Tesla’s market value hits $100bn

epa04946874 Tesla boss and internet entrepreneur Elon Musk speaking during a discussion event about the future of the economy at the German economy ministry in Berlin, Germany, 24 September 2015. EPA/WOLFGANG KUMM

Tesla reached a $100 billion market cap for the first time on 22 January. The market value reached more than $107 billion, up by more than 8% before dropping at the end of the day. Since the beginning of this year, shares of Tesla’s stock have been rising and are up more than 34%.

After reaching the cap, CEO Elon Musk has the option to purchase 1.69 million shares of its stock at $350.02 a share. Analysts say that amounts to more than $371 million if he sold the shares. However, Tesla’s market cap has to stay at $100 billion for six months for that option.

Tesla’s fortunes have been improving ever since it reported a surprise profit in the third quarter, with the increased demand for electric cars.

In the fourth quarter, Tesla said it sold 112,000 vehicles across the globe. For the year Tesla said it delivered 367,500 vehicles. For comparison, it delivered 245,240 vehicles in 2018.

Soros accuses Facebook of working to reelect Trump

epa04480130 Soros Fund Management President Georges Soros speaks during a conference at the Bozar Palace in Brussels, Belgium, 07 November 2014. The conference was entitled 'Good Morning Europe, Now or Never'. EPA/JULIEN WARNAND

US financier George Soros pledged $1 billion for a new university network project to battle the erosion of civil society in a world he said was ruled by “dictators”.

“We live at a transformational moment in history. The survival of open societies is endangered and we face an even greater crisis: climate change”, Soros said in the speech he gave at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He explained that his plan of the Open Society University Network would be an international platform for teaching and research that universities all over the world would be able to join.

Soros also warned that the world’s strongest powers, the US, China and Russia were “in the hands of would-be or actual dictators and the ranks of authoritarian rulers continued to grow”.

He then claimed that the social media giant Facebook would work to help reelect US president Donald Trump, who he called “a con man and a narcissist, who wants the world to revolve around him.”

“I think there is a kind of informal mutual assistance operation or agreement developing between Trump and Facebook,” Soros said, and added: “Facebook will work together to re-elect Trump, and Trump will work to protect Facebook so that this situation cannot be changed and it makes me very concerned about the outcome for 2020”.

He did not present any evidence for his claim. Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone later tweeted that Soros’s claim “is just plain wrong.”

UK prepares to allow Huawei into 5G

epa07331062 A general view of the Sydney headquarters of Chinese tech company Huawei at Chatswood in Sydney, Australia, 30 January 2019. EPA-EFE/DAN HIMBRECHTS AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT

The UK is preparing to allow Huawei to supply 5G equipment, and resist the pressure of the United States, who is trying to push for 5G ban over security concerns.

“The market conditions are not the same in the US and UK. You could call it a market failure, but we are where we are”, a Downing Street source said.

The final decision will be made next week by the National Security Council, chaired by PM Boris Johnson, and attended by senior ministers. Sources say the UK will probably label Huawei a “high-risk vendor” and impose supply restrictions on it.

“The British public deserve to have access to the best possible technology. Now, if people oppose one brand or another, then they have to tell us what’s the alternative, right?”, Johnson previously said.

Earlier this month, US officials arrived in Britain to push for Huawei’s 5G ban. In May, the US government added Huawei to its trade blacklist, amid concerns that its 5G equipment enables the Chinese government to spy on other nations. Huawei has rejected the allegations, saying it operates independently of the ruling party of China.

Democrats present arguments at Trump’s impeachment trial

epa08151761 House impeachment manager Adam Schiff (C), with managers Jerry Nadler (R), Jason Crow (L), responds to a question from the news media during a press conference in the US Capitol in Washington, DC, 22 January 2020. House Democrats will make their case for removing President Trump during the first day of opening arguments in the impeachment trial of US President Donald J. Trump. EPA-EFE/SHAWN THEW

Democrats laid out their arguments that US president Donald Trump met the standard for impeachment. He is accused of obstruction of Congress, as well as for abusing the power of the US president’s office by temporarily freezing nearly $400 million in military aid in an effort to pressure Ukraine to open an investigation into his political rival, Joe Biden.

Democratic lawmaker Adam Schiff explained how Trump requested foreign interference in the US elections, and “abused the powers of his office to seek help from abroad”.

“President Trump withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to a strategic partner at war with Russia to secure foreign help with his re-election. In other words, to cheat. If this conduct is not impeachable, then nothing is”, Schiff said.

“I didn’t hear anything new at all”, Republican Senator John Barrasso defended Trump. Trump called the proceedings a “hoax . At the beginning of the trial he was in Davos, where he attended the World Economic Forum and used the opportunity to praise the US economy.

After the procedure, Senators will have 16 hours to ask questions of the House managers and the defense team in writing. Then, the Senate will vote on whether to produce documents and witnesses in the trial that Republican and Democratic lawmakers have been pushing for.

Democrats need four Republicans to vote with them. Even if they succeed, it still remains unlikely that two-thirds of the Senate will vote to remove Trump from office.

Trump has become the third US president in history to be impeached, after Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.

Issue 1318: Europe’s nuclear energy solution (Print Edition)


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The right to affordable housing: Europe’s neglected duty


Increasingly making the headlines is the fact that the scarcity of affordable housing in Europe is a serious and growing problem that pushes an ever-larger number of people into housing insecurity and homelessness. Unless the governments in Europe step in to take decisive measures to turn back the tide, this crisis will continue to intensify and increase existing inequalities, exclusion, and segregation.

Housing is in short supply in Europe today, in spite of increasing demand. In many countries, the overall level of housing construction is lower now than in previous decades, contributing to structural shortages which are especially acute in large cities. This scarcity of housing is pushing up rents as well as prices, which in most European countries surpass the increase in wages.

These trends cause many people to gradually be “priced out” of certain neighbourhoods and force them to accept homes of substandard quality or to move to areas where they face poorer prospects of finding work within a reasonable distance, decent education, quality healthcare, and other basic social needs.

Affordable housing: whose problem?

According to the European Committee of Social Rights, housing is affordable if the household can afford to pay initial costs, rent and other related costs, like utility bills and charges, on a long-term basis, while still being able to maintain a minimum standard of living. Meeting this challenge is an uphill struggle for many Europeans today as the cost of housing consumes the lion’s share of their household budgets. Frequently, this results in the so-called housing cost overburden, which arises when more than 40% of one’s disposable income is spent on housing. For instance, this affects around two out of five people in Greece, one in five in Bulgaria, and one in six in Denmark and Germany.

Although the problem concerns many people across Europe, high housing costs have a disproportionate impact on people living in poverty and those at risk of poverty, including the “working poor”. The numbers are telling. A report on housing inequality, published by the Council of Europe Development Bank in 2017, showed that the housing cost was an excessive burden for nearly a third of the lowest earners in the EU/EEA area.

Between 2007 and 2017, the average housing cost overburden rate among poor households increased in the majority of European Union countries. The highest figures in 2017 stood at 90% in Greece, 75% in Denmark and 50% in Bulgaria. Among the EU’s youngest citizens living below the poverty line in 2017, 42% on average were overburdened by the cost of housing; this ratio reached 63% in the Netherlands, 84% in Denmark and 91% in Greece. A similarly discouraging picture appears outside the EU: a 2017 UN study found the cost of housing in Armenia to be unaffordable for most citizens. In the same year, Ukraine’s capital Kyiv was ranked second least affordable in Bloomberg’s Global City Housing Cost Index.

The availability and quality of housing is a closely related problem. In Armenia, according to UNECE, the 2011 census reported 16,000 people (2% of all households) to live in structures unfit for housing, like metal shipping containers. Also according to UNECE, in Ukraine in 2011 more than one million households were in need of housing while the average waiting time for social housing was estimated to exceed 100 years, and 20 years in Russia. 80,000 households have been reported to lack long-term housing solutions in North Macedonia.

Workers place a container that will be turned into a module home in a street in Barcelona, Spain. EPA-EFE//QUIQUE GARCIA

Social housing: outsourced and underfinanced

As a result of the shortage of affordable housing, the social housing sector in Europe is coming under pressure. While there is no single formula for getting social housing policies right, state responses to rising demand have so far been to withdraw and to shift the burden to the local government, private sector, housing associations and non-profit organisations.

In 2017, overall spending by governments on social housing represented only 0.66% of the European GDP and continued to fall. In many countries, the emphasis has been placed on increasing housing allowances. We need fresh ideas in this area. A new toolkit published by the European Housing Solutions Platform outlines 50 out-of-the-box solutions making use of social housing, the private rental sector, and integrated approaches to overcome financial and political barriers within European housing systems.

Rising homelessness and forced evictions

As observed by my predecessor in the 2013 Issue Paper on safeguarding human rights in times of economic crisis, the 2008 crisis and growing unemployment led to a sharp increase in evictions and rising homelessness in many European countries. While tenant protection laws often serve as a safety net, overall they do not seem to effectively tackle the problem. The 2017 and 2018 annual overviews, published by the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) and Fondation Abbé Pierre, found evidence of rising homelessness in all the EU/EEA countries surveyed except Finland and Norway.

The decline in homelessness experienced in these two countries was attributed to the implementation of long-term strategies of successful cooperation between the state, local authorities and local stakeholders, and approaching homelessness from the perspective of a human rights violation.

Increasing homelessness has been observed to particularly affect migrants, young people, women, families, and children. The 2018 FEANTSA report noted that children are becoming the largest group of people in emergency shelters. In 2015, children accounted for one-third of Ireland’s entire homeless population; from 2014 to 2017, their number rose by 276%.

In the UK, the number of homeless children in temporary accommodation reportedly rose by 40% in the same period. In Russia, although the available figures appear to vary greatly, one rough estimate put the number of homeless children in 2010 at hundreds of thousands, while other reports hint that this number might be even higher. During her 2015 visit to Serbia, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing touched upon the risk of homelessness and exclusion that weak protections for renters and no access to social housing meant for certain vulnerable groups, including young people.

State responses to rising homelessness have often been characterised by a short-sighted, punitive approach, in a misguided attempt to move the problem out of public sight.

My predecessor’s visit to Hungary in 2014 shed light on the national and local government bans on “sleeping rough” on pain of fines, which were imposed on more than a thousand people, and in some cases led to the imprisonment of those unable to pay. Similar bans were observed during his 2015 visit to Norway. More recently, in the UK, press reports found that as overall numbers of rough sleepers continued to rise, in some localities homeless people were banned from town centres and fined.

European institutions have intervened in some cases related to forced evictions. The European Court of Human Rights has notably balanced interests of landlords against the need to secure accommodation for the less well-off, and on some occasions has acted as a last resort for families threatened with imminent eviction. The European Committee of Social Rights has in several decisions identified the safeguards that must apply when evictions do take place: respecting the dignity of persons; no evictions at night or during the winter; taking measures to re-house or financially assist the persons concerned.

The case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, for its part, has empowered domestic judges to suspend or annul evictions if the rights of occupants have not been respected, for instance in the context of abusive mortgages. While these interventions offer helpful guarantees, states should prevent such emergencies affecting families and children, among others, from occurring in the first place.

The way forward

In a poignant introduction to her January 2018 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Leilani Farha, noted that “we are at a critical moment. Globally, housing conditions are fraught. Homelessness is on the rise, including in affluent countries; forced evictions continue unabated; (…) and housing in many cities is simply unaffordable even for the middle class”.

We should pay close attention to her call. We need to fully grasp the extent and urgency of the problem in Europe with regard to housing, one of the most basic human needs. As demonstrated above, this is an issue which affects the population at large and contributes to a growing sense of uncertainty and precariousness. Leaving it unaddressed leaves our societies vulnerable to increased social tensions.

States’ obligations towards the full realisation of the right to housing must go beyond providing emergency and individual solutions. There is an urgent need for genuine political commitment to adopting sustainable, long-term and inclusive solutions, in line with the UN 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goal of providing adequate, secure and affordable housing to all by 2030. Housing is not simply a commodity, but a human right. It should move to the top of the political agenda in Europe.

