Juncker versus Italian corruption

Anna van Densky. OPINION. This week Brussels institutional  freedom of speech reached a new low, when the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker has been confronted with the demands of withdrawing his comments on corruption in Italy.  During a public  exchange of views, the top EU executive referred to corruption and insufficient efforts as  the key obstacles,  blocking the development of the poorest regions in the south of Apennines peninsula.

Italians have to take care of the poor regions of Italy. That means more work; less corruption; seriousness,” Juncker said. “We will help them as we always did. But don’t play this game of loading with responsibility the EU. A country is a country, a nation is a nation. Countries first, Europe second”. These words caused the whirlwind of emotions from newly endorsed vice-prime minister Matteo Salvini, numerous political personalities, and even the president of the European Parliament (from Italian origin) Antonio Tajani, – all of them indignant about Juncker referring to the well-established facts. Yes, objectively speaking, there is a huge problem of corruption in Italy,  regarded as plague first of all by the Italians themselves.

According to the official statistics corruption, including political one, remains a major challenge, particularly in southern Italy, affecting Calabria, Campina, and Sicily, where citizens suffer from its consequences at most.  Transparency International   annual reports indicate Italy has been consistently assessed as one of the most corrupt countries in the Eurozone.  While 2017 Corruption Perception Index ranks Italy 54th place out of 180 countries. Scoring on a par with Montenegro, Senegal and South Africa. Yearly the crime of corruption causes Italians a damage of €60 billion .

However an attempt to smother Juncker with ‘politically correct’ banning from public debate the tensions in eurozone is not a unique episode in European political life, it is a chronic syndrome. A year ago then the chair of the Eurogroup Jeroen Dijsselbloem came under the fire for his criticism of abuse of solidarity by heavily indebted countries of the  EU south. The degree of indignation had  amounted to demands of resignation put forward by Spain and Portugal. However the most striking in rude tone was the comment from Italy: “He has missed a perfect opportunity to shut up,” former Italian Socialist Prime Minister Matteo Renzi wrote in a Facebook post. “The sooner he goes, the better.”

The entire calamity was caused by the Dutchman remarks to a  German newspaper: “As a social democrat, I think that solidarity is extremely important. But whoever benefits also has duties,” he added. “I can’t spend all my money on booze and women and then ask for your support.” It was the allegory implied to illustrate  the role of corruption and tax evasion in ongoing Greek financial crisis that caused the indignation, not the depressing reality. The Transparency International estimated Greek tax evasion figures between €11 – €16 billion per annum ‘not collectable’, and the corruption also played ‘massive role’ in an outbreak of financial crisis.  Dijsselbloem survived the criticism, so  did his corrupt foes.

One year later the situation of tensions between the north and south of eurozone reflected in Dijsselbloem polemics has not improved in a meaningful way, but instead of fighting grim realities of corruption, the Italian politicians almost unanimously prefer to put some makeup on a face touched by leprosy, while the northern societies reject to accept the trick, requesting accountability. Dijsselbloem then, and Juncker now said what millions of taxpayers in the north of Europe know and think, and silencing them one guarantees the rising pressure of their discontent, because they are the ones to endorse the checks.

Obviously, the expected contemporary modus operandi of the presidents of European institutions, reserving them a role of modern royals – smiling to cameras and shaking hands, plus signing big checks for charity – will not please the EU taxpayers from the northern countries. Being the donors to the southern economies,  where a portion of their transfers is systematically disappearing in the pockets of the corrupt, they are increasingly concerned about the profile of the recipients of their funds.

With the upcoming departure of the UK, the second net contributor to the EU budget, the monitoring of funds transferred from donors to recipients in the bloc will be much more keen. It is possible to smother the heads of the EU institutions by ‘politically correct’ reserving them a public role of mute modern royals, but it will hit back,  undermining the trust in EU institutions, unable to defend the European values.

Sans la liberté de blâmer, il n’est pas d’éloge flatteur”, Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (“Where there is no freedom of blaming, there can be no genuine praise”).

Bruxelles, 3 june 2018

 

#Liège: ‘prisoners of believe’

Anna van Densky, OPINION It was in exceptionally gloomy day in Belgium in spite of the sunshine: two police agents stabbed and shot dead – Soraya and Lucile;  one passerby civilian – Cyril just 22 years old shot dead, and a number of wounded police agents – all  in the city of Liège – a ‘capital of Wallonia’, otherwise famed by its rich cultural history.

Today outside Belgium, Liège is well-known for its University, attracting students from all over the world, but for those who are fans of crime novels, Liège is celebrated for being a birthplace and a favorite setting for the stories of George Simenon, the third most popular writer in French language, a creator of the legendary character commissaire Maigret, the ideal detective, who mastered psychology.

The city has drastically changed since those days Simenon had been describing. There are no more squalid little streets, without lanterns, and shabby houses – a usual background for Simenon crime scenes, but in the modern surroundings  the profession of a detective is as much in demand as in  those days.

Contemplating on Liège shooting we expect many questions to be answered: why a certain Benjamin Hermans 36 years old, native of Rochefort, a small town next to Liège, decides to spend his short “family” leave from a prison for killing police agents, his compatriots, in name of the Great God of Muhammadans – Allah Akbar?..What makes him to socialize with Islamists in prison? Why he decides to convert to Islam? And why above it all, the administration of the prison, knowing him as an extremely violent and marginal character, accepts the risks to release him for “socializing” in town?..

There are no simple answer, but they needed to be found honoring the memory of the victims – Soraya, Lucile Garcia and Cyril. We also need the conclusions to avoid new losses in future. However, today everything is shrouded in gloom.

Are we all just “hopeless prisoners of what we chose to believe”?..

 

 

Zuckerberg promotes Facebook in Brussels

As bright as he his,  Mr. Zuckerberg appeared in the European Parliament Brussels for a short address, representing a mixture of advertising for his company and benefits it brings to the EU, and his intentions for future cooperation. Unlike any other CEO of a telecom company he has competences  to provide service and powers to decide if we are good enough to use it. A  very innovative approach, we have never experienced before: is post office allowed to inspect the content of our letters, before sending them? Are telecom operators encouraged to listen to our conversation and decide if we are entitled to remain the clients?…

But in case of the Facebook the MEPs encouraged Mr.Zuckerberg to filter content, banning the “fakenews” in spite of the absence of a legal definition, monitor the exchanges to define if it does not contain a threat.

Mr.Zuckerberg came to European Parliament with an aura of the Emperor of the World, who can make, and overthrow kings: he apologised for Analytica, but accepted the mission of filtering the Facebook content. Who is the judge? Mr.Zuckerberg himself?..

We do not expect the same people to construct the roads, maintain them and monitor those, who use them – ‘unbundling’ is the word for the policy requiring the division of powers. But in case of Mr.Zuckerberg it does not work: he is the one who provides the communication service, monitors the content, bans those, who he thinks are not entitled. Is the Facebook a modern service provider or an old-fashioned monopoly?

Imagine you are coming to a post office, where an agent is opening your envelope, reading a letter, and denying a further service, sending it into trash! That is what Mr.Zuckerberg does: he provides service, monitors the users, and bans those unwanted upon his own subjective criteria. The most striking  element of the entire endeavor is, that it is accepted by the otherwise democratic societies. Where is the division of powers? In case of Facebook, it goes a beggar.

Western Balkans Pandora box Summit

Anna van Densky OPINION.

Western Balkans Summit is a lively event in Bulgarian capital Sofia,  assembling leaders from the EU member states, and the countries (and disputed territories) of colorful and rich in diversity mountain region, sometimes even too diverse for achieving the integration and cohesion promoted by Brussels strategists. In essence the Western Balkans represent a permanent challenge for the EU, regarding the inclusion into the bloc as the final chapter, closing the entire book of Yugoslav wars, which shook the continent two decades ago. Happy end. However there are some elements, indicating that Brussels plans  to integrate Western Balkans in the bloc is nothing more than a fata morgana, a vision of an exhausted traveller of an oasis with green palm trees in the sands of a desert…

Approaching the painful ‘divorce’ with the UK, the second largest net contributor to the EU purse, Brussels started to look at #WestBalkans with a special warmth in the eyes and voice, diverting public attention from #Brexit as the major failure to another direction –the enlargement project ‘of a great potential’ for the ‘old and tired’ Western Europe. We are loosing in the north, but winning in the south, so nevertheless the EU is ‘up and running’ reads the message of the Eurocentrics, attempting to preserve the fading image of the European project by ignoring losses and focusing on the wins. But are there any?..

