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A jihadist beheading spurs the French to defend secularism

Čt, 10/22/2020 - 14:55

IN A COURTYARD at the Sorbonne, the paramount French symbol of learning, President Emmanuel Macron on October 21st paid homage to a teacher slain “for embodying…the freedom that is transmitted and sustained at school.” Samuel Paty (see Obituary) was a middle-school history teacher in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a genteel town north-west of Paris. Earlier this month he had shown pupils caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad from the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo during a class on freedom of expression. Those pupils who might be offended, he suggested, could choose not to look at them. On October 16th, after threats against him by a parent and on social media, Mr Paty was beheaded in an attack that police are treating as an act of terrorism.

Shortly before Mr Paty’s class discussion, on October 2nd, Mr Macron had given a speech not far from Conflans in which he warned the French about the rising threat of “Islamist separatism”. This is a radical political project, he declared, which is testing the resilience of the secular French republic, and menaces “freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and the right to blaspheme”. Mr Macron was accused in some quarters of cynically chasing the far-right vote, in others of stigmatising Muslims. Mr Paty...

Kategorie: Evropa, Souhrn

A second wave of covid-19 sends much of Europe back into lockdown

Čt, 10/22/2020 - 14:55

FOR A FEW months this summer it was almost possible for Europeans to believe that life had returned to normal. Parisian museums and Barcelona’s cafés were open, if less crowded. Germans, Dutch and Danes jetted off to holidays on Mediterranean beaches. In August and September, as children across the continent returned to school, covid-19 infections began to rise. Yet governments, worried about a backlash, chose not to reintroduce harsh social-distancing measures.

Their decision has had a price. A second wave of covid-19 is now washing over Europe. In many countries the daily numbers of confirmed cases exceed their spring peaks, though this is mostly because there is a lot more testing; death rates are substantially lower. A model developed by The Economist, based on serological tests showing how many people have been exposed to the virus, suggests the second wave has yet to match the first (see chart), though numbers are clearly rising, as are hospitalisations. Most countries failed to use the summer to build robust testing and tracing operations. Now they are falling back on blunt measures: shutting restaurants and introducing quarantines and curfews.


Kategorie: Evropa, Souhrn

An exiled ex-president plans a comeback in Georgia

Čt, 10/22/2020 - 14:55

IN THE GARISH style of a video game, the former Soviet republic of Georgia’s richest man is running around in a suit, knocking out golden coins with his head, when a rotund figure pops out of a chimney, destroying the oligarch and triggering “game over”. The victor—in the mock game—is Mikheil Saakashvili, independent Georgia’s best-known ex-president. He hopes to become Georgia’s prime minister in an election on October 31st.

Mr Saakashvili led the “Rose revolution” of 2003 that propelled Georgians from post-Soviet dourness to pro-European modern governance, cracking down on petty corruption and setting up reputable state institutions. But he then spectacularly plummeted from grace. Now he is conducting a re-election campaign from exile in Ukraine, through his United National Movement (UNM). Stripped of his Georgian citizenship, he has been indicted on several criminal charges by the current government, dominated by the Georgian Dream party led by Bidzina Ivanishvili, the country’s richest oligarch, who lives in an emerald-green glass palace overlooking Tbilisi, the capital. Mr Saakashvili, who has been sentenced to nine years in jail in absentia, would doubtless return if UNM were to win, though the odds are against it.

The election is getting nasty. On October 11th Mr Saakashvili was attacked during a rally for...

Kategorie: Evropa, Souhrn

The European Parliament: powerful yet puny

Čt, 10/22/2020 - 14:55

KILLING A KING is a good way of showing who is boss. In the 17th century, English parliamentarians put Charles I on trial for treason after a civil war. He was found guilty and swiftly executed. French lawmakers did something similar in the 18th century. Their 21st-century peers must rely on less bloody methods. The European Parliament is, in its own way, as mighty as its regicidal forebears. It has plenty of weapons at its disposal. It can block trade deals and veto the EU’s budget. It has as much say on European legislation as ministers from national capitals. And the European Commission, the closest thing the EU has to a government, can be dismissed—although not put to death—at parliament’s will.

Yet for all these threats, MEPs are not always treated with much respect. With negotiations ongoing over EU funding of €1.8trn ($2.1trn) between the European Parliament and the Council, which represents national governments, veto-wielding MEPs should be at the apex of their powers. Yet the EU aristocracy do not seem to fear a bout of revolutionary fervour among MEPs. When cornered by German MPs about the European Parliament’s demands in the latest round of talks, Angela Merkel’s main Europe adviser declared: “In the end, none of that is relevant.” David Sassoli, the parliament’s president, reiterated its demands for an extra €39bn for the...

Kategorie: Evropa, Souhrn

Sweden embarks on its largest military build-up for decades

Po, 10/19/2020 - 19:49

“AN ARMED ATTACK against Sweden cannot be ruled out,” warned Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s defence minister, shortly after he introduced a new defence bill on October 14th. It promises the country’s largest military expansion for 70 years. The reason is plain. Russia’s assertive behaviour across Europe, from invasion to assassination, has alarmed Swedes.

In recent years, Sweden has accused Russia of violating its air space and waters several times. Accordingly, it has deepened military ties with NATO (though not a member of the alliance) and with America and its Nordic neighbours. If the new bill is passed, as is likely, the defence budget is set to rise by SKr27.5bn ($3.1bn) between 2021 and 2025, a 40% boost that will bring expenditure to around 1.5% of GDP—the highest level for 17 years.

The new cash will pay for a 50% increase in the armed forces to 90,000 people, including regular soldiers, conscripts and local reservists in the Home Guard (no longer the Dad’s Army of yesteryear). The army will grow from two mechanised brigades to three, each of around 5,000 soldiers, with a smaller additional brigade for the Stockholm area.


Kategorie: Evropa, Souhrn


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