Category Archives: European Union

(BGR) EU commissioner probing Facebook calls it ‘a channel of dirt’ after deleting her account

(BGR) Vera Jourova, the European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, has been outspoken in her defense of why she thinks the EU needs to hold Facebook’s feet to the regulatory fire. The EU, for its part, has warned the social networking giant that it needs to be more clear with consumers in terms of how their data is used, but today Vera went even farther.

She blasted the company’s “misleading terms of service” and said if it doesn’t make things right by the end of the year, she’ll call on consumer protection authorities in EU countries to start levying sanctions. That’s according to a Wall Street Journal report in which Vera is also quoted as lamenting during a press conference, “I am becoming rather impatient. We have been in dialogue with Facebook almost two years … I want to see results.”

In an interesting footnote to this, it turns out she’s so frustrated with Facebook that she’s also shut down her own Facebook account, saying during the press conference that she’d received an “influx of hatred.” “I don’t want to avoid communication with people, even with critical people,” she reportedly said by way of defending her move — saying, in other words, she’s not trying to isolate herself from critics.

It’s just that her experience as a Facebook user has been that the service is, in her own words, “a channel of dirt.”

She explained her position a little more via Twitter:

Věra Jourová


I want to be extremely clear to its users about how their service operates and makes money. Not many people know that has made available their data to third parties or that for instance it holds full copyright about any picture or content you put on it.

Věra Jourová


I appreciate willingness to work with us and authorities to solve all the issues by December this year.

A Facebook spokesperson told the WSJ, in response to her criticisms, that the company “will continue our close cooperation to understand any further concerns and make appropriate updates.”

“At issue for Ms. Jourova was the clarity of Facebook’s terms of service,” according to the paper. “The company updated them in the spring, but Ms. Jourova said they remain insufficiently explicit about how the company monetizes users’ data. A spokeswoman for the EU’s executive arm said that directing users via hyperlinks to Facebook’s ‘data policy,’ which gives some more detail on ad targeting, isn’t enough for consumers.”

The paper goes on to point out that this issue is “legally separate” from complaints against Facebook from activists under the EU’s privacy law.

(Diplomat) Europe’s Answer to China’s Belt and Road

(Diplomat) The EU’s new Connectivity Strategy is a long overdue response to China’s assertive behavior.

Today’s adoption by the European Commission of a new “Connectivity Strategy” linking Europe and Asia throws down the gauntlet to an increasingly assertive China.

The new strategy, released on September 19, will offer a different approach to that taken by Beijing with its flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The EU emphasis is on sustainability, proposing that investments should respect labor rights, not create political or financial dependencies, and guarantee a level playing field for businesses.

Recently, however, a number of developments have generated a sense of caution among European politicians and policymakers.Given the rapidity of China’s economic development in the past 30 years, it has taken the EU some time to acknowledge the growing power and influence of Beijing. Not only has China become a trading giant, it sits on the world’s largest currency reserves and is an increasingly important provider of foreign investment, including in Europe.

China’s refusal to tackle the dominant position of its state-owned enterprises led the EU to refuse to grant China market economy status. Beijing’s targeting of European technology has also led to plans for screening of Chinese investments in Europe.

But it was the massive infrastructure investments under BRI that raised the most concerns in Brussels, as well as Washington, New Delhi, and other capitals, about the implications of China’s approach.

This spring, EU ambassadors in China penned a report critical of the BRI for being economically, environmentally, socially, and financially unsustainable. The report also criticized China for discriminating against foreign businesses, the lack of transparent bidding processes, and the limited market access for European businesses in China.

China’s involvement in the EU and its neighborhood also rang warning bells. In 2014, Montenegro concluded an agreement with China Exim Bank on the financing for 85 percent of a highway construction project, with the estimated cost close to 25 percent of the country’s GDP.

The IMF has repeatedly stated that construction should only continue on the basis of concessional funds. Many believe that a debt default is likely, which may result in the involuntary handover of critical infrastructure to China.

There is already worrying precedent in that regard. Sri Lanka has been unable to repay Chinese loans for the construction of the Hambantota port. As a result, the port and surrounding acres of land, strategically located at the crossroads of the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, will now be under Chinese control until the year 2116.

Likewise, China’s entire or partial acquisition of ports in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, and most notably Greece, has not gone unnoticed. Without serious hindrance, China is buying up critical infrastructure in Europe, whereas European foreign direct investment in China is decreasing.

China has already reaped some political benefit from these investments, with some EU member states blocking resolutions critical of human rights in China or condemning Beijing’s conduct in the South China Sea.

Similarly, European officials have also questioned the environmental and economic sustainability of various Chinese connectivity projects. The planned construction of six coal-based power plants in Pakistan, whose joint output capacity equals 27 percent of the country’s current capacity, has been criticized as environmentally unsustainable.

These examples have increased EU concerns as China has expanded its influence in Asia, Central Asia, and Europe. This influence is not only about money and politics. It also extends to technical standards and distorting trade flows.

But the EU was well aware that mere peer pressure would not drive China to reconsider its strategy. To secure its own political and economic interests, the EU had to put forward an ambitious and comprehensive response, which was to strengthen its own links with the host countries and to present them with a credible and sustainable alternative offer for connectivity financing.

The new strategy will give Asian and European states a much clearer idea on the basis of which the EU wishes to engage with them, and what they can expect.

Although some financing is mentioned in the paper, the ongoing negotiations for the next EU budget will be crucial in allocating sufficient EU funds to connectivity financing in order to mobilize additional investment from private and multilateral investors.

The strategy will also need united support from member states, a solid public communications strategy, and broad bi- and multilateral outreach programs to the EU’s partners.

Geopolitical competition in Eurasia seems set to increase, with China, Russia, the United States and the EU competing for influence. The connectivity strategy of the EU has set down a marker that the EU is part of the game.

Fraser Cameron is Director of the EU-Asia Centre.

(BBC) Brexit: May urges EU leaders to consider ‘serious’ UK plans

(BBCEU leaders in SalzburgImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Image captionMrs May spoke to EU leaders for 10 minutes over dinner in Salzburg

Theresa May has urged EU leaders to focus their minds on getting a Brexit deal in the next two months, saying negotiations will not be extended.

At a dinner in Salzburg, she told her 27 counterparts her priorities were maintaining economic ties and ensuring promises to Northern Ireland were kept.

There are suggestions the UK will put forward new ideas for regulatory checks to address the current Irish deadlock.

On Thursday the other EU leaders will discuss Brexit without Mrs May present.

Arriving for the second day of the gathering Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, the host, said that “away from the hard media statements, I think both sides are aware that they will only reach a solution if they move towards each other”.

Negotiations over the terms of the UK’s exit and future relations are at a critical stage, with about six months to go before the UK is scheduled to leave on 29 March 2019.

In her speech, Mrs May stressed her “serious” proposals for future co-operation between the UK and EU would ensure a “shared close relationship”.

The informal gathering of EU leaders in the Austrian city was the first opportunity the prime minister has had to make the case for her Chequers blueprint to other leaders collectively.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, two EU leaders said they hoped the UK would hold another referendum on Brexit, in the hope of reversing the 2016 result.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said most of his counterparts would like the “almost impossible” to happen.

Andrej Babis, the Czech Republic’s prime minister, added he hoped the British people might change their minds.

Campaign group People’s Vote is also calling for another referendum, arguing there should be a choice for voters between leaving with, or without, a deal or staying on current terms.

‘Brexit cliff-edge’

Mrs May’s proposal for the UK to sign up to a common rule book for trade in goods and a combined customs territory is unpopular with many in her own party, who believe it will erode British sovereignty and is not what people voted for when they backed Brexit in the 2016 poll.

In a further sign of how difficult it might be for her to persuade the UK parliament to back the plans, former minister Sir Mike Penning, who worked under Mrs May at the Home Office and backed her for Conservative leader, told the Daily Telegraph they were “as dead as a dodo” and that he could not back them.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said Mrs May must delay Brexit beyond next March if there is not a detailed agreement on future trading arrangements.

Ms Sturgeon told the BBC that it would be completely reckless to leave the EU without establishing a future relationship.

She said that taking the UK off the “Brexit cliff edge” without an agreement “would be the most irresponsible thing any PM has done in a very, very long time”.

What did May tell EU leaders?

Media captionTheresa May on what can be achieved at Salzburg summit

According to a senior government spokesman, the prime minister told her counterparts that Brexit was a “uniquely complicated” challenge, but one that could be completed on time.

She said there was no question of the UK seeking to extend the negotiations beyond 29 March 2019, as Ms Sturgeon is calling for, thus delaying the moment of departure.

She told them she has “put forward serious proposals and the onus on all of us is to get this done”.

Her three priorities, she said, were protecting Northern Ireland’s place within the UK, safeguarding trading links with the EU and maintaining a close security relationship with the EU to deal with common threats.

Was there anything new on Ireland?

On Northern Ireland, there are suggestions the UK will present new proposals in the coming weeks aimed at helping break the impasse with the EU.

Brussels has insisted Northern Ireland must stay aligned with its rules unless another solution can be found preventing physical checks on goods crossing to and from the Irish Republic.

The UK has said the EU’s so-called backstop is unacceptable and its position must “evolve”.

Media captionBBC News NI’s political reporter Jayne McCormack explains why the border is an issue

The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg said the UK might accept a border for rules and regulations in time, amid suggestions new proposals on regulatory checks might be published in the coming weeks.

But she said there was no chance, as things stand, they will go anywhere near touching a different customs system for Northern Ireland, which would create more friction on the border.

And she said officials privately admit there is little chance that the solution is going to be found in any of the technical solutions, relying instead on a big political move by one or both sides.

How was the UK PM received?

This might not become clear until Thursday when the EU’s negotiator, Michel Barnier, will brief European leaders on progress in the negotiations.

But Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini told Reuters there had been “no progress” on Brexit and the Irish border.

Mrs May will meet with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and European Council president Donald Tusk on Thursday.

The BBC’s Europe editor Katya Adler said EU leaders believed they “held all the cards”, given that time was running out to seal a deal.

Mrs May’s trump card, she added, was the risk of a no deal – which the EU is increasingly concerned about – if her own proposals are rejected.

(Independent) Dalai Lama says ‘Europe belongs to the Europeans’ and suggests refugees return to native countries

(Independent) Dalai Lama says ‘Europe belongs to the Europeans’ and suggests refugees return to native countries

The Dalai Lama has sparked anger after declaring that “Europe belongs to the Europeans”.

The Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader also said that refugees should return to their native countries and assist with developing them.

The 14th Dalai Lama was speaking at a conference in Malmo, Sweden which is home to a large immigrant population, according to the Business Times. 

“Receive them, help them, educate them … but ultimately they should develop their own country,” the 83-year-old said, when speaking about refugees.

“I think Europe belongs to the Europeans.”

He was speaking in the aftermath of a divisive election in Sweden in which a far-right party, Swedish Democrats, made electoral gains, although they were beaten by the country’s centre-left coalition.

The Dalai Lama also said that Europe was “morally responsible” for helping “a refugee really facing danger against their life”.

Social media users condemned the comments, calling the Dalai Lama a “bigot of the first order” and a “hypocrite”.

“Europe, for example Germany, cannot become an Arab country,” he said in an interview with German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 2016, in which he also said that there were “too many refugees” in Europe.

