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MAIN FOCUS | 20/01/2016

Macedonia urged to protect EU external borders

In view of the consistently high number of refugees who arrive in Europe via the Balkan route, EU politicians are calling on Macedonia to play a more active role in border control. At last effective border protection is becoming a reality, some commentators write in delight. Others find it absurd that a non-EU member is supposed to provide the solution to the refugee crisis.

With articles from the following publications:
Jutarnji list - Croatia, Nézőpontok - Hungary, Die Welt - Germany

Jutarnji list - Croatia

The EU has failed completely in the refugee crisis and is becoming more and more absurd, the liberal daily Jutarnji list comments: "The biggest embarrassment is the miserable failed distribution of refugees among EU member states. The figure of 160,000 was agreed on but so far 300 have been redistributed. And the deal with Turkey is also failing to produce results. … The latest demand that Macedonia should better protect its border with Greece shows how hopeless the EU's situation is. A non-EU member is supposed to protect the Union from the wave of refugees coming from Greece, an EU country which to top it all is also a Schengen zone member. This shows that the EU simply doesn't want to accept that Greece is the biggest problem. The EU's powerlessness is the result of a lack of political will that is leading to more and more individual national measures which are jeopardising EU unity and the freedom to travel in Europe." (20/01/2016)

Nézőpontok - Hungary

The EU must realise that it can only get a grip on the refugee crisis by protecting its external borders, political scientist Nándor Gömbicz writes on the blog of the pro-government political research institute Nézőpont: "The Hungarian government has been calling for the protection of the EU's external border since the start of the refugee crisis. ... One thing is certain: bearing in mind the actual circumstances and the political reality, border protection will sooner or later come into effect: that is the expectation not the least of the people of Europe, who see their security on the one hand and their social and cultural mores on the other in danger. ... As much as the refugee crisis demands a complex solution, Europe must finally realise that without the protection of its outer borders it will never have an effective one." (19/01/2016)

Die Welt - Germany

A growing number of voices in German Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party and its sister party the CSU are calling for Germany to close its borders. But that would be wrong, the conservative daily Die Welt argues: "Even that would not secure our comfortable lives in the long run. The Mediterranean would become a huge cemetery, Greece would soon be a failing state and Italy would quickly become unstable once again. It is significant that those calling for closed borders haven't done anything to help Germany better cope with the refugee problem. ... All those who fail to view the refugee problem as a matter that concerns all of Europe are only lying to their public. And they refuse to accept that this continent - which now has a successful political form after so many religious wars and terrors - is predestined to be able to cope with immigrants precisely because it has shown that it can establish rules while maintaining diversity." (20/01/2016)

MAIN FOCUS | 19/01/2016

Gap between rich and poor widens

The 62 richest people in the world are exactly as wealthy as the poorest half of the global population. This is the result of a study put out by the British aid organisation Oxfam. Some commentators call for more stringent taxation and an end to tax havens. Others believe the economic system is too complex to be made more fair.

With articles from the following publications:
Der Standard - Austria, Avgi - Greece, La Libre Belgique - Belgium

Der Standard - Austria

A debate about the fair distribution of wealth is needed, the centre-left daily Der Standard stresses: "Now it is nothing new that in capitalism, productively invested wealth, or in other words capital, creates more wealth, and so there is a natural tendency for the rich to get richer. That's why we have taxes - to balance this out. But the Oxfam data makes it clear that things have gotten completely out of proportion at the global level. The balancing systems are failing. Because most of the superrich haven't accumulated their wealth through dubious methods in some dictatorial country. On the contrary, these are people who are benefiting from the profits and increasing value of their investments, particularly in the financial sector. … So it's high time for a broad debate about fair distribution of wealth. The two central questions are: how to get rid of tax havens and how to tax wealth more fairly?" (19/01/2016)

Avgi - Greece

The gap between rich and poor contradicts human rights and undermines democracy, the left-leaning daily Avgi believes: "Such fundamental inequality destroys any and every notion of human rights. Everyone - and this is also one of the basic values of European societies - is supposedly 'born free and equal in dignity and rights'. But how free can you be when you have nothing to eat? And how can you guarantee equal opportunities when people are simply born in the wrong corner of the world? This inequality also results in further collateral damage. It undermines democracy. Wealth means power: the power to buy laws that make it possible to become even richer, to evade taxes legally and to change working conditions at will." (19/01/2016)

La Libre Belgique - Belgium

How can effective measures against social inequality be taken when even economists don't have a complete grasp of the economic system? asks the liberal daily La  Libre Belgique: "People say today that economic remedies are worse than the ills they are meant to cure. Overly high interest rates are a cause of concern? Well, rates that are too low for too long stand to provoke the next financial crisis. So what's to be done? Entrust the future to experts! That's not a sure remedy by a long shot. Two economists predicted the price of oil would rise to 380 dollars per barrel in 2015. It's now dropped to below 30 dollars. Those who criticised expensive oil are now saying cheap oil is just as bad for the global economy. But no doubt these experts are also wrong when they say exactly the opposite of what they said just a year earlier." (19/01/2016)

MAIN FOCUS | 18/01/2016

The end of sanctions against Iran

After the International Atomic Energy Agency found Iran to be in compliance with the restrictions laid down in the nuclear deal the US and the EU lifted their sanctions against the country on Saturday. There is still no basis for truly friendly relations with the Islamic regime, some commentators warn. Others see the step as a major opportunity in the fight against jihadism.

With articles from the following publications:
Die Tageszeitung taz - Germany, Hospodářské noviny - Czech Republic, El País - Spain, Il Giornale - Italy

Die Tageszeitung taz - Germany

Just a day after the sanctions were lifted the US imposed further punitive measures on Tehran on Sunday - in this case for its ballistic missile programme. Big question marks still hang over the future of Iran in the international community, comments the left-wing daily taz: "From the Shiite militia creating havoc in Iraq to the political and military backing for Bashar al-Assad's regime (in cooperation with Lebanese Hezbollah), signs of the Islamic Republic having adopted a 'new' course are still lacking. At the same time the human rights situation in Iran has not improved. Iran is the country with the most executions after China and critics and creative artists quickly find themselves behind bars. There's still a long way to go before truly friendly relations between the US and the EU with Iran are established." