Category Archives: Europe

German spooks want to target foreign reporters


And for the same reason they targeted German reporters until they were slapped down by the Bundestag. . .for that matter, for the same reason Richard Nixon illegally spied on reporters in the U.S.

What’s the German word for Plumbers? Oh, yeah: Klempner.

You remember the Plumbers, don’t you?

They were the squad of ex-spooks and other devious souls dispatched by the Nixon White House to find out who was leaking embarrassing things to the White House press corps.

Targets included reporters for the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times.

One special target, syndicated columnist Jack Anderson, was even earmarked for assassination before it all went bad for tricky Dick.

So what about those Klempner?

German spooks slapped down

From the 27 May edition of Deutsche Welle:

The German government’s parliamentary committee has confirmed allegations that Foreign Intelligence Agency (BND) agents illegally spied on journalists to expose their sources.

The 180-page parliamentary report made public determined that measures taken by the BND against German reporters in an effort to shut off leaks violated the law.

“Regarding the accusations in the press that the Federal Intelligence Service … illegally spied on journalists in order to expose their sources, it is to be ascertained that such observations did take place … these measures were predominantly illegal,” the report read.

BND agents picked through the journalists’ rubbish and traced their research, the report stated. While none of the reporters were bugged, agents used other measures against them to try to uncover their sources, including stealing a box of his papers that one journalist had thrown away and tracing another’s research in the federal archive.

The report, compiled by Gerhard Schäfer on behalf of the committee, also called for the agency “to formally apologize” to the journalists whom it spied on.

>snip<

The head of the BND, Ernst Uhrlau, apologized to the media shortly after it was released and promised to take steps to prevent such abuses in future.

“As president of the BND, I apologize for all rights abuses that resulted because of steps taken by the service,” he said.

If at first you don’t succeed. . .

Caught black-handed and dressed down for spying on their own country’s journalists, Germany spooks are trying an end run by getting legislation to spy on non-German reporters covering their country.

During our own journalism career, we’ve encountered lots of reporters from other countries, and one thing we can say for certain is that there’s always a lot of communication between foreign correspondents and domestic reporters in the countries they’re covering.

So spying on the foreign correspondents is sure to turn up a lot of information on and communications with the German press corps.

But the whole idea of spying on the Fortuh Estate has raised a lot of hackles, including officials of the world’s largest intergovernmental security agency, with responsibility for arms control, press freedom, human rights and the promotion of human rights, and fair elections

From the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, an official body with representatives from 57 jurisdictions:

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic, today expressed concern about a proposed law on the German Foreign Intelligence Agency (BND, Bundesnachrichtendienst), which was debated in the Bundestag, Germany’s Federal Parliament, today.

“Increasing surveillance capabilities of journalists is a clear threat to media freedom,” Mijatovic said. “This draft law runs counter to the very core of fundamental freedoms such as media freedom and freedom of expression.”

The draft law increases BND’s capabilities to place foreign journalists under surveillance. Moreover, no exemption is made for the work of journalists, and journalists without citizenship of the European Union can be subjected to surveillance without an explicit court order.

“I call on the German Bundestag to revise the current draft law and ensure proper the protection of journalists regardless of their nationality,” Mijatovic said.

More opposition to the law

Needless to say, journalists themselves are up in arm, as is a leading journalism NGO.

From Reporters Without Borders:

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the German ruling coalition’s parliamentary groups to immediately amend a proposed law on the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence service, in order to prevent the BND from spying on journalists.

The bill empowering the BND to place foreign journalists under surveillance is to be debated in parliament.

Instead of clarifying issues, the federal government has completely abandoned the protection of foreign journalists and is poised to legalize measures that would constitute grave violations of two fundamental rights – freedom of expression and media freedom.

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

Major anti-gentrification riot erupts in Berlin


In a reverse of the currents of the mid-20th Century, American elites are flooding back to the globe’s cities, sending real estate prices soaring and depriving the folks who keep the cities running — the janitors, wait staff, kitchen help, home aides, and countless — and forcing them out into the suburbs once favored by the elites.

The dispossessed, angered at losing their homes, are beginning to take action.

A anti-gentrification protest in Berlin this weekend ended in a riot with scores of injured, both police and protesters.