The Dalai Lama is a refugee himself. He led thousands of his followers from Tibet to India in 1959 after the Tibetans protested against Chinese limits on their autonomy.

The 83-tear-old continues to live in exile in northern India today.

(Atlantic) A Warning From Europe: The Worst Is Yet to Come

(Atlantic) Polarization. Conspiracy theories. Attacks on the free press. An obsession with loyalty. Recent events in the United States follow a pattern Europeans know all too well.

On december 31, 1999, we threw a party. It was the end of one millennium and the start of a new one; people very much wanted to celebrate, preferably somewhere exotic. Our party fulfilled that criterion. We held it at Chobielin, the manor house in northwest Poland that my husband and his parents had purchased a decade earlier, when it was a mildewed ruin. We had restored the house, very slowly. It was not exactly finished in 1999, but it did have a new roof. It also had a large, freshly painted, and completely unfurnished salon—perfect for a party.

The guests were various: journalist friends from London and Berlin, a few diplomats based in Warsaw, two friends who flew in from New York. But most of them were Poles, friends of ours and colleagues of my husband, who was then a deputy foreign minister in the Polish government. A handful of youngish Polish journalists came too—none then particularly famous—along with a few civil servants and one or two members of the government.

You could have lumped the majority of them, roughly, in the general category of what Poles call the right—the conservatives, the anti-Communists. But at that moment in history, you might also have called most of my guests liberals—free-market liberals, or classical liberals—or maybe Thatcherites. Even those who might have been less definite about economics certainly believed in democracy, in the rule of law, and in a Poland that was a member of nato and on its way to joining the European Union—an integrated part of modern Europe. In the 1990s, that was what being “on the right” meant.

As parties go, it was a little scrappy. There was no such thing as catering in rural Poland in the 1990s, so my mother-in-law and I made vats of beef stew and roasted beets. There were no hotels, either, so our 100-odd guests stayed in local farmhouses or with friends in the nearby town. I kept a list of who was staying where, but nevertheless, a couple of people wound up sleeping on a sofa in our basement. The music—mixtapes, made in an era before Spotify—created the only serious cultural divide of the evening: The songs that my American friends remembered from college were not the same as the songs that the Poles remembered from college, so it was hard to get everybody to dance at the same time. At one point I went upstairs, learned that Boris Yeltsin had resigned, wrote a brief column for a British newspaper, then went back downstairs and had another glass of wine. At about three in the morning, one of the wackier Polish guests pulled a small pistol out of her handbag and shot blanks into the air out of sheer exuberance.

It was that kind of party. It lasted all night, continued into “brunch” the following afternoon, and was infused with the optimism I remember from that time. We had rebuilt our house. Our friends were rebuilding the country. I have a particularly clear memory of a walk in the snow—maybe it was the day before the party, maybe the day after—with a bilingual group, everybody chattering at once, English and Polish mingling and echoing through the birch forest. At that moment, when Poland was on the cusp of joining the West, it felt as if we were all on the same team. We agreed about democracy, about the road to prosperity, about the way things were going.

That moment has passed. Nearly two decades later, I would now cross the street to avoid some of the people who were at my New Year’s Eve party. They, in turn, would not only refuse to enter my house, they would be embarrassed to admit they had ever been there. In fact, about half the people who were at that party would no longer speak to the other half. The estrangements are political, not personal. Poland is now one of the most polarized societies in Europe, and we have found ourselves on opposite sides of a profound divide, one that runs through not only what used to be the Polish right but also the old Hungarian right, the Italian right, and, with some differences, the British right and the American right, too.

Some of my New Year’s Eve guests continued, as my husband and I did, to support the pro-European, pro-rule-of-law, pro-market center-right—remaining in political parties that aligned, more or less, with European Christian Democrats, with the liberal parties of Germany and the Netherlands, and with the Republican Party of John McCain. Some now consider themselves center-left. But others wound up in a different place, supporting a nativist party called Law and Justice—a party that has moved dramatically away from the positions it held when it first briefly ran the government, from 2005 to 2007, and when it occupied the presidency (not the same thing in Poland), from 2005 to 2010.

Since then, Law and Justice has embraced a new set of ideas, not just xenophobic and deeply suspicious of the rest of Europe but also openly authoritarian. After the party won a slim parliamentary majority in 2015, its leaders violated the constitution by appointing new judges to the constitutional court. Later, it used a similarly unconstitutional playbook to attempt to pack the Polish Supreme Court. It took over the state public broadcaster, Telewizja Polska; fired popular presenters; and began running unabashed propaganda, sprinkled with easily disprovable lies, at taxpayers’ expense. The government earned international notoriety when it adopted a law curtailing public debate about the Holocaust. Although the law was eventually changed under American pressure, it enjoyed broad support by Law and Justice’s ideological base—the journalists, writers, and thinkers, including some of my party guests, who believe anti-Polish forces seek to blame Poland for Auschwitz.

These kinds of views make it difficult for me and some of my New Year’s guests to speak about anything at all. I have not, for example, had a single conversation with a woman who was once one of my closest friends, the godmother of one of my children—let’s call her Marta—since a hysterical phone call in April 2010, a couple of days after a plane carrying the then-president crashed near Smolensk, in Russia. In the intervening years, Marta has grown close to Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Law and Justice and the late president’s twin brother. She regularly hosts lunches for him at her apartment and discusses whom he should appoint to his cabinet. I tried to see her recently in Warsaw, but she refused. “What would we talk about?” she texted me, and then went silent.

Another of my guests—the one who shot the pistol in the air—eventually separated from her British husband. She now appears to spend her days as a full-time internet troll, fanatically promoting a whole range of conspiracy theories, many of them virulently anti-Semitic. She tweets about Jewish responsibility for the Holocaust; she once posted an image of an English medieval painting depicting a boy supposedly crucified by Jews, with the commentary “And they were surprised that they were expelled.” She follows and amplifies the leading lights of the American “alt-right,” whose language she repeats.

I happen to know that both of these women are estranged from their children because of their political views. But that, too, is typical—this line of division runs through families as well as groups of friends. We have a neighbor near Chobielin whose parents listen to a progovernment, Catholic-conspiratorial radio stationcalled Radio Maryja. They repeat its mantras, make its enemies their enemies. “I’ve lost my mother,” my neighbor told me. “She lives in another world.”

To be clear about my interests and biases here, I should explain that some of this conspiratorial thinking is focused on me. My husband was the Polish defense minister for a year and a half, in a coalition government led by Law and Justice during its first, brief experience of power; later, he broke with that party and was for seven years the foreign minister in another coalition government, this one led by the center-right party Civic Platform; in 2015 he didn’t run for office. As a journalist and his American-born wife, I have always attracted some press interest. But after Law and Justice won that year, I was featured on the covers of two pro-regime magazines, wSieci and Do Rzeczy—former friends of ours work at both—as the clandestine Jewish coordinator of the international press and the secret director of its negative coverage of Poland. Similar stories have appearedon Telewizja Polska’s evening news.

Eventually, they stopped writing about me: Negative international press coverage of Poland has grown much too widespread for a single person, even a single Jewish person, to coordinate all by herself. Though naturally the theme recurs on social media from time to time.

In a famous journal he kept from 1935 to 1944, the Romanian writer Mihail Sebastian chronicled an even more extreme shift in his own country. Like me, Sebastian was Jewish; like me, most of his friends were on the political right. In his journal, he described how, one by one, they were drawn to fascist ideology, like a flock of moths to an inescapable flame. He recounted the arrogance and confidence they acquired as they moved away from identifying themselves as Europeans—admirers of Proust, travelers to Paris—and instead began to call themselves blood-and-soil Romanians. He listened as they veered into conspiratorial thinking or became casually cruel. People he had known for years insulted him to his face and then acted as if nothing had happened. “Is friendship possible,” he wondered in 1937, “with people who have in common a whole series of alien ideas and feelings—so alien that I have only to walk in the door and they suddenly fall silent in shame and embarrassment?”

This is not 1937. Nevertheless, a parallel transformation is taking place in my own time, in the Europe that I inhabit and in Poland, a country whose citizenship I have acquired. And it is taking place without the excuse of an economic crisis of the kind Europe suffered in the 1930s. Poland’s economy has been the most consistently successful in Europe over the past quarter century. Even after the global financial collapse in 2008, the country saw no recession. What’s more, the refugee wave that has hit other European countries has not been felt here at all. There are no migrant camps, and there is no Islamist terrorism, or terrorism of any kind.

More important, though the people I am writing about here, the nativist ideologues, are perhaps not all as successful as they would like to be (about which more in a minute), they are not poor and rural, they are not in any sense victims of the political transition, and they are not an impoverished underclass. On the contrary, they are educated, they speak foreign languages, and they travel abroad—just like Sebastian’s friends in the 1930s.

What has caused this transformation? Were some of our friends always closet authoritarians? Or have the people with whom we clinked glasses in the first minutes of the new millennium somehow changed over the subsequent two decades? My answer is a complicated one, because I think the explanation is universal. Given the right conditions, any society can turn against democracy. Indeed, if history is anything to go by, all societies eventually will.

Before i continue, here’s a parenthesis, and a reminder: All of this has happened before. Profound political shifts—events that suddenly split families and friends, cut across social classes, and dramatically rearrange alliances—do not happen every day in Europe, but neither are they unknown. Not nearly enough attention has been paid in recent years to a late-19th-century French controversy that prefigured many of the debates of the 20th century, and has some clear echoes in the present.

The Dreyfus affair was triggered in 1894, when a traitor was discovered in the French army: Somebody had been passing information to Germany, which had defeated France a quarter century earlier and occupied Alsace-Lorraine. French military intelligence investigated and claimed that it had found the culprit. Captain Alfred Dreyfus was an Alsatian, spoke with a German accent, and was a Jew—and therefore, in the eyes of some, not a real Frenchman. As it would turn out, he was also innocent. But French army investigators created fake evidence and gave false testimony; as a result, Dreyfus was court-martialed, found guilty, and sent into solitary confinement on Devil’s Island, off the coast of French Guiana.

The ensuing controversy divided French society along now-familiar lines. Those who maintained Dreyfus’s guilt were the alt-right—or the Law and Justice Party, or the National Front—of their time. They pushed a conspiracy theory. They were backed up by screaming headlines in France’s right-wing yellow press, the 19th-century version of a far-right trolling operation. Their leaders lied to uphold the honor of the army; adherents clung to their belief in Dreyfus’s guilt—and their absolute loyalty to the nation—even when this fakery was revealed.

Dreyfus was not a spy. To prove the unprovable, the anti-Dreyfusards had to disparage evidence, law, and even rational thought. Science itself was suspect, both because it was modern and universal and because it came into conflict with the emotional cult of ancestry and place. “In every scientific work,” wrote one anti-Dreyfusard, there is something “precarious” and “contingent.”

The Dreyfusards, meanwhile, argued that some principles are higher than national honor, and that it mattered whether Dreyfus was guilty or not. Above all, they argued, the French state had an obligation to treat all citizens equally, whatever their religion. They too were patriots, but of a different sort. They conceived of the nation not as an ethnic clan but as the embodiment of a set of ideals: justice, honesty, the neutrality of the courts. This was a more cerebral vision, more abstract and harder to grasp, but not without an appeal of its own.