• First, member States which have not yet done so should promptly accept to be bound by Article 31 of the revised European Social Charter (RESC) dealing with the right to housing. Of the 34 member States which ratified the Charter, so far only 10 have accepted its Article 31 while 4 more have accepted to be bound only by some parts of that provision.

• Second, States should adopt and implement sustainable national housing strategies with clear targets to end homelessness, harnessing to the maximum extent the available resources, establishing credible and independent mechanisms for monitoring progress, and paying close attention to their impact.

• Third, States should step up investing in social and affordable housing in view of eradicating the housing cost overburden, particularly among disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.

• Fourth, States should urgently adopt long-term measures to prevent and eradicate homelessness, in particular among children and other disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. In adopting and implementing such measures, states should involve all stakeholders and be guided by respect for the human dignity of homeless persons and the realisation that homelessness is a violation of human rights.

Europe’s demographic crisis needs to be addressed


The major demographic change that plagues Eastern and Southern European is one of the EU’s biggest challenges in the new decade. Brussels now has to effectively respond to the realities of this multifaceted and difficult phenomenon at a time when Europe is being severely affected by other global changes that hinder further cohesion.

Europe is making progress when it comes to responding to global emerging challenges, including its transition to a greener and more digitalised economy. But a closer look, however, reveals that the demographic challenge is directly affecting Europe, as a whole in ways that are both alarming and call attention to the fact that Brussels must deal with the issue much sooner than later.

A turn to more attractive areas 

An increasing number of citizens from Eastern and Southern Europe are turning their backs on the rural regions of their respective countries in favour of trying their luck in areas where opportunities are easier to be found, which are most often in urban centres. Though this is not a new phenomenon as hundreds of thousands of Southern Europeans relocated to the north during the boom years of the 1950s and 1960s, the demographic change inside the countries is putting added pressure on regions that are in need of skilled professionals as they are experiencing a crippling brain drain.

While speaking to New Europe, the Commission’s Vice President for Democracy and Demography Dubravka Šuica warned that this fluid mobility ‘‘means that most of these people are of working-age, which creates a challenge, as the key drivers of the economy leave in pursuit of a better life elsewhere.’’

The rising outflow of people from Eastern to Western Europe is expected to worsen in the coming years. Data from the United Nations Population Prospects show that EU members in Eastern and Southern Europe are among the world’s fastest shrinking countries in terms of their demographics. Those statistics come at a time when the continent’s population is likely to fall by around 5% by 2050.

The Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU has already sounded the alarm and has urged its fellow members that the problem needs to be addressed at the EU level. Working under the motto of a ‘‘Strong Europe in a world of challenges’’, the Croatian Presidency aims to set out a full social, economic and territorial cohesion package for the bloc, one that puts find a solution to the demographic change at the top of the “to do” list.

Croatia has been particularly affected by demographic losses. Since joining the EU in 2013, 5% of Croatia’s overall population to immigration and is expected to experience an 18% decline by 2050.

On the opposite side of the Balkan Peninsula, Bulgaria holds the unfortunate position of topping the list of EU countries that has seen its population plummet since it joined the bloc in 2007. Bulgaria’s population is projected to drop from 6.9 million in 2020 to 5.4 million in 2050, a 22.5% decline, while Lithuania, one of the three Baltic republics – along with Estonia and Latvia – that joined the European Union in 2004,  s expected to face a 22.1% decline.

The reasons behind this exodus

Across Europe, people are living longer and having fewer children. Low birthrates and an increase in life expectancy, have hit Europe, in particular, hard in the last decades. The EU’s low rates of fertility and mortality and an ageing population have taken their toll. According to Eurostat figures, the median age of the EU’s population is projected to increase by 4.2 years, from 42.4 years in 2015 to 46.6 years in 2080.

Europe’s old-age dependency ratio is also expected to increase by 23% by 2080. In number terms, this would mean that by 2080 there will be just 2 people of working-age for every elderly person. An increase of this sort requires a major rise in spending on pensions and significantly pushes up the public debt.

Furthermore, countries losing working-age people to Europe’s north and west have numerous social and economic consequences. Spain and Italy are expected to lose more than a quarter of their workforce by 2050. This projected loss, both in Eastern and Southern Europe, is likely to further exacerbate those two regions’ depopulation problems. More specifically, countries in Southern Europe, such as Italy, whose public debt is over 130% of GDP, push away a productive part of their workforce.

An additional important factor in this potentially catastrophic problem is the fact that many women stay out of the labour force as a result of limited child care, which doesn’t allow them to return to work after giving birth. This creates demographic disparities and puts further stress on the economic divisions in the countries of Southern and Eastern Europe.

Despite the fact that countries such as Poland, Hungary, and non-EU member Serbia offer financial incentives for child-bearing, factors such as the freedom movement across Europe, as well as a common currency, make it harder to cope with emigration as an increasing number of citizens find it easier to seek opportunities outside their home country.

Brussels’ response

European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen highlighted the significance of the demographic change in her mission statement saying that it ‘‘affects every part of our society: from the economy to healthcare, from migration to the environment” and added that solutions to the problem should be tied to improving people’s well-being.

‘‘The challenges linked to demography can also be transformed into opportunities: ensure work/life balance, encourage life-long learning and cultivate active experienced contributors to the community and society,’’ Šuica told New Europe while reiterating von der Leyen’s stated goal of offering quality-of-life solutions to the problem. ‘‘To avoid some regions in Europe falling behind, we need to make especially rural regions more attractive. This can be done by improving regional infrastructure and access to services, strengthening digital connectivity and creating employment opportunities,’’ Šuica added.

These solutions, however, cannot be done without the contribution of the main actors involved – namely, each country within the EU. The Conference on the Future of Europe, which is scheduled for this year, is an important forum to find ways that would effectively face the challenges related to Europe’s demographic loss, a position that Šuica reaffirmed in her comments to New Europe. ‘‘We will seek support and ideas from our citizens, many of whom are already finding innovative and creative solutions,’’ Šuica said.

In order for Europe to halt the outflow of people to other countries, it needs to adopt coherent policies that would convince would-be emigrants to stay. Policies that improve the quality of life for the population, including better education and major investments into infrastructure, need to be part of an overall strategy that assures every individual who lives in the European Union that they have a better future to look forward to.

At the same time, it is critical for Brussels to understand that people who tend to have lower employment rates, such as women and older people, need to be given better chances to find work.

In countries that are providing cheap and easily available child care, such as France, fertility rates are on the rise and women’s participation in the workforce is also at record levels. Furthermore, fostering a programme that encourages active ageing could improve the old-age dependency ratio – meaning there would be far less pressure on an economy to support a non-productive sector of the population.

Though the challenge needs to be addressed at the European level, ultimately long-term solutions to the demographic change will most likely require multilateral reforms in each country if they are going to find effective solutions that eventually lead to the restoration of their populations.

EU and EBRD to boost renewable energy in Ukraine, Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia

epa08132865 European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi during a press conference with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama (not pictured) in Tirana, Albania, 16 January 2020. Oliver Varhelyi is in Albania for an official visit to support the prospect of Albania for opening the negotiations with European Union. EPA-EFE/Malton Dibra

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Union have agreed a new €50 million programme of financial guarantees aimed at scaling up investment in renewable energy in Ukraine and in the EU’s Southern Neighbourhood with a particular focus on Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia, which will benefit from wind and solar energy expansion, the EBRD said on 22 January.

“The guarantee agreement will help finance many more renewable energy projects, with private sector financing,” EU European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi said, adding that the agreement will help cut greenhouse gas emissions, first in Ukraine and then in countries in the EU’s Southern Neighbourhood, with a particular focus on Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia. “We’re convinced the guarantee provides sufficient risk cover to attract major private sector investment in countries where not enough such financing is available, therefore we are preparing to support even greater volume of private investment in sustainable development post 2020, through the European Fund for Sustainable Development Plus, which will also cover enlargement countries,” Várhelyi said.

For his part, EBRD Vice President, Policy and Partnerships Pierre Heilbronn said the bank is delighted to partner with the EU for such an urgent cause as climate action. “Our lending combined with the EU’s financial instruments encourages more participation of the private sector in investments which are very much needed to face the global challenges of the future, including a more sustainable development model. This first agreement is only the beginning of our cooperation with the EU through the External Investment Plan in the EU neighbourhood regions,” Heilbronn said.

This is the first EBRD guarantee programme to receive funding through the EU External Investment Plan (EIP), an EU initiative launched in 2017 with the aim to attract more investment, especially from businesses and private investors, into countries neighbouring the EU and in Africa.

Under the new programme, the EBRD will provide guarantees to lenders such as local commercial banks, which will allow them to provide financing to projects alongside EBRD loans. The guarantee is expected to help generate total investments of up to €500 million.

Through the EIP, to date the EU has allocated €4.5 billion in public funds to leverage €44 billion in public and private investment for development in countries neighbouring the EU and in Africa.

The EBRD will implement the largest volume and number of guarantees under the EIP in the EU Neighbourhood.

According to the EBRD, the projects under this programme will help unlock countries’ substantial renewable energy potential, promote the development of renewable energy more widely and demonstrate how the private sector can help meet growing demand for energy. The guarantee is expected to provide 340 MW of additional installed renewable energy capacity. This translates into an extra 970 gigawatt hours per year of electricity production from renewable sources, and a cut in annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 530 kilotons of CO2.

According to the EBRD, the programme will have an important demonstration effect, introducing a number of new developers and commercial financiers to these markets.

The fundamental legacy of the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials


In these rather unfortunate days, some voices in Europe are trying to question the very fundaments of the antifascist legacy. Though such dangerous and highly destructive attempts are under way, this legacy is what finally made the Old Continent human and peaceful – a role model to admire and for the rest of us to follow.

These regrettable attempts at moral equivalence make it worth revisiting the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, which are essential pillars of the Human Rights charter that was brokered after World War II and under the UN’s auspices. Consequently, the legacy of these trials is extraordinary and far reaching. They represent a core building block of what we call ‘Modern Europe’.

The importance of both post-war tribunals is hard to overstate and their reaffirmation is needed more today than at any other time since the end of the Second World War.

The American philosopher and historian Noam Chomsky once said, “For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.” This was not the case for Germany and Japan after World War II. The victorious Allied powers established the world’s first international criminal tribunals to prosecute political and military officials for war crimes and other atrocities.

The four major Allied governments – the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union – set up the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany, to prosecute and punish major war criminals of the Nazi-led Axis allies.

The tribunal presided over a trial of senior Nazi political and military leaders, as well as several Nazi organisations. The less-well-known International Military Tribunal for the Far East was created in Tokyo following a 1946 proclamation by US Army General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Allied Commander in the Pacific.

That tribunal oversaw a series of trials that prosecuted senior political and military officials from the Empire of Japan for their role in committing atrocities during the Japanese domination of East Asia and the Pacific Islands from the mid-1930s to 1945.

The Nuremberg and Tokyo trials differed in several important aspects, including their origins, compositions, and jurisdictions. The Allied powers established the policy that international tribunals in Europe and in the Far East would focus on, most importantly, a decision on individual criminal liability for crimes against peace.

European Court of Human Rights President Guido Raimondi (R) and Soren Prebensen (L), the Deputy Grand Chamber Registrar, pronounce their judgment in the case of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny against Russia during a hearing in Strasbourg, France. EPA-EFE//PATRICK SEEGER

The Allied governments, specifically the US, sought this policy as a step towards organising an international legal system for discouraging future aggressors and averting the sort of war devastation that the Axis powers had caused. This American-policy was first presented during the Nuremberg trials and again repeated in Tokyo.

Legal scholars Luc Reydams and Jan Wouters have argued that “The Nuremberg and Tokyo charters were drafted by a handful of statesmen from the highest echelons of government for whom an international tribunal was not a goal unto itself, but a means to a very specific end.”

The Tokyo Charter, in particular, necessitated that the principal charges against the defendants be crimes against peace while also deeming charges on war crimes and crimes against humanity as discretionary. Therefore, a significant part of the court battles that took place at the Tokyo trials revolved around substantiating aggressive war charges, despite the fact that proof of Japanese wartime atrocities was, truth be told, likewise exhibited.

