Tag Archives: euro_reporter

A Europe in question

An article from Ovi magazine

Only weeks before the European Elections, when European citizens elect their representatives into the common parliament, Europe celebrates Europe Day. This is a day that reminds all Europeans of the fundamental principles of the European Union, of peace and solidarity. The European principles guarantee a decent standard of living for all European citizens; they promote economic and social development. The principles also embrace environmental and regional differences. At least that is the theory, or perhaps what Schuman thought on May 9th 1950, when he deposited his declaration of a united Europe.

In May 1950, Schuman’s declaration seemed the next natural step for a Europe that was in ruins after an exhausting world war. The war had turned Europe into a battlefield for over five years, and left it without a youth only two decades after WWI. Financial competition was the new world reality, and the only way to deal with this was to unite forces. The European countries had the necessary industrial power to stand between the two giants and perhaps make a third pole in this game. A pole that could guarantee democracy and freedom – after all, the continent had learned the hard way what it meant to be without both. But yet again that was all in theory and the problems started very early.

First was the French veto against UK membership, because of its name – something which by the way should apparently be the same case now with FYROM. Later the competition between Britain and France caused more problems, with additional in and outs from the third major European player, Germany. Still, the EU continued to expand, including Greece and later Spain, Portugal and the Scandinavian countries. In 2009 we have 27 member states, with more waiting in the hallway for their full membership.

The aims of the EU were also questioned. For a long time Britain wanted a relaxed financial and commercial cooperation, with independent foreign and defence policies, while France, Italy and Germany wanted a more tightly knit relationship, like in the case of the United States of America. The unity has often been tested over the years, and one of the worst moments was during the last decade, when Iraq was invaded. Later the union expansion created tension, with ten new member states being added to an EU which was not prepared for such a massive expansion so quickly. This is an obvious crisis. There are other crises, which aren’t that apparent, such as the competition between the USA and Europe, the currency wars, and most importantly the industry wars, which have caused a lot of casualties on both sides.

The European Constitution remains another thorny issue, with only the top of the iceberg showing. Behind it are a series of other issues, mainly made up by the lack of coordination between the major players; a lack of EU leadership; and members with strong agendas that often conflict with the aim of a united Europe. Of course the general economic crisis and the dramatic unemployment rise don’t help much either. And yes, individuals form part of the problem as well, and in this case I’m not talking about Europe’s clown, Silvio and his family dramas.

First there is the European official leadership, Mr. Barroso, who often confuses his loyalties between the American administration and his real bosses – the European citizens. His Commission has become a bureaucratic monster that ignores the needs of the European citizens. Secondly there is a European Parliament that adds an unbelievable amount of meaningless legislations to the lives of people who have no clue why. This is part of the reality, but having said that, I don’t mean that there is no real work going on, especially in the Parliament. But everything they do is ruined by the executive parts of the Union taking over, such as the Commission President or the Council of Prime Ministers.

The European Parliament has voted on a series of laws aimed at protecting and defending democracy and human rights, but unfortunately politics, national agendas and geopolitical interests have often put an end to these. Euro-bureaucracy has become the worst enemy of euro-unity.

And the European Elections show exactly what the European governments think about a united Europe: for most of the European governments, the election is a good chance to promote their own work and on the same time measure their popularity.

What’s next? Well, Europe is suffering from an identity crisis, and it has to rebuild – or better rediscover – the aims of the union. Perhaps the European citizens need reassurance that the principals are still there. The citizens need to know that the European values still exist to protect and defend their interests and prosperity. Instead of having a Europe full of questions, we need a United Europe inspiring confidence and security.

By Thanos Kalamidas

Hungary Report

A euroreporter from the Ovi magazine

Coalition is ‘at risk’

“If reforms are not proceeding, there is no point left for the SzDSz to remain within the government coalition,” Alliance of Free Democrats (SzDSz) president János Kóka said. The ultimatum-sounding words were triggered by several statements from senior Socialist Party (MSzP) officials, who demanded the healthcare reform should be reconsidered, and, if necessary, withdrawn.

Most explicit was the MSzP’s parliamentary party leader, Ildikó Lendvai, who said it may well be a possibility to keep all healthcare funds 100% state-owned. “Nobody wants this country to pay for the political risk that resulted from the initiators of the referendums,” she explained referring to international reaction to the Mar 9 referendum, and the threat from leading opposition party Fidesz of more referenda to come.

US-based credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s decision to downgrade Hungary from “stable” to “negative” will, according to Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, “cost the country several billion forints.”

The debate over the healthcare reform, which was passed by Parliament twice, because President László Sólyom refused to sign it first time round, has been revived because of another referendum threat from Fidesz. “Why queue twice for a slap on the face? Why run head on into the wall twice?” opposition Fidesz party leader Viktor Orbán asked in a TV talk show, referring to a new. The results, Orbán predicted, would be just as devastating for the government as those of Mar 9 had been.