Those two visions of the nation split France right down the middle. Tempers flared. Quarrels broke out in the dining rooms of Paris. Family members stopped speaking to one another, sometimes for more than a generation. The divide continued to be felt in 20th-century politics, in the different ideologies of Vichy France and the resistance. It persists today, in the struggle between Marine Le Pen’s “France for the French” nationalism and Emmanuel Macron’s broader vision of a France that stands for a set of abstract values: justice, honesty, and the neutrality of courts, as well as globalization and integration.

From my point of view, the Dreyfus affair is most interesting because it was sparked by a single cause célèbre. Just one court case—one disputed trial—plunged an entire country into an angry debate, creating unresolvable divisions between people who had previously not known that they disagreed with one another. But this shows that vastly different understandings of what is meant by “France” were already there, waiting to be discovered. Two decades ago, different understandings of “Poland” must already have been present too, just waiting to be exacerbated by chance, circumstance, and personal ambition.

Perhaps this is unsurprising. All of these debates, whether in 1890s France or 1990s Poland, have at their core a series of important questions: Who gets to define a nation? And who, therefore, gets to rule a nation? For a long time, we have imagined that these questions were settled—but why should they ever be?

Monarchy, tyranny, oligarchy, democracy—these were all familiar to Aristotle more than 2,000 years ago. But the illiberal one-party state, now found all over the world—think of China, Venezuela, Zimbabwe—was first developed by Lenin, in Russia, starting in 1917. In the political-science textbooks of the future, the Soviet Union’s founder will surely be remembered not for his Marxist beliefs, but as the inventor of this enduring form of political organization. It is the model that many of the world’s budding autocrats use today.

Unlike Marxism, the Leninist one-party state is not a philosophy. It is a mechanism for holding power. It works because it clearly defines who gets to be the elite—the political elite, the cultural elite, the financial elite. In monarchies such as prerevolutionary France and Russia, the right to rule was granted to the aristocracy, which defined itself by rigid codes of breeding and etiquette. In modern Western democracies, the right to rule is granted, at least in theory, by different forms of competition: campaigning and voting, meritocratic tests that determine access to higher education and the civil service, free markets. Old-fashioned social hierarchies are usually part of the mix, but in modern Britain, America, Germany, France, and until recently Poland, we have assumed that competition is the most just and efficient way to distribute power. The best-run businesses should make the most money. The most appealing and competent politicians should rule. The contests between them should take place on an even playing field, to ensure a fair outcome.

Lenin’s one-party state was based on different values. It overthrew the aristocratic order. But it did not put a competitive model in place. The Bolshevik one-party state was not merely undemocratic; it was also anticompetitive and antimeritocratic. Places in universities, civil-service jobs, and roles in government and industry did not go to the most industrious or the most capable. Instead, they went to the most loyal. People advanced because they were willing to conform to the rules of party membership. Though those rules were different at different times, they were consistent in certain ways. They usually excluded the former ruling elite and their children, as well as suspicious ethnic groups. They favored the children of the working class. Above all, they favored people who loudly professed belief in the creed, who attended party meetings, who participated in public displays of enthusiasm. Unlike an ordinary oligarchy, the one-party state allows for upward mobility: True believers can advance. As Hannah Arendt wrote back in the 1940s, the worst kind of one-party state “invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.”

Lenin’s one-party system also reflected his disdain for the idea of a neutral state, of apolitical civil servants and an objective media. He wrote that freedom of the press “is a deception.” He mocked freedom of assembly as a “hollow phrase.” As for parliamentary democracy itself, that was no more than “a machine for the suppression of the working class.” In the Bolshevik imagination, the press could be free, and public institutions could be fair, only once they were controlled by the working class—via the party.

This mockery of the competitive institutions of “bourgeois democracy” and capitalism has long had a right-wing version, too. Hitler’s Germany is the example usually given. But there are many others. Apartheid South Africa was a de facto one-party state that corrupted its press and its judiciary to eliminate blacks from political life and promote the interests of Afrikaners, white South Africans descended mainly from Dutch settlers, who were not succeeding in the capitalist economy created by the British empire.

In Europe, two such illiberal parties are now in power: Law and Justice, in Poland, and Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, in Hungary. Others, in Austria and Italy, are part of government coalitions or enjoy wide support. These parties tolerate the existence of political opponents. But they use every means possible, legal and illegal, to reduce their opponents’ ability to function and to curtail competition in politics and economics. They dislike foreign investment and criticize privatization, unless it is designed to benefit their supporters. They undermine meritocracy. Like Donald Trump, they mock the notions of neutrality and professionalism, whether in journalists or civil servants. They discourage businesses from advertising in “opposition”—by which they mean illegitimate—media.

Illustration: Mike McQuade; Dundanim / Shutterstock
Notably, one of the Law and Justice government’s first acts, in early 2016, was to change the civil-service law, making it easier to fire professionals and hire party hacks. The Polish foreign service also wants to drop its requirement that diplomats know two foreign languages, a bar that was too high for favored candidates to meet.* The government fired heads of Polish state companies. Previously, the people in these roles had had at least some government or business experience. Now these jobs are largely filled by Law and Justice Party members, as well as their friends and relatives. Typical is Janina Goss, an old friend of Kaczyński’s from whom the former prime minister once borrowed a large sum of money, apparently to pay for a medical treatment for his mother. Goss, an avid maker of jams and preserves, is now on the board of directors of Polska Grupa Energetyczna, the largest power company in Poland, an employer of 40,000 people.

You can call this sort of thing by many names: nepotism, state capture. But if you so choose, you can also describe it in positive terms: It represents the end of the hateful notions of meritocracy and competition, principles that, by definition, never benefited the less successful. A rigged and uncompetitive system sounds bad if you want to live in a society run by the talented. But if that isn’t your primary interest, then what’s wrong with it?

If you believe, as my old friends now believe, that Poland will be better off if it is ruled by people who deserve to rule—because they loudly proclaim a certain kind of patriotism, because they are loyal to the party leader, or because they are, echoing the words of Kaczyński himself, a “better sort of Pole”—then a one-party state is actually more fair than a competitive democracy. Why should different parties be allowed to compete on an even playing field if only one of them has the moral right to form the government? Why should businesses be allowed to compete in a free market if only some of them are loyal to the party and therefore deserving of wealth?

This impulse is reinforced, in Poland as well as in Hungary and many other formerly Communist countries, by the widespread feeling that the rules of competition are flawed because the reforms of the 1990s were unfair. Specifically, they allowed too many former Communists to recycle their political power into economic power.

But this argument, which felt so important a quarter century ago, seems thin and superficial now. Since at least 2005, Poland has been led solely by presidents and prime ministers whose political biographies began in the anti-Communist Solidarity movement. And there is no powerful ex-Communist business monopoly in Poland either—at least not at the national level, where plenty of people have made money without special political connections. Poignantly, the most prominent former Communist in Polish politics right now is Stanisław Piotrowicz, a Law and Justice member of parliament who is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a great enemy of judicial independence.

Nevertheless, this argument about the continuing influence of Communism retains an appeal for the right-wing political intellectuals of my generation. For some of them, it seems to explain their personal failures, or just their bad luck. Not everybody who was a dissident in the 1970s got to become the prime minister, or a best-selling writer, or a respected public intellectual, after 1989. And for many this is a source of burning resentment. If you are someone who believes that you deserve to rule, then your motivation to attack the elite, pack the courts, and warp the press to achieve your ambitions is strong. Resentment, envy, and above all the belief that the “system” is unfair—these are important sentiments among the intellectuals of the Polish right.

This is not to say that the illiberal state lacks a genuine appeal. But it is also good for some of its proponents personally—so much so that picking apart personal and political motives is extremely difficult. That’s what I learned from the story of Jacek Kurski, the director of Polish state television and the chief ideologist of the Polish illiberal state. He started out in the same place, at the same time, as his brother, Jarosław Kurski, who edits the largest and most influential liberal Polish newspaper. They are two sides of the same coin.

To understand the kurski brothersit’s important to understand where they came from: the port city of Gdańsk, on the Baltic Sea, where shipyard cranes loom like giant storks over Hanseatic street facades. The Kurskis came of age there in the early 1980s, when Gdańsk was both the hub of anti-Communist activity in Poland and a shabby backwater, a place where intrigue and boredom were measured out in equal doses.

At that particular moment, in that particular place, the Kurski brothers stood out. Senator Bogdan Borusewicz, one of the most important underground trade-union activists from the time, told me that their school was widely known to be “zrewoltowane”—in revolt against the Communist system. Jarosław represented his class in the school parliament and was part of a group that read conservative history and literature. Jacek, slightly younger, was less interested in the intellectual battle against Communism, and thought of himself as an activist and a radical. In the immediate wake of martial law, both brothers went to marches, shouted slogans, waved banners. Both worked first on the illegal school newspaper and then on Solidarność, the illegal opposition newspaper of Solidarity, the trade union in Gdańsk.

In October 1989, Jarosław went to work as the press secretary to Lech Wałęsa, the leader of Solidarity, who, after the election of Poland’s first non-Communist government, felt out of sorts and ignored; in the chaos created by revolutionary economic reforms and rapid political change, there was no obvious role for him. Eventually, in late 1990, Wałęsa ran for president and won, by galvanizing people who already resented the compromises that had accompanied the negotiated collapse of Communism in Poland (the decision not to jail or punish former Communists, for example). The experience made Jarosław realize that he didn’t like politics, especially not the politics of resentment: “I saw what doing politics was really about … awful intrigues, searching for dirt, smear campaigns.” That was also his first encounter with Kaczyński, “a master of that. In his political thinking, there is no such thing as an accident … If something happened, it was the machination of an outsider. Conspiracy is his favorite word.” (Unlike Jarosław, Jacek would not speak with me. A mutual friend gave me his private cellphone number; I texted, and then called a couple of times and left messages. I called again and someone cackled when I stated my name, repeated it loudly, and said, “Of course, of course”—naturally the chairman of Polish television would return my call. But he never did.)

Eventually Jarosław quit and joined Gazeta Wyborcza, the newspaper founded at the time of Poland’s first partially free elections, in 1989. In the new Poland, he could help build something, create a free press, he told me, and that was enough for him. Jacek went in precisely the opposite direction. “You are an idiot,” he told his brother when he learned he had quit working for Wałęsa. Although he was still in high school, Jacek was already interested in a political career himself, and even suggested that he take over his brother’s job, on the grounds that no one would notice. He was—in his brother’s description—always “fascinated” by the Kaczyński brothers, by the plots, the schemes, the conspiracies. Although he was on the right, he was not particularly interested in the trappings of Polish conservatism, in the books or the debates that had captivated his brother. A friend of both brothers told me she didn’t think Jacek had any real political philosophy at all. “Is he a conservative? I don’t think so, at least not in the strict definition of conservatism. He’s a person who wants to be on top.” And from the late 1980s onward, that was where he aimed to be.

