In breaking away from the rest of the United Kingdom, Scotland would automatically find itself outside both the EU and NATO, and have to reapply to join both, officials from those Brussels-based organizations have stressed.
For the EU especially, Scottish re-entry could be a long and arduous process, with other countries dead set against letting the Scots retain the privileges awarded Britain: the so-called opt-outs from being required to use the euro single currency and to join the multination Schengen zone where internal border controls have been scrapped.
For NATO’s admirals and generals, the current Scottish government’s insistence on a sovereign Scotland becoming free of nuclear weapons would pose enormous strategic and operational headaches, even if a transitional grace period were agreed on. A new home port would have to be found for the Royal Navy’s four Trident missile-carrying submarines and their thermonuclear warheads, currently based on the Clyde.
This “risks undermining the collective defense and deterrence of NATO allies,” Britain’s Ministry of Defense has said. In what might be read as a warning to the Scots, the ministry has said a nuclear-free stance could constitute a “significant” hurdle to Scotland being allowed back into NATO.
Until Scotland rejoined the alliance, to which it’s belonged with the rest of Britain for 65 years, new arrangements would also need to be found to patrol vital shipping routes in the North Atlantic and North Sea. If Scotland were to choose not to rejoin, it would pose a conundrum for NATO for which there is no real precedent: what to do following the loss of a developed, democratically governed part of alliance territory that has opted for neutrality, said Daniel Troup, research analyst at the NATO Council of Canada.
Emergence of a new Western European country of 5 million inhabitants with roughly the land area of the Czech Republic or the U.S. state of Maine or would also set in motion political and social forces whose effects are impossible to predict. Because of British voting patterns, the political groups in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that are seeking Britain’s exit from the European Union would become proportionately stronger in Parliament.
Meanwhile, on the continent, from Catalonia in Spain to the Dutch-speaking Flemish areas of Belgium, other European peoples that do not have their own states would likely be emboldened to follow the Scots’ example.
Loss of Scotland would also weaken the influence of Britain inside the 28-nation European Union. For the moment, the British, along with the Germans and French, constitute the trade bloc’s Big Three. Without Scotland’s population, Britain would drop to No. 4, behind Italy.
That would mean fewer British members of the European Parliament, as well as a reduced say in population-weighted decision-making in the EU’s executive.
"In the European Union, size matters," said Almut Moeller, an EU expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations. "It will be a rump United Kingdom."
This would have major policy implications. A whittled-down Britain would have a weaker hand in pressing for the kind of EU it favors: more of a free market, and less of a political union.
Simultaneously, said Professor Richard G. Whitman, director of the Global Europe Center at the University of Kent, politicians and civil servants in London would be “massively preoccupied” for years in disentangling England from Scotland, following more than three centuries of political and economic unity.
The result would be “a much-reduced bandwidth for defending a more liberalistic agenda” in Europe, Whitman said, including the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and the United States.
Under both NATO and EU rules, any existing member could blackball Scotland’s application for admission, and some might find domestic political cause to do so. Spain, for example, might want to discourage independence-minded Catalans. For the English, divvying up the common assets with the Scots might turn as acrimonious as a Hollywood divorce, Whitman said.
If Scotland sought special arrangements while trying to get back into the European Union, that could provide a wedge for other countries to demand renegotiation of their own terms of membership, and calls to revise the treaties that are EU’s constitutional basis, Moeller said. Germany, the bloc’s richest and most influential nation, would be adamantly against that, she said.
A dissenting prediction comes from a Swedish expert on the EU. The 18-month interlude between Thursday’s vote and the start date of actual Scottish independence would be enough to allow the Scots and EU to negotiate a deal so that on the very day it became a country, Scotland could seamlessly become an EU member in its own right, said Niklas Bremberg, a research fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.
The most fateful consequence of a Scottish vote in favor of independence could be very close to home: in neighboring England. The English have already soured sufficiently on the European Union to the extent that in the March elections for the European Parliament, they cast more votes for the anti-EU UKIP party than any other.
Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive of the European Policy Center, a Brussels-based think tank, predicted the Scots this Thursday could set an example of sorts_for the English.
"The exit of Scotland from the UK would increase the chances of the exit of the UK from the EU," Zuleeg said.
The Chamber of Deputies of Luxembourg on Wednesday approved a bill which seeks to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry and adopt children in the European nation.
Only 4 out of 60 deputies voted against the bill.
The vote came after conservative groups failed in a last ditch attempt to force a referendum on the issue.
The group behind the petition, Schutz fir d’Kand (Protector of the Child), said it was opposed to marriage equality because it would “weaken family ties, to the detriment of all.”
Gay couples are currently allowed to marry in 8 European Union (EU) countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Portugal, Denmark, France and the UK.
Luxembourg’s openly gay prime minister, Xavier Bettel, the leader of the Democratic Party, has previously said he expects the nation will have marriage equality in 2014.
This week concluded the 2014 European elections, in which a wave of previously fringe, far-right political parties made significant gains in the European Parliament. These parties, all “eurosceptic” — opposed to membership in the European Union — although distinct, are unified in their racist, Islamophobic, and homophobic tendencies. Nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment dominate their plans for a more exclusive Europe.
The European Parliament (EP) is one governing body of the European Union, the only one directly elected by the people. The EP implements EU-wide legislation, so the success of these political parties in this year’s election will have significant impacts on Europe as a whole over the next five years — so long as they can come together and vote as a bloc. Some may have heard of Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi party that openly admires Adolf Hitler that has been on the rise in the past few years in Greece, but here’s a guide to six far-right European political parties you might not have heard about.
United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/SANG TAN
United Kingdom Independence Party, led by charismatic, far-right Nigel Farage, is a reflection of Britain’s increased euroscepticism. Many of its members, spearheaded by Farage, have taken a firm anti-immigration stance following the influx of Bulgarians and Romanians relocating to the UK following their entrance to the European Union in 2007.