In June 1945, the day of the signing of the United Nations Charter at the San Francisco Conference, the delegations from the US, UK, France, and the Soviet Union negotiated in London the regulating principles for prosecuting war criminals. What is noteworthy about that agreement is that the respective heads of each delegation – the US’ Robert Jackson, Britain’s Sr David Maxwell Fyfe, Soviet Major-General Iona Nikitchenko, and France’s Robert Falco later all played prominent roles on the International Military Tribunal. The agreements that the four powers hammered out in London were later  reaffirmed and supported by President Harry Truman, Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee, and General Secretary Joseph Stalin during their landmark trilateral meeting in Potsdam, Germany the summer after the defeat of the Third Reich.

The tribunal’s charter defined the tribunal’s constitution, functions, and jurisdiction . One judge from each of the Allied governments formed the Nuremberg tribunal. The Allied powers also supplied a team of prosecutors.

The Nuremberg Charter also provided that the International Military Tribunal had the authority to prosecute and punish persons who committed any of the following crimes: Crimes Against Peace (planning and making war); War Crimes (responsibility for crimes during war time); Crimes Against Humanity (racial or ethnic persecution); and Conspiracy to Commit Other Crimes.

The tribunal lasted from November 1945 to October 1946 and saw 22 Nazi political and military leaders indicted, including Hermann Goering, Rudolph Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Alfred Rosenberg, Karl Donitz, Alfred Jodl, Wilhelm Keitel, and Albert Speer. 19 were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging or up to 15 years’ imprisonment. Three of the defendants were found not guilty, one committed suicide before the trial, and one did not stand trial due to mental illness.

Unlike the military tribunal in Europe, its Far East counterpart was not created by an international agreement, but emerged from agreements aimed at prosecuting Japanese war criminals. In July 1945, the US, UK, and China signed the Potsdam Declaration in which stated that they “did not intend that the Japanese shall be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation, but stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals, including those who have visited cruelties upon our prisoners.” The declaration also urged the Japanese government to “proclaim the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action.”

The war in Europe had, by that time, ended but the war with Japan was still in full swing when the Potsdam Declaration was signed. The agreement was not signed by the Soviet Union because it held out from declaring war on Japan until the United States dropped its second atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

US State Department officials had favoured holding an intergovernmental conference to establish a special international tribunal, but a coordinating committee opted to use the authority of Supreme Allied Commander MacArthur, who was keenly mindful of the experience of US Chief Justice Robert Jackson at the London Conference, where he struggled to come to an agreement with the other delegations about the details of the Nuremberg Charter.

In December 1945, in Moscow, the US, UK, the Soviet Union, and China agreed to the basic structure for the occupation of Japan. MacArthur was granted authority to issue all orders for the implementation of the terms of surrender, the occupation, and control of Japan.

MacArthur later issued a special proclamation to establish an International Military Tribunal for the Far East, which was similar to the Nuremberg Charter, but provided MacArthur with the authority to assign judges from the countries that had co-signed Japan’s surrender – Australia, Canada, China, France, the Netherlands, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, British India, and the Philippines. Each of these countries also had a team of prosecutors.

As with the European tribunal, the Far East version had the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for Crimes Against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes Against Humanity, but also had jurisdiction over crimes that occurred over a greater period of time – from the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 to its subsequent surrender in 1945.

A total of 25 Japanese political and military leaders were tried by the court between May 1946 and November 1948. Japan’s emperor, Hirohito, and other members of the imperial family were not indicted. In fact, the Allied governments ruled that Hirohito could remain on the throne, albeit with a diminished status.

The Far East Tribunal did, however, find all of the defendants guilty and sentenced them to punishments that ranged from death to seven years’ imprisonment.

The Nuremberg and Tokyo trials contributed significantly to the development of international criminal law and served as models for a new series of international criminal tribunals that were established in the 1990s.

Moreover, the reference to “crimes against peace,” “war crimes,” and “crimes against humanity” in the International Military Tribunal Charter represented the first time when these terms were used and defined in an international instrument. These terms and definitions were also adopted in the Charter of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, and have been depicted and expanded on in a succession of international legal instruments since that time.

The conclusions of the Nuremberg trials also served as models for the Genocide Convention of 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from the same year, and also paved the way for the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

The legacy of the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials is, in itself, extraordinary. Their importance is hard to overstate. Nuremberg and the international community’s experience with the ad hoc tribunals demonstrate that international justice doesn’t have to be perfect to be good. Holding up Nuremberg to an impossible or imagined standard is neither fair nor productive.

But we cannot forget that the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials and, fifty years later, the establishment of the International Criminal Court, aimed to safeguard peace in all regions of the world. The achievements of these important cases in elevating justice and law over inhumanity and war gives promise for a better tomorrow by paving the way to deal with international crimes.

As a result, the international system has made huge contributions to the birth and development of modern international law.

Europe’s nuclear energy solution


The transition from firewood to coal and empire to national liberation was, at the time that the events took place, a radical change to the status quo. For the sake of progress, however, they had to be made. An energy transition for Europe has to be achieved through the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases, while also ensuring that none of Europe’s residents are adversely affected and left behind by the transition.

The European Commission presented in December its flagship policy, dubbed “the Green Deal”, which was followed a month later, during January’s Strasbourg session, with the bloc’s executive branch having come up with a near-concrete financial plan to implement the proposed package.

Driven by the EU’s wildly optimistic ambition to become the world’s first carbon-neutral continent by 2050, Brussels is seeking a drastic cut in carbon emissions – a plan that has sparked a heated debate across the soon-to-be-27-member bloc.


Nuclear power’s future in the EU

Across the EU, scientists, activists, and politicians all disagree on which sources of energy need to be used for the transition. Those who side with the climate change activists – including the environmentalist organisation Greenpeace, which pushes an agenda that insists that nuclear energy has no place in a safe and sustainable future – have called for a shift to alternative methods of production and have launched a public relations crusade against the use of nuclear power. Their opponents, however, have a far more pragmatic and sober view of the situation and see the use of nuclear power as a low-carbon, reliable, and affordable solution to the problem, particularly while Europe continues to develop a longer-term strategy for its energy needs.

The high overhead costs and lengthy construction schedules that are needed to build nuclear plants, as well as the public’s fears about the safety of nuclear power, have halted the expansion of nuclear energy sources.

The EU’s new growth strategy budget plan excluded nuclear energy from the Just Transition Mechanism. As a result, no funding will be provided for the decommissioning or construction of nuclear power stations. While welcoming the Commission’s decision on the allocation of funds, FORATOM, the public relations arm for Europe’s nuclear industry, says limiting the low-carbon sectors, which will be eligible for funds from Brussels, will make achieving low-carbon targets without leaving anyone behind problematic.

“FORATOM welcomes the European Commission’s goal of becoming more ambitious in reducing its CO2 emissions whilst at the same time ensuring that no EU citizen is left behind in the transition. If the EU is to achieve its zero-carbon target 2050, then its current 2030 CO2 reduction targets may not be enough,” FORATOM told New Europe, before adding, “We regret the European Commission’s proposal to exclude such funds being used for nuclear power plants. The benefits of transitioning workers from the coal into the nuclear industry have already been demonstrated in both France and the UK…the EU should be focusing on helping people in these regions to transition into low-carbon industries. Limiting the low-carbon sectors which will be eligible for such funds will make achieving our low-carbon targets without leaving anyone behind a lot more difficult – if not impossible.”

Saying “No” to nuclear is counter-productive

In the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union and the 2011 Fukushima meltdown in Japan, Germany emerged at the forefront of the anti-nuclear drive. Berlin plans to shut down all of its nuclear power plants by 2022, though its coal-fired plants are expected to continue operating until 2038.

Considering that nuclear energy accounts for 13.1% of the country’s energy mix and coal for 30%, Germany will need to find new ways of covering its energy needs, a fact that has raised the question about how Germany plans to deal with the price of electricity as consumption skyrockets over the next 30 years.

FORATOM, or the European Atomic Forum, believes the German case is a prime example for many in the EU of what not to do.

“More and more countries (in the EU) seem to understand that the full decarbonisation of their energy system in line with the Paris Agreement and EU climate and energy goals cannot be achieved without nuclear energy. Germany, which decided to prematurely phase out its nuclear fleet, confirmed that it would miss its 2020 emissions targets by a wide margin. It shows that the country won’t be able to achieve its climate goals without nuclear energy. If the country had decided in 2011 to phase out 20 GW of coal plant capacity instead of nuclear, it would have reached its emission targets and now it could be rightly recognised as the European climate champion,” FORATOM told New Europe, adding, “Several members of the EU have made their commitment to more ambitious CO2 reduction targets conditional upon being able to invest in new nuclear power. Also, the European Council’s memorandum following the latest EUCO includes nuclear energy as a tool used by some EU member to achieve climate neutrality. This trend shows that more and more Member States consider nuclear energy to be an important tool in counteracting climate change and see a bright future for it in the EU.”

Recent public opinion polls in Northern Europe – including in Sweden and the Netherlands, where a more positive view towards nuclear power has taken hold – leaves space for a potential future nuclear option to gain traction across Europe.

According to FORATOM, if the EU is to achieve its zero-carbon target by 2050, then its current 2030 CO2 reduction targets may not be enough. The trade association supports the Commission’s goal of raising this target, so long as it leaves the EU’s members free to choose their own low-carbon energy mix.

“Expecting them to reduce their GHG emissions, whilst at the same time preventing them from investing in specific low-carbon technologies such as nuclear, would be counter-productive,” said Yves Desbazeille, FORATOM’s Director-General.

To support its views, FORATOM cited the European Council’s memorandum following the latest EUCO, which includes nuclear energy as a tool used by some of the country’s within the European Union to achieve climate neutrality. “This trend shows that more and more Member States consider nuclear energy to be an important tool in counteracting climate change and see a bright future for it in the EU,” the association said.

For FORATOM, the now question is how these positive signals will be translated into specific EU legislative files and to what extent EU decision-makers will, on one hand, recognise nuclear energy for the benefits it brings to the system and, on the other, follow the recommendations of international experts such as the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which recognises that nuclear power has an important role to play if the world is to keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees, or the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), which says that a steep decline in nuclear power would threaten energy security and climate goals.

“The role and importance of nuclear energy, producing position papers relevant to ongoing EU policy dossiers, responding to public consultations, analysing public opinion, organising regular events such as dinner debates, workshops, one-on-one meetings, press briefings, visits to nuclear facilities as well as ensuring that nuclear energy is represented in events which are organised by other stakeholders,” FORATOM said in its comments to New Europe. “The key objective is to make sure that the voice of the nuclear industry is being heard and that all relevant EU stakeholders receive factual information about the nuclear industry and the real potential which it has to offer. This knowledge can allow decision-makers to make decisions based on facts, such as the IPCC’s, IEA’s or MIT’s reports.”

SMRs: A way-out to climate change?

During the recent first EU-US High-Level Forum on Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), the former European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete made the public point of stating that “it is time, given global public pressure to reduce emissions, to bring SMRs under the spotlight.”

FORATOM’s Desbazeille agrees while adding that SMRs in the EU could be part of a long-term solution and that Europe should seize the chance to endorse American tech ideas during its transition into low-carbon industries. While many countries in the EU are already looking into SMRs, FORATOM believes that “it will be the evolution of the needs in the future that will favour the use of SMRs.”

To this end, Desbazeille supports that SMR vendors and potential customers should work closely with nuclear regulators to allow early resolution of various issues relating to SMR development and factory assembly and to estimate the economics of small nuclear power plants while taking into account the role that SMRs could play in the new energy mixes, in particular when large shares of variable renewables are present.

“Many countries are looking into SMRs. The Czech Republic, France and the UK are currently working on an SMR design, Estonia and Finland are conducting SMR feasibility studies, and many others have recently signed Memorandums of Understanding with the technology’s providers (the Czech Republic, Poland, and Romania). The future of SMRs depends, of course, on how we will address some of the current challenges. In order to streamline the deployment of this technology, the EU and the European nuclear industry should work together to accelerate the construction of SMR prototypes that can demonstrate the benefits of this technology. In addition, the EU should support those countries who wish to develop nuclear power and should consider supporting international collaboration and common R&D on SMRs, as well as work on national and international licensing frameworks for small nuclear reactors,” FORATOM said.