The complete story of what Jacek did next would require more than a single magazine article to describe. He eventually turned against Wałęsa, perhaps because Wałęsa didn’t give him the job he thought he deserved. He married and divorced; he sued his brother’s newspaper several times, and the newspaper sued him back. He co-authored a fiery book and made a conspiratorial film about the secret forces lined up against the Polish right. He was a member, at different times, of different parties or factions, sometimes quite marginal and sometimes more centrist. He became a member of the European Parliament. He came to specialize in so-called black PR. Famously, he helped torpedo the presidential campaign of Donald Tusk (who eventually became prime minister), in part by spreading the rumor that Tusk had a grandfather who had voluntarily joined the Wehrmacht, the Nazi army. Asked about this invention, Jacek reportedly told a small group of journalists that of course it wasn’t true, but “Ciemny lud to kupi”—which, roughly translated, means “The ignorant peasants will buy it.” Borusewicz describes him as “without scruples.”

Jacek did not win the popular acclaim he thought a teenage Solidarity activist was entitled to. And this was a huge disappointment. Jarosław says of his brother: “All of his life, he believed that he is owed a great career … that he will be prime minister, that he is predestined to do something great. Yet fate dictated that he failed over and over again … He concluded that this was a great injustice.” And of course, Jarosław was successful, a member of the establishment.

In 2015, Kaczyński plucked Jacek out of the relative obscurity of fringe politics and made him the director of state television. Since his arrival at Telewizja Polska, the younger Kurski has changed the station beyond recognition, firing the best-known journalists and radically reorienting its politics. Although the station is funded by taxpayers, the news broadcasts no longer make any pretense of objectivity or neutrality. In April of this year, for example, the station made an advertisement for itself. It showed a clip from a press conference; the leader of the opposition party, Grzegorz Schetyna, is asked what his party achieved during its eight years in government, from 2007 to 2015. Schetyna pauses and frowns; the video slows down and then ends. It’s as if he had nothing to say.

In reality, Schetyna spoke for several minutes and listed a number of achievements, from the mass construction of roads to rural investments to advances in foreign policy. But this manipulated clip was deemed such a success that for several days, it remained pinned to the top of Telewizja Polska’s Twitter feed. Under Law and Justice, state television doesn’t just produce regime propaganda; it celebrates the fact that it is doing so. It doesn’t just twist and contort information; it glories in deceit.

Jacek—deprived of respect for so many years—is finally having his revenge. He is right where he thinks he should be: at the center of attention, the radical throwing figurative Molotov cocktails into the crowd. The illiberal one-party state suits him perfectly. And if Communism isn’t really available anymore as a genuine enemy for him and his colleagues to fight, then new enemies will have to be found.

From orwell to koestler, the European writers of the 20th century were obsessed with the idea of the Big Lie. The vast ideological constructs that were Communism and fascism, the posters demanding fealty to the Party or the Leader, the Brownshirts and Blackshirts marching in formation, the torch-lit parades, the terror police—these Big Lies were so absurd and inhuman, they required prolonged violence to impose and the threat of violence to maintain. They required forced education, total control of all culture, the politicization of journalism, sports, literature, and the arts.

By contrast, the polarizing political movements of 21st-century Europe demand much less of their adherents. They don’t require belief in a full-blown ideology, and thus they don’t require violence or terror police. They don’t force people to believe that black is white, war is peace, and state farms have achieved 1,000 percent of their planned production. Most of them don’t deploy propaganda that conflicts with everyday reality. And yet all of them depend, if not on a Big Lie, then on what the historian Timothy Snyder once told me should be called the Medium-Size Lie, or perhaps a clutch of Medium-Size Lies. To put it differently, all of them encourage their followers to engage, at least part of the time, with an alternative reality. Sometimes that alternative reality has developed organically; more often, it’s been carefully formulated, with the help of modern marketing techniques, audience segmentation, and social-media campaigns.

Americans are of course familiar with the ways a lie can increase polarization and inflame xenophobia: Donald Trump entered American politics on the back of birtherism, the false premise that President Barack Obama was not born in America—a conspiracy theory whose power was seriously underestimated at the time, and that paved the way for other lies, from “Mexican rapists” to “Pizzagate.” But in Poland, and in Hungary too, we now have examples of what happens when a Medium-Size Lie—a conspiracy theory—is propagated first by a political party as the central plank of its election campaign, and then by a ruling party, with the full force of a modern, centralized state apparatus behind it.

In Hungary, the lie is unoriginal: It is the belief, shared by the Russian government and the American alt-right, in the superhuman powers of George Soros, the Hungarian Jewish billionaire who is supposedly plotting to bring down the nation through the deliberate importation of migrants, even though no such migrants exist in Hungary.

In Poland, at least the lie is sui generis. It is the Smolensk conspiracy theory: the belief that a nefarious plot brought down the president’s plane in April 2010. The story has special force in Poland because the crash had eerie historical echoes. The president who died, Lech Kaczyński, was on his way to an event commemorating the massacre in Katyn, the place where Stalin murdered more than 21,000 Poles—a big chunk of the country’s elite—in 1940. Dozens of senior military figures and politicians were also on board, many of them friends of mine. My husband reckons that he knew everybody on the plane, including the flight attendants.

A huge wave of emotion followed the accident. A kind of hysteria, something like the madness that took hold in the United States after 9/11, engulfed the nation. Television announcers wore black mourning ties; friends gathered at our Warsaw apartment to talk about history repeating itself in that dark, damp Russian forest. At first the tragedy seemed to unify the country. After all, politicians from every major party had been on the plane, and huge funerals were held in many cities. Even Vladimir Putin, then the Russian prime minister, seemed moved. He went to Smolensk to meet Tusk, then the Polish prime minister, on the evening of the crash. The next day, one of Russia’s most-watched television channels broadcast Katyn, an emotional and very anti-Soviet Polish film, directed by Andrzej Wajda, the country’s greatest director. Nothing like it has ever been shown so widely in Russia, before or since.

But the crash did not bring people together. Nor did the investigation into its cause.

Teams of Polish experts were on the ground that same day. They did their best to identify bodies, many of which were nothing but ash. They examined the wreckage. Once the black box was found, they began to transcribe the cockpit tape. The truth, as it began to emerge, was not comforting to the Law and Justice Party or to its leader, the dead president’s twin brother. The plane had taken off late; the president was likely in a hurry to land, because he wanted to use the trip to launch his reelection campaign. There was thick fog in Smolensk, which did not have a real airport, just a landing strip in the forest; the pilots considered diverting the plane, which would have meant a drive of several hours to the ceremony. After the president had a brief phone call with his brother, his advisers apparently pressed the pilots to land. Some of them, against protocol, walked in and out of the cockpit during the flight. Also against protocol, the chief of the air force came and sat beside the pilots. “Zmieścisz się śmiało”—“You’ll make it, be bold,” he said. Seconds later, the plane collided with the tops of some birch trees, rolled over, and hit the ground.

Initially, Jarosław Kaczyński seems to have believed that the crash was an accident. “It’s your fault and the fault of the tabloids,” he told my husband, then the foreign minister, who informed him of the crash. By that, he meant that it was the government’s fault because, intimidated by populist journalism, it had refused to buy new airplanes. But as the investigation unfolded, its findings were not to his liking. There was nothing wrong with the plane.

Perhaps, like so many people who rely on conspiracy theories to make sense of random tragedies, Kaczyński simply couldn’t accept that his beloved brother had died pointlessly; perhaps he could not accept the even more difficult fact that the evidence suggested Lech and his team had pressured the pilots to land, thus causing the crash. Or perhaps, like Donald Trump, he saw how a conspiracy theory could help him attain power.

Much as Trump used birtherism and the fabricated threat of immigrant crime to motivate his core supporters, Kaczyński has used the Smolensk tragedy to galvanize his followers, and convince them not to trust the government or the media. Sometimes he has implied that the Russian government downed the plane. At other times, he has blamed the former ruling party, now the largest opposition party, for his brother’s death: “You destroyed him, you murdered him, you are scum!” he once shouted in parliament.

None of his accusations can be proved, however. Perhaps to distance himself somewhat from the lies that needed to be told, he gave the job of promoting the conspiracy theory to one of his oldest and strangest comrades. Antoni Macierewicz is a member of Kaczyński’s generation, a longtime anti-Communist, though one with some weird friends and habits. His odd stare and his obsessions—he has said that he finds the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to be a plausible document—even led the Law and Justice Party to make an election promise in 2015: Macierewicz would definitely not be the defense minister.

But as soon as the party won, Kaczyński broke that promise and appointed Macierewicz. Immediately, Macierewicz began to institutionalize the Smolensk lie. He created a new investigation commission composed of cranks, among them an ethnomusicologist, a retired pilot, a psychologist, a Russian economist, and other people with no knowledge of air crashes. The previous official report was removed from a government website. Police entered the homes of the aviation experts who had testified during the original investigation, interrogated them, and confiscated their computers. When Macierewicz went to Washington, D.C., to meet his American counterparts at the Pentagon, the first thing he did was ask whether U.S. intelligence had any secret information on Smolensk. I’m told that the reaction was widespread concern about the minister’s mental state.

When, some weeks after the election, European institutions and human-rights groups began responding to the actions of the Law and Justice government, they focused on the undermining of the courts and public media. They didn’t focus on the institutionalization of the Smolensk conspiracy theory, which was, frankly, just too weird for outsiders to understand. And yet the decision to put a fantasy at the heart of government policy really was the source of the authoritarian actions that followed.

Although the Macierewicz commission has never produced a credible alternate explanation for the crash, the Smolensk lie laid the moral groundwork for other lies. Those who could accept this elaborate theory, with no evidence whatsoever, could accept anything. They could accept, for example, the broken promise not to put Macierewicz in the government. They could accept—even though Law and Justice is supposedly a “patriotic” and anti-Russian party—Macierewicz’s decisions to fire many of the country’s highest military commanders, to cancel weapons contracts, to promote people with odd Russian links, to raid a natofacility in Warsaw in the middle of the night. The lie also gave the foot soldiers of the far right an ideological basis for tolerating other offenses. Whatever mistakes the party might make, whatever laws it might break, at least the “truth” about Smolensk would finally be told.

The Smolensk conspiracy theory, like the Hungarian migration conspiracy theory, served another purpose: For a younger generation that no longer remembered Communism, and a society where former Communists had largely disappeared from politics, it offered a new reason to distrust the politicians, businesspeople, and intellectuals who had emerged from the struggles of the 1990s and now led the country. More to the point, it offered a means of defining a new and better elite. There was no need for competition, or for exams, or for a résumé bristling with achievements. Anyone who professes belief in the Smolensk lie is by definition a true patriot—and, incidentally, might well qualify for a government job.

The emotional appeal of a conspiracy theory is in its simplicity. It explains away complex phenomena, accounts for chance and accidents, offers the believer the satisfying sense of having special, privileged access to the truth. But—once again—separating the appeal of conspiracy from the ways it affects the careers of those who promote it is very difficult. For those who become the one-party state’s gatekeepers, for those who repeat and promote the official conspiracy theories, acceptance of these simple explanations also brings another reward: power.

Mária Schmidt wasn’t at my New Year’s Eve party, but I’ve known her for a long time. She invited me to the opening of the Terror Háza—the House of Terror museum—in Budapest in 2002, and I’ve been more or less in communication with her ever since. The museum, which she directs, explores the history of totalitarianism in Hungary and, when it opened, was one of the most innovative new museums in the eastern half of Europe.