Farage, whose wife is German, has been quoted as saying he would feel uncomfortable if a Romanian family moved in next door to him. When asked the difference it would make if the family was German, he replied, “I think you know the difference. We want an immigration policy that is not just based on controlling not just quantity, but quality.”
Farage’s idea of “quality” has translated to overt racism in the UK, which has become so intolerable that the UK’s only Chinese-born parliamentarian, Anna Lo,announced she was quitting politics because of it, and rising-UKIP member Sanya-Jeet Thandi, a British-born Indian, left the party just weeks before the European elections for the same reason.
In January of 2013, the Sunday Mirror posted excerpts from UKIP’s official online forum where some of its top officials compared the gay rights movement to pedophilia. “As for the links between homosexuality and paedophilia, there is so much evidence that even a full-length book could hardly do justice to the subject,” said Dr. Julia Gasper, a former, top-UKIP official who resigned after her comments were made public.
Despite UKIP’s anti-immigration, racist and homophobic views, the party secured 24 seats in this year’s European elections making them the top political party coming out of the UK.
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/CLAUDE PARIS
The Front National (FN) took first place in France’s elections, with 25 percent of the electorate, and a whopping 24 seats in the European Parliament. Jean-Marie Le Pen founded the party in 1972, as a coalition of various French nationalist groups. Although the party shares the name of the French Resistance movement, a far-left organization led by members of the French Communist Party that resisted the Nazi occupation, it could hardly be any more different. The far-right contemporary FN has been widely characterized as racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic. Its founder has been accused on numerous occasions of anti-Semitism, and even Holocaust denial. He was convicted in 1987, 1999, and 2009 for “minimising the Holocaust,” describing Nazi concentration camps and gas chambers as “what one calls a detail” of history.
Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean-Marie, has devoted herself to doing damage control for the party’s image, ousting many of the parties more notorious members. She has even gone so far as to threaten to sue those who call the party “extreme right,” yet many are not convinced that her attempts are genuine, seeing them not as ideological changes, but mere cosmetic ones, to appeal to less conservative voters. In the London School of Economics and Political Science blog, Aurélien Mondon writes, in spite of its attempts to appear otherwise, “The French Front National is still an extreme right-wing party.”
Mondon explains Le Pen has “made it increasingly clear that her moderate stance [is] little more than a façade.” He details several instances of the party engaging in overt racism, including calling people of color “monkey.” One can find “prevalence and public acceptance of crude racism beyond the elite of the party.”
Their antipathy has been particularly directed at Muslims. Unifying virtually all of the parties in this list is an overt hatred for Muslims—or, more specifically, at those of Muslim cultures. FN’s hatred is particularly intense. In July of last year, Le Pen likened Muslims praying to Nazis, saying “some people are very fond of talking about the Second World War and about the Occupation, so let’s talk about Occupation, because that is what is happening here.
The Netherlands’ Party for Freedom [Partij voor de Vrijheid]
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/PHIL NIJHUIS
The Netherlands’ far-right Party for Freedom did not do as favorably as it has in past elections in following the recent racist remarks of its leader Geert Wilders.
While addressing voters in the Hague, Wilders asked, “Do you want more or fewer Moroccans in this city and in the Netherlands?” When responded with chants of “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!”, Wilders told the crowd, “We’ll take care of that.”
In the past, Wilders has likened the Qur’an to Mein Kampf and claimed “Islam threatens the whole world.” Dutch voters did not take kindly to Wilders’ comments, and the Party for Freedom lost two of its five seats in the Parliament after acquiring just 12.2 percent of the total vote in the Netherlands.
Freedom Party of Austria [Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs]
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/RONALD ZAK
Despite its blatant Islamophobia, The Freedom Party ended up doubling its seats in the European Parliament after this year’s elections after its third-place finish in Austria.
Party leader, Heinz-Christian Strache was interviewed by The Telegraph where he defended his party’s stance by saying, “It is not about keeping Austria white, just about protecting its traditional community. We see Europe as a Christian, and we believe it’s at risk of Islamisation.”
He also echoed fears similar to UKIP’s Farage saying, “I have heard that every second name in some schools in Britain will soon be Mohammed, rather than John or Paul. Do you want the residents of Britain to become a minority and to have English as a minority language in a school?”
The party’s success may be attributed to the Hans Peter Martin List, another anti-EU party, not running in this year’s elections. In 2009, the party won more than 17 percent of the vote.
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MTI, JANOS MARJAI
The Jobbik party in Hungary garnered 14.7 percent of votes cast (the same in the 2009 elections), and now boasts three MEPs. It is said the party is linked to Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party and the UK’s far-right British National Party.
In a parliamentary debate in 2012, Jobbik deputy Márton Gyöngyösi illustrated the party’s overt anti-Semitism by suggesting the government create a list “to see how many [citizens] are of Jewish origin and present a certain national security risk to Hungary.” The party has also called for the construction of detention camps for what it calls Roma “deviants.”
Danish People’s Party [Dansk Folkeparti]
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/POLFOTO, PETER HOVE OLESEN
The Danish People’s Party (DPP), which previously had only two seats, now occupies four of Denmark’s 13 allocated seats in the European Parliament, with 26.7 percent of the vote. According to The Party Program of the Danish People’s Party, as established October 2002, the party emphasizes a “need for a strong national defence, and secure and safe national borders,” stating it feels “a historic obligation to protect our country, its people and the Danish cultural heritage.”
In spite of the frequency of use of the terms, the program tends to be somewhat ambiguous in regards to how exactly concepts like “Danish independence and freedom” are defined. The program does however explicitly state opposition to the European Union, while insisting Denmark should remain in NATO and the UN. It furthermore maintains that “Denmark’s constitutional monarchy must be preserved” and that the “Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church is the church of the Danish people.”
As is common among right-wing groups, the DPP boasts a “tough on crime” policy, speaks of the family as “the heart” of society, and insists on the importance of preserving and strengthening its national heritage. The party takes this third position to its nationalist extreme, however, insisting that, in its own words, “Denmark is not an immigrant-country and never has been. Thus we will not accept transformation to a multiethnic society.”