Whether or not Europe decides to include nuclear energy into its energy mix remains to be seen. What is understood, however, is that Brussels – regardless of its stance on the benefits of the nuclear power alternative – needs to find a safe and efficient long-term solution to achieve its utopian climate targets.

EIB to help Greece enhance energy efficiency and tackle climate change


The European Investment Bank on 23 January agreed to continue support for new priority investment across Greece intended to enhance energy efficiency and tackle climate change, improve small business competitiveness, accelerate research and innovation, and support health, education, culture and urban regeneration initiatives across Greece.

“The European Investment Bank is pleased to support the nationwide programme with today’s signature of a new 150 million euro loan that will unlock new founding for the latest group of projects, almost one-fifth of which are climate related,” said European Investment Bank Vice President Andrew McDowell, who responsible for lending operations in Greece. During the Athens Energy Dialogues on 23 January, McDowell also reiterated the bank’s support for the government of Greece in reaching its climate policy goals.

According to the EIB, the €18.6 billion investment programme under the Partnership Agreement 2014-2020 has been successfully supporting small and medium sized priority schemes across Greece since 2014 and ensuring that high-impact projects essential for sustainable development and economic recovery are not delayed.

The latest European Investment Bank loan for priority investment in Greece was signed at the Ministry of Finance in Athens by McDowell, Christos Staikouras, Minister of Finance and Governor of the European Investment Bank and Yannis Tsakiris, Deputy Minister of Development and Investments. Adonis Georgiadis, Minister of Development and Investments, and Kostas Karamanlis, Minister of Infrastructure and Transport were also present.

According to the EIB, these investments are needed to reinforce the country’s competitiveness, support businesses so they can create jobs and grow, and to secure Greece’s position in attracting foreign investments. The new support, agreed upon today with the European Investment Bank, is the continuation of successful investments in projects that transform the country and demonstrate the EIB’s willingness to support Greece in the long-run.

“Without the excellent cooperation between Greece and the EIB, the implementation of the 18.6-billion-euro investment programme would not have been possible and many projects in the country would not have access to the European Structural and Investment Funds,” Staikouras said.

For his part, Tsakiris reminded that he EIB’s support for the national contribution to the NSRF programme already started the previous 2008-2014 programming period, specifically in 2010. “We are continuing this cooperation in the current programming period, which shows the trust of EIB in the growth potential of the country. The Ministry of Development and Investments as coordinator in the area of development, investments and financing, will play an even more important role towards this direction.” Yannis Deputy Minister of Development and Investments,” he said.

According to the EIB, the €150 million loan agreement signed on 23 January represents the latest EIB support for the Greek Partnership Agreement. The EIB is providing a total of €1.7 billion for the Greek national contribution to the investment initiative that will be used alongside European Structural and Investment Funds.

Boosting climate action

The investment programme is expected to enable new smart energy, energy efficiency, and renewable energy projects across Greece and improve water and waste management. The initiative is expected enable significant support for climate action by reducing carbon emissions and helping projects adapt to a changing and more extreme climate.

In recent years the investment programme has supported small scale investment in schools, hospitals and health centres across Greece as well as backing regeneration and economic development in communities across Greece.

The new EIB loan agreed on 23 January will enable the investment programme to expand support for SMEs across Greece, including helping companies to develop new markets and improve competitiveness. The scheme is also helping to improve skills and capacity building in businesses.

EIB backs innovative electric power company in Spain

epa07148411 A general view of Iberdrola Renovables wind turbines on hills near the village of Ardales in Andalusia, southern province of Spain, 21 October 2018. EPA-EFE/MAURITZ ANTIN

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is providing Arteche Group with a €27 million loan to finance its Research and Innovation strategy, the European Commission said on 22 November.

“The electric power industry has a crucial role to play in the green transition, and that demands innovative solutions,” EU Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said. “That’s why the European Union is supporting Arteche in its efforts to develop safer, more efficient electrical systems. This investment will also help to create high-quality jobs in Spain,” he added.

The financing, backed by the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), will allow the Group to modernise its digital infrastructure and to develop sustainable electrical systems.

As of December 2019, the Investment Plan had mobilised €458.8 billion of investment across the EU, including €49.8 billion in Spain, and supported more than one million start-ups and small and medium businesses.


IEA says oil and gas companies must embrace clean energy

epa08026804 Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, speaks at Equinor's Autumn conference in Oslo, Norway, 26 November 2019. EPA-EFE/Ole Berg-Rusten NORWAY OUT

As government and industry leaders gathered during the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos on January 21, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said oil and gas companies are facing a critical challenge as the world increasingly shifts towards clean energy transitions. Fossil fuels drive the companies’ near-term returns, but failure to address growing calls to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could threaten their long-term social acceptability and profitability, according to the IEA’s Oil and Gas Industry in Energy Transitions report, which was produced in cooperation with the World Economic Forum and was presented at Davos.

“The oil and gas industry now needs to make clear what clean energy transitions mean for it – and what it can do to accelerate clean energy transitions,” the IEA said, warning that whatever path the world follows in its efforts to limit the rise in global temperatures, intensifying climate impacts will increase the pressure on all industries to find solutions. The IEA warned that while some oil and gas companies have taken steps to support efforts to combat climate change, the industry as a whole could play a much more significant role through its engineering capabilities, financial resources and project-management expertise, the IEA said in a press release.

“No energy company will be unaffected by clean energy transitions,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said. “Every part of the industry needs to consider how to respond. Doing nothing is simply not an option.”

The landscape of the oil and gas industry is diverse, meaning there is no single strategic response but a variety of approaches depending on each company’s circumstances. “The first immediate task for all parts of the industry is reducing the environmental footprint of their own operations,” Birol said. “As of today, around 15% of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions come from the process of getting oil and gas out of the ground and to consumers. A large part of these emissions can be brought down relatively quickly and easily.”

Reducing methane leaks to the atmosphere is the single most important and cost-effective way for the industry to bring down these emissions. But there are ample other opportunities to lower the emissions intensity of delivered oil and gas by eliminating routine flaring and integrating renewables and low-carbon electricity into new upstream and liquified natural gas (LNG) developments.

“Also, with their extensive know-how and deep pockets, oil and gas companies can play a crucial role in accelerating deployment of key renewable options such as offshore wind, while also enabling some key capital-intensive clean energy technologies – such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage and hydrogen – to reach maturity,” Birol added. “Without the industry’s input, these technologies may simply not achieve the scale needed for them to move the dial on emissions.”

Some oil and gas companies are diversifying their energy operations to include renewables and other low-carbon technologies. However, average investment by oil and gas companies in non-core areas has so far been limited to around 1% of total capital spending, with the largest outlays going to solar PV and wind. Some oil and gas companies have also diversified by acquiring existing non-core businesses – for example in electricity distribution, electric-vehicle charging, and batteries – while stepping up research and development activity. But overall, there are few signs of the large-scale change in capital allocation needed to put the world on a more sustainable path.

According to the IEA, as essential task is to step up investment in the fuels – such as hydrogen, biomethane and advanced biofuels – that can deliver the energy system benefits of oil and gas without net carbon emissions. Within 10 years, these low-carbon fuels would need to account for around 15% of overall investment in fuel supply if the world is to get on course to tackle climate change. In the absence of low-carbon fuels, transitions become much harder and more expensive.

“The scale of the climate challenge requires a broad coalition encompassing governments, investors, companies and everyone else who is genuinely committed to reducing emissions,” Birol said. “That effort requires the oil and gas industry to be firmly and fully on board.”

Low-carbon electricity will undoubtedly move to centre stage in the future energy mix. But investment in oil and gas projects will still be needed, even in rapid clean energy transitions. If investment in existing oil and gas fields were to stop completely, the decline in output would be around 8% per year. This is larger than any plausible fall in global demand, so investment in existing fields and some new ones remains part of the picture, the IEA said, noting that in some cases, company owners may favour sticking with a specialisation in oil and gas – possibly shifting more towards natural gas over time – for as long as these fuels are in demand and investment returns are sufficient. But these companies will also need to think through their strategic response to new and pervasive challenges. The stakes are particularly high for national oil companies charged with the stewardship of countries’ hydrocarbon resources – and for their government owners and host societies that typically rely heavily on the associated oil income.

National oil companies account for well over half of global production and an even larger share of reserves. Some are high performing, but many are poorly positioned to adapt to changing global energy dynamics. Global energy trends have prompted a number of countries to renew their commitment to reform and to diversify their economies, and fundamental changes to development models in many major resource holders look unavoidable. National oil companies can provide important elements of stability for economies during this process, if they are operating effectively and alert to the risks and opportunities.

Greece is back. Now it’s time to bring Greeks back


It’s official – the Athens stock exchange was the best performing equity market in Europe last year, reflecting the new-found confidence of international investors in Greece’s recovery. Across the board, foreign investors are investing in Greek assets from stocks to bonds to real estate and helping to drive foreign direct investment in Greece to record highs.

Compared with just a few years ago when the country was in the grips of Europe’s worst financial crisis, it’s clear that in the eyes of foreigners that Greece is back.

The challenge now is to bring Greeks back.

During the crisis, an estimated half-a-million, mostly young, mostly well-educated Greeks left the country in search of better opportunities abroad. For Greece, the opportunity cost of that brain drain has been enormous. According to one estimate, Greeks abroad contributed more than €13 billion a year to the economies of their host countries – and €9 billion in taxes – but cost the Greek state a total of €8 billion for their education.

Without question Greece produces top-notch talent and Greek-educated scientists have distinguished themselves in almost every branch of the natural and social sciences, from medicine to economics to physics. Around the world, Greeks are also at the leading edge of business, technology and the arts. Unfortunately, those distinctions have mostly taken place in other countries.

Recent trends in Greece demonstrate how much international businesses value Greek talent. In the last few years hi-tech leaders, like electric auto maker Tesla, have set up research institutes in Greece. EY is investing in a new artificial intelligence hub in the country, and foreign multinationals, like Samsung and Daimler, have bought promising Greek start-ups. A delegation of Japanese investors also recently visited Greece to look at the country’s start-up scene. And for years, Greece has been an established leader in other knowledge industries, like life-sciences, which has propelled the country forward as a regional development hub for the pharmaceutical industry.

To reverse the recent brain drain, Greece may have to consider specific incentives to bring young Greeks back. Just as importantly, Greece will have to adopt new policies to boost the country’s chronically low spending on research and development and put Greece firmly on the world’s R&D map. Foreign multinationals already doing business in Greece will also play a key role: at the 3rd InvestGR Forum: Greece is Back, in June foreign business leaders and local policy makers will address the concrete steps the government must take to make that promise a reality.

Financial markets are leading economic indicators. And the recent capital inflows from abroad are very welcome: lower bond yields reduce the borrowing expenses for Greek corporates and the revival of the stock market is one step to re-awakening Greece’s moribund IPO market. Privatizations are also being speeded up – including the flagship redevelopment of the old Athens airport at Hellenikon – bringing fresh revenues for the government and jobs for the unemployed.

But Greece will need €100 billion in FDI over the next three years just to make up lost ground and will need many more years of steady, sustainable growth to completely leave the recent financial crisis behind. That means translating the current mood in the markets into long-term fixed capital investment and long-term investment in human capital.

There is no question that Greece is back. The challenge now is to translate the recovery into long-term and sustainable growth.

EU eyes hydrogen for zero emissions energy


ATHENS – The Commitment of the new European Commission to a clean energy transition that includes an important role for hydrogen is very clear, a former German MEP and now Hydrogen Europe Secretary General Jorgo Chatzimarkakis told New Europe on 23 January.

European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said in November last year that clean hydrogen can play a pivotal role for in EU energy transition. “Who do you think made Mr Timmermans understand that hydrogen is important. Of course, we did. Why? Because there are a lot of studies so far done by the Commission that show that a transition to a zero-emission economy can be done also with other technologies. However, it’s not affordable, that’s the problem,” Chatzimarkakis said in an interview on the sidelines of the Athens Energy Dialogues. “The problem is that you don’t have the plentiful supply of elements and, secondly, you cannot afford it whereas hydrogen seems to be very expensive right now but the truth is that the economies of scale will very, very soon need a price fall,” he added.