From its opening day, it has also had harsh critics. Many visitors didn’t like the first room, which has a panel of televisions on one wall broadcasting Nazi propaganda, and a panel of televisions on the opposite wall broadcasting Communist propaganda. In 2002, it was still a shock to see the two regimes compared, though perhaps it is less so now. Others felt that the museum gave insufficient weight and space to the crimes of fascism, though Communists ran Hungary for far longer than the fascists did, so there is more to show. I liked the fact that the museum showed ordinary Hungarians collaborating with both regimes, which I thought might help Hungary understand its responsibility for its own politics, and avoid the narrow nationalist trap of blaming problems on outsiders.

Mike McQuade
Yet this is precisely the narrow nationalist trap into which Hungary has now fallen. Hungary’s belated reckoning with its Communist past—putting up museums, holding memorial services, naming perpetrators—did not, as I thought it would, help cement respect for the rule of law, for restraints on the state, for pluralism. On the contrary, 16 years after the Terror Háza’s opening, Hungary’s ruling party respects no restraints of any kind. It has gone much further than Law and Justice in politicizing the state media and destroying the private media, achieving the latter by issuing threats and blocking access to advertising. It has created a new business elite that is loyal to Orbán. One Hungarian businessman who preferred not to be named told me that soon after Orbán first took over the government, regime cronies demanded that the businessman sell them his company at a low price; when he refused, they arranged for “tax inspections” and other forms of harassment, as well as a campaign of intimidation that forced him to hire bodyguards. Eventually he sold his Hungarian property and left the country.

Like the Polish government, the Hungarian state promotes a Medium-Size Lie: It pumps out propaganda blaming Hungary’s problems on nonexistent Muslim migrants, the European Union, and, as noted, George Soros. Schmidt—a historian, scholar, and museum curator—is one of the primary authors of that lie. She periodically publishes long, angry blog posts fulminating against Soros; against Budapest’s Central European University, originally founded with his money; and against “left intellectuals,” by which she seems to mostly mean liberal democrats, from the center-left to the center-right.

Ironies and paradoxes in her life story are plentiful. Schmidt is a prime beneficiary of Hungary’s supposedly tainted transition; her late husband made a fortune in the post-Communist real-estate market, thanks to which she lives in a spectacular house in the Buda hills. Although she has led a publicity campaign designed to undermine Central European University, her son is a graduate. And although she knows very well what happened in her country in the 1940s, she followed, step by step, the Communist Party playbook when she took overFigyelő, a respected Hungarian magazine: She pushed out the independent reporters and replaced them with reliably progovernment writers.

Figyelő remains “private property.” But it’s not hard to see who supports the magazine. An issue that featured an attack on Hungarian NGOs—the cover visually equated them with the Islamic State—also included a dozen pages of government-paid advertisements, for the Hungarian National Bank, the treasury, the state anti-Soros campaign. This is a modern reinvention of the progovernment, one-party-state press, complete with the same sneering, cynical tone that the Communist publications once used.

Schmidt agreed to speak with me—after calling me “arrogant and ignorant”—only if I would listen to her objections to an article I’d just written for The Washington Post. With this invitation, I flew to Budapest. Unsurprisingly, what I’d hoped for—an interesting conversation—proved impossible. Schmidt speaks excellent English, but she told me that she wanted to use a translator. She produced a rather terrified young man who, judging by the transcripts, left out chunks of what she said. And though she has known me for nearly two decades, she plunked a tape recorder on the table, in what I took to be a sign of distrust.

She then proceeded to repeat the same arguments that had appeared in her blog posts. As her main bit of evidence that George Soros “owns” the Democratic Party in the United States, she cited an episode of Saturday Night Live. As proof that the U.S. is “a hard-core ideologically based colonizing power,” she cited a speech Barack Obama gave in which he mentioned that a Hungarian foundation had proposed building a statue to honor Bálint Hóman, the man who wrote Hungary’s anti-Jewish laws in the ’30s and ’40s. She repeated her claim that immigration poses a dire threat to Hungary, and became annoyed when I asked, several times, where all the immigrants were. “They’re in Germany,” she finally snapped, asserting that the Germans will eventually force Hungary to take “these people back.”

Schmidt embodies what the Bulgarian writer Ivan Krastev recently described as the desire of many eastern and central Europeans to “shake off the colonial dependency implicit in the very project of Westernization,” to rid themselves of the humiliation of having been imitators, followers of the West rather than founders. Schmidt told me that the Western media, presumably myself included, “talk down from above to those below like it used to be with colonies.” Western talk of Hungarian anti-Semitism, corruption, and authoritarianism is “colonialism.” Yet despite being dedicated to the uniqueness of Hungary and the promotion of “Hungarianness,” she has borrowed much of her ideology wholesale from Breitbart News, right down to the caricatured description of American universities and the sneering jokes about “transsexual bathrooms.” She has even invited Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos to Budapest.

Listening to her, I became convinced that there was never a moment when Schmidt’s views “changed.” She never turned against liberal democracy, because she never believed in it, or at least she never thought it was all that important. For her, the antidote to Communism is not democracy but an anti-Dreyfusard vision of national sovereignty. And if national sovereignty takes the form of a state whose elite is defined not according to its talent but according to its “patriotism”—meaning, in practice, its willingness to toe Orbán’s line—then she’s fine with that.

Her cynicism is profound. Soros’s support for Syrian refugees cannot be philanthropy; it must come from a deep desire to destroy Hungary. Angela Merkel’s refugee policy could not derive from a desire to help people either. “I think it is just bullshit,” Schmidt said. “I would say she wanted to prove that Germans, this time, are the good people. And they can lecture everybody on humanism and morality. It doesn’t matter for the Germans what they can lecture the rest of the world on; they just have to lecture someone.”

It’s clear that the Medium-Size Lie is working for Orbán—just as it has for Donald Trump—if only because it focuses the world’s attention on his rhetoric rather than his actions. Schmidt and I spent most of our unpleasant two-hour conversation arguing about nonsensical questions: Does George Soros own the Democratic Party? Are nonexistent immigrants, who don’t want to live in Hungary anyway, a threat to the nation? We spent no time at all discussing Russia’s influence in Hungary, which is now very strong. We did not talk about corruption, or the myriad ways (documented by the Financial Times and others) that Orbán’s friends have benefited from European subsidies and legislative sleight of hand. (A ruling party that has politicized its courts and suppressed the media is a party that finds it much easier to steal.)

Nor, in the end, did I learn much about Schmidt herself. Others in Budapest believe she is motivated by her own drive for wealth and power. Zsuzsanna Szelényi, a member of parliament who used to belong to Fidesz, Orbán’s party, but is now an independent, was one of several people who told me that “nobody can be rich in Hungary without having some relation to the prime minister.” Thanks to Orbán, Schmidt oversees the museum and a couple of historical institutes, giving her a unique ability to shape how Hungarians remember their history, which she relishes. Maybe she really believes that Hungary is facing a dire, existential threat in the form of George Soros and some invisible Syrians. Or maybe she’s just as cynical about her own side as she is about her opponents, and it’s all an elaborate game.

What happened after I interviewed her provides a clue: Without my permission, Schmidt published on her blog a heavily edited transcript, which was confusingly presented as her interview of me. The transcript also appeared on the Hungarian government’s official website, in English. (Try to imagine the White House publishing the transcript of a conversation between, say, the head of the Smithsonian Institution and a foreign critic of Trump and you’ll understand how strange this is.) But, of course, the interview was not conducted for my benefit. It was a performance, designed to prove to other Hungarians that Schmidt is loyal to the regime and willing to defend it. Which she is.

Not long ago, at a fish restaurant in an ugly square on a beautiful night in Athens, I described my 1999 New Year’s Eve party to a Greek political scientist. Quietly, he laughed at me. Or rather, he laughed with me; he didn’t mean to be rude. But this thing I was calling polarization was nothing new. “The post-1989 liberal moment—this was the exception,” Stathis Kalyvas told me. Polarization is normal. More to the point, I would add, skepticism about liberal democracy is also normal. And the appeal of authoritarianism is eternal.

Kalyvas is, among other things, the author of several well-known books about civil wars, including Greece’s civil war, in the 1940s, one of many moments in European history when radically divergent political groups took up arms and started to kill one another. But civil war and civil peace are relative terms in Greece at the best of times. We were speaking just as some Greek intellectuals were having a centrist moment. It was suddenly fashionable to be “liberal,” lots of people in Athens told me, by which they meant neither Communist nor authoritarian, neither far-left, like the Syriza ruling party, nor far-right, like its nationalist coalition partner, the Independent Greeks. Cutting-edge young people were calling themselves “neo-liberal,” adopting a term that had been anathema only a few years earlier.

But even the most optimistic centrists were not convinced that this change would last. “We survived the left-wing populists,” several people told me gloomily, “and now we are bracing for the right-wing populists.” A nasty argument had long been brewing about the name and status of Macedonia, the ex–Yugoslav republic neighboring Greece; soon after I left, the Greek government expelled some Russian diplomats for trying to foment anti-Macedonia hysteria in the northern part of the country. Whatever equilibrium your nation reaches, there is always someone, at home or abroad, who has reasons to upset it.

It’s a useful reminder. Americans, with our powerful founding story, our unusual reverence for our Constitution, our relative geographic isolation, and our two centuries of economic success, have long been convinced that liberal democracy, once achieved, cannot be altered. American history is told as a tale of progress, always forward and upward, with the Civil War as a kind of blip in the middle, an obstacle that was overcome. In Greece, history feels not linear but circular. There is liberal democracy and then there is oligarchy. Then there is liberal democracy again. Then there is foreign subversion, then there is an attempted Communist coup, then there is civil war, and then there is dictatorship. And so on, since the time of the Athenian republic.

History feels circular in other parts of Europe too. The divide that has shattered Poland is strikingly similar to the divide that split France in the wake of the Dreyfus affair. The language used by the European radical right—the demand for “revolution” against “elites,” the dreams of “cleansing” violence and an apocalyptic cultural clash—is eerily similar to the language once used by the European radical left. The presence of dissatisfied, discontented intellectuals—people who feel that the rules aren’t fair and that the wrong people have influence—isn’t even uniquely European. Moisés Naím, the Venezuelan writer, visited Warsaw a few months after the Law and Justice Party came to power. He asked me to describe the new Polish leaders: What were they like, as people? I gave him some adjectives—angryvengefulresentful. “They sound just like Chavistas,” he told me.

In truth, the argument about who gets to rule is never over, particularly in an era when people have rejected aristocracy, and no longer believe that leadership is inherited at birth or that the ruling class is endorsed by God. Some of us, in Europe and North America, have settled on the idea that various forms of democratic and economic competition are the fairest alternative to inherited or ordained power.

But we should not have been surprised—I should not have been surprised—when the principles of meritocracy and competition were challenged. Democracy and free markets can produce unsatisfying outcomes, after all, especially when badly regulated, or when nobody trusts the regulators, or when people are entering the contest from very different starting points. Sooner or later, the losers of the competition were always going to challenge the value of the competition itself.

More to the point, the principles of competition, even when they encourage talent and create upward mobility, don’t necessarily answer deeper questions about national identity, or satisfy the human desire to belong to a moral community. The authoritarian state, or even the semi-authoritarian state—the one-party state, the illiberal state—offers that promise: that the nation will be ruled by the best people, the deserving people, the members of the party, the believers in the Medium-Size Lie. It may be that democracy has to be bent or business corrupted or court systems wrecked in order to achieve that state. But if you believe that you are one of those deserving people, you will do it.