The DPP has by no means shied away from engaging in racist stereotypes in its critique of immigration. DPP founder Pia Kjærsgaard told a critic, “If they want to turn Stockholm, Gothenburg or Malmö into a Scandinavian Beirut, with clan wars, honour killings and gang rapes, let them do it. We can always put a barrier on the Øresund Bridge.”
In an effort to increase its legitimacy, the party has striven to distance itself from the French National Front and attempted to form an alliance with the UK’s Conservative Party, headed by Prime Minister David Cameron. DPP member of the European Parliament Morten Messerschmidt explained “We want as much influence as possible in order to pull Europe in another direction, namely in the British direction.”***
What is responsible for this surge in far-right politics? Most point to the widespread acceptance of austerity measures across the Eurozone, imposed in response to the 2008 economic crisis, that have only proven an absolute disaster, plunging European workers into even worse conditions. The European Commission’s own economist Jan in ’t Veld argued austerity made things significantly worse. Unemployment has increased so greatly it has broken records, social spending has seen drastic cuts, and Eurozone debt hit its all-time high, even while economists like Paul Krugman warned “slashing spending in a depressed economy depresses the economy even more.”
Overall, European voter turnout was estimated at about 43 percent of the population, evincing widespread disillusionment with the contemporary political climate, and, given the prominence of these parties in some of Europe’s largest countries, the fate of the EU looks grim.
Although all of the above parties are eurosceptic, it should be noted that not all eurosceptic parties are technically right-wing. Some leftist parties criticize the EU for promoting what they see as anti-democratic, top-down, neoliberal policies, creating “free trade” agreements and zones that undermine local economies and facilitate exploitation by large, multinational corporations. Most eurosceptic parties, however, oppose the EU not for these reasons, but because they prefer nationalist, protectionist policies.
Instead of uniting against austerity measures (although anti-austerity popular movements certainly have been active), many citizens have been attracted to this nationalist and protectionist politics, buying right-wing myths about immigrants “stealing” natives’ jobs. The elementary economic fact that, by expelling fellow citizens, demand will decrease, and jobs will ergo be destroyed, appears to elude these parties. Progressives in the European Union do have some bright spots to look toward in the aftermath of this election, but the rise of the far-right remains a worrying trend for the continent.
Shannon Greenwood and Ben Norton are interns at ThinkProgress.
Different fashion styles, same Fascist/Neo-Nazi policies: Golden Dawn ditches boots for suits in European election makeover
The Greek Neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn is softening its image and tempering its rhetoric before Sunday’s European elections. Replacing boots with suits, the party has sought to shed its menacing persona, fielding middle-class professionals in an effort to broaden its appeal. Among its 42 candidates are university professors, lawyers, surgeons, business people and a former Nato commander.
"Golden Dawn is in a new phase of development due to Greece's social and economic crisis,” said Giorgos Kyrtsos, a political commentator and European parliament candidate for the ruling centre-right New Democracy. “With the middle class determined to avenge the government for policies that have seen its living standards collapse, the far right has understood strong-arm tactics are no longer necessary.”
The makeover offers an image far removed from the black-shirted assault squads that have come to be associated with a party accused by the authorities of being a criminal organisation.
A number of the movement’s leaders, including its founder, Nikos Michaloliakos, have spent eight months in prison pending trial. Many had thought the crackdown, spurred by the murder of an anti-fascist rapper, would be the demise of a group that five years ago took just 0.2% of the vote. But efforts at cleaning up the party appear to have paid off. As in Hungary, where the neo-fascist Jobbik party increased its share of the vote in parliamentary elections last month by projecting itself as more moderate, the new-look Golden Dawn got its first endorsement in local elections last weekend.
Despite facing government accusations of involvement in murder, extortion and racist violence – and the discovery of portraits of Hitler and Nazi paraphernalia in the homes of Michaloliakos and other MPs – the ultra-nationalists clawed back support with a surprisingly strong performance.
In Athens, the area worst hit by record unemployment and six straight years of recession, Ilias Kasidiaris, Golden Dawn’s mayoral candidate, won 16.1% of the vote – more than double the party’s showing in general elections in June 2012. Although the former commanderarmy commando, whose left shoulder bears a large swastika tattoo, failed to make it into Sunday’s runoff, his success was echoed in working-class suburbs, where the party polled more than 20%.
"Golden Dawn is the only political force in the country that is rising," said Kasidiaris, whose personal ratings soared after he assaulted two leftwing female MPs during a televised debate two years ago. “Greeks recognised that we have become their voice, the voice of truth, in the corrupt parliament.”
But it is the far-right party’s growing appeal to what was once the country’s well-heeled bourgeoisie that has most surprised analysts.
In Kolonaki, an upmarket Athens district of high-end boutiques, where women walk toy dogs and young, designer-clad men spill out of cafes and bars, the extremists attracted 13.7% of the vote. Along its high street, the talk this week was almost exclusively of Golden Dawn – and how it had succeeded in inveigling its way into the homes of local people. Had it found fertile ground only in Greece’s economic crisis, or was its ideology of hate – for immigrants, gay people and Jews – the draw for voters?
Entrepreneur Dimitris Deliyannis, who plans to vote for the group, thought it was a bit of both. The recent arrival in Kolonaki of beggars, homeless people and foreigners selling flowers had eroded people’s sense of security, he said. “It’s a protest vote. We’re not fascists or Nazis, but this is a system that is totally rotten, totally corrupt, that stops you in your tracks and lets immigrants get away with murder,” he said. “And because we know the system hates Golden Dawn and has used everything at its disposal to eradicate Golden Dawn we are going to hit the system with it.”
Yannis Kollides, a legal adviser at a government ministry, agreed. Like his friend he is, at 50, old enough to remember the return of democracy to Greece in 1974, but too young to recall the preceding seven-year dictatorship. “What I feel is rage and Golden Dawn is the answer to it,” he said. “And look, they’re nice guys now. If they get into the European parliament they can help change the policies of austerity and all the submission, exploitation and globalisation that has got us in this mess.”
