in fresh funding. However, there are still questions regarding whether the eurozone creditors and the International Monetary Fund will agree on how to reduce Greece’s debt or whether this will prove an obstacle to the next disbursement.

Some of the reaction to the vote and more on the measures embraced from the Guardian:

“They are with the exception of the Acropolis selling everything under the sun,” said Anna Asimakopoulou, the shadow minister for development and competitiveness. “We are giving up everything.”

The multi-bill, which also foresees VAT being raised from 23% to 24%, is part of a package of increases in tax and excise duties expected to yield an extra €1.8bn in revenue. Earlier this month, Tsipras’s leftist-led coalition endorsed pension cuts that were similarly part of an array reforms amounting to €5.4 bn, or 3% of GDP.

At the behest of the EU and International Monetary Fund, the government has agreed to adopt tighter austerity in the form of an automatic fiscal brake – referred to as “the cutter” in the Greek media – if fiscal targets are missed.

Despite official claims that goals will be achieved, there is a high degree of scepticism as to whether this is feasible. The Greek economy has seen a depression-era contraction of more than 25% since the outbreak of the debt crisis in late 2009, and with high taxes likely to repulse investment, economic fundamentals are also unlikely to improve.

The Associated Press examines the causes and more of the effects:

Greece now hopes the creditors will complete the first assessment of its third bailout program, freeing loan disbursements that will allow Greece to meet its obligations and avoid default.

>snip<

[I]t will have to navigate differences between the International Monetary Fund, which call for a generous debt cut albeit with more austerity measures, and the Europeans, chief among them German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who want no such cuts.

At the end of an acrimonious four-day debate, including in committee, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras blasted the main conservative opposition and other centrist parties for having supported last August’s third bailout deal, but not the laws that have been voted on as prerequisites for concluding the assessment.

Opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis countered that the bailout terms never included the superfund, which will expire in 2115. He said the precise terms were the results of Tsipras’ failure to negotiate reforms he and his leftist party have never believed in. He said he would prefer spending cuts to higher taxes and would negotiate with the creditors for lower annual levels of budget surpluses (2 percent of GDP instead of 3.5 percent) from 2018 onward.

The government majority was momentarily shaken Saturday when the junior partner, right-wing Independent Greeks, objected to freezes in pay hikes for so-called “special categories” of civil servants, including military, police, diplomats, judges, public health service doctors and university professors.

The pay cuts, which would have saved about 120 million euros ($135 million), were shelved and will be partly replaced by bringing forward taxes on Internet users and beer.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: Criminalized speech in Europe


BLOG Speech

From the International Press Institute, which reports:

Germany towers over its European Union neighbours when it comes to the number of instances in which criminal defamation laws are applied, the surprising results of an International Press Institute (IPI) special investigation released today show.

The year 2013 saw nearly 22,000 criminal convictions for insult, defamation or slander in Germany, according to official statistics, more than 29 times as many as in the country with the second-highest number, Portugal. Germany’s place atop the rankings holds firm even when adjusted for population: Germany’s tally of 27.11 convictions per 100,000 residents is nearly four times as great as Portugal, which again holds the second position with an average of 7.15.

IPI has analysed official data on criminal justice for 18 EU countries to provide an unprecedented, detailed picture of the use of criminal defamation laws in Europe. Data collected refer to the use of such laws generally, not specifically against the media; in most cases statistics do not differentiate by the profession of the defendant. The investigation confirms that criminal defamation and insult laws continue to be actively applied in Europe. In 2013, the primary year for which data were collected for comparative purposes, there were criminal convictions for defamation and insult in all but two of the 18 countries surveyed. The exceptions were Denmark and Latvia.

Rallies across the world: March Against Monsanto


Narch agagaist Monstanto protesters in Mtubatuba, South Africa today.

March against Monsanto protesters in Mtubatuba, South Africa today.

Monsanto, the folks who brought you Roundup and all those patented Roundup Ready genetically modified crops they peddle, was the target and marches and rallies in more than 400 cities across the global today by folks angry at the firm’s control of so much of the world’s food supplies.

Big Agra’s been in a state of flux of late, with major mergers in the offing, as BBC News reported Thursday, when Bayer announced it wanted to buy the company:

There has been speculation for some months that Monsanto, the world’s biggest seed company, could become a target for either Bayer or BASF.