(Politico) EU probes BMW, Daimler and VW over possible cartel activities

(Politico) Collusion may have denied consumers opportunity to buy less polluting cars, anti-trust chief Margrethe Vestager says.

German carmakers BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen are under investigation for colluding to limit the development of technology that would clean petrol and diesel emissions from their cars, the European Commission announced today.

The case is a big move from European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager, who has long been criticized for prioritizing cases against big U.S. companies such as Google, rather than tackling the hallowed German car industry.

The Commission said it is assessing whether the companies specifically discussed emissions control systems called selective catalytic reduction, which reduces nitrogen oxides and “Otto” particulate filters, which reduce particle emissions.

If the charges are proven, “this collusion may have denied consumers the opportunity to buy less polluting cars, despite
the technology being available to the manufacturers,” Vestager said in a statement.

The Commission said that the companies may have discussed other issues, but it is limiting the scope of the investigation to emissions devices. “At this stage the Commission has no indications that the parties coordinated with each other in relation to the use of illegal defeat devices to regulatory testing,” the Commission said, referring to Volkswagen’s cheating in the Dieselgate scandal.

(EUobserver) No plans for digital euro, Draghi says

(EUobserver) European Central Bank (ECB) chief Mario Draghi has said the eurozone was not looking to create a digital currency. “The ECB and the eurosystem currently have no plans to issue a central bank digital currency,” he said in a letter to an MEP on Friday, Reuters reports. Such technologies “require substantial further development” and there was no “concrete need” for a digital euro, he added.

(EUobserver) Poland to veto EU sanctions on Hungary


  • President Andrzej Duda: ‘Europe that left us to be the prey of the Russians in 1945’ (Photo: Kancelaria Prezydenta/flickr)

Poland has vowed to protect Hungary against EU sanctions, one day after the Polish president belittled Europe in a speech.

“Poland will vote against any sanctions on Hungary in the forum of European institutions,” the Polish foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday (12 September).

The European Parliament’s vote, earlier the same day, to trigger a sanctions procedure against Hungary over its violations of EU values and rule of law, was “disturbing” the Polish ministry said.

“Every EU member state has the sovereign right to implement internal reforms that it considers to be right,” it added.

The statement comes after the European Commission last year launched the same punitive procedure against Poland for the same reasons.

It means Budapest and Warsaw will both face detailed EU scrutiny on a host of issues ranging from judicial reforms, to free press, civil society, and minority rights.

But Poland’s intervention also means that the process is unlikely to end in sanctions – suspension of voting rights in the EU Council – in either case, with Hungary having promised to veto such a decision on Poland and, now, vice versa.

Duda speech

The Polish ministry’s remarks came one day after Polish president Andrzej Duda, an ally of the ruling Law and Justice party, attacked the EU in a speech in Lezajsk, a town in the south-east.

The EU was an “imaginary community from which we don’t gain much”, he said.

“They [the EU] should leave us in peace, and allow us to fix Poland, because that’s the most important thing,” he said, referring to the EU sanctions procedure.

“Of course we have the right to have expectations towards Europe – especially towards the Europe that left us to be the prey of the Russians in 1945 – but above all we have the right to rule ourselves here on our own and decide what form Poland should have,” he added.

His words attracted opprobrium from opposition politicians.

Duda’s words were “irresponsible” and intended to “harm European unity”, Aleksander Kwasniewski, Poland’s former president said in an open letter on Wednesday.

“If they came from momentary emotions, I would urge greater thoughtfulness. If they came out of some deeper strategy, I must warn that this goes against the Polish raison d’état,” he said.

“The president’s words … were shocking and harmful,” Grzegorz Schetyna, Poland’s former foreign minster said on Twitter.

“They isolate Poland and, above all, they demoralise our young generation, which knows that our membership in Europe is an epochal achievement,” he said.

Meanwhile, if the EU sanctions procedures risk hardening anti-EU forces in central Europe, they also risk pushing Hungary into a deeper alliance with Russia.

Hungary’s foreign affairs spokesman, Peter Szijjarto, said on Wednesday that Orban would meet Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Moscow next Tuesday to discuss energy supplies and infrastructure investments.

“[Our] long-term gas supply deal with expire at the end of 2020 or already at the end of 2019 – we will see the Russian position on that,” Szijjarto said.

“We have to find a way in order to minimise our losses … which were caused by the regime of the sanctions in the last years,” he added, referring to EU sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

(EUobserver) European Parliament adopts censure measure against Hungary

(EUobserver) The European Parliament on Wednesday adopted triggering the so-called Article 7 procedure against Hungary, calling on EU member states to examine the state of Hungary’s democracy, warning there is a “clear risk” of breaching EU values by the government of prime minister Viktor Orban. The move was adopted by two-thirds of MEPs, 448 for, 197 against and with 48 abstentions.

(P-S) The Three Tribes of Austerity – Yanis Varoufakis

(P-S) Austerity prevails in the West because three powerful political tribes champion it. Enemies of big government have coalesced with European social democrats and tax-cutting US Republicans, to create a cartel-based, hierarchical, financialized global economic system.

ATHENS – No policy is as self-defeating during recessionary times as the pursuit of a budget surplus for the purpose of containing public debt – austerity, for short. So, as the world approaches the tenth anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, it is appropriate to ask why austerity proved so popular with Western political elites following the financial sector’s implosion in 2008.

The economic case against austerity is cut and dried: An economic downturn, by definition, implies shrinking private-sector expenditure. A government that cuts public spending in response to falling tax revenues inadvertently depresses national income (which is the sum of private and public spending) and, inevitably, its own revenues. It thus defeats the original purpose of cutting the deficit.

Clearly, there must be another, non-economic, rationale for supporting austerity. In fact, those favoring austerity are divided among three rather different tribes, each promoting it for its own reasons.

The first, and best known, “austerian” tribe is motivated by the tendency to view the state as no different from a business or a household that must tighten its belt during bad times. Overlooking the crucial interdependence between a government’s expenditure and (tax) income (from which businesses and households are blissfully free), they make the erroneous intellectual leap from private parsimony to public austerity. Of course, this is no arbitrary error; it is powerfully motivated by an ideological commitment to small government, which in turn veils a more sinister class interest in redistributing risks and losses to the poor.

A second, less recognized, austerian tribe can be found within European social democracy. To take one towering example, when the 2008 crisis erupted, Germany’s finance ministry was in the hands of Peer Steinbrück, a leading member of the Social Democratic Party. Almost immediately, Steinbrück prescribed a dose of austerity as Germany’s optimal response to the Great Recession.

Moreover, Steinbrück championed a constitutional amendment that would ban all future German governments from deviating from austerity, no matter how deep the economic downturn. Why, one may ask, would a social democrat turn self-defeating austerity into a constitutional edict during capitalism’s worst crisis in decades?

Steinbrück delivered his answer in the Bundestag in March 2009. “It’s democracy, stupid!” would be an apt summary of his tortured argument. Against a background of failing banks and a mighty recession, he opined that fiscal deficits deny elected politicians “room for maneuver” and rob the electorate of meaningful choices.

While Steinbrück did not spell it out fully, his underlying message was clear: Even if austerity destroys jobs and hurts ordinary people, it is necessary in order to preserve space for democratic choices. Oddly, it did not occur to him that, at least during a downturn, democratic options are best secured without fiscal tightening, simply by increasing taxes for the rich and social benefits for the poor.

The third austerian tribe is American and perhaps the most fascinating of the three. Whereas British Thatcherites and German social democrats practiced austerity in an ill-conceived attempt to eliminate the government’s budget deficit, US Republicans neither genuinely care to limit the federal government’s budget deficit nor believe that they will succeed in doing so. After winning office on a platform proclaiming their loathing of large government and pledging to “cut it down to size,” they proceed to boost the federal budget deficit by enacting large tax cuts for their rich donors. Even though they seem entirely free of the other two tribes’ deficit phobia, their aim – to “starve the beast” (the US social welfare system) – is quintessentially austerian.

In this sense, Donald Trump is a Republican in good standing. Aided by the dollar’s exorbitant capacity to magnetize buyers of US government debt, he feels certain that the more he boosts the federal budget deficit (via tax giveaways to his ilk), the greater the political pressure on Congress to cut Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlements. Austerity’s usual justification (fiscal rectitude and public-debt containment) is jettisoned in order to achieve austerity’s deeper, political objective of eliminating support for the many while re-distributing income toward the few.

Meanwhile, independently of establishment politicians’ aims and their ideological smokescreens, capitalism has been evolving. The vast majority of economic decisions have long ceased to be shaped by market forces and are now taken within a strictly hierarchical, though fairly loose, hyper-cartel of global corporations. Its managers fix prices, determine quantities, manage expectations, manufacture desires, and collude with politicians to fashion pseudo-markets that subsidize their services. The first casualty was the New Deal-era aim of full employment, which was duly replaced by an obsession with growth.

Later, in the 1990s, as the hyper-cartel became financialized (turning companies like General Motors into large speculative financial corporations that also made some cars), the aim of GDP growth was replaced with that of “financial resilience”: ceaseless paper asset inflation for the few and permanent austerity for the many. This brave new world became, naturally, the nurturing environment for the three austerian tribes, each adding its special contribution to the ideological supremacy of austerity’s appeal.

Austerity’s pervasiveness thus reflects an overarching dynamic that, under the guise of free-market capitalism, is creating a cartel-based, hierarchical, financialized global economic system. It prevails in the West because three powerful political tribes champion it. Enemies of big government (who see austerity as a golden opportunity to shrink it) coalesce with European social democrats (dreaming of more options for when they win government) and tax-cutting Republicans (determined to dismantle America’s New Deal once and for all).

The result is not only unnecessary hardship for vast segments of humanity. It also heralds a global doom loop of deepening inequality and chronic instability.

(EUobserver) Merkel backs Weber to replace Juncker

(EUobserver) Bavarian MEP Manfred Weber has been backed by German chancellor Angela Merkel as “spitzenkandidat” for Europe’s centre-right EPP parties in next year’s European Parliament elections. German media reports that Merkel’s decision was reached after consultations with French EPP leader Joseph Daul in Berlin. If he wins the European elections in May, Weber could replace Jean-Claude Juncker and become the first German heading the European Commission in more than 50 years.

(EUobserver) Trump rejects EU offer to eliminate car tariffs

(EUobserver) US president Donald Trump rejected on Thursday an offer from EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem to reduce all car tariffs to zero if the US did the same as “not good enough”. European “consumer habits are to buy their cars, not to buy our cars,” Trump said in an interview with Bloomberg. The EU is “almost as bad as China, just smaller,” he said.

(EurActiv) Activists held in Greece for illegally aiding migrants

(EurActiv) Police in Greece said on Tuesday (28 August) they had arrested three members of a Greek NGO on suspicion of helping migrants illegally enter the country.

The members of Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI) were detained on the Greek island of Lesbos, where thousands of migrants are housed in squalid conditions in cramped camps.

“The activities of an organised criminal network that systematically facilitated the illegal entry of foreigners were fully exposed,” a police statement said.

