Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Outcome of the second Greek Elections.

On Sunday the 20th of September, the Greeks were called for a second time in a year to vote for their Parliament.

The previous Syriza/Anel government collapsed, due to a split in Syriza last month.

As result, the party's leader and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was forced to call snap elections.

About 25 rebel Syriza MPs, who objected to Mr Tsipras's acceptance of more austerity demanded by Greece's creditors, formed the Popular Unity party, challenging Tsipras and Syriza. (BBC)

Popular Unity was led by former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who argues that Greece would be better off leaving the euro and going back to the drachma. (BBC)

Many other high profile Syriza members, like the former Speaker of the Hellenic Parliament-Zoe Konstantopoulou, also joined the rebel party.

Consequently, Syriza went to elections without its most outspoken, anti-austerity and hard-line members; the Popular Unity, plus Yanis Varoufakis who quit previously.

Yet this development did not prevent Syria from winning the elections and Tsipras being reelected as Greece's Prime Minister.

In fact it made his position even stronger. Firstly because the Greek people reinstated Tsipras as their Prime Minister, sending a strong message to Europe that they are giving him another chance.

Secondly, with the more radical Syriza members gone, Tsipras will now face little opposition from within his party. 

This is definitely good news, but not only for Tsipras or Syriza. The development offers an opportunity to Greece and Europe, to find a quick solution and bring the indebted country back on track fast. 

That of course only if the newly elected government and its European counterparts, actually avoid the previous antics and actually cooperate. 

With less opposition from the hard-line anti-austerity members and with a more cooperative Tsipras, Europe must grasp this opportunity to assist Greece and support the new Greek government.

Ending the political instability in Greece, is of the utmost importance to end the economic one too. If Europe continues to torpedo Tsipras' Left-Wing government, then things can only get worse.

The Greek people have once again spoken. Europe must now respect their decision and support their new government, in finding a way out of the economic crisis. 

It is in the best interests of both Greece and of course, Europe itself.

Similarly, Syriza should start acting with a more professional and diplomatic manner when dealing with its European partners. 

Some of the statements made from previous Greek government officials, were utterly unacceptable and naturally they did not help the negotiation process.

Not that Syriza must totally compromise and abandon its efforts to end, or at least limit  the austerity policies. But in the past, we were witnessing a cacophony of opinions from its members, plus a total disrespect of Greece's partners by the Syriza/Anel officials.

But these elections did not bring only positive developments. One of the definitely negative outcomes is that the Far-Right Golden Dawn party, remained the third political force in Greece. 

It seems that sadly, they are here to stay for many years to come in the Greek political reality, posing constantly a threat to the country's future.

If for any reason this government collapses again, Golden Dawn could be further empowered and gain more support among the Greek voters; and that will make Greece's economic recovery almost impossible.

The second negative development is that Tsipras is looking to form a new coalition with his old partners, ANEL (Independent Greeks). If the Syriza rebels were not helping the negotiations with their intransigence, ANEL leader Panos Kamenos, has also often made inflammatory comments that had the same effect.

Ideally Tsipras should have been more open to a coalition government with a less hard-line party. Besides he should have learned a lesson; that by aggressive approach to negotiations you can never win support and the argument.

Especially when your party and government officials have a mind of their own, making statements that add oil to the fire. Greece has a justified goal to pursue, but it won't achieve its goals without skillful negotiators and politicians. 

The final major negative development that we observed in these Greek elections, was the very low turn-out. About 44 % of Greeks who were eligible to vote did not go to the polls on Sunday. 

In real numbers this means that out of 9,836,997 Greeks who could cast their ballot approximately only 5,562,820 people voted. This is the highest abstention rate in the history of Greek parliamentary elections following the fall of the dictatorship in 1974. (Greek Reporter)

That is a worrying occurrence. The Greek voters, totally disillusioned and fed up with their country's political reality are becoming apathetic towards the democratic process.

But what would one expect from them? After having voted against austerity and for a party that allegedly promised to end it, yet somehow the same party signed for a third bail-out.