Bayer, which has a market value of about $90bn, is the second-largest producer of crop chemicals after Syngenta.

Monsanto, which has a market capitalisation of $42bn, attempted to buy Swiss rival Syngenta last year.

However, Syngenta ended up accepting a $43bn offer from ChemChina in February, although that deal is still being reviewed by regulators in the US.

Bayer’s acquisition of Monsanto is expected to be bigger in value than the ChemChina-Syngenta deal.

More from Reuters:

Deutsche Bank analysts said a deal could shift Bayer’s center of gravity to agriculture, accounting for about 55 percent of core earnings, up from roughly 28 percent last year excluding the Covestro chemicals business Bayer plans to sell.

That would have a negative impact on sentiment among Bayer’s healthcare-focused investor base, the bank said.

Bayer, which has a market value of $90 billion, said the merger would create “a leading integrated agriculture business”, referring to Bayer’s push to seek more synergies from combining the development and sale of seeds and crop protection chemicals.

Most of the major agrichemical companies are aiming to genetically engineer more robust plants and custom-build chemicals to go with them, selling them together to farmers who are struggling to contend with low commodity price.

And, just for the fun of it, some voideos from around the world and an image or two.

First, the march in Saarbrücken, Germany, from Heidi Schmitt:

March against Monsanto, 21.05.2016 in Saarbrücken

On to Paris, via Ruptly TV:

France: Parisians rally against Monsanto

Program notes:

Several thousand protesters took to the streets of Paris on Saturday for the ‘March against Monsanto,’ in a demonstration against multinational agrochemical corporation. Protesters held banners reading: “GMO/Pesticides = the next sanitary scandal” and “GMO no thanks.”

The activists are protesting against Monsanto’s Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) products and the alleged monopoly that Monsanto has in the food supply market.

Saturday’s march will mark the fourth annual ‘March against Monsanto.’ The march is set to take place in over 400 cities in more than 40 countries around the world.

Then off to Innsbruck, Austria with Klaus Schreiner:

2016 Monsanto Marsch Innsbruck

And then back to France and a march in Bordeaux from Gilbert Hanna:

Contre Monsanto and CO à Bordeaux marche internationale

Next, Amsterdam, via kafx:

March against Monsanto

And an image from Basel, Switzerland, via GM Watch:BLOG Monsanto Basel

Then to Toronto, via SupportLocalScene:

March Against Monsanto 2016 at Yonge & Dundas

Program notes:

Yonge and Dundas sees the Millions March Against Monsanto 2016 marching in downtown Toronto, Canada, May 21st 2016.

Next, an image form New York by Alex Beauchamp:

BLOG Monsanto NYC

Then to Japan with Ruptly TV:

Japan: Thousands protest against Monsanto in Tokyo

Program notes:

Several thousand protesters took to the streets of Tokyo for the ‘March against Monsanto’ on Saturday, in a demonstration against multinational agrochemical corporation.

Finally, via GM Watch, a scene from China:

BLOG Monsanto Taipei

Chart of the day: Zika continues to spread


From the latest World Health Organization Zika Situation Report [PDF], which reports that the disease has now become endemic in Argentina and Germanyhas reported in first case of sexually transmitted Zika virus disease:

BLOG Zika

The WHO online summary of the Situation Report notes that:

As of 18 May 2016, 60 countries and territories report continuing mosquito-borne transmission of which:

  • 46 countries are experiencing a first outbreak of Zika virus since 2015, with no previous evidence of circulation, and with ongoing transmission by mosquitos.
  • 14 countries reported evidence of Zika virus transmission between 2007 and 2014, with ongoing transmission.
  • In addition, 4 countries or territories have reported evidence of Zika virus transmission between 2007 and 2014, without ongoing transmission: Cook Islands, French Polynesia, ISLA DE PASCUA – Chile and YAP (Federated States of Micronesia).