On 20 January, the Hydrogen Council came with a latest study on price development. “Once you go in that direction, as in every technology, prices will fall dramatically. And that’s what we see. Of course, electricity will be always the prime partner, but we cannot go to more than 20 percent of energy use by electrons. It’s very, very demanding. So, it’s better to green electrons, which is simpler, but also to green the molecules – that’s our job and we’re doing that,” Chatzimarkakis said.

He explained that there are different technologies to do that. One technology is the electrolysis which is based on renewable energy that is then fueling or powering the electrolyzers. The other one, is Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS), which very important for fossil energy producers because with this technology you can decarbonize the carbohydrate and you produce again hydrogen, Chatzimarkakis said.

He noted that hydrogen can play an important role in transport. “This is the year, 2020, where we believe that truck will be the focus and at the end of the year people will understand it doesn’t make sense to go back to diesel and it really doesn’t makes sense to go back to battery,” he said.

Turning to the EU Green Deal unveiled by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Chatzimarkakis said fighting climate change has become a global concern. “That’s the methodology of democracy. If people see the Australian fires and they feel threatened, they will show it with the election so that’s why politicians will react,” he said.

“The commitment of the Commission is so clear. I could see from the speeches of Ursula von der Leyen … she was elected because of the Green Deal. She got the votes because she bet on the right issue. Now with Frans Timmermans, who is much more I would say Mr Green Deal than her. We have somebody who is a really strong politician and we should not underestimate. We could see already that after having talked to him, invited him, he made a very clear speech at our shareholder forum where he saw a pivotal role for hydrogen for the energy transition and a lot of things happened. Now we see that all departments in the Commission are interested in hydrogen, are really asking us, are knocking on our door,” Chatzimarkakis said. “But now we’re under pressure because we have to deliver.”

The Hydrogen Europe Secretary General argued that Europe has lost the battery game to Asian producers. “We need to catch up but it’s twenty times more expensive to catch up than invest in something new. That’s what Mr Timmermans said. He came to us and said: ‘Listen, in battery game is lost, in electrolysis – the making of hydrogen – we are number one in the world,’ which is true,” Chatzimarkakis said. “In clean hydrogen alliance we still have the chance to build a leading role worldwide.” Germany and the Netherlands are very strong in the process of building a hydrogen industry while Central and Eastern European states, especially the Czech Republic and Poland, are very committed. Asked about Greece, he quipped: “Greece is far, far away. But we will build now. Northern Greece, Egnatia Odos is keen on being the first hydrogen motorway and we will work on that.”

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Building cooperation in an unsettled world


The world is at a turning point, with power shifting and dispersing in ways that signal the emergence of a new multipolar era. In the resulting turbulent global environment, opportunities to compete or cooperate are increasing across several domains. In areas such as the economy, technology, and the environment, the question is whether parties will seek progress toward common objectives or strategic advantages over competitors.

For much of the post-Cold-War era, issues like trade, scientific research, and climate change were largely insulated from considerations of global competition. For example, the US and Chinese economies prospered together for 20 years, boosting market and investment opportunities for others through an open global system of finance and trade.

Similarly, the Internet boom of the early part of this century was made possible by a common and easily accessible platform that stood largely apart from national rivalries. As a result, the number of people worldwide using the Internet increased exponentially, from just over 400 million in 2000 to approximately two billion in 2010.

And even during the Cold War, governments and other actors managed to set aside strategic competition in order to address global issues such as the environment. Most notably, the widening hole in the ozone layer spurred collective climate action. Beginning with the 1987 Montreal Protocol, and over the course of subsequent decades, states reduced their use of chlorofluorocarbons to the point that the atmosphere is now expected to recover.

Today, however, issues once marked by partnership now risk becoming frontlines of strife. Global economic growth is expected to weaken in the near term – a situation made worse by the fact that trade is being used as an instrument to pursue geopolitical advantage rather than joint prosperity. Moreover, unlike the depletion of the ozone layer, the melting of the Arctic ice cap has not served as a clarion call for more ambitious climate action. Instead, states see an opening to compete for the natural resources and trade routes opening in the far north. And as for technology, the benefit of a common global communications platform is now at risk, owing to the possibility of “decoupled” US and Chinese communications systems operating on separate 5G networks.

But these developments do not necessarily mean that we should resign ourselves to a period of geopolitical competition rather than cooperation. The expanding nature of geopolitics – with power dynamics operating across new domains – also means that new actors are exerting influence. As a result, a diverse set of parties can shape the course of international relations.

For starters, rising and mid-size powers are responding to the possibility of a fractured global order by reasserting the need for multilateralism. France and Germany are working with other like-minded countries to forge an Alliance for Multilateralism, which aims to boost international cooperation in areas such as digitalization and climate change. In Africa, states are strengthening economic ties through the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement, which will bring together 54 African Union member states and encompass over $2 trillion of GDP. In Southeast Asia, meanwhile, ASEAN member states are taking steps to strengthen regional partnerships and integration, and intend to sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership later this year. This trade agreement – which also will include China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand – will cover an estimated 45% of the world’s population and create the world’s largest trading bloc.

Non-state actors are also in a position to exert increasing influence. Today, global businesses account for an important part of the world’s economic output, and private-sector leaders are increasingly committing themselves to looking beyond short-term profit. Last year, for example, 87 large companies announced that they would work to help limit global warming to 1.5°C. And many CEOs are speaking out about the potential dangers of a technological “cold war” between the United States and China, or the decoupling of the two countries’ economies.

While the changing nature of global power may tempt some actors to seek advantage through confrontation, the expanding field of stakeholders offers the possibility of a course correction.

With the geopolitics of the new era currently in flux, there is still an opportunity to steer the world toward cooperation and away from potentially damaging competition.

Poland to buy F-35 stealth fighters from the US

epa05673102 An US pilot taxis one of two F-35 Adir stealth jet fighters as they land at the Nevatim Air Force Base in the Negev desert, south of Beersheba, Israel, 12 December 2016. Two F-35 jets, nicknamed Adir or 'Mighty' are part of Israel's plans to acquire 50 planes by 2022. EPA/JIM HOLLANDER

Poland’s defense minister Mariusz Błaszczak announced that Warsaw’s deal to buy dozens of fifth-generation F-35 stealth aircrafts from the US will be signed next week.

“We’ve basically finalized the negotiations, with only minor procedural issues still pending. I’m convinced that in January we will sign an agreement with the United States for the purchase of 32 F-35 planes, the most modern aircraft in the world,” Błaszczak said in an interview.

“The first planes for Poland will be ready in 2024. This is the result of very good relations between President Andrzej Duda and US President Donald Trump”, he added.

Poland requested acquisition of 32 F-35A multi-role combat aircraft in May, with consent issued by the Department of State and by the US Congress. The maximum value of the deal has been set at the level of $6.5 billion.

The stealth aircraft will replace Poland’s fleet of 28 MiG-29 jet fighter aircrafts, which were designed in the Soviet Union.

Recently, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said his country aims to create stronger ties with the US, and condemned the rise of anti-Americanisam in the EU.

The US has previously expelled Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet program, which prompted its NATO ally to buy the S-400 missile system from Russia. Turkey then said that the US’ refusal to sell Turkey Patriot missiles led it to search for other sellers, and that Russia offered a better deal.

The terrorism paradox


There was, all too predictably, no shortage of political profiteering in the wake of November’s London Bridge terror attack, in which Usman Khan fatally stabbed two people before being shot dead by police. In particular, the United Kingdom’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, swiftly called for longer prison sentences and an end to “automatic early release” for convicted terrorists.

In the two decades since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States, terrorism has become the archetypal moral panic in the Western world. The fear that terrorists lurk behind every corner, plotting the wholesale destruction of Western civilisation, has been used by successive British and US governments to introduce stricter sentencing laws and much broader surveillance powers – and, of course, to wage war.

In fact, terrorism in Western Europe has been waning since the late 1970s. According to the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), there were 996 deaths from terrorism in Western Europe between 2000 and 2017, compared to 1,833 deaths in the 17-year period from 1987-2004, and 4,351 between 1970 (when the GTD dataset begins) and 1987. Historical amnesia has increasingly blotted out the memory of Europe’s homegrown terrorism: the Baader-Meinhof gang in Germany, the Red Brigades in Italy, the IRA in the UK, Basque and Catalan terrorism in Spain, and Kosovar terrorism in the former Yugoslavia.

The situation is clearly different in the US – not least because the data are massively skewed by the 9/11 attacks, in which 2,996 people died. But even if we ignore this anomaly, it is clear that, since 2012, deaths from terrorism in America have been rising steadily, reversing the previous trend. Much of this “terrorism,” however, is simply a consequence of having so many guns in civilian circulation.

To be sure, Islamist terrorism is a real threat, chiefly in the Middle East. But two points need to be emphasised. First, Islamist terrorism – like the refugee crisis – was largely a result of the West’s efforts, whether hidden or overt, to achieve “regime change.” Second, Europe is in fact much safer than it used to be, partly because of the influence of the European Union on governments’ behaviour, and partly because of improved anti-terrorist technology.

Yet, as the number of deaths from terrorism declines (at least in Europe), alarm about it grows, offering governments a justification for introducing more security measures. This phenomenon, whereby our collective reaction to a social problem intensifies as the problem itself diminishes, is known as the “Tocqueville effect.” In his 1840 book Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville noted that, “it is natural that the love of equality should constantly increase together with equality itself, and that it should grow by what it feeds on.”

Moreover, there is a related phenomenon that we can call the Baader-Meinhof effect: once your attention is drawn to something, you begin to see it all the time. These two effects explain how our subjective estimates of risk have come to diverge so sharply from the actual risks we face.

In fact, the West has become the most risk-averse civilization in history. The word itself comes from the Latin risicum, which was used in the Middle Ages only in very specific contexts, usually relating to seafaring trades and the emerging maritime insurance business. In the courts of the sixteenth-century Italian city-states, rischio referred to the lives and careers of courtiers and princes, and their ensuing risks. But the word was not frequently used. It was far more common to attribute successes or failures to an external source: fortune, or fortuna. Fortune was unpredictability’s avatar. Its human counterpart was prudence, or the Machiavellian virtu.

In the early modern period, nature acted upon humans, whose only rational response was to choose between reasonable expectations. Only with the scientific revolution did the modern discourse of risk begin to flower. Modern humanity acts upon and controls the natural world, and therefore calculates the degree of danger it poses. As a result, tragedy need no longer be a normal feature of life.

The German sociologist Niklas Luhmann argued that, once individual actions came to be seen to have calculable, predictable, and avoidable consequences, there was no hope of returning to that pre-modern state of blissful ignorance, wherein the course of future events was left to the fates. As Luhmann cryptically put it, “The gate to paradise remains sealed by the term risk.”

Economists, too, believe that all risk is measurable and therefore controllable. In that respect, they are bedfellows with those who tell us that security risks can be minimized by extending surveillance powers and enhancing the techniques by which we gather information about potential terror threats. A risk, after all, is the degree to which future events are uncertain, and – as Claude Shannon, the founder of information theory, wrote – “information is the resolution of uncertainty.”

There is a clear benefit to being safer, but it comes at the price of an unprecedented intrusion into our private lives. Our right to information privacy, now guaranteed by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, is increasingly in direct conflict with our demand for security. Omnipresent devices that see, hear, read, and record our behaviour produce a glut of data from which inferences, predictions, and recommendations can be made about our past, present, and future actions. In the face of the adage “knowledge is power,” the right to privacy withers.

Furthermore, there is a conflict between safety and wellbeing. To be perfectly safe is to eliminate the cardinal human virtues of resilience and prudence. The perfectly safe human is therefore a diminished person.

For both these reasons, we should stick to the facts and not give governments the tools they increasingly demand to win the “battle” against terrorism, crime, or any other technically avoidable misfortune that life throws up. A measured response is needed. And when it comes to the chaos and mess of human history, we should recall Heraclitus’s observation that “a thunderbolt steers the course of all things.”

Guaidó seeks stronger EU sanctions on Maduro

epa08151504 Juan Guaido, President of the National Assembly of Venezuela, during a news conference at EU Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, 22 January 2020. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET

Juan Guaidó, opposition leader in Venezuela travelled to Brussels on Wednesday, defying a travel ban, in an effort to give renewed impetus to his political fight against Venezuela’s President Nicola Maduro.