We begin with a clip from euronews:

Police and protesters clash in Berlin neighbourhood


Program notes:

Around two thousand left wing extremists marched through the Freidrichshain neighbourhood of Berlin on Saturday in a day of tension with a similar number of police that hours later ended in clashes.

Paramedics ended up attending to both injured police officers and demonstrators as the day wore on. Demonstrators began setting off fireworks in the direction of the officers and throwing bottles and stones, while vandalizing police vehicles and breaking store windows.

The story from BBC News:

Police in Berlin say 123 officers were injured in clashes with leftist protesters over the redevelopment of a district in the east of the city.

About 3,500 protesters marched through Friedrichshain on Saturday. Some were masked and threw missiles, police said. The protest was the most violent in the past five years, they said.

Tensions have risen since moves began in June to evict squatters in the area. Friedrichshain has undergone rapid gentrification in recent years.

About 1,800 police were deployed at the protest, which began peacefully but escalated into violence. Eighty-six people were arrested, police said.

More from euronews:

The authorities have repeatedly tried to clear people from a squatted house on Rigaer Strasse, resulting in months of vehicles being set on fire, which police have mostly blamed on far-left extremists.

The leftists had made open calls for street violence in recent weeks to show their opposition to the round-the-clock surveillance on the Friedrichshain squat.

Berlin’s Mayor Michael Müller, a centre-left Social Democrat, has called for the residents of the Rigaer Strasse property and neighbours to sit down and talk through their differences.

The centre-right Christian Democrats, however accuses the city’s authorities of being too lenient.

Chart of the day II: Eurozone, U.S. bad bank loans


From a just-issued report from the International Monetary Fund, a stunning comparison of bad bank loans and write-off ratios in the U.S. and the 19-nation common currency Eurozone:

Euro Area Policies: 2016 Article IV Consultation--Press Release;

Map of the day: Working artists and writers in EU


BLOG Euroart

The details from Eurostat:

In 2014, according to Eurostat estimations, 6 million persons were employed in the cultural field in the European Union [EU], or slightly less than 3 % of the total number of persons employed. 6 out of 10 persons in cultural employment had tertiary education.

Of the almost 2 million artists and writers in the EU, nearly half [49%] were self-employed, a share much higher than that reported for total employment [15%].

Highest share of cultural employment in Luxembourg, lowest in Romania

At Member State level, the highest shares of cultural employment were observed in Luxembourg [5.2%] and Sweden [4.1%], followed by Finland and the Netherlands [3.9% each] as well as Denmark [3.8%]. At the opposite end of the scale, the lowest share was observed in Romania [1.1%], followed by Slovakia [2.0%], Bulgaria [2.1%], Portugal [2.2%], Greece [2.3%] and Cyprus [2.4%].

Share of women in cultural employment generally higher than in total employment

On average in the EU, women represented just below half [47%] of persons employed in the cultural field, just above the share of women in total employment. In most Member States the share of women in cultural employment was higher than the share of women in total employment, in particular in the Baltic Member States Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, followed by Bulgaria, Poland, Croatia and Romania. In seven Member States there was a lower share of women in cultural employment than in total employment: Austria, the United Kingdom, Cyprus, Malta, France, Spain and the Netherlands.

More persons with tertiary education in cultural employment than in total employment

In all Member States the share of persons with tertiary education was much higher in cultural employment than in total employment. The percentage point difference was highest in Luxembourg, Spain, Lithuania, Poland and Germany and lowest in Malta, Sweden, Ireland and Denmark. At EU level 60% of persons in cultural employment had tertiary education, a share almost double that in total employment.

Quote of the day: Evils of privatizing the commons


From The Privatising Industry in Europe, a Transnational Institute report by Sol Trumbo Vila and Matthijs Peters:

The evidence shows that state companies are consistently undersold and even end up costing governments extra money (undermining the argument that privatisation generates revenue). Particularly in Greece, state assets have often been sold for prices far below their true market value. Research also shows that privatisation has negative implications for labour rights and what consumers pay for public services.