It has been some time already that the European citizens have an opportunity to enjoy the enchanting resorts of Croatia, regarding the country as a ‘success model’ of the EU Enlargement policy in the Western Balkans. And now : Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and disputed Kosovo – are the ones to integrate, the WB6. However, even if putting aside the problems of rise of Albanian mafia,  or the drug trafficking, indicating that the most heroin reaching the EU from Afghanistan flows through Kosovo.

Even if  putting aside the problems of illegal mass migration exploiting the  routes for Middle East strangers entering Bosnia from Serbia as the result of a visa-free regime introduced last year between Serbia and Iran. Even if excluding the West Balkans role in the human trafficking, being both destination and transit place. And also if we drop the issues of corruption. If one regards only  a political dimension, the Western Balkans represent a Pandora box for the EU. From a first glance it is clear that the Sofia Summit represents a high risk project to an extend the Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy prefered to leave the scene even before the launch of the event to avoid the parallels between Kosovo and Catalonia claims of independence.

Just passing by to say ‘hello’, prime minister Rajoy prefers not to enter the Summit to avoid the confrontation with the sui generis case of unilateral independence of Kosovo. However will the diplomatic maneuver save Spain from Balkanization? Jure humāno…

Putin’s Firebird versus Chinese Dragon

Anna van Densky. OPINION.

The predictions are plentiful at the IV inauguration of the very same Russian ruler. However only few are optimistic ones, the majority is fearing the deepening schism between Russia and the West, the revival of the Cold War modus operandi, and even risk of the accidental eruption of the III World war. But if not following the extreme scenarios, what the EU can expect from the IV mandate of Vladimir Putin? Clearly not much in terms of science, progress or respect of human rights, but highly likely the continuation of stagnation  with the subsequent loss of traditional Russian spheres of influence like Balkans, Caucasus, and Central Asia.

The recent events in Armenia showed the fragility of the only ally in the Caucasus, and the switch of Kazakh alphabet to Latin letters indicated to direction of the development the leadership has chosen, clearly not impressed by Kremlin’s achievements. For traditional allies and neighbours Russia is not an attractive construct: rusting vertical of power, causing corruption at all levels, elite openly preferring to keep their fortunes and families abroad; economy firmly becoming a global supplier of raw materials; and declining population. The latter deserves some special attention, because with the current trends Siberia is rapidly inhabited by Chinese neighbours, hardworking and politically inactive, filling working places of those Russians who leave for the European part of the country, or void of many of extinct villages. The process called by the Siberians themselves as ‘Chinese colonisation‘.

When voting Putin for the fourth time, Russian have chosen for a traditional biologic cycle of political power change, it means that the current model will come to a natural end in 15  year from now, when Putin‘s close cercle reaches the age it would be physically unable to keep a grip on power, and even on their own fading away lives. No one is immortal. But what kind of Russia will the West encounter then?..

Culturally in 15-20 years Russia will be a different place. At present 38 million Chinese live in bordering Heilongjiang province, while in the entire Siberia just 36 million, and lately in the province the Communist party allowed to have a third child to the couples with the higher income. Growing population with growing needs, and limited resources, but remembering Deng Xiaoping advise they keep low profile, while “aiming to do something big.” In social media Russians share posts about Chinese taking over enterprises and territories. Siberians have collected 140 000 signatures under petition to Putin, asking him to stop the commercial destruction of forests, but in vain.

Cornered by the Western sanctions, Kremlin has little choice to turn to the East, selling natural resources, and welcoming Chinese workers to cope with the economic trouble caused by the stance of the West. Above it all the Chinese are so much friendlier to Kremlin, never reminding about Human rights, Freedom of speech, or requesting the liberation of political prisoners. What a stark contract with the West!

However the Chinese factor is not the only one, the other element is rapid spreading of Islam over Russian territory. In case the current trends stay in 20 year from now the country’s population will transform from predominantly Orthodox to Muslim. One more challenge for Europe, desperate to cope with radical Islam and home-grown terrorists.

In his inauguration speech Vladimir Putin compared Russia to Phoenix – magic Firebird, living rebirth. However even a very myopic observer could notice, that after each crisis Russian Firebird comes smaller in size, with further shrinking population. Would it come back as a Firebird after a quarter of a century of Putin‘s uninterrupted rule? Or will it be consumed by the Chinese Dragon? (The President himself has well prepared his children, who learned Chinese language at school:)

To conclude, the fourth inauguration of Vladimir Putin is a turning point, a clear choice for decline and Russia’s disintegration. Subsequently the EU needs to adjust its four road maps with Moscow, conducting its foreign policy having in view the upcoming Russia‘s ethnic, and religious change. Abyssus abyssum invocat! (One abuse leads to another).