Speaking to the European Parliament “on behalf of Venezuelan citizens who do not have a voice,” the President of the National Assembly asked for stronger EU sanctions on Maduro’s government as a means of pushing toward “genuinely free presidential elections” in Venezuela.

Guaidó called the situation in Venezuela a “massive humanitarian crisis”, as thousands of people have left the capital Caracas and has been long demanding more pressure on Maduro’s “sadist practices”, as mediation has so far failed. He supported that Europe, the “Free World” as he called the bloc, has the tools available to put sanctions on Venezuela and assist in restoring democracy in the country.

“We are firmed and determined – we are a unified country and we want to achieve freedom and democracy and there’s no ideological problem here,” said Guaidó, adding that they are hoping for a “miracle” when trying to achieve one of the greatest economic recoveries in history.

Guaidó also appealed to EU governments to label the illegal mining in Venezuela’s Amazon as “blood gold” and also to prohibit the trade of Venezuelan gold across the bloc, as it is used for financing irregular groups.

The EU has so far adopted a “soft” approach to Venezuela’s government, having imposed a travel ban to 25 officials as well as an embargo on arms sales to the country, but still allowing trade of gold.

Guaidó proclaimed himself acting President of Venezuela last year and is recognised as interim legitimate president of the country by more than 50 countries, which support that Maduro’s re-election in 2018 was marred by fraud. Earlier this month, armed forces blocked Guaidó’s entry to the parliament, to prevent him from getting re-elected as head of the opposition.

Last week, MEPs adopted a resolution condemning Maduro’s attempt to install the pro-government candidate Luis Parra as the new Chairman of the Venezuelan National Assembly, and reaffirming their support to Guaidó as interim President of the country.

EU lawmakers also called on EU’s Foreign Chief, Josep Borrell to boost EU’s response in restoring democracy in Venezuela, through further targeted sanctions against individuals responsible for human rights violations and their families as well.

Two very different Presidents, an activist, and power in the European Commission


For those who didn’t already realise, the new European Commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, is nothing like her predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker.

Jean-Claude Juncker nearly went to Davos in 2018 after over 21 years of missing out on the affair, but cancelled in the 11th hour. His annoyance at half of the College wanting to head to the Swiss skiing paradise was not a secret during his tenure.

Conversely, Ursula von der Leyen, who admittedly took on the job coming with a very different set of experiences than Juncker, seized the opportunity to present herself to the world once again and left her (hopefully) comfy Berlaymont apartment for a three day Davos nosedive.

And thankfully her return to Davos, because this was not von der Leyen’s first time, had a positive impact. Von der Leyen told the World Economic’s Forum that the European Union will do “whatever it takes to unlock the investment, the innovation, and the creativity that is needed,” to take on the global challenge of climate change by creating a “green investment wave,” and reach the target of the EU becoming climate neutral by 2050.

Young climate activist Greta Thunberg, also speaking in Davos, indirectly slammed the EU’s plan, telling the audience that, “Distant net-zero emission targets will mean absolutely nothing if we just continue to ignore the carbon dioxide budget that applies for today, not distant future dates.”

The young environmental activist went on to call on all those at Davos to immediately halt fossil fuel exploration, extraction, subsidies, and to divest from fossil fuels. “We don’t want these things done by 2050, 2030, or even 2021. We want these done now,” Thunberg said.

It’s a little unclear who the ‘we’ Thunberg uses refers to, but if we are to assume Thunberg is championing the youth with her voice, then the disconnect with von der Leyen is very really. Though the President has seven children, with her youngest being just four years older than Thunberg, she is called upon to engage in a European and global balancing act that has historically proven a near impossible task.

And while it may feel comfortable to send a warning to China from a podium when you have a green light and plenty of backing from the EU’s member states, her job is also to make changes on the inside.

Where is Martin Selmayr when you need him?

In Brussels, so far von der Leyen has not attempted to break any eggs as European Commission President but it is still early.

Some members of the College are using this to angle for more impact and influence – throwing their weight and connections around, while others are, and will continue to, stand by her side.

If von der Leyen wants to do big things, or even small things from her position, compromise will not be enough in the medium term. 

Von der Leyen is already doing well with the speeches and the diplomacy, but she will also need to do something her predecessor and his cabinet did very well – to place under control not only the vast Commission structure, but also the very many semi-independent pockets of power contained within that structure.

And this is the one thing that has the steepest learning curve for the President and her associates.

Finding Europe’s way in the world

The European Union, and particularly Germany, have yet to rise to the challenge posed by the United States’ retreat from global leadership. But, given the new competition from China, together with Russia’s renewed great-power aspirations, Western countries must find a way to cooperate more closely.

To that end, five issues seem vital. The first is Germany’s relationship with the US, which is now under severe stress. The elephant in the room is Germany’s failure to increase its annual defence spending to 2% of GDP, as agreed at the 2014 NATO summit in Wales. For obvious historical reasons, Germany is hesitant to become Europe’s de facto military power. Were it to meet its spending commitment, it would be allocating €80 billion ($89 billion) per year to the Bundeswehr, which is €46 billion more than what France spends.

Still, to do its part within the alliance without raising fears in Eastern Europe, Germany could spend 1.5% of its GDP on materiel and personnel, while committing an additional 0.5% to fund NATO’s operations in the Baltics and in Poland. That would both bolster the eastern member states’ ability to defend themselves against Russian aggression and demonstrate Germany’s willingness to shoulder more responsibility.

The second big issue is US-EU relations. The immediate challenges facing America and Europe have changed over the past seven decades. Most recently, Russia has expanded its sphere of influence into Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and the Sea of Azov, and China has begun to assert economic and technological dominance in Eurasia.

At the same time, Western democracies are struggling to deal with disruptions caused by globalisation, migration, technology, and climate change. Amid deteriorating economic security and social cohesion, populist and nationalist movements have exploited voters’ anxieties by promising to defend the homeland against cosmopolitan elites and the multilateral institutions that have underpinned politics and economics since World War II.

Notwithstanding populist rhetoric, economic globalisation has in fact created prosperity and reduced poverty, and opened up new development opportunities around the world. But without the West’s support, this system cannot be sustained. What we need now to open up new possibilities for the world order is a globalisation of civil society, and to remind people and communities that the state is still capable of acting effectively. That starts with investing more in education, research, and infrastructure, while striking a balance between cross-border cooperation and respect for cultural idiosyncrasies.

This brings us to the third issue: Russia. Here, the EU’s pursuit of a balanced policy has created friction within the transatlantic alliance, as exemplified by the tensions over Nord Stream 2, a joint Russian-German pipeline project. In the German government’s view, Nord Stream 2 is fundamentally an economic issue. After all, German, French, and other European companies have invested heavily in the project; in any case, it would be a grave political mistake to intervene in the private European gas market.

The liberalisation of the gas market has indeed allowed for a tremendous expansion of Europe’s energy supply. Ultimately, companies, following market signals, should decide from whom they buy their gas. But nor can Europeans ignore threats to the political independence of neighbouring countries such as Ukraine – which Nord Stream 2 bypasses. On balance, a better way to secure Europe’s energy supply would be to expand and further integrate Europe’s natural-gas infrastructure, while building more terminals for liquefied natural gas. That way, no country – be it a member state or close partner – could be held hostage as a result of its dependence on Russian energy.

The fourth issue is China, which has made clear that it seeks a revision of the international balance of power. For its part, the Trump administration rightly challenged China on trade. There can be no “fair trade” when a country that does not play by the same rules as everyone else organises two-fifths of the global economy. China lavishes subsidies on its industries, limits access to its markets, and routinely violates intellectual-property rights. Moreover, China’s model of authoritarian state capitalism poses a double challenge, because it represents both economic competition and an alternative political model. As such, the EU and America urgently need to devise clear, mutually agreed rules for dealing with China.

The fifth major issue is Europe’s role in the wider world. If Europe does not wake up to the realities of the new Sino-American rivalry, it could find itself in a position of geopolitical irrelevance. In fact, there are already signs of Europe’s declining global significance. Wars and conflicts along the European periphery are increasingly being decided by other powers, with Europe playing no discernible role in their resolution.

Europe’s reluctance to assert itself has a historical dimension. For good reasons, the EU has long resided beneath the US security umbrella, with the Union effectively remaining on the side lines. But that geopolitical conception of Europe is an American artifact, based on the Marshall Plan. As NATO’s first secretary-general, Hastings Ismay, famously put it, the purpose of NATO was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”

Much has changed since the 1950s. Today, we Europeans are only gradually beginning to understand that we must adapt to the geopolitical realities of the twenty-first century. The Atlantic era is giving way to the Pacific era. Europeans must harbour no illusions that all will turn out well on its own. Now is the time to muster the courage and the will to take responsibility for our strategic interests.

Merkel in Turkey for talks with Erdogan

epa08159561 German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) shake hands after their press conference in Istanbul, Turkey, 24 January 2020. EPA-EFE/TOLGA BOZOGLU

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Turkey where she held talks with the country’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a number of issues, ranging from Libya to Syria to migrants.

The two leaders cut the blue ribbon on a new Turkish-German University in Istanbul, where Merkel praised the cooperation between the two countries: “The Turkish-German University is an exceptional example of cooperation, a symbol of the partnership between two countries”, she said.

“I hope that the Turkish-German University becomes a symbol of the Turkish-German friendship, just like the German High School has been for one-and-a-half centuries. We will continue to give all kinds of support to the Turkish-German University”, Erdogan added.

During the inauguration, Erdogan reminded that the countries who attended the Berlin peace negotiations should not favour warlord Khalifa Haftar, who left the meeting without signing a ceasefire deal, adding that:”if calm is not established as soon as possible, the atmosphere of chaos in Libya will affect all the Mediterranean basin”. “We hope the international community will not make the mistakes it made in Syria,” he warned.

Both leaders are expected to discuss Turkey-EU relations. Ahead of Merkel’s visit, the country’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has accused the EU of failing to provide the financial aid agreed in the refugee deal between the two sides.

Under the deal, Turkey has promised to stop the flow of migrants travelling to the EU, which in return has promised to reexamine membership talks for Turkey’s EU accession.

Von der Leyen, Michel, Sassoli pledge to fight anti-Semitism in Europe


The European Commission’s chief, Ursula von der Leyen, along with EU Council President Charles Michel and EP President David Sassoli, travelled for the first time to Israel since they took office, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. 

The three EU institutions’ leaders attended the World Holocaust Forum 2020 that was held in Jerusalem, ahead of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day and gathered more than 45 heads of state, prime ministers and parliamentary leaders across the world.

“We have a duty to stand shoulder to shoulder with Jewish communities as they feel again threatened across Europe,” the three leaders said in a joint statement on Thursday.

They also also pledged that the 28-country bloc will take all measures needed to confront racism and antisemitism in the continent. Talking about the “most abhorrent crime in European history,” the three EU leaders stated that “We cannot change history, but the lessons of history can change us”.

“Remembering the Shoah is not an end in itself. It is one cornerstone of European values. A Europe that places humanity at its centre, protected by the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights,” they added.

The EU Council President wrote in a tweet on Thursday: “Let’s not be the good men, and women, who do nothing. We have a duty to act as antisemitism rears its head again,” calling for action against antisemitism.

EU Commissioner Margaritis Schinas and Vice President Věra Jourová will travel on Monday to Poland to commemorate the 75th anniversary of liberation of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.



Greece looking for a seat at the Libya table


When the Berlin Summit on Libya was first announced, Greece was not a part of the process. The fact that the country was not invited created a palpable amount of dissatisfaction within Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos’ Mitsotakis cabinet, with Mitsotakis himself having taken over the effort to have Greece included in the process.

Greece’s participation in the Berlin Summit is seen as critically important to Athens, given the Memorandum of Understanding on the declaration of an Exclusive Economic Zone between Turkey and Libya’s Government of National Accord, which is based in the national capital Tripoli.

Athens has declared the memorandum to be null and void and the EU also condemned it after the last summit of the European Council in December.