Fidesz is demanding that the government withdraw the healthcare reform which allows private capital and market competition into state-run healthcare. If the government does so, Fidesz will withdraw its referendum initiative, the party says, as it would abolish the government’s bill anyway. Analysts note that this continuous threat from Fidesz to overturn government decisions via referenda hugely increases political risks in the country, causing severe financial damage and, in the long run, might make governing the country for any party virtually impossible. Although, one day after the referendum, the PM was adamant that he would not restructure his government, two weeks later MSzP sources are saying otherwise. According to anonymous Socialist sources quoted by Hungarian daily Népszabadság, several scenarios have been drawn up, depending on the reaction of the junior coalition member.

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Hungary recognizes Kosovo

Hungary, along with two other countries that neighbor Serbia, Croatia and Bulgaria, recognized the independent state of Kosovo. Hungary’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs hasn’t officially announced the fact, but did release a previously prepared statement that all but does.“Hungary, Bulgaria and Croatia continue to support efforts by the European Union and NATO to create stability and democratic institutions in Kosovo; meanwhile Kosovo’s institutions should guarantee a multi-ethnic state based on the principles of democracy and a constitutional state, which guarantee rights to the Serbian community and to other ethnicities, including their participation in those institutions,” the common statement of the three countries said.

Introducing the document on Wednesday, foreign ministry state secretary Márta Fekszi Horváth also called on Serbia to ensure the safety of 350,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Vojvodina (Vajdaság), an autonomous province in northern Serbia near the Hungarian border.

Although the announcement surprised no one, diplomatic retaliation from Serbia was immediate. The truth is that Serbia feels so lonely in this Kosovo case and the same time would expect countries with major minority problems to understand better before the problem knocks their door.

Polish report

From the original Ovi magazine (Ovi lehti in Finnish)

No more Mr. Nice Guy

Poland’s opposition leader has mocked the prime minister for lacking a driver’s license, compared him with a notorious communist and accused him of forcing two million Poles from their homeland. Donald Tusk, a trim, sandy-blonde economic liberal, is showing a new toughness as he fights to unseat Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski in elections this Sunday, revealing steel unseen when he failed to win power in 2005.

Polls show a tight contest between Tusk’s pro-business and socially conservative Civic Platform, and Kaczynski’s Law and Justice, which is also conservative, but favors greater social spending to help the needy and is more skeptical of the European Union.

The bitter truth is that the amazing twins must go out from power in Poland but what remains causes more wonders. Their anti-communist menace has often led their policies to the limits of fascism and Poland has been often under criticism from the European Parliament, not to forget all the problems the twins caused in the last summit.

Poland may block Russia’s entrance to WTO

Poland warned on Monday that it would block Russia’s entrance to the World Trade Organization if Moscow did not cancel an embargo on exports of Polish meat and produce. Russia imposed the ban in late-2005 after uncovering what it said were violations of food safety regulations. Polish officials maintain that the country’s food quality standards meet EU norms and that the embargo is political.

“If Russia’s position toward Poland doesn’t change, we will have to vote against Russia’s membership in WTO,” Deputy Agriculture Minister Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski told a news conference in Moscow, according to Russian news agencies.

Poland also warned it would continue to block a strategic EU-Russia agreement if the embargo was not lifted. “Poland has to link these two issues — the embargo and the signing of a new agreement between Russia and the European Union,” Ardanowski was quoted as saying.

The question that arises is not if Russia will stop banning Polish meat but if Polish meat meets the standards of food safety regulations and if the EU can guarantee that they do.

Polish Church Advises People How To Vote

The Polish Catholic Church reminded Poland’s voters that they have an obligation to vote in keeping with the fundamental values taught by the Church. In a letter by Polish Bishops that was read to congregations all over Poland this weekend, people were told that they should pay attention to the moral condition of political candidates, their identity, values and readiness to cooperate with others.

Prime Minister Kaczynski’s voter base rests primarily in the countryside among the older population and followers of Radio Maria’s Father Taduesz Rydzyk. These voters are devoutly Catholic and tend to support Kaczynski. How much some of them support him and his party was made reported today in the Polish Weekly Gazeta Wyborcza.

In Lublin, after a church service yesterday, PIS flyers were distributed on the church’s premises and when a Gazeta Wyborcza reporter started taking pictures, some people surrounded him, started calling him names, and told him to “f**k off!” – One woman even hit him in the face. Finally a man urged people to calm down and the reporter was able to get away.

The candidates whose fliers were distributed said that they had no idea about what happened. They said that people take their flyers and distribute them any way they want. Candidates have no control over what they do.

It seems that the Vatican will never stop getting involved in Polish politics despite the fact that the wall has fallen and the Polish Pope is dead.