The Greek and European leadership have to realize, that they have a responsibility towards them and all the other nations of the continent. If of course themselves value and truly support democracy. 

Europe is losing a generation with high youth unemployment rates and experiences increasing inequality, both among its nations and its people. How do our leaders want to be remembered in the future? We should hope not as those who surrendered our continent to vested interests. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Europe's outer borders should be collectively patrolled.

When we observe how Europe is dealing with the migrant crisis, it is evident that EU member states are coming to a breaking point and often at odds wit each other.

During the weekend, we have witnessed a spat between countries in the new refugee frontier; Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary.

But sadly, this is not the first time that's happening. Last week, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban blamed Greece for the refugee crisis in his country, adding that the EU needs to deploy forces to Greece’s borders.

“If Greece is not capable of protecting its borders, we need to mobilize European forces to the Greek borders so that they can achieve the goals of European law instead of the Greek authorities," Orban said. 

He did not elaborate on how exactly such a plan will turn into real life, but he proved that he has probably never heard of FRONTEX, the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union. (Keep Talking Greece)

Although his antics may seem out of sync with the rest of Europe, he is right in this case. Frontex may well exist for a number of years now, dealing with illegal migrants in Europe's borders; but they never had to face such scale of arrivals before.

One would have thought that ever since the crisis begun, the organization would be boosted with new recruits and funds, to deal with the increase of refugees entering Europe's outer borders. But such action did not take place, at least not yet.

In April, a Frontex report published the results of annual negotiations it has with member states over border staff and equipment.

The report shows shortages of Frontex-requested border staff ranging from 4% to 20% in various roles including first line officers and interview experts.

The cumbersome manner in which Frontex has to negotiate and persuade countries to lend equipment many months in advance has had an impact on operations during the summer’s crises.

The inflexibility causes Frontex difficulties ensuring continuity in its emergency operations: member states have been lending equipment for only single months at a time. It means Frontex is often scrambling around for new resources from around Europe every month.

So much so that Frontex relies in part on Iceland, a non-EU country which the agency says has lent more than a third of its entire coast guard fleet to help in Greece and Italy. Norway, another non-EU country, has been similarly co-operative.

Each member state has the sufficient capacity to handle border control, but when the migratory pressure becomes exceptionally high, they might require additional assistance of either technical equipment or specialized border guards.

The role of Frontex is to coordinate the deployment of such additional assets and human resources from other EU/Schengen Area countries, as described in its founding regulation.

As chaos continues to grip key migration routes, Frontex officials have admitted to the Bureau it “badly need(s) border guards on the Greek islands, border guards and technical equipment on the land border between Greece and Turkey, Bulgaria and Turkey and, crucially along the Hungarian border with Serbia.”

The Bureau has also learned that despite more than two million refugees amassing in Turkey and planning their dangerous trips across the borders, Frontex has not had a single member of staff based there gathering intelligence about smugglers. (EU Observer)

From the above report it is obvious that Europe is failing again in protecting its own borders. Each state government prefers to either push the responsibility to its neighbors, the countries of entry, or the rich destination nations, but they are avoiding doing the obvious; cooperating in a pan-European effort to tackle the crisis.

If European politicians want to control their nation's borders, they got to understand that primarily it is in their interests to shield the outer borders of Europe, at the entry points.

Instead of bickering and trying to shift responsibility, they should first of all utilize what they have already set up; an agency with a particular task in minding Europe's common borders, like Frontex.

That naturally means, increasing the funding and supplying it with all necessary resources, plus recruiting individuals to work for the agency.

We got huge unemployment ravaging Europe's youths, why don't we start employing people to work where they are needed the most nowadays?

Unemployed people could apply to be assigned for paid work for a season, a year or more-event permanently on a Greek island, southern Italy, Malta, Bulgaria, Hungary and so on.

In addition, as the report suggests, people could be employed directly in refugee camps in Turkey or Lebanon, where a large number of refugees arriving in Europe are coming from.

In this way, we could control who enters our continent, plus we could have already their documents and identity, before they hand them out to smugglers, arriving illegally in our continent. If there is a way to avoid alleged ISIS fighters entering Europe, perhaps this is one.