Human rights groups are alarmed at Golden Dawn’s rise. The far right’s ability, Europe-wide, to move into the political mainstream on a platform of hate has raised fears of alliances being formed that will ultimately undermine democratic norms from within.
"It is just as dangerous when parties like Golden Dawn and Jobbik try to sanitise themselves to attract votes," said Sonni Efron of Human Rights First, who is visiting Greece as part of a team. "It enables voters who are most angry about economic problems and want to cast a protest vote, or punish those in power, to pretend that these parties are not really fascist," she said.
For seasoned Golden Dawn watchers, the party’s transformation is no surprise. In 2007, Michaloliakos, an open admirer of the military junta that once ruled Greece, wrote in the party magazine: “We will appear as the good guys. We will use the political system but our goal will be to use it as a Trojan horse to conquer the system … just as Odysseus did when he massacred the Trojans.”
U.S. abortion opponents are giving new life to the movement abroad, where once-stagnant European allies are pushing changes that could affect the whole continent.
A younger generation of anti-abortion activists has turned to the United States for legal advice, strategic training and transatlantic inspiration. They credit a distinctly American approach with forcing abortion, long a deeply private issue in Europe, into the public conversation. And for the Americans who travel overseas to assist, strengthening their cause internationally also strengthens their position at home.
“Let’s face it, the world is getting smaller every day,” said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, reached during a week of conferences and events in Rome. Any new abortion rights in Europe would be a “distinct threat to American law,” she said, because they give ammunition to domestic judges looking for an international consensus.
Yoest was in Italy to speak at several gatherings of international activists ahead of Sunday’s March for Life there, one of many European offshoots of the annual American demonstration. Last year, the Rome march drew up to 40,000 people, soaring from 800 two years earlier. Organizers hope for more than 50,000 this year.
That visibility has contributed to new restrictions. The legality of abortion itself, and what point in pregnancy it can be performed, is still up to individual European countries, and the continent has a broad range of laws. But pressed by the resurgent activists, some nations are passing more stringent laws. Liberal Norway this year moved to ban most abortions after fetal viability. Spain, which liberalized its abortion laws just four years ago, is poised to enact a near total ban.
In some respects, the European landscape is the opposite of the American movement, although the tactics and goals are similar. Here in the U.S., the Supreme Court ruling upholding abortion rights has been in place for 41 years, so the anti-abortion groups have been chipping away at abortion at the state and local levels. In Europe, the anti-abortion groups are fighting both at the national level as well as through the courts and commissions of the European Union, which can influence all 28 member countries.
The Americans are also trying to help their European allies shake things up and fight complacency, in part, by making their organizations more professional and their fights more public. For instance Lila Rose, the 25-year-old president of Live Action, spent part of April in London training other young activists on how to do media-ready exposés of abortion providers and shed light on the “hidden abuse” of abortion through stories of women who regret having ended their pregnancies.
“They are looking to see what has worked in the United States,” Rose said of her Europeans colleagues.
Terrence McKeegan, an American lawyer who has consulted with anti-abortion groups around the world for a decade, sees the impact.
“Until recently, the way that Europeans looked at everything was from a very academic, philosophical perspective,” McKeegan said.
“It’s not enough to just have good ideas and have the right ideas, but you have to have a very practical plan, a very strategic plan,” he added.
Not all the U.S. groups are active abroad. The National Right to Life Committee, America’s biggest anti-abortion group, has long coordinated with its European counterparts in the United Nations to prevent a declaration of a global right to abortion. But it hasn’t been doing on-the-ground work in Europe.
“Our laws are actually much worse than many European countries,” NRLC President Carol Tobias said. “We have enough work to do in our own backyard.”
The abortion rate in the U.S. in 2011 was actually lower than the most recent European Union average: about 17 per 1000 American women of childbearing age compared to 30 per 1000. But the rate varies in Europe. Western Europe has some of the lowest rates on the planet, according to the World Health Organization, closer to 12 per 1000. Eastern Europe is higher, but the rate is dropping.
But Americans are helping with transatlantic efforts to fight what they see as multiple threats to the unborn.
Capitalizing on a new citizen petition procedure, an anti abortion coalition recently compelled the European Commission to consider an embryo protection measure. The bid involved an unprecedented level of coordination among an American-affiliated legal group and grass-roots groups in European countries.
Known as the One of Us campaign, anti-abortion groups from 20 European countries collected nearly two million signatures on a petition calling for a ban on E.U. funding for anything that might entail destruction of an embryo, including international development and biotech research.
Those 1.8 verified signatures earned the bill a widely viewed public hearing before the European Commission, which now must decide whether to introduce the measure into the union’s legislative body.
The broad measure is not likely to become E.U. law. Yet the campaign’s show of strength startled family planning advocates and scientists, who saw it as a bid by the Catholic Church and American evangelical “extremists” to bring abortion fights to Brussels.
The anti-abortion movement is “getting a lot of visibility right now,” said Thilde Knudsen, head of the Europe Office at Marie Stopes International, which funds reproductive health and family planning programs, including abortion. But, she added, “I’m actually questioning how successful it is.”
As Grégor Puppinck, director general of the European Center for Law and Justice, presented One of Us’ measure at a crowded EU hearing in early April, opponents questioned his ties to the Rev. Pat Robertson. Based in Strasbourg, France, the European Center is an affiliate of the American Center for Law and Justice, which was co-founded by the conservative broadcaster, but Mr. Puppinck said in an interview that he and Robertson have never met. Jay Sekulow, a prominent conservative U.S. litigator and radio host, is chief counsel for both groups.
As important as the legal maneuvering, Puppinck said, was creating grass-roots ties between the national anti abortion organizations. He predicted that the online network built for this initiative could yield five million supporters for the next campaign.
“The professionalization comes a lot from the U.S.,” said Puppinck, echoing other activists, many of whom worked for groups affiliated with American organizations.