Due to the different, complex levels of financial and legal advice and the many parties involved in privatisations, the processes tend to be very susceptible to different kinds of corruption and conflicts of interest if they are not strictly supervised and monitored. Whereas cases involving flagrant corruption occur relatively often in countries accused of loose transparency and accountability like Greece, conflicts of interest also take place in countries that serve as global hubs for financial and legal services, like the UK.

The question remains therefore why the Troika insists on making privatisation a cornerstone of the austerity packages it has imposed on European debtor nations. Not only do the privatisations fail to deliver the revenues and efficiency that justify them, they are also fuelling nepotism, corruption and profiteering by small privileged groups at a time when the social costs of austerity are more blatant than ever. They are therefore exacerbating a social crisis of growing inequality and leading to social unrest and growing disaffection with the political system at national and European levels.

The fact the EU institutions are responsible for overseeing the implementation of privatisation programmes makes their capacity for good governance an additional concern, especially in the current circumstances where there is an increased transfer of sovereignty from member states to bureaucrats in Brussels.

The fact that the European Commission (and the Troika) persists in its privatisation agenda despite the evidence of its failures and the growing economic and social costs suggests two possible motives. One, that the European Commission is so ideologically wed to neoliberal policies that it unwilling to even consider the concrete evidence of the economic, social and political costs of privatisation for its own member states. Or two, that there is such a powerful corporate industry at work in support of privatisation, from the advisers to the corporations that buy up state assets, that it is impossible for the EU institutions to reverse course. Either motive or the likelihood that both are true reflects very badly on the European Union. It also goes along a way to explain the growing disaffection and popular resistance to the privatisation agenda and more broadly to the whole European Union project.

Headline of the day: The Battle of the Brexit rages


From the London Telegraph:

Angela Merkel ‘to oust Jean-Claude Juncker’ as Europe splits deepen over Brexit response

Angela Merkel could move to oust Europe’s federalist chief Jean-Claude Juncker ‘within the next year’, a Germany government minister has said, in a sign of deepening European divisions over how to respond to Britain’s Brexit vote.

Spain probes Goggle tax dodging allegations


And some good news for leakers who exposed other tax-dodging multinationals.

But first the main story, via El País:

Spanish tax officials raided Google’s Madrid offices on Thursday as part of an ongoing investigation, with the internet company saying it was cooperating with local authorities.

A spokeswoman for Google said in a brief statement the company complied with fiscal legislation in Spain just as it did in all countries where it operated, adding that the company was working with authorities to answer all questions.

The search is linked to an investigation in to possible tax evasion. Google’s complex system of tax payments has been under scrutiny by the Spanish tax authorities for several years, which suspects it could be reducing its tax burden in Spain by channeling some income through Ireland.

The Spanish Tax Agency opened an investigation into Google’s tax affairs in 2011. The company’s Spanish affiliate was paying virtually no taxes and had even declared a loss for the previous tax year. The company eventually agreed to pay an extra €1.9 million on its 2007 and 2008 statements and the case was closed.

The European Commission has also been investigating Google’s tax affairs, and the company faces other probes throughout Europe. Google’s Paris offices were raided in May by French tax inspectors, who say the company owes €1.6 billion.

No prison for leakers who exposed tax dodgers

It’s a good news/bad news story, with the good news being that they’ll not serve time, and the bad news being that they were still convicted — although the journalist who received their leaks was no charged, the only unalloyed good news in the story.

From Radio France Internationale:

Two French whistleblowers have been given suspended sentences and a journalist acquitted in the Luxleaks trial over revelations of tax-dodging deals between multinational companies and the Luxembourg authorities. Their lawyers had already declared their intention to appeal, claiming that their clients acted in the public interest.

Antoine Deltour, 31, Raphaël Halet, 40, were found guilty of leaking documents belonging to their former employer Price Waterhouse Coopers but journalist Edouard Perrin, who broke the story in the French TV programme Cash Investigation, was found not guilty.

Deltour was given a 12-month suspended prison sentence and a 1,500-euro fine, while Halet was given a nine-month suspended sentence and a 1,000-euro fine.

The 30,000 pages of confidential documents they passed to the press revealed that multinationals, including Amazon, Apple, Ikea, Pepsi, McDonald’s and BNP-Paribas, negotiated “tax rulings” that allowed them to pay as little as one percent tax if they registered in the Grand Duchy.