Person-to-person transmission:

  • Ten countries have reported evidence of person-to-person transmission of Zika virus, probably via a sexual route.
  • In the week to 18 May 2016, Argentina is the latest country to report mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission. Germany is the latest country to report person-to-person Zika virus transmission.
  • Microcephaly, and other fetal malformations potentially associated with Zika virus infection or suggestive of congenital infection, have been reported in eight countries or territories. Puerto Rico is the latest territory to report a case of microcephaly associated with Zika virus.
  • Two cases of microcephaly and other neurological abnormalities are currently under verification in Spain and Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of).
  • In the context of Zika virus circulation, 13 countries and territories worldwide have reported an increased incidence of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) and/or laboratory confirmation of a Zika virus infection among GBS cases. One GBS case associated with Zika virus infection in a returning traveller to the Netherlands has been reported.
  • Based on research to date, there is scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and GBS.

GMOs, ethical conflicts, and a setback in Europe


BLOG GMOs

The chart is from The chart comes from UNDER THE INFLUENCE: the National Research Council and GMOs [PDF], a report from Food & Water Watch detailing the conflicts of interest on the panel that issued this week’s report declaring GMOs fit for human consumption.

The only problem, the report concluded, was that the herbicides used in conjunction with patented GMO crops tends to result in the fast, chemically natural selection of superweeds resistant to the patented pest-killers.

As for health problems, though they maintained none had been found, more was needed in the way of research:

In response to its charge, the committee has developed a framework to identify appropriate scientific questions and methods for determining unintended changes in the levels of nutrients, toxins, toxicants, allergens, or other compounds in foods from GMOs, in order to assess potential short- and long-term human health consequences of such changes. Although the array of analytical and epidemiological techniques available has increased, there remain sizeable gaps in our ability to identify compositional changes that result from genetic modification of organisms intended for food; to determine the biological relevance of such changes to human health; and to devise appropriate scientific methods to predict and assess unintended adverse effects on human health.

As for that research on GMOs, there’s only one problem — besides, of course, those troubling vested interests of the scientist on the panel: Nobody can conduct research on those patented GMO crops without the approval of the companies make lots of money from creating and selling them, along with their similarly patented herbicides.

Would you buy a house from someone who said nobody could inspect it unless they were approved by the seller?

More on the report from Common Dreams:

Public skepticism is growing over a new report that claims genetically modified (GE or GMO) foods are safe for consumption, particularly as information emerges that the organization that produced the report has ties to the biotechnology industry.

Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects (pdf), released Tuesday by the federally-supported National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, states not only that GMO crops are safe to eat, but that they have no adverse environmental impacts and have cut down on pesticide use. Its publication comes as U.S. Congress—which founded the institution—considers making GMO labeling mandatory on consumer products.

“There clearly are strong non-safety arguments and considerable public support for mandatory labeling of products containing GE material. The committee does not believe that mandatory labeling of foods with GE content is justified to protect public health,” the report states.

However, one day before publication, the environmental advocacy group Food & Water Watch (FWW) reported in an issue brief (pdf) that the National Research Council (NRC)—the National Academy of Sciences’ research arm—has deep ties to the biotech and agricultural industries, which FWW says have “created conflicts of interests at every level of the organization.”

As far as those pesky weed-killers, Monsanto got some bad news Thursday.

From Deutsche Welle:

With the Monsanto’s glyphosate license in the EU set to expire, members put off a decision on continued use of the potent herbicide, marketed as Roundup. Glyphosate, one of the world’s most commonly used active ingredients in weed killers, works by inhibiting the growth of unwanted plants in farming and domestic and urban environments.

A 2015 World Health Organization study identified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. A more recent study by the WHO and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization found otherwise. However, watchdogs have criticized the second study because the chairman of the joint meeting leads an institute that received a six-figure donation from Monsanto, which produces glyphosate and several controversial genetically modified products.

The European Food Safety Authority, the EU’s industry watchdog, has not identified a risk of cancer. Still, scientists have found that glyphosate poses a serious risk to biodiversity.

If no decision is made by June 30 and the European Commission chooses not to weigh in, glyphosate will no longer be authorized within the EU.

So does this means Europe is headed for the last Roundup™?

Well, if the TTIP passes, Monsanto can always sue them in the secret tribunal the trade pact would create. . .

Sunday’s Austrian election features two outsiders


Though Austria has a long history of populist governments, most notably under the pre-World War I Christian Socials, since World War II the national has been governed either by the moderately Leftist Social Democrats or the center-Right People’s Party, the SPÖ and ÖVP.