Ignacio Arsuaga, for instance, spent time observing anti-abortion movement while he studied law in the U.S. in the 1990s, and he brought home to Spain some of what he learned. His organization, HazteOir, is considered one of the most innovative in Europe, and it has been pivotal in the move to replace Spain’s liberalized abortion laws with a near total ban.
Arsuaga said he learned about online petitions and action alerts from the Christian Coalition, Americans United for Life, the Catholic League and even the liberal MoveOn.org. But one of the most effective tools he picked up in the U.S. is decidedly low tech: direct mail.
“People said this American model would never work in Europe,” said McKeegan. But Arsuaga tried snail mail in 2010, and his success with the fundraising technique has since spread.
Public displays of opposition like the annual March on Life in Washington were also unseemly to older generations of European anti-abortion advocates, but they inspired younger ones. Virginia Coda Nunziante spent years trying to convince the main Italian anti-abortion group to create a Rome march. She finally created her own group to organize it.
“They always said no, no, no, Italy’s a little bit different; we don’t have to go on the public square,” she recalled. They preferred private outreach, like crisis pregnancy counseling.
Of course the public square is a bit different in Rome. In Washington, the March ends at the Supreme Court. In Rome, it ends near the Vatican. Last year Pope Francis addressed the crowd.
At this point, said McKeegan, the European movement has fully matured — perhaps in some ways beyond its American mentors.
In the U.S., there are “a lot of turf battles,” he said, as multiple national anti-abortion groups jockey for prominence and donations. In Europe, however, there is generally just one dominant group in each country, making it easier to cooperate in Brussels without feeling competitive.
Sunday night, France was shocked—yet again—by appalling polling numbers: voters had been called to cast their ballot throughout the country for the first round of the nation-wide municipal elections, and their response screamed distrust, distress and disunion. First came the bad news: the turnout had reached a historical low of 63.5 percent—a number unheard off in France when it comes to electing mayors and municipal counselors, the last political figures whom French people seem to still trust. Then came the ugly news: Marine Le Pen’s party, the far-right National Front, had come in first in seventeen cities of over 10,000 inhabitants, leading the race with an impressive 45 percent of the votes in Béziers (a town formerly known for being the birth place of Resistant fighter Jean Moulin), 42.5 percent in Saint-Gilles, 40 percent in Fréjus, 39 percent in Tarascon, 34 percent in Perpignan (a city of 120,000) and 29 percent in Avignon.
Moreover, the National Front managed to win from the onset the symbolic city of Hénin-Beaumont, a mining town in the north that had been faithfully communist, then socialist for over sixty years: 41-year old Steeve Briois, himself the son of a miner with over twenty years of political activism on the ground under his belt, got elected in the first round with 50.2 percent of the votes, topping the score of his chef Marine Le Pen in the last Presidential elections by fifteen points. And then there are the 323 cities where the National Front scored high enough to remain on the ballot for the second round of the elections next Sunday: on average, it scored 18 percent in these cities, becoming if not the actual winner, at least the king-maker. There is little doubt that come the results next Sunday, the National Front will have fulfilled its bet to get over a thousand municipal counselors, plus a few cities as cherry on the cake.
One wonders what is more bewildering: that in spite of numerous warning signs the Socialist Party and the Hollande administration seemed surprised by the rise of the far right and their own demise, or that Marine Le Pen managed to implement from A to Z the political strategy she had publicly announced more than a year ago without encountering any push back? Instead of crying wolf and waving the red flag of fascism (to which the National Front cannot be seriously compared), it is vital to understand what motivates those who voted National Front and to address the sometimes legitimate concerns they have thus expressed.
A number of factors can help explain the National Front’s breakthrough. These being municipal elections, some are local factors: the far right party scores the highest in towns with unemployment above the already high national rate of 11 percent (for instance Hénin-Beaumont, with an unemployment rate of almost 18 percent; or Béziers, with 16.8 percent unemployment) and in cities plagued by corruption (Hénin-Beaumont’s former mayor, Dalongeville, was indicted with embezzlement; Fréjus’ Elie Brun ran for reelection in spite of having been found guilty of illegal conflicts of interest). The southeast of France, which vividly experienced the aftermath of decolonization when repatriated Algerians settled in, has a long history of leaning towards the National Front. But there are also national factors: people voted to send a punishing message to the government. President Hollande ran in 2012 on the slogan “Change is Now.” Nothing came. “Now is the time to change elected officials,” voters seem to have replied.
On top of these socio-economic factors, the National Front itself has done a tremendous job of recruiting new, respectable candidates, of canvassing the electorate on the ground, and of adroitly channeling the distrust and dissatisfaction felt by so many. The party has also played down its ideological extremism in favor of down-to-earth city management measures, from filling in potholes to fixing city lamps. Far from running on polarizing agendas, its candidates have “played nice,” posing as prudent managers of cities in disarray rather than revolutionaries. Marine Le Pen herself made it very clear that her candidates would not try to implement at the local level her national platform of “national preference,” a set of anti-immigrants discriminatory measures that would cut social and health services to immigrants (this would have been illegal anyway, but this is what the National Front tried to do when it conquered three cities in the south of France in 1995). By adopting a low profile at the local level, she hopes to build a bond with a wider base of voters and sneak in her more poisonous ideas later on once trust on less controversial, day-to-day issues has been established.
A few weeks ago, we explained how Marine Le Pen was in the process of winning over France’s public opinion, thanks to her sharp political acumen and a careful media strategy. Now she has the popular vote to attest that her party has truly become a serious, credible alternative for an increasing number of citizens. What is worrisome is that more elections are to come.
Some point that the National Front is “just” back to its 1995 levels, when it won the three southern towns of Toulon, Marignan and Orange, followed by Vitrolles in 1997. That alone would be cause for concern. But this time around, the National Front has launched a much more comprehensive national campaign: it canvassed the whole territory systematically, including towns that had been until now reluctant to cast their vote in its favor. To put this into context, when he was head of the National Front until 2011, Jean-Marie Le Pen focused his attention on national elections only: he showed no interest in local elections. After the 1998 secession from his second-in-chief Bruno Mégret, he even consciously avoided creating local strongholds, fearing competition from would-be rivals. On election night last Sunday, Marine Le Pen was right to assert that the National Front “is now a great, independent political force not only nationally, but also locally.”