Prior to the Summit, Mitsotakis wrote, what Greek sources have described as “pointed”, a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Mitsotakis and Merkel also spoke via phone on January 17, just as Libyan General Khalifa Haftar, the leader of one of the two warring sides in the Libyan Civil War, was on his way to Athens to meet with Mitsotakis.

Mitsotakis also discussed the situation with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel about taking part in the Berlin Process. Despite Mitsotakis’ efforts, however, the issue of the memorandum was never raised during the conference. Instead, the participating leaders focused squarely on the necessity for a lasting ceasefire and a transition to the next stage for Libya.

After the summit, Germany Foreign Affairs Minister Heiko Maas extended an olive branch to Athens saying that the countries which were not invited to the initial summit could be part of the peace process at a later stage and participate in meetings as well as the working groups that will be set up to outline a security, financial, humanitarian, military framework for the peace process.

The Greek government is now looking at the opportunity presented by Maas, according to Greek officials.

A seat at the table

According to reports in the German press, Greece was sidelined after the Turkish delegation the summit demanded that Greek official be excluded from the talks.

Greek government sources have not confirmed the Turkish “veto” against their participation, but they have, however, indicated that the European side is fearful of angering the Turks as Brussels is fearful of a backlash from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, particularly when taking into consideration the Turks’ leverage in the management of the refugee crisis through the Joint EU-Turkey Statement.

According to German daily Bild, Turkey clearly stated that if Greece were to participate in the Berlin Summit, then this would jeopardise the implementation of the statement, which is meant to stem the tide of migrants flowing into Greece from Turkey.

Even without a Turkish veto, Merkel seems to be seriously taking into consideration Turkey’s role as the key player in the migration crisis and is thus willing to give Erdogan room to maneouvre. Merkel met with Erdogan in Istanbul on January 17 to reiterate Germany and Turkey’s long-standing strong partnership, despite recent tensions.   

Greece is not giving up, however. Hours before meeting with General Haftar, Mitsotakis said in a televised interview that Athens was going to be present in Berlin, despite its physical absence, meaning that Greece was going to be at the table through Haftar, who has an open channel of communication with the Greek government.

Haftar, himself, was not actually in the room at the Berlin Summit, clearly a setback for Mitsotakis’ intention to have someone speaking on behalf of his government. Mitsotakis has been championing for a peaceful political solution in Libya over the past weeks and repeated the same stance when meeting with Haftar in Athens. 

At the same time, Athens is signaling its readiness to participate in the Libya peace process in any way possible. Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias declared the Greek government’s willingness to participate in a European peacekeeping mission in Libya should the EU decide on such a mission in the coming weeks. 

Greece is trying to send the message that it is a broker for peace in the region and not just looking to make sure that the Turkish-Libyan Memorandum of Understanding is considered null and void. The greater goal for Mitsotakis is to ensure that whichever government takes over in Libya, that is will contest the legitimacy of the memorandum.

Following their Athens meeting, if General Haftar’s groups are a part of the future administration of the country, this might be more easily accopmplished.

UN chief warns of impact on Sahel region from Libya war

epa04889258 Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), speaks at a panel discussion, during the World Humanitarian Day, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, 19 August 2015. EPA/MARTIAL TREZZINI

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres warned that Libya’s civil war become a playground for foreign forces in North Africa and threatens to spill over into the Sahel and Lake Chad regions.

“Libya has been a centre, a cancer for arms export and fighters export, and the most worrying impact is of course with the Sahel and Lake Chad. And more and more these things are interlinked”, said Guterres at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Earlier this month, Turkey’s parliament passed a bill allowing the government to send troops to Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), which has been in conflict with the warlord Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), whose forces are supported by Russia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have since managed to mediate a fragile truce after holding negotiations, known as the Berlin peace process, which Guterres also supported, as he believes that all of Libya’s neighboring countries have suffered the fallout from the fighting.

“What we are having with the Sahel and Lake Chad is a war with terrorist organisations that we are not winning. Terrorism is spreading. It is now threatening the countries of the coast – Ivory Coast, Ghana, Beni”, Guterres said, and added that “What has happened in Libya is that it became a playground of neighbours and other players”.

He also said that the current security system in place in the Sahel region was “not enough”, and called for an “African force that is a peace-enforcing and a counterterrorism force” with UN Security Council financing.

France and Africa’s G5 Sahel countries, whose members are Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, have recently agreed to step up military cooperation to fight the jihadist presence in Africa.

Their anti-terrorist forces are supported with intelligence and funding by the EU, the UK, and the US. However, lately, jihadist attacks on civilians and troops have increased, and France urged other European nations to increase their action in the region, warning that jihadist groups threaten the continent as a whole.

Brexit bill passes first EP test, gets signed by von der Leyen, Michel

Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel, Michel Barnier

Ursula von der Leyen, EU Commission’s chief and Charles Michel, EU Council President formally signed on Friday the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) that paves the way for UK’s divorce from the EU on 31 January.

“Things will inevitably change but our friendship will remain. We start a new chapter as partners and allies,” tweeted Michel on Friday.

EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier was also present at the ceremony, held at the EU Commission’s headquarters.

On Thursday, the agreement was enshrined in UK law, as royal assent from the Queen was granted. The same evening, the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee recommended that the EP plenary next week approves the deal.

With 23 votes in favour, 3 against and no abstentions, the Withdrawal agreement passed the first EP test, while the final vote to ratify the deal is scheduled for 29 January, after it is signed by UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

Once the UK leaves the bloc, an 11-month transition period is foreseen for a EU-UK trade deal to be reached. During this period, the UK will be following EU rules but will not be represented in European institutions.


Polish parliament approves law aimed at punishing judges

epa08038910 Polish Deputy Speaker of the Sejm, candidate in the presidential primaries of Civic Platform Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska (R) attends a demonstration in support of Polish Judges and organized by the 'Iustitia' Polish Judges Association under the slogan 'Solidarity with judges' in front of the Ministry of Justice in Warsaw, Poland, 01 December 2019 (issued 02 December 2019). According to reports, thousands of people all over the country protested in solidarity with Polish judges. EPA-EFE/MATEUSZ MAREK POLAND OUT

Poland’s parliament approved a controversial draft law aimed at disciplining judges who question the government’s judicial reforms.

The new rules would allow judges to be fired if they question the government’s judicial reforms. Poland’s Supreme Court warned that the rules are forcing judges to apply the regulations even if they are “incompatible with higher legal norms”, and that the country might be forced to exit the European Union.

The so-called “muzzle law” triggered widespread protests across the country.  It has also been condemned by the United Nations, Polish legal experts, and opposition lawmakers. The United Nations high Commissioner for human rights warned that the bill “risks further undermining the already heavily challenged independence of the judiciary in Poland”.

Recently, a Polish court has convicted a pro-government official for violating the good name of the country’s judges by calling them “ordinary thieves”. The prosecutor was ordered to publicly apologize to the judges and pay a fine of around $5,000.

After the legislation has passed in the lower house of the parliament, it now is up to President Andrzej Duda, who is expected to sign the bill into law.

Johnson’s Brexit bill becomes law

epa08112194 A grab from a handout video made available by the UK Parliamentary Recording Unit shows British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during Prime Minister Questions at the House of Commons in London, Britain, 08 January 2019. EPA-EFE/UK PARLIAMENTARY RECORDING UNIT / HANDOUT MANDATORY CREDIT: UK PARLIAMENTARY RECORDING UNIT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

UK PM Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal has become law after Queen Elizabeth II gave her formal assent to the legislation. The royal assent opens the way for the UK to leave the EU on 31 January, after the EU parliament’s approval.

“At times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we’ve done it. Now we can put the rancor and division of the past three years behind us and focus on delivering a bright, exciting future”, Johnson said after the bill passed in Parliament on 22 January.

The move was hailed by the Tories. However, Ian Blackford, the SNP Westminster leader, criticised the “constitutional crisis” caused by the passing of the bill against the wishes of Scotland:

“We find ourselves here today, that our parliament has been ignored, our government has been ignored and, against the expressed wishes of the people of Scotland that voted in the referendum and reaffirmed the right of the people of Scotland to determine their own destiny, that that has been ignored”, he said.

MPs approved the bill, but rejected five amendments. They included provisions to reunite child refugees with families already in the UK, and guaranteed residence for millions of EU citizens.

The bill started its progress through the Commons just after Johnson won his majority in December. He has also promised to put in place new free trade agreements with the EU by 31 December. However, EU officials have repeatedly said that this is highly improbable within the given timeframe.

UN court tells Myanmar to prevent Rohingya genocide

epa08153753 President of the International Court of Justice, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf (4-R), ruled in the lawsuit filed by The Gambia against Myanmar, during a court session in The Hague, The Netherlands, 23 January 2020. That country is accused of genocide because of the persecution of a Muslim minority in the country. EPA-EFE/ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN

The International Court of Justice ordered Myanmar to do all it can to prevent genocide against the Rohingya Muslims.

The country rejected claims that it tried to exterminate the minority in the 2017 bloody crackdown by its military, during which some 740,000 Rohingya were forced to flee into camps in Bangladesh.

Myanmar’s leader, Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, accused of overseeing a genocide against Rohingya Muslims, has been defending her country at the court, saying that Myanmar was defending itself against attacks by militants.

The 17-judge panel said its order for provisional measures intended to protect the Rohingya is binding “and creates international legal obligations” on Myanmar. Their decision was unanimous, and was welcomed by UN chief Antonio Guterres.

This is the third genocide case filed at the court since World War Two. It was first launched in November, when Muslim-majority Gambia accused Myanmar of breaching the 1948 Genocide Convention. Gambia asked the court for emergency measures to stop Myanmar’s “ongoing genocidal actions”.

The decision was hailed by human rights activists, as well as Rohingya Muslims living in camps in Bangladesh. However, they do not believe that Myanmar will comply.

“The ICJ order to Myanmar to take concrete steps to prevent the genocide of the Rohingya is a landmark step to stop further atrocities against one of the world’s most persecuted people. Concerned governments and U.N. bodies should now weigh in to ensure that the order is enforced as the genocide case moves forward”, said Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director of rights agency Human Rights Watch.

The court’s ruling came two days after an independent commission established by Myanmar’s government concluded there were probably war crimes but there was no genocide.

Myanmar’s legal team did not immediately comment on the court’s decision. The country’s foreign ministry later repeated its assertion that there has been no genocide against the Rohingya.

Education and society

epa03905806 Spanish adolescents fill out a form with personal information during a meeting with the Thuringian Economy Minister at the competence center of the DEHOGA Thuringia in Erfurt, Germany, 11 October 2013. The economics ministry and chambers help 128 young spaniards between 18 and 35 years who are stranded in Thuringia to find a job and education opportunities. The spaniards have been brought to the free state without getting the promised apprenticeships or employments. EPA/MARC TIRL

Education will play a central role in the future of society as a real collaborative space where teachers and students share a common strategy in regards to knowledge and creativity, both of which will be key drivers for growth and competitiveness. ICT and modern content matrixes provide new frontier of capability that helps students to answer, with more efficiency, the complex challenges of a new society. This effective approach is the right platform for the creation of a strategic education as the central competence for a new order in society.     

More than that, education will allow people to know who they are and why they have a strong commitment with the values of freedom, social justice, and development. This is the reason to believe that a new standard of society is more than a possibility, it is an individual and collective necessity for all of us as effective global citizens.      

Education will be an open space where collaboration and participation are the drivers of a new way of communication. In this way it´s essential to learn the lessons that will emerge from a world that is trying to rebuild its competitive advantage and to reinvent its effective place in a complex and global network of relations. In the new global economy and innovation society, people and companies have a central role to play in formulating a new attitude connected with the creation of value and a focus on creativity.     

Education will be a permanent commitment between by both local and global actors. As a result, it must confirm itself as an enabler in a very demanding world by introducing into society and the economy a capital of trust and innovation that is essential to ensure a central leadership in the future relations betwen the different social and economic players. These new actors should be more global than they are now and more capable of driving the social matrix through a type of unique dynamic of knowledge that builds and sells it as a mobile asset on the global market.