Members of the group were in contact with migrants on social media groups and “actively assisted” their illegal entry into Greece from 2015 onwards, according to the statement.

To keep tabs on migrant flows, the accused also illegally monitored Greek coastguard and EU border agency Frontex radio traffic, authorities said.

Any information gathered was not shared with Greek authorities, the police said.

Overall, six Greeks and 24 foreign nationals were implicated in the case, they added.

Among those arrested was Sara Mardini, a 23-year-old Syrian refugee student and scholarship recipient of Bard College in Berlin.

SCI International@sciint

Do you know Sara Mardini? A 21 years old girl from , and she will be one of the speaker to the @Youth_Forum 

Persona Grata Goods@refugeeartisans

Persona Grata Goods: Yusra Mardini: From Syrian refugee swimmer to voice for change  | Upcoming film on Syrian refugee Olympic athlete!

“Yusra and her sister Sara were encouraged to swim before they could walk by their father, a coach, and the Olympic d…

Yusra Mardini: From Syrian refugee swimmer to voice for change

Tokyo 2020 is on the horizon for Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini, but the star of the Refugee Olympic Team knows that her greatest battle lies outside of the pool.

In 2015, the Mardini sisters, Sarah and Yusra, employed their swimming skills to pull the water-logged boat that brought them over from Turkey with another 18 people onboard.



Sara & Yusra Mardini swam for over 3 hours pushing a capsizing dinghy to save all 18 refugees on board.

They thoroughly deserve the Inspiration Role Model award – the final 112 award of the night.

“They did nothing wrong, they want to help people out of idealism,” said Yusra’s swimming coach Sven Spannekrebs.

“I was on Lesbos a few weeks ago and saw what all the volunteers are doing: A great job,” he told AFP via email.

Spannekrebs said Mardini and another detainee, Sean Binder, were “long-term volunteers for ERCI (and) never engaged in any illegal activity as suggested by the authorities.”

He also cast doubt on the claim that the activists were illegally listening in on encrypted coastguard radio.

“The channels that the radios had access to are open to anyone to listen,” the coach said.

Police said two ERCI activists had already been arrested in February onboard a jeep with concealed fake army license plates.

ERCI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Overcrowded ‘hotspots’

Lesbos has been a key gateway into the European Union since the start of the bloc’s migration crisis in 2015.

At the height of the influx, some 5,000 migrants and refugees, mostly from war-torn Syria, landed on the island’s beaches on a daily basis.

The refugee-hosting crisis in the Greek islands is spiralling out of control, a regional governor said after violent clashes that took place yesterday (19 September).

It now has the highest concentration of migrants in Greece, with the worst conditions in the camp of Moria where over 8,300 people live, according to UN figures — about triple the nominal capacity.

Most wait months for their asylum applications to be processed. Living conditions are squalid and violent flare-ups common.

The overcrowding also means that the vulnerable — including women and unaccompanied minors — are in close quarters with non-family men.

Earlier this year, three Spaniards and two Danes were also accused of trying to help migrants illegally enter Greece.

They were cleared in court in May.

(EUobserver) EU needs to stand apart from US, France and Germany say


  • Macron: “Partner with whom Europe built the post-war multilateral order seems to be turning its back” (Photo:

France and Germany have reiterated calls for Europe to reduce its military and financial dependence on the US.

The EU needed “strategic autonomy” on defence in times when the US had “turned its back” on its old ally, French president Emmanuel Macron said in Paris on Monday (27 August)

  • Maas (l): EU needed to “form a counterweight when the US crosses the line” (Photo:

It also needed financial “autonomy” to avoid US pressure on European companies, German foreign minister Heiko Maas said the same day.

“We need strategic autonomy and defence to respond to new threats … Europe can no longer place its security in the United States’ hands alone,” Macron told French diplomats in a wide-ranging speech.

“The partner with whom Europe built the post-war multilateral order seems to be turning its back on this shared history,” he added in a lament on the decline in transatlantic relations under US president Donald Trump.

Trump had put Nato trust in doubt, started a trade war with the EU, and torn up international accords, such as the Iran nuclear arms control deal and the Paris climate agreement, Macron said.

He said the EU had “never advanced so fast” in defence integration as in the past year, with the creation of joint military projects and budget lines.

His call to go further would see Europe play a greater role in conflicts in the Middle East, north Africa, and further afield in Africa, the French leader indicated, mentioning Libya, Syria, and the Sahel as priorities.

But an autonomous EU would also play a greater role on the geopolitical stage in what amounted to a “rebalancing of the world order,” Macron said.

“I really don’t believe that China or the United States of America think today that Europe is a power with a strategic autonomy comparable to theirs. I don’t believe that,” he said.

The EU would need to build new relations with Russia and Turkey, Macron added.

“Substantial efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis … will of course be prerequisites for real progress with Moscow,” he warned, alluding to EU sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey under president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was also turning into “a pan-Islamic project regularly presented as anti-European, whose regular measures are rather against our principles,” he added.

But “we need to build a strategic partnership …. with Russia and Turkey, because they are two important powers for our collective security, because they must be tied to Europe,” the French leader said.

German echo

Macron’s vision of a changing world order was echoed by the German foreign minister in Handelsblatt, a German newspaper, also on Monday.

Trump might “unintentionally become the force behind the birth of a new western order,” Heiko Maas said.

But the forces shaping events were greater than one man alone, he added.

“The fact that the Atlantic has widened politically is by no means solely due to Donald Trump. The US and Europe have been drifting apart for years. The overlapping of values and interests that shaped our relationship for two generations is decreasing,” the German minister said.

“Now it is important to build a European security and defence union step by step, as part of transatlantic security and as a separate European project,” he said.

A “sovereign, strong Europe” could “form a counterweight when the US crosses the line” in order to defend “rule of law” in the international arena, Mass said.

He zeroed in on US threats to fine EU firms which do business in Iran after Trump tore up a deal to freeze its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief.

The EU needed to show “that we will not allow you to go over our heads, and at our expense. That is why it was right to protect European companies legally from sanctions,” Maas said.

“It is therefore essential that we strengthen European autonomy by establishing payment channels independent of the US, a European monetary fund and an independent Swift system,” the German minister said, referring to the Belgium-based global firm Swift, which handles international bank transfers.

“With Germany, we are determined to work on an independent European or Franco-German financing tool which would allow us to avoid being the collateral victims of US extra-territorial sanctions,” French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said in France the same day.

EU fascinations

Macron told the French ambassadors the “contemporary American position”, as well as Brexit, and the rise of populism in the EU arose from a “discomfort with contemporary globalisation”.

He repeated his call, first issued at a speech in the Sorbonne university in Paris last year, for a more “complete, ambitious [and] … united Europe” in reaction to the trends.

He warned the UK that any Brexit deal “can’t come at the expense of the European Union’s integrity”.

He voiced concern that some EU countries, such as Hungary and Italy, had developed “fascinations” with “illiberal democracy” and “xenophobic rhetoric”.

But he also issued a veiled warning on potential EU budget pressure if populist leaders did not mend their ways.

“Viktor Orban’s Hungary has never been against Europe’s structural funds or the common agricultural policy, but she is against Europe when it comes to holding great speeches about Christianity,” Macron said, referring to Hungary’s right-wing prime minister and to EU subsidies to poor and rural regions.

“Italy is against Europe which does not show solidarity on migration, but it is for Europe’s structural funds,” Macron said.

(Express) EU’S SCHENGEN CRISIS: Germany ‘considering proposal to impose border controls’ with FRANCE



Germany has sent shockwaves to the rest of the Europe by threatening its fellow EU powerhouse France (Image: GETTY)

GERMAN interior ministers are considering imposing border controls with France it has been claimed, in what would be an unprecedented move in the era of the EU between the two powers.

Germany will send shockwaves to the rest of the Europe by proposing fellow EU powerhouse France with border controls, according to reports.

An interior minister official in Germany has told national media that they are considering reintroducing border controls on their shared frontiers with both Switzerland and France.

The official blamed the unprecedented measure on Spain’s recent rise in migration and warned that Germany would not repeat what they did in 2015.

At the same time, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has succesfully struck deals with Greece and Spain to return people to those countries if they applied for aslyum there.

Mrs Merkel has confirmed Germany is also in “very advanced” negotiations on a similar deal with the Italian Government.

The German Chancellor is under pressure to avoid a repeat of the 2015 migrant crisis, when the country welcomed over a million people.

According to Al Jazeera, the German government is mulling over replicating the police controls they have already imposed on the Austrian border with France as well.

Helmut Teichmann, junior minister for migration at the Interior Ministry, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that the German cabinet is alarmed by developments in Spain.

He said: “We fear that many migrants could make their way to France, the Benelux countries and Germany.”

Following her deals with Greece and Spain, Mrs Merkel is now focused on striking an agreement with Italy.

A pact with Italy would represent the biggest breakthrough yet and relieve the pressure on the under-fire German leader.

However, Italy has so far been combative in talks with its European allies.

Last week, Italy warned Britain it would not offer safe harbour to 141 people rescued by the humanitarian ship Aquarius off the coast of Libya, demanding that Britain take them in.

(EM) El Gobierno rechaza ahora al Aquarius y asegura que España “no es el puerto más seguro”

(EMVideo thumbnail

El Gobierno rechaza ahora al Aquarius y asegura que España “no es el puerto más seguro” Foto: GUGLIELMO MANGIAPANE / REUTERS | Vídeo: MSF / EL MUNDO

El Gobierno rechaza por ahora atender el llamamiento del Aquarius para desembarcar a los 141 inmigrantes rescatados el viernes frente a las costas de Libia porque España “no es el puerto más cercano y, por tanto, no es el puerto más seguro”, informan a este diario fuentes de Moncloa.

Así pues, el Gobierno de Pedro Sánchez mira ahora a otros países de la Unión Europea, especialmente a Francia, para ver si en esta ocasión se ofrecen a aceptar el barco, como ya hiciese España el pasado mes de junio en Valencia, cuando la embarcación gestionada por las ONG SOS Mediterranée y Médicos sin Fronteras se hizo cargo de 629 personas rescatadas en unas circunstancias similares. Por lo pronto, Malta e Italia mantienen el pulso negándose a abrir sus puertos al Aquarius, lo que ha puesto a prueba la política migratoria de Sánchez.

Fuentes de Moncloa explican que el Gobierno reaccionó en aquella ocasión ante una “emergencia humanitaria, cuando era evidente que estaban cerrados todos los puertos y nadie se hacía cargo”. Ahora, en cambio, desde el Ejecutivo entienden que todavía hay que esperar a ver cuál es la “disposición de otros países”. Las miradas se dirigen a Francia, que se encuentra geográficamente más cerca del barco. “Por eso decimos que ahora no es el puerto más cercano y no es el puerto más seguro”, subrayan estas fuentes.

Barcelona se ofrece y pide no cambiar de criterio

Mientras el Gobierno se aleja de aquella decisión del pasado mes de junio de recibir en Valencia a los inmigrantes rescatados por el Aquarius, el Ayuntamiento de Barcelona se ha ofrecido hoy “una vez más” para acoger el barco y ha reclamado al Ejecutivo que no cambie de criterio y que “continúe comprometido” en la defensa del “derecho a la vida y el refugio”.