This is an important first step in a much more far-reaching strategy to rise to power. Sylvain Crépon, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Nanterre who has covered the National Front on the ground since 1995, particularly in Hénin-Beaumont, explained it to me this way: “A number of staff members of the National Front admitted, on condition of anonymity, that they feared to take over too many cities because they lack a cadre of competent personnel to manage them efficiently. This is why the National Front wants to invest massively into municipal counselors so that they can learn on the job and become local nobilities. Then [the party] will capitalize on this new political personnel with strong local ties for the upcoming elections. The strategy is essentially mid- and long-term.”
Marine Le Pen is counting on a snowball effect that would push her to the top in the upcoming European Elections, then the elections to the Senate, and the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in 2017. Short of a long overdue wake up call, she is well positioned to surprise us a few more times.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama on Monday froze the U.S. assets of seven Russian officials, including top advisers to President Vladimir Putin, for their support of Crimea’s vote to secede from Ukraine in the most comprehensive sanctions against Russia since the end of the Cold War.
The Treasury Department also is imposing sanctions on four Ukrainians — including former President Viktor Yanukovych, a former top Ukrainian presidential adviser and two Crimea-based separatist leaders — under existing authority under a previous Obama order. Senior administration officials also said they are working to identify what they called “Russian government cronies” to target the assets of those supporting the Crimea unrest, including individuals working in the arms industry.
Obama was to make a statement Monday from the White House.
The administration officials said Putin wasn’t sanctioned despite his support of the Crimean referendum because the U.S. doesn’t usually begin with heads of state. But the officials, speaking to reporters on a conference call on the condition they not be quoted by name, say those sanctioned are very close to Putin and that the sanctions are “designed to hit close to home.”
The U.S. announcement came shortly after the European Union announced travel bans and asset freezes on 21 people they have linked to the unrest in Crimea. Obama administration officials say there is some overlap between the U.S. and European list, which wasn’t immediately made public.
The sanctions were expected after residents in Crimea voted overwhelmingly Sunday in favor of the split. Crimea’s parliament on Monday declared the region an independent state. The administration officials say there is some concrete evidence that some ballots for the referendum arrived pre-marked in many cities and “there are massive anomalies in the vote.” The officials did not say what that evidence was.
The United States, European Union and others say the action violates the Ukrainian constitution and international law and took place in the strategic peninsula under duress of Russian military intervention. Putin maintained that the vote was legal and consistent with the right of self-determination, according to the Kremlin.
The administration officials said they will be looking at additional sanctions if Russia moves to annex Crimea or takes other action. Those targeted will have all U.S. assets frozen and no one in the United States can do business with them under Obama’s order.
"Today’s actions send a strong message to the Russian government that there are consequences for their actions that violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including their actions supporting the illegal referendum for Crimean separation," the White House said in a statement.
"Today’s actions also serve as notice to Russia that unless it abides by its international obligations and returns its military forces to their original bases and respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the United States is prepared to take additional steps to impose further political and economic costs," the statement said.
Administration officials say those Obama targeted also are key political players in Russia also responsible for the country’s tightening of human rights and civil liberties in the country. Obama’s order targets were:
— Vladislav Surkov, a Putin aide
— Sergey Glazyev, a Putin adviser
— Leonid Slutsky, a state Duma deputy
— Andrei Klishas, member of the Council of Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation
— Valentina Matviyenko, head of the Federation Council
— Dmitry Rogozin, deputy prime minister of the Russian Federation.
— Yelena Mizulina, a state Duma deputy
Anti-gay pastor Scott Lively is standing with Russian president Vladimir Putin in the Ukraine crisis, hailing Putin’s government for cracking down on LGBT rights and becoming a “defender of true human rights.”
Writing today in WorldNetDaily, Lively said that LGBT equality in the US is destroying the Constitution and the rule of law, creating “special rights for favored groups” and putting America “in a death spiral of moral and ethical degeneracy.”
In contrast, he writes, Russia “has begun embracing Christian values regarding family issues.”
“And this is why the greatest point of conflict between the U.S. and Russia is the question of homosexuality (I believe even the conflict in Ukraine is being driven to a large extent by this issue, at least on the part of the Obama State Department and the homosexualist leaders of the EU.),” Lively writes.
H/T: Brian Tashman at RWW
The tensions over whether Ukraine should lean to the West, and align itself with the European Union, or should remain tied to Russia have much deeper roots than the Soviet and post-Soviet era. In fact, the current clash between western and eastern Ukraine are a fruit of centuries of political and cultural developments that only in the 20th century forced the two parts into one Ukraine. These recent ties proved more fragile than identities built over several centuries.
Until the second half of the 17th century the territories of what is today Ukraine, including Kiev and much of the territories east of the Dnieper River, were part of what would become in 1569 the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. These eastern territories of this vast European state were porous and vulnerable to attacks, so the Polish monarchs hired Cossacks to defend these borderlands (literally that is the meaning of the Slavic word “ukraina” from which the name of the country derives). And then in 1596, the religious union in the town of Brest split a wing off the Greek Orthodox church, as it entered a union with the Catholic church creating a Uniate church, and inserted a religious element complicating the situation in the eastern territories of the vast state.