This will inevitably lead to education becoming the key effective actor for permanent social integration. Educators must know how to integrate, in a positive way, those who want to develop new ideas. This sort of social cohesion is done with the constructive participation of the citizens if it is going to become an effective tool of mobilisation. A positive integrative policy is the main signal that different actors have a common road to follow in the future.    

Education will thus face a very exciting challenge as it is led by all actors working in a free and collaborative forum. For the teachers and students, this will become an active commitment on which the focus of the participation and  the development of new competences, on a collaborative basis, must be the key of the difference when answering the ‘Education Question’.

Armed groups abuse civilians along Venezuela-Colombia border

epaselect epa07417941 Venezuelan citizens cross a river into Colombia due to the closure of border crossings in Cucuta, Colombia, 06 March 2019. EPA-EFE/SCHNEYDER MENDOZA

The rights group Human Rights Watch said that armed groups along the Venezuela-Colombia border subject civilians to killings, forced labor and extortion.

The group published a report that found Venezuelan forces allied with Colombian militias in the violence:

“Armed groups in Arauca and Apure also punish residents with forced labor, requiring them to work for free, sometimes for months, farming, cleaning roads, or cooking in the armed groups’ camps, which are often in Venezuela”, the report said.

Under the leadership of controversially re-elected president Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela has suffered an economic collapse and political crisis. Maduro has denied allegations that armed Colombian groups were tolerated by his forces. More than 4 million citizens have fled the country, many to Colombia.

“Residents of Arauca and Apure live in fear, as armed groups recruit their children and impose their own rules, threaten residents, and punish those who disobey”, the report added.

The guerilla groups that the report identified are Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN), dissidents from FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), and Venezuela’s Patriotic Forces of National Liberation (FPLN).

World leaders gather in Jerusalem to remember Holocaust

epaselect epa05128636 A general view on the former Nazi-German concentration and death camp KL Auschwitz-Birkenau before ceremonies marking the 71st anniversary of the liberation of the former Nazi-German concentration and extermination camp KL Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Oswiecim, Poland, 27 January 2016. The biggest German Nazi death camp KL Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the Soviet Red Army on 27 January 1945. Today the world commemorates its liberation by International Holocaust Remembrance Day. EPA/ANDRZEJ GRYGIEL POLAND OUT

Dozens of world leaders gathered on 22 January in Jerusalem for a three-hour-long ceremony focused on commemorating the Holocaust and combating rising modern-day anti-Semitism.

The World Holocaust Forum coincides with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. The attendees included Russian president Vladimir Putin, French president Emmanuel Macron, the presidents of Germany, Italy and Austria, as well as US Vice President Mike Pence. Israel’s president Reuven Rivlin asked the attendees to “leave history for the historians”.

However, the event did not go without tensions. Putin said that “when it comes to the tragedy of the Holocaust, 40% of tortured and killed Jews were Soviet Union Jews”.” So this is our common tragedy in the fullest sense of the word”, he added.

Poland’s president Andrzej Duda has boycotted the gathering because he was not invited to speak. Tensions between Russia and Poland are rising over Poland’s role in the World War II. Putin has previously blamed the Western powers for allying with Adolf Hitler, and has citied documents in which, according to him, the Polish ambassador in Germany “expressed full solidarity with Hitler in his anti-Semitic views”.

“We mustn’t for even one second blur the sacrifice and the contribution of the former Soviet Union in defeating the Nazi monster”, said Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also used the opportunity to condemn Iran: “I am concerned that we have yet to see a unified and resolute stance against the most anti-Semitic regime on the planet, a regime that openly seeks to develop nuclear weapons and annihilate the one and only Jewish state”, he added.

The event is a project of Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, which represents Jewish communities across Europe. It was widely criticized about inviting elites, while not including enough Holocaust survivors.

Putin remains ambiguous about his future role

epa08039127 Russian President Vladimir Putin attends via video-link an official ceremony to launch Russian natural gas supplies to China via the Power of Siberia pipeline (the eastern route) , in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia, 02 December 2019. On December 02 Russian and Chinese Presidents took part in the ceremony via teleconference. Under the contract, which was signed between Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) in 2014, Russia will supply 38 billion cubic metres of gas to China annually. EPA-EFE/MICHAEL KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / KREMLIN POOL MANDATORY CREDIT

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin remained secretive about his future role  as he rushed a set of his recently proposed constitutional changes.

He said the reforms are intended to strengthen government bodies. However, the move is seen as his attempt to stay in power after his current term ends in 2024.

Under the new rules, some of the president’s powers would be clipped and parliament’s powers expanded. The constitution will also change the status of the State Council, making it a low-profile body that advises the president. Observers say that this time he will not switch positions with the prime minister. Instead, they believe he will be given a special state organ to lead (the State Council), which will allow him to retain power.

Putin said that “the emergence of a position above the presidency would mean a dual power, which is absolutely unacceptable for a country like Russia. It would erode the presidency”. However, he also said that the country must maintain a strong presidency:

“We have so many nationalities and ethnic groups with different ways of life, and it’s practically impossible to integrate all of that under a parliamentary republic. Our country should undoubtedly be a presidential republic”, he said.

Last week, Russia’s government suddenly resigned and the head of Russia’s tax service, Mikhail Mishustin, was named as the prime minister, replacing Dimitry Medvedev. Putin has been in power for more than 20 years, both as a president and as a prime minister.

Muslim leaders visit Auschwitz to help encourage interfaith support

epa02560032 Mustafa Ceric, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina, delivers a speech while participating in the Aladin project visits former Nazi camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland, 01 February 2011. Following the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration and extermination camp, a large international delegation including 150 government officials and eminent personalities from Arab-Muslim, African and western countries visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. EPA/JACEK BEDNARCZYK POLAND OUT

High-ranking Muslim leaders from around the world visited the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, where more than a million people massacred by the Third Reich during World War II.

Imams from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Saudi Arabia, India, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Turkey, the United States, and other countries came together to pray for the victims of the Holocaust. The visit also marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army in 1945.

Mohamed Magid, the President of the Islamic Society of North America said that the stories behind the camp were very touching and the world should condemn antisemitism before adding, “What can I say? I am speechless.”

The visit to the Auschwitz Memorial is part of a memorandum of understanding signed between the Muslim World League and the American Jewish Committee to educate the Muslim clergy about the Holocaust.

“I believe that by paying my respects to the victims of Auschwitz, I will encourage Muslims and non-Muslims to embrace mutual respect, understanding and diversity,” Muhammad bin Abdul Karim al-Issa, the Saudi head of the Muslim World League, a widely recognised thought leader on moderate Islam, said in the statement.

In 2017, al-Issa visited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and declared Holocaust denial a crime against Islam. Prior to his visit, in 2013, 11 imams, sheikhs, and Islamic religious scholars from nine countries took part in an unprecedented trip to Germany and Poland to see and discuss, firsthand, the horrors of the Holocaust.

Constructed in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1940, more than 1.1 million people were killed in the Auschwitz concentration camp – 1 million of which were Jews.

China continues to destroy Muslim cemeteries

epa03719613 A picture made available on 27 May 2013 of an elderly man of the Uighur ethnic group resting in his chair while children play in a renovated part of the old town of Kashgar, the western edge of China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China 24 May 2013. Kashgar old town's historic labyrinth of earthen mud houses are rapidly being demolished and revamped in a massive government plan to transform the city since 2009. The Chinese government, citing unsafe structures and non-compliance with fire and earthquake safety regulations, has razed and rebuilt more than two thirds of the old city by 2012, relocating thousands of its mainly Uighur ethnic minority residents. Uighurs make up about the majority of the 3.9 million people living in the restive region of Kashgar where the north and south silk road met. Tensions between the Uighurs and Han Chinese have been high as they complain of cultural and religious repression and claim that ethnic Chinese migrants enjoy the main benefits of development in the oil-rich but economically backward region. EPA/HOW HWEE YOUNG

The Chinese government appears to have systematically destroyed several cemeteries belonging to its Muslim minority, the Turkic-speaking Uyghurs, for years.

Cooperating with the Uyghur community and analysing hundreds of satellite images, an investigation by American broadcasting giant CNN found that more than a 100 cemeteries have been destroyed just in the last two years.

By destroying the graveyards, which is considered a place for Uyghurs to meet and socialise, China’s Communist officials are trying to control the traditional Islamic practices of its Muslim population.

The Communist Party of China has not denied that they have destroyed several Uyghur cemeteries, but has instead insisted that the governments “fully respect and guarantees freedom for all ethnic groups… to choose cemeteries, as well as funeral and burial rights.”

Beijing has called the destruction of the cemeteries a “relocation” as they “did not abide by city planning codes and hindered future construction.”

In its investigation, French news agency AFP found that at least 45 Muslim cemeteries have been destroyed since 2014. AFP reporters visited several places in the destroyed cemeteries, where they found several scattered bones, which scientists later confirmed were human remains.

As part of its annual report for 2020, Human Rights Watch blasted China for its massive violations against several religious and ethnic minority groups within China. The director of the watchdog later added that China is carrying out “the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades…the Chinese government sees human rights as an existential threat. Its reaction could pose an even greater threat to the rights of people worldwide.”

Italy’s populist leader Di Maio resigns before key election

epa08151780 Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio announces his resignation as political leader of the Five Star Movement, Rome, Poland, 22 January 2020. EPA-EFE/RICCARDO ANTIMIANI

Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the Italy’s populist Five Star movement has announced his resignation, weakening the coalition government ahead of Sunday’s regional elections in Emilia-Romagna. His party governs Italy in coalition with the center-left Democratic Party.

Di Maio unveiled his decision at a public meeting with party officials in Rome: “Today I am here to tender my resignation as the political leader of the Five Star Movement. The moment has come for us to lay the foundations again. Today it is the end of an era. I think the government needs to go on as it is. The results will come”, he said.

The decision comes after a period of crisis in the party. However, Di Maio said he intends to remain as foreign secretary in prime minister Giuseppe Conte’s government.

The coalition of Five star and Democratic Party was also weakened by the rise of popularity of Matteo Salvini’s right-wing League party.

Zelensky says antisemitism in Ukraine is the lowest in Europe

epa07879438 Ukrainians lay flowers and symbolic stones to the Minora monument during a mourning ceremony near the ravine Babiy Yar in Kiev, Ukraine, 29 September 2019. Ukrainians commemorated the 78th anniversary of the Nazi massacre of Jews at Babiy Yar ravine in Kiev where some 34,000 Jews were murdered during two days in September 1941. In total more than 100,000 people lost their lives in Babiy Yar between 1941 and 1943. EPA-EFE/SERGEY DOLZHENKO

The history of the Jews in Ukraine is one that stretches back over a thousand years to the days before the Slavs of Kievan Rus were converted to Orthodox Christianity by Byzantine missionaries in the 10th century.

Prior to the Second World War, the area which now makes up modern Ukraine was home to one of the world’s largest Jewish community, one that saw dozens of important historical figures of Jewish background born within its borders when most of the country was a part of either the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires, Poland, and later the Soviet Union. Those names include figures such as future Israeli prime ministers Golda Meir and Levi Eshkol, Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, human rights activist Natan Sharansky, author Sholom Aleichem, as well as dozens of others.

The history of the Jewish experience in Ukraine also includes a dark and often tragic past that has been characterised by Cossack-led pogroms and freedom of movement restrictions under the tsars to outright discrimination and purges by Soviet authorities under Stalin.

Today, however, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claims that the country is no longer a hotbed of antisemitism. Zelensky, who is himself of Jewish origin, emphasised that Ukraine is an absolutely safe country for Jews and the security at Kyiv’s synagogues is adequate enough for Jews to feel safe.

“We are very proud that we have such a low level of antisemitism in independent Ukraine, which began its life in 1991,” Zelensky said in reference to the year that Ukraine became a sovereign state following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He admitted that a small group of far-right radical nationalists does exist in the country, but that the numbers are for the most part insignificant.

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that only 5% of Ukrainians refuse to accept Jews as fellow citizens. That number is far lower than in other Eastern European countries with large historic Jewish populations – 18% of Poles, 22% of Romanians, and 23% of Lithuanians say they do not consider Jews to be equal citizens.

Despite the horrors of the Holocaust and mass immigration to the United States and Israel following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has the fourth-largest Jewish population in the world, numbering nearly half a million, according to some estimates.