Image: Siberia becoming a desert, while the forests are cut out in barbaric way, and sold to Chinese companies. Source: social media.

Siberian forest cut out

#FutureofEurope: MEPs fail to show up

Belgium Prime Minister Charles Michel received warm welcome from European Parliament’s President Antonio Tajani,  who stressed the importance of these debates on #FutureofEurope with European leaders, which ‘enable us to look ahead at what we can do together: member states, Commission and European Parliament”. However we did not receive any confirmation for the ‘importance of the debate’ from the behalf of the overwhelming  majority of MEPs, who simply failed to show up.

A few of Parliament’s group leaders praised Michel’s commitment to a strong Europe that delivers  added value to citizens, referring to the city of Brussels not only as the capital of Belgium, but also as the heart of the Europe. However, their compliments did not sound very convincing in a big void space.

One can question if the idea to give the PM speech of such a paramount significance in Brussels during mini-plenary was such a good idea, and wouldn’t it be better to follow the established format of presenting Belgium in Strasbourg? But this thought by no means diminishes criticism towards MEPs who regard their participation in mini-plenary as ‘benevolat‘. It is definitely not.

The nonchalant attitude is especially detrimental in view of upcoming European elections. In case the citizens will adopt the symmetrical attitude towards MEPs and ignore polling stations, the European Parliament would simply suffer lack of legitimacy, dramatically affecting the #FutureofEuope, at least its #EU dimension.

Armenia political crisis deepens

Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan has failed in his bid to become interim prime minister short of eight votes. The next step in legal procedure is the second Parliament sitting in a week time, expected to end in the similar stalemate, leading to dissolving of the institution, and snap elections. However, Republicans hope to organise the process, continuing to cling to power against all odds.

After a day of debate in the Parliament, Pashinyan  didn’t receive enough support despite being the only candidate for the post, while collecting 45 votes, eight short of the 53 he needed to have a majority in the 105-seat legislature. 

In  a very intense and sharp debate all parties had a consensus on keeping the matter as ‘interior policy problem’, without challenging any issues of foreign policy, and respecting international agreements and obligations, namely vis-à-vis Russia, the European Union, the Council of Europe and the other international organisations. They also agreed that the only way of the impasse lies though general elections.

However  the ruling Republican party was not willing to abandon power without resistance, motivating their disagreement to endorse the candidacy of Pashinyan as interim PM in his lack of a governing experience, especially taking into consideration complexity of military-political situation with  the frozen conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. The denial allowed Pashinyan to remind to his opponents that  Nelson Mandela became South African President after long stay in prison brought to power by will of people, which is a decisive force in a democratic process. In his exchange with MP he also presented his views on a broad spectrum of issues, including Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, relations with Russia, Georgia, and denied any personal contacts with Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny and Georgia’s Mikhail Saakashvili.

“Grilled” in a tough American style by MPs  Pashinyan said he would increase defence budget, blaming that last 15 years government failed to level military might with Azerbaijan. He also vowed to create conditions for repatriating Armenians from abroad, including those who would bring investments, linking the process to a substantial reform of system of justice, liberating it from its ‘totalitarian mentality‘. He put to shame Republicans, blaming them temptation to curb the judiciary to serve their political interests, even degrading to keeping ‘prisoners of thought’. The substantial amount invested in judiciary was spent on exterior – buildings and judges outfits, but not on establishing of its independence, he added.

An issue of ethnic minorities took a special place in a debate: Pashinyan insisted they don’t have political freedoms, and are almost obliged to be loyal to a dominant political force, the practise he would certainly end, opening to them an opportunity to join political life, and to choose freely, including joining the opposition.

However it was the question of children and youth that fueled most anger from the Republicans who considered Pashinyan  crossed red lines, inviting schoolchildren to join the protests. They received an answer that it is an experience, and education of civility, which would stay with them, and hopefully pass on to the future generations. The position forced one of the MPs to leave the audience in a protest for 10 minutes.

The rejection of Republicans to accept  the will of people, endorsing the only candidate as an interim PM to organise snap elections, caused the continuation of protests.

Pashinyan called the citizens to go on with actions of civil disobedience, he also addressed transport workers asking to join the strike to ensure a total paralysis, forcing ruling party of Republicans to accept the democratic transition without further delay.

 

 

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