 

Latvian Report

From the original Ovi magazine (Ovi lehti in Finnish)

Gang of former KGB agents operating in Latvia

A criminal group composed of Soviet-era KGB agents and former and present special service agents are operating in Latvia, the country’s prime minister said Thursday. “We know people, their names, concrete crimes, we have testimonies, but we haven’t detained anyone yet,” Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis said.

The criminal gang – allegedly linked to certain politicians – is believed to be involved in extortion and drug trafficking in the small Baltic EU country, he said. Kalvitis did not disclose any names, but called on President Valdis Zatlers to hold a special national security council meeting “as soon as possible.” Theoretically Kalvitis’ allegations could be true, said Lolita Cigane, a corruption expert at Providus Center.

While one former KGB employee tries to be elected Russia’s next PM, others have taken a different path that is usually the plot of a James Bond film.

Latvia extends peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan

Latvia has decided to extend its peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan for another year, allocating $14 million in funds, the governmental press service said Tuesday. The ex-Soviet Baltic state plans to send a total of 260 troops into the country in two alternating troop contingents, the press service said. At the moment, 100 Latvian troops are deployed in northern Afghanistan as part of the UN peacekeeping mission. A NATO and European Union member, Latvia withdrew from Iraq in June.

This year has been the bloodiest period in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led campaign to overthrow the Taliban movement in 2001, as radical Islamist forces step up attacks in an attempt to topple the government and drive foreign troops out of the country.

Latvia is certainly a country of contradictions with the World Bank ranking it as the 22nd best country for business, while it also has the most expensive chicken meat, sausages, milk, eggs, bread and sugar in the Baltic States and is facing increasing accusations of corruption.

Russian Parliament’s Upper House Ratifies Latvia Border Pact

The upper house of Russia’s parliament Wednesday ratified a border treaty with Latvia that allows Russia to retain a swathe of land contested by Latvian nationalists. The treaty gives Russia control of an area known as the Pytalovo district to Russians and Abrene to Latvians that was seized by the Soviet Union after World War II.

Latvian nationalists protested the agreement as a sellout when the Latvian parliament signed it earlier this year, but supporters hope the agreement will help improve often-chilly relations with Russia. Moscow frequently complains that Latvia discriminates against its large ethnic-Russian population and regards Latvia’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union as Western encroachment on Russia’s border.

The 117-1 vote by the Federation Council sends the measure to President Vladimir Putin for signing. Latvia already has ratified and signed the measure. The situations sounds similar to that of some Finns and their belief that Karelia should be returned to Finland, which was also an area taken by Russia at the end of World War Two and has caused extensive diplomatic problems recently after some officials made claims regarding a secret buy-out offer made by Russia in the 1950s.

Romanian Report

From the original Ovi magazine (Ovi lehti in Finnish)

Low birth rate harming Romania

Romanian President Traian Basescu said this week that he is worried his country was “going through a demographic desert” because of a drop in birth rates since 1990. “In 17 years, Romania has lost 1.4mn people due to emigration and the lower birth rate,” Basescu said during a conference on population in the central town of Sibiu.

“Today, we count only one child per woman. If this birth rate remains as it is, we will only have 16mn residents in Romania in 2050, 11mn in 2075 and 8.5mn in 2100,” he warned. Romania currently has 21.6mn inhabitants.

In other new, tens of thousands of migrant workers from Romania are to be blocked from working in Britain amid concerns that economic migration is placing new strains on public services. Ahh, here we have the intricacies of the EU in all its glory.

Bromsgrove volunteers help out in Romania

A group of volunteers from the UK witnessed first-hand the importance of this year’s fund-raising subject of the Day of Kindness (September 18th) when they visited the slums of Romania.

The week-long expedition was organised to raise awareness of one of Europe’s poorest and most disadvantaged countries and was hailed as a life-changing experience by some of the volunteers on their return. The trip saw them discover the reality of the struggle many Romanians endure each day with no running water and very primitive sanitation.

For more on raising funds for The Smiles Foundation, call John and Joan Mayo on 0044 1527 875602 or log onto: www.thesmilesfoundation.org

Best women handball teams in Europe

The 2007 Women’s Champions Trophy will take place in Vâlcea, Romania from 22 – 23 September 2007. Vâlcea is no stranger to top handball events and the city is steeped in handball traditions. The arena in Vâlcea was renovated and used for the preliminary and main round of the 2000 Women’s European Championship.

The competition in Ramnicu Valcea is held for the first time under the name Champions’ Tournament, called Europe’s Supercup previously. The participating teams are Slagelse DT (Denmark) – winner of Champions League 2006-2007, Zvezda Zvenigorod (Russia) – winner of EHF Cup, Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea and Lada Togliatti, invited by the European Handball Federation (EHF).

Talking of balls, do you know why snakes don’t have balls? It’s because very few of them can dance.