Our leaders were hiding their heads in the sand for too long, being preoccupied by the economic crisis and Greece. They hoped that this humanitarian urgency would never knock our door.

Now that they were proven wrong and people are arriving in their hundreds of thousands, they still rush to protect their borders and blame their EU partners, than take action and responsibility.

This crisis once again affects all EU states, so the solution must be achieved in absolute coordination, cooperation and participation by all the union's members.

We should support Frontex and if needed, send additional forces and officers in the entry points on Europe's borders. Furthermore we could assist countries like Turkey and Lebanon by sending them resources, plus officers to encourage legal migration into Europe, discouraging illegal one.

We must understand that since we have opened our borders, the only way forward and to deal with this challenge is to act united and unanimously.

We can not bow to the pressure from nationalist and conservative parties, which take advantage from this situation to achieve their goal; raising the internal borders in Europe again. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

European Dis-Union faced with refugee crisis.

The current refugee crisis that Europe is faced with, proved to be more than just a humanitarian tragedy; it has become a huge test for EU's capability in dealing with such crises.

The outcome is in mild terms, rather embarrassing.

Some member states like Hungary are raising fences, refusing to allow the streams of the refugees arriving from Syria and Afghanistan enter.

Under a huge pressure, Germany and other countries are suspending the Schengen agreement, jeopardizing one of the greatest benefits that EU citizens receive with their country's membership.

Additionally states like Slovakia and Cyprus are willing to accept only Christians, as if humanitarian help is extended only to homo-religious people.

Nations mainly from the Eastern block but also Denmark and the UK, are refusing to accept the proposed by the EU Commission refugee quotas, on redistributing 120,000 people across the block.

As result, Germany recently has threatened the states which refuse the quotas, with sanctions. The Germans are annoyed-and rightly so- that they are expected to accept the bulk of the refugees.

So they are pointing out that since most of those countries also happen to be nations that receive large amounts of supplemental funding from European Union, these funds could be cut off if they continue to refuse quotas. (International Business Times).

This attitude only adds oil to the fire. The real issue is the huge differences of mentality, type of economy, culture and attitude towards migration among the European states.

While Germany is trying desperately to shake off the image of the "bad guy" in the continent and appear welcoming, open and friendly, other nations do not have the same aspirations.

Many former European colonial powers like France, are well used to multiculturalism and in fact they have based and modeled their economies around migration. Other countries like Sweden have been rich and open societies for a very long time and are organized, prepared to deal with the issue.

On the other hand, Eastern countries like Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, are only recently advancing as economies and societies. They have been caught totally unprepared for such crisis and in fact, it is doubtful that they ever expected to find themselves as refugee destination.

Until not so many decades ago, it was them who were fleeing the clusters of oppressive communist regimes, to enter the wealthier Western Europe and America. One would have expected them to be more open and welcoming to refugees, as they have been in similar conditions in their recent history.

But they aren't. The governments of Prague and Budapest in particular are strongly opposing the EU Commission quotas, infuriating many EU officials and the governments of Western European nations.

Their excuse is that Islam is "not compatible with Europe's Christian values," or that they already have many Ukrainian "refugees". In reality the first argument is contradicting the EU's very values, a union that they were so keen to join for economic reasons; yet they have difficulty accepting certain obligations attached to it.

Human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights – these values are embedded in the EU treaties, that they signed for. (Europa.eu) Respect for human rights and dignity, something that is extended to all humans, as Christian Europeans do not comprise the whole humanity.

Secondly, the Ukrainian's that flee to Eastern Europe are not necessarily "refugees" as they are allowed to work and do the jobs that the locals are turning down, for better paid ones in the Western EU states. They are simply economic migrants, as many of their nationals are in other richer European states.

Refugees in general, are not allowed to work for a considerable amount of time and they rely on the host country's welfare system. Alas, this excuse is rather daft.

Yet, their attitude is partially understandable. Migration into their countries is something new.