Increasingly frustrated with the compensation for their service and religious tensions, the Cossacks began to rebel. The first half of the 16th century was marked by several flare-ups, which turned into a full-fledged uprising under the leadership of Bohdan Khmielnytsky (Chmielnicki) in 1648, which caused devastation across the region, as the rebelling Cossacks reached towns of what is today western Ukraine. They controlled much of the land until in 1654 when Khmielnytsky accepted protection from Russia, and the territories under the Cossack control were effectively annexed by Russia. United, the Russian and Cossack forces attacked Poland from the east. Weakened by the simultaneous war with Sweden, Poland succumbed and in 1667 signed a treaty at Andrusovo, by which it conceded much of the eastern territories, including Kiev and territories east of the Dnieper River. The west bank of the Dnieper remained in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The eastern territories were thus pulled closer to Russia, while western territories, were pulled to the west even more strongly than when they were under Polish rule, for now, the court in Vienna was pulling the strings and establishing policies. When the borders stabilized in 1795, the last partition of Poland, the boundary between Russian and Austro-Hungarian controlled areas of the Ukraine were to remain largely the same until 1914, the outbreak of World War I. In 1918 Poland was to reappear on the map of Europe, as would, briefly, a new country, he People’s Republic of Ukraine, which was then absorbed into the Soviet Union. By 1920, when the borders finally settled, western parts of the Ukraine became part of the new Polish Republic, while the eastern parts remained in what would become the Soviet Union.
These pulls and pushes between east and west in Ukraine are not new, their roots go back some five centuries. It does not mean that the conflict has such deep roots but rather that the long separate histories of the two parts of Ukraine have become a major destabilizing factor when once more Ukraine was to make a choice between Russia and the rest of Europe.
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s presidency said Friday that it has negotiated an international deal intended to end battles between police and protesters that have killed scores and injured hundreds. It was unclear whether the deal would appease protesters, and shots rang out Friday morning in central Kiev.
President Viktor Yanukovych’s office said that the government and the opposition had agreed to initial the deal, reached after all-night negotiations with EU diplomats, at noon local time (1000 GMT). That deadline passed without a deal, but an opposition spokeswoman said that opposition leaders will go to the president’s office in the afternoon.
European officials cautioned that it’s too early to declare a breakthrough in a standoff that has plunged this country into the deadliest violence it has seen since winning independence from the Soviet Union.
The conflict is a battle over the identity of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million that has divided loyalties between Russia and the West. Several regions in the west of the country are in open revolt against the central government, while many in eastern Ukraine back the president and favor strong ties with Russia, their former Soviet ruler.
The preliminary deal struck overnight would see Ukraine’s president would lose some of his powers, and a caretaker government created in 48 hours that would include representatives of the opposition, Slovakia’s Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak said.
Protesters across the country are upset over corruption in Ukraine, the lack of democratic rights and the country’s ailing economy, which just barely avoided bankruptcy with the first disbursement of a $15 billion bailout promised by Russia.
The violence is making Ukraine’s economic troubles worse. Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded Ukraine’s debt rating Friday, saying the country will likely default if there are no significant improvements in the political crisis, which it does not expect.
The fires that burned in Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) earlier this week mostly died down on Thursday, but the protests on the streets of Ukraine continue to roil the Eastern European country. Since November, the crisis has continued to grow to the point where experts are openly worrying about the potential risk of civil war in a state that lies between the European Union on on side and Russia on the other.
How it all began:
The protests began on November 22, after President Viktor Yanukovych reversed course and refused to sign political and trade agreements with the European Union that had been in the works for years after heavy pressure from Moscow to abandon the agreements. Despite a violent police crackdown, protesters vowed to continue blockading streets and occupying public buildings until their central demand is met: the current government, including Yanukovych, must go.
The treaties would have opened the European Union market to Ukrainian companies and could have boosted the Ukrainian GDP by more than six percent over ten years. The country is suffering through an economic depression and lower tariffs and expanded competition could have also lowered prices, “fueling an increase of household consumption of some 12 percent.” Ukraine would have also adopted 350 EU laws, codifying what many Ukrainians saw as a “commitment to European standards of governance and social justice.” To them, the treaty was a way of diminishing Russia’s long-time influence and reversing the trend of persistent economic corruption and sluggishness.
“We don’t need the EU’s money. We need the EU’s values,” one protester told TIME. Ukrainians have long viewed the West through rose-colored glasses and now see Russia as a “corrupt, inefficient, oligarch-driven regime” that can garner influence by flouting its “oil, gas and natural resources,” Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs said.
Yanukovych explained his last-minute change of heart by claiming that “EU’s aid offers were insufficient and that Ukraine cannot afford to lose close trade ties with Russia.” Russia — which is trying to construct a Eurasian Union of former Soviet republics — began derailing the deal in August, when it imposed painful trade sanctions against Ukraine and threatened the country with “gas bills.” “I have been one-on-one with Russia for three and a half years under very unequal conditions,” Yanukovych complained to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Only days into the protests, Ukrainian police brutally cleared Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti, where protesters had been peacefully assembled. Videos of police beating protesters went viral and heightened the outrage. The next day, protesters defied a court order and returned in even greater numbers — with an estimated 350,000 people taking to the streets of Kyiv and more assembling in cities across the country, even in the historically pro-Russian east.
Hundreds of people were injured in the violent clashes, including dozens of journalists.
Protesters vowed to step up their efforts after a failed vote of no confidence in the Ukrainian parliament, continuing to take over public buildings in the nation’s capital, blockading the central bank and the Cabinet Ministry and seizing City Hall. Protesters vowed to occupy Kyiv’s streets and public buildings until their demands are met, despite the onset of deep winter.
Given the debate between whether Ukraine would turn towards the west or east in its future, it only seemed fitting that Moscow would soon step in. Russian president Vladimir Putin announced in December that it was willing to slash the amount Ukraine paid for Russian natural gas, a huge political win for the embattled Yanukovych. In addition, Russia would finance a $15 billion no-strings attached loan to help stave off a looming financial crisis. As of February, half of that loan has been dispersed to Kyiv.
For a brief time, though, it appeared as though the government and opposition would actually be able to strike a deal. The anti-protest laws were repealed in late January; Prime Minister Mykola Azarov stepped down; Kyiv’s mayor was fired for allegedly ordering the initial crackdown. Demonstrators had earlier this week abandoned their posts in Kyiv’s City Hall — which they had occupied for nearly three months — as part of the deal struck with the government to provide amnesty to those who had taken part in the protests and the revocation of the anti-protest laws.