En una rueda de prensa recogida por Efe, la teniente de alcalde de Derechos Sociales, Laia Ortiz, ha exigido a los Estados de Europa que sean “responsables” y que estén comprometidos porque estas personas “están huyendo y necesitan ser rescatadas”. “Barcelona siempre estará comprometida con la vida”, ha insistido en su oferta al Gobierno para ser el puerto seguro que necesita el barco.

En términos similares se ha expresado el residente del puerto francés de Sète-Frontignan y ex ministro de Trabajo, Jean-Claude Gayssot, según recoge Europa Press. “La única condición es primero la luz verde de las autoridades francesas. Entiendo que las cosas son complejas, incluida la necesidad de luchar contra los traficantes. Pero aquí, se trata de vidas humanas”, ha afirmado a la espera de que se pronuncie el Gobierno de Francia.

Se da la circunstancia de que ésta es la primera acción que realiza el Aquariusdesde que desembarcó en España a 629 inmigrantes. Desde entonces, el debate sobre la inmigración irregular ha ido creciendo notablemente en el país por el aumento de la presión migratoria en las zonas fronterizas de Ceuta y Melilla y la llegada pateras a las costas andaluzas. De hecho, PP y Ciudadanos han aprovechado el asunto para redoblar su presión a Sánchez acusándole de haber generado un “efecto llamada” con su política de “gestos” en este tema.

En esta ocasión, en el Aquarius hay 141 inmigrantes, de los cuales 73 son menores de edad. Según informan las ONG que operan el barco, el 70% de los rescatados proceden de Somalia y Eritrea, aunque también hay personas nacidas en BangladeshCamerúnGhanaCosta de MarfilNigeriaSenegal,Marruecos y Egipto.

Contactos en la Unión Europea

Ante esta nueva crisis, la Comisión Europea ha dicho hoy estar en contacto con varios Estados miembros de la Unión Europea y ha ofrecido su “total apoyo diplomático” para resolver la situación, informa Efe.

“La Comisión está actualmente en contacto con un número de Estados miembros que se han acercado a nosotros a propósito de este incidente. Y como hemos hecho en numerosos casos previos, estamos preparados para aportar nuestro total apoyo diplomático (…) para resolver la situación”, ha declarado la portavoz de la Comisión Europea, Tove Ernst. El Ejecutivo comunitario, no obstante, no ha ofrecido detalles sobre los países con los que la Comisión ha tratado ni sobre el desarrollo de esas conversaciones.

En paralelo, Italia insiste en cerrar sus puertos. “Propiedad alemana, fletado por la ONG francesa, tripulación extranjera, en aguas maltesas, volando la bandera de Gibraltar. ¡Puedes ir adonde quieras, no a Italia!”, ha escrito el ministro del Interior italiano, Matteo Salvini, en Twitter.

(JN) Convictamente europeísta – Nuno Melo

(JN) Tenho estima e amizade pelo Paulo Rangel. E até percebo que a pensar em 2019, não resista à tentação simplista dos acantonamentos entre eurocéticos e euroutópicos, reservando para o PSD o papel do guardião luterano que prega a pureza do verdadeiro espírito europeu. Sucede que se engana, no que escreveu sobre o CDS. Três notas:

1 – Ao contrário do Paulo Rangel, não sou federalista. Mas federalismo nunca foi sinónimo de europeísmo. Somos ambos europeístas, mas não vejo vantagem na transformação de Portugal – país com 9 séculos de história, que não prescinde da sua vocação atlântica e do relacionamento privilegiado com países em todos os continentes, nomeadamente de expressão portuguesa -, numa espécie de Burgenlândia do Sul, ou dos pequeninos. Acredito na UE como projeto de nações soberanas, com respeito pelo princípio da subsidiariedade, que – sublinhe-se -, os tratados já consagram. Dá-se até o caso de, como eu, muitos sociais-democratas rejeitarem o federalismo. Pedro Passos Coelho, ainda líder do partido, assumiu-se não federalista, em reunião com chefes de delegação do PPE. Não consta que por isso Paulo Rangel tivesse encontrado euroceticismo no PSD.

2 – O CDS apresentou recentemente 10 ideias para a Europa. Uma em concreto – “o espaço europeu pode ser um destino de acolhimento de outros povos, mas exigimos respeito pelas nossas leis, valores e costumes; a segurança dos cidadãos é uma prioridade” -, tem servido para certa Esquerda ensaiar a retórica do afastamento do CDS, em relação aos valores europeus. Percebe-se no BE, ou no PCP. Em Paulo Rangel, não.

O que se diz é de lucidez elementar. A Europa é um espaço de solidariedade, mas também de legalidade. Criminosos, terroristas e extremistas, que negam princípios básicos, como a igualdade entre homens e mulheres, não são bem-vindos.

Aterroriza pensar que quem rejeita esta verdade essencial e defende a irresponsabilidade romântica das portas abertas a todos, porque todos são bonzinhos e por cá se fazem poucos filhos, possa algum dia ascender ao poder.

A Europa tem de distinguir o que tem de ser distinguido. Respeitar as leis de asilo, acolhendo refugiados genuínos, aplicar as leis de emigração, que existem em qualquer país do planeta, para decidir sobre os migrantes que podem ficar, ou não, assegurar a segurança de todos, identificando e impedindo a entrada de delinquentes e de quantos repudiem os nossos valores civilizacionais. Tão simples quanto isto.

3. Por muito que convenha a Paulo Rangel, Pedro Santana Lopes é um problema do PSD, não é um problema do CDS. Voltaremos a isto.


(EUobserver) French-Algerian millionaire wants to pay Danish niqab fines

(EUobserver) French-Algerian businessman and activist, Rachid Nekkaz, has pledged to pay fines issued in Denmark for breaches of a new law against face-masking garments, known as the ‘burqa ban’, after a 29-year-old woman became the first to be penalised under the law, which came into effect last week. Nekkaz told Berlingske he already paid hundreds of thousands of euros for women fined in Belgium, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands and Germany.

(BBG) Why the EU Was Already Likely to Import More U.S. Soybeans

(BBG) The European Union will import more U.S. soybeans as part of a new accord to avoid an all-out trade war. Yet the bloc was already likely to take more American shipments.

That’s because the 25 percent tariff China slapped on U.S. soy imports earlier this month promises to reshape the global market for the commodity. The U.S.-China tiff means it’s likely that Brazil, the No. 2 producer, will end up selling more soy to China as a result. That’s something that traders anticipate, based on the higher price Brazilian soy is fetching over U.S. supplies.

Facing a reduced Chinese market, U.S. soybean exporters have few options other than to target the EU. And the fact that Brazilian shippers will be sending more cargoes to China means less competition in Europe. Rabobank International Ltd. predicted in June that the U.S. may overtake Brazil as the biggest soybean importer into the EU.

(EurActiv) UN says migrants’ return to Libya by Italian boat could be illegal


Federica Mogherini (C), High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, arrives to Mitiga International Airport prior to her departure, in Tripoli, Libya, 14 July 2018. [Sringer/EPA/EFE]

A rescue operation in which an Italian towboat rescued more than 100 migrants and returned them to Libya earlier this week may have been in breach of international law, the United Nations said on Tuesday (31 July).

A spokesman for the UN migration agency said it could not establish the location of the rescue, which is key to establishing migrants’ rights, although some other parties involved in the case have made contradictory assertions about the incident including where it took place.

The rescue coincides with a growing perception among human rights groups that some European countries are taking an increasingly hard line in their efforts to cut the number of migrants arriving on their shores, after Italy’s new government closed its ports to charities’ rescue boats in past weeks.

According to Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms, an Italian towboat, Asso 28, rescued 108 migrants from international waters on Monday and took them to Libya, their country of departure.

UNHCR Italia


Stiamo raccogliendo tutte le informazioni necessarie sul caso del rimorchiatore italiano che avrebbe riportato in 108 persone soccorse nel Mediterraneo. La Libia non è un porto sicuro e questo atto potrebbe comportare una violazione del diritto internazionale

This would constitute a breach of international law, under which people rescued in international waters cannot be returned to a place where their lives are put in danger. Both the United Nations and European Union have acknowledged that Libya is not safe.

Italy’s coast guard initially said on Tuesday that the rescue was coordinated by the Libyan coast guard, and later clarified that the operation had taken place in Libya’s so-called “search and rescue (SAR)” area.

The Libyan coast guard was not immediately available for a comment.

Libya’s SAR is not clearly defined but is widely understood to extend far beyond its national waters.

Proactiva spokeswoman Laura Lanuza said its members learnt the rescue occurred in international waters because their boat Open Arms was nearby and they could listen to radio communications between the Italian ship and the Libyan authorities.

The UN refugee agency said the operation “could represent a violation of international law,” it said on Twitter.

A spokesman for the UN migration agency said the agency was still investigating the case but confirmed the return of the migrants to Libya.

He said the Libyans first told him the rescue operation was carried out by “an unknown vessel”, then changed their version and said the rescuing boat was Libyan.

The head of mission at Open Arms, Fabrizio Gatti, contradicted the Libyan version and said a member of the Asso 28 crew told him over the phone the Italian boat carried out the rescue and was taking the migrants back to Libya. He said he had a record of the conversation.

Asso 28 is now docked in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, according to Marine Traffic, a real-time information service on ships movements.

Charities are at loggerheads with the new Italian government and its right-wing home affairs minister Matteo Salvini who has adopted a hard line to cut the number of migrants arriving on Italy’s shores.

German NGO Sea-Watch also condemned “the first pushback by an Italian vessel for years,” on Twitter.

Sea-Watch Italy@SeaWatchItaly

108 persone in fuga dalla Libia soccorse in acque internazionali da nave ITALIANA e portate a Tripoli.
Il caso segna un grave precedente e richiama la condanna dell’Italia per i RESPINGIMENTI COLLETTIVI (CEDU 2012, caso ).

Denunciamo una pericolosa regressione.

In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italy violated human rights by sending migrants intercepted at sea back to Libya in 2009.

The court said the practice violated international obligations to not return individuals to countries where they could be at risk of human rights abuses.

Salvini praises Libya

As NGOs expressed their dismay over the latest boat controversy, Italy’s far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini, who has closed the country’s ports to migrant rescue ships, praised the Libyan authorities.

“Over the last hours the Libyan coastguard has saved and brought back 611 immigrants to Libya. NGOs protest and traffickers lose their business? Well, we carry on with our work”, he tweeted.

Matteo Salvini


La Guardia Costiera Libica nelle ultime ore ha salvato e riportato a terra 611 immigrati.
Le ONG protestano e gli scafisti perdono i loro affari? Bene, noi andiamo avanti così! e

Matteo Salvini


Se avete 5 minuti, vi consiglio questo video sul lavoro della nostra Marina davanti alle coste libiche. Dalle parole ai fatti.

However, the speaker of Italy’s lower house, Roberto Fico, who belongs to the Five Star Movement that governs in a coalition with Salvini’s League, appeared to disagree with sending migrants back to Libya.

“Libya is not a safe place… it is clear that you cannot leave migrants there,” Fico said as he met with protesters denouncing the sale of Italian boats to Libya’s coastguard on Monday.

Several commercial ships that have tried to take rescued migrants to Italy — as was standard procedure under the former centre-left government — have found themselves blocked by Salvini’s policy and stranded for days at sea searching for a port where they can disembark.