Many of the Western nations struggled to accept their first migrants back in the '50s. As the richer nations managed to deal with the issue, so will the new EU member states one day.

It is just that they were caught unprepared like most of the continent for something like this, plus they still see themselves and countries of emigrants and workers to the West.

Contrary to all the above, the states who oppose the quotas are partially right. The EU, Europe as a whole, the UN and the rich Western or Eastern nations, should have been more generous in helping countries like Turkey and Lebanon.

These nations have been hosting refugees in greater numbers and for a considerable amount of time. Europe has failed them, because if it played a more active role in the crisis since the beginning, now it would not have to face floods of refugees arriving on its doorstep. This "welcoming" attitude is too little too late.

It is clear that European leaders have failed us-the EU citizens, the refugees and their countries, as well as these nations who were until now dealing with the problem; with little help from the rest of the international community. We should have acted a long time ago.

Now since we are forced to deal with the problem, we must show solidarity firstly among ourselves and secondly towards the refugees.

We can not allow only a handful of countries in the Mediterranean to tackle the crisis on their own, nor Germany to take full responsibility and all of the refugees.

For once, let's show real unity and solidarity in our "union" and to the world that Europe can handle the leadership that sometimes is required from it. Instead of being an example of bigotry, we should act as one of compassion and global jurisdiction that inspires others to follow suit.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Blue Star Program.

http://www.bluestarprogramme.ie/ What is the Blue Star Program?

The Blue Star Program aims to foster better understanding and knowledge of the European Union among pupils in Irish primary schools through classroom projects and activities.

Beginning with a pilot year in 2011, the program has been run for four successful years to date and is now entering its fifth year in 2015-2016. Blue Star’s goal is to lessen the information and communication deficit that exists about the EU and how it affects the lives of Irish citizens among this key demographic in Ireland. 

 It’s no exaggeration to say that, year on year, the program succeeds in fostering a strong sense of citizenship and knowledge of Europe among its participants - be it a small, rural 20 pupil school in Westmeath or a 1,000 pupil school in Dublin – and that this sense of ‘belonging’ and knowledge extends far beyond the school walls into wider local communities.

The Blue Star Program is a venture of the Communicating Europe Initiative, supported by the Office of the Minister of State for European Affairs in the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Education and Skills, the European Commission Representation in Ireland and the European Parliament Information Office in Ireland. European Movement Ireland has acted as the National Implementation Body for the program since its pilot year in 2011.

What’s involved in the Blue Star Program?

The Blue Star Program asks teachers and pupils to carry out projects and tasks related to the History, Geography, Culture and Institutions of the EU.  There is a huge amount of flexibility in the program and schools are encouraged to get creative in their interpretation of these key elements and the way in which they can be fulfilled.  

History projects can be related to a significant European event or a pivotal person in European history, for example. Geography projects may focus on a specific EU country where the children can learn about that country’s population, language, similarities with Ireland, etc. Cultural projects can look at food, places and art of Europe, while Institutional projects teach pupils how the EU works and how the different European Union institutions co-operate with each other in accessible and fun ways.

The hard work that the pupils put into their projects culminates on Europe Day (9th May each year) when schools are supported and encouraged to exhibit and showcase these projects to parents and the wider community.

Schools that successfully complete the Blue Star Program are awarded two Blue Star certs and a Blue Star flag to mark their participation in the program. Pupils and teachers that have taken part in Blue Star cite it as a highlight of the school year, and we have schools who sign up year after year to take part and interpret the program in new, fresh and exciting ways.

Why get involved in the Blue Star Program?

To date, over 400 schools and approximately 35 - 40,000 children have participated in the programme. Last year the Blue Star Program was active in 175 Irish primary schools, interacting with almost 15,000 students in every corner of the country.

Its success didn’t stop there either; following a nomination in 2014 by Ireland South MEP, Mr. Sean Kelly, hundreds of Irish national school teachers who are involved in the Blue Star Program were made joint Irish winners of the prestigious European Parliament’s European Citizen’s Prize at an awards ceremony in Brussels in February 2015.

Article via the European Movement of Ireland and the Program's website.