Days later, however, the scene stands as it is currently unfolding, with hundreds of riot police still circling the square with water cannons periodically returning to blast at the barricades. The most awe-inspiring images of the crisis appeared in the midst of this fighting, as demonstrators launched Molotov cocktails at the police formations and shone bright lasers at the guardsmen’s faces in an attempt to blind them as the fire designed to separate them from the police burned high. The Ukrainian government early Tuesday evening confirmed that at least seven protesters and two police officers died in the first wave of fighting. That number continued to grow until the first day’s casualty count had reached at least 25 dead and hundreds injured.
Opposition leader and world heavyweight boxing champion Vitaliy Klitschko meanwhile on Thursday reiterated the opposition’s primary demand in a video statement, namely that Yanukovych must call early elections, while urging his fellow countrymen to not allow excessive violence in the street.
Making matters all the more tense, Yanukovych now appears to be losing his grip on the west of his country, which is historically far less pro-Russia than the east. “Raising the prospect of Ukraine splitting along a historic cultural and linguistic faultline, the regional assembly in Lviv, a bastion of Ukrainian nationalism near the Polish border, issued a statement condemning President Viktor Yanukovich’s government for its ‘open warfare’ on demonstrators in Kiev and saying it took executive power locally for itself,” Reuters report on Wednesday. And in the eastern province of Crimea,pro-Russian separatism is on the rise, Radio Free Europe report on Thursday, fanning fears of a possible civil war situation.
Analysts contend that the protests represent the continued break from the old Soviet system and signal the countries lurch towards greater democracy and openness. The demonstrations have also “brought to the forefront a new generation of protesters that grew up in an independent Ukraine and have faint — if any — memories of the Soviet Union. They see themselves as Europeans, they are disillusioned with politics as usual, and they feel increasingly at odds with establishment opposition figures.”
“Ukraine is [the] most corrupt country in Europe,” Klitschko told CNN in December. “Ukrainians don’t want to live in [a] police country.”
They’re also deeply frustrated by the state of the economy. The 2008 financial crisis took a particularly heavy toll on Ukraine, which saw its economy shrink by almost 15 percent in 2009. The declining economy is compounded by the country’s shrinking reserves of foreign currency and a population in freefall.
h/t: Think Progress World
KIEV, Ukraine — Mayhem gripped the center of the Ukrainian capital on Tuesday evening as riot police officers moved on protesters massed behind barriers raised throughout Independence Square, the focal point of more than two months of protests against President Viktor F. Yanukovych.
As the attack began just before 8 p.m. local time, the police tried to drive two armored personnel carriers through stone-reinforced barriers outside the Khreschatyk Hotel in the square. But they became bogged down and, set upon by protesters wielding rocks and fireworks, burst into flames, apparently trapping the security officers inside and prompting desperate rescue efforts from their colleagues.
The fighting broke out a day after Russia threw a new financial lifeline to Mr. Yanukovych’s government by buying $2 billion in Ukrainian government bonds.
The Russian aid signaled confidence from the Kremlin that important votes in Parliament expected this week to amend the Constitution and form a new cabinet will go in Russia’s favor. It also highlighted the absence of any clear promise of financial aid from the European Union or the United States, which have supported the opposition in Ukraine.
Mr. Yanukovych negotiated a $15 billion loan with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in December, and Ukraine received a first segment of this soon afterward when Russia purchased Ukrainian bonds worth $3 billion. But Russia suspended further payments last month after violent clashes broke out in Kiev and the pro-Russian prime minister resigned.
h/t: New York Times
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych scrapped controversial anti-protest laws Friday but faced calls from the military to take “urgent steps” to ease the ex-Soviet nation’s worst crisis since independence. A leading protester reappeared with his face…
TEHRAN — Iran’s interim nuclear deal with the world’s major powers is scheduled to begin on January 20, officials with Iran and the European Union said Sunday.
"Capitals have confirmed the result of the talks in Geneva … the Geneva deal will be implemented from January 20," Marzieh Afkham, a spokeswoman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry told reporters in Tehran, the semi-official Mehr news agency said.
The EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also confirmed the news in a statement on Sunday.
Ashton represents the six nations — the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany — in diplomatic contacts with Iran related to the nuclear standoff.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday the final pieces were in place for the 2015 launch of an economic union with Belarus and Kazakhstan that Moscow hopes can also be joined by Ukraine.
Putin promised following talks with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko that the so-called Eurasian Economic Union would turn into a new source of growth for all involved.
The alliance would replace a much looser Eurasian Customs Union that Russia formed with the two ex-Soviet nations in an effort to build up a free trade rival to the 28-nation EU bloc.
“Government representatives of the troika (Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus) … have developed the draft of the institutional part of the Eurasian Economic Union agreement,” Putin said in televised remarks.
“This document determines the international legal status, organisational frameworks, the objectives and mechanisms of how the union will operate starting on January 1, 2015,” Putin said.
Putin has made the creation of a post-Soviet economic union that could one day even be joined by nations such as Turkey and India the keystone project of his third Kremlin term.
Russia has put immense pressure on Ukraine to join the alliance and threatened economic sanctions against Kiev when it was on the verge of signing a landmark trade and political association deal with Brussels last month.
Kiev’s decision to spurn the EU pact sparked the biggest protests since the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution and exposed the deep cultural rifts running between the nationalist west of Ukraine and its more Russified eastern parts.
But the size of those rallies began to ebb when Ukraine agreed a $15-billion bailout package with Russia that also included a one-third cut in the price Moscow charges its neighbour for natural gas.
The three nations on Tuesday also agreed on a “road map” paving the way for the membership in their union of Armenia — a tiny ex-Soviet Caucasus nation that had also been expected to sign an initial agreement with Brussels last month.
Putin rewarded Armenia’s reversal by slashing the price of its natural gas imports from Russia to $189 from $270 per 1,000 cubic metres.
Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said it should take “about half a year” for Armenia to formally join the existing Moscow-led customs pact.
Putin added that the impoverished Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan was also conducting initial membership talks.
Kyrgyzstan’s participation has been held up by Russia’s worries over its inability to plug its porous border with China.
h/t: The Raw Story