But Sunday’s presidential election marks a sea change, pitting a non-partisan Leftist populist, economist and descendant of Russian nobility Alexander Van der Bellen against the odds-on favorite, a former aircraft mechanic and leader of the far-Right Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs [Austrian Freedom Party, or FPÖ] Norbert Hofer.

Hofer, echoing another presidential candidate from across the Atlantic, declares himself to be “decisively opposed to forced multiculturalism, globalization and mass immigration.”

And while the presidency, as in most European parliamentary democracies, is largely ceremonial, the winner will be the commander of the nation’s armed forces.

Van der Bellen, formerly a member of and national spokesman for the Austrian Green Party, is running as a nonpartisan candidate, though with backing from the Greens.

Out of a field of six candidates in the initial round of voting 24 April, Hofer won  35 percent of the vote and Van der Bellen won 21 percent. And since no candidate had a majority, the two leading candidates headed to Sunday’s runoff.

What does it all mean?

From Der Spiegel:

All of Europe is looking this week to Austria, this small country in its midst where an eventuality considered by many to be outrageous may soon become reality. This reality, though, comes in the guise of a harmless, friendly face. Norbert Hofer is a 45-year-old trained airplane technician from the state of Burgenland, just southeast of Vienna. He is the father of four and his wife, his second marriage, is an elderly care professional. Hanging above his desk in parliament is a framed image of Article 1 of the constitution, which says of the Austrian Republic: “Its law emanates from the people.”

Will the people of Austria really elect a right-wing populist to become their highest representative on Sunday? Is Austria in the process of becoming part of that group of European countries, along with Hungary, Poland, Finland and Switzerland, where the right-wing is already part of the government? And if so, how long will it take before the new right-wing movement tears Europe apart?

If one looks geographically at the congratulatory messages the FPÖ candidate Hofer received following his triumph in the first round of presidential elections, a checkered pattern of new European nationalists emerges. Marine Le Pen from the French party Front National was first, followed by the Lega Nord of Matteo Salvini and Forza Italia, under the leadership of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. From the Netherlands, congratulations came from PVV head Geert Wilders and from Germany, plaudits were sent by the right-wing populists from the Alternative for Germany (AfD). The right wing in Europe is becoming organized and developing contacts across the Continent. The election on Sunday is far more than just a purely Austrian affair.

Across Europe, large, mainstream parties are losing power and influence. It has happened in Spain, France and Germany, but nowhere has the phenomenon been as dramatically visible as during the first round of the presidential elections in Austria. Hofer came in first place followed by Green candidate Van der Bellen. An independent candidate came in third place. Only then did the candidates of the SPÖ and ÖVP — the two parties that currently form the governing coalition — follow in fourth and fifth place. Together, they didn’t even managed 23 percent of the vote.

UPDATE: For a broader discussion of what’s at stake, here’s a video of a panel discussion on the election just posted by Deutsche Welle:

Crisis in Austria: Another Blow for Europe? | Quadriga

Program notes:

In Austria, Sunday could see a right-wing populist elected to the position of president. The FPÖ’S Norbert Hofer, whose xenophobic slogans have struck a chord with voters, aims to tap into the constitution’s potential for authoritarian power.

Norbert Hofer could take the reins of government by emergency decree if he wins Sunday’s elections. The current state of play augurs well for him.

In the first round of voting, the traditionally popular Social Democrats, the SPÖ, and the Conservatives, the ÖVP, got a taste of the electorate’s wrath. Chancellor Werner Faymann of the SPÖ resigned.

It seems the Alpine republic is lurching to the right as its voters follow a pattern that has emerged throughout Europe. Is there no end to the trend towards right-wing populism?

Our guests:

  • Ewald König is a freelance correspondent and an Austrian himself, who has been covering Austrian politics for decades now. He says: “It’s not only the refugees, there are many other reasons for Austria’s and Europe’s drift to the right.”
  • Alan Posener is a commentator for the Berlin daily Die Welt, who says: “Nobody cares who governs a small country like Austria. But Germany has a responsibility for the whole of Europe. We can’t afford Viennese coffeehouse politics.”
  • Ulrike Guérot of the European Democracy Lab believes that “A wildfire is sweeping across Europe. It’s taken in Hungary, and now Austria, with France looking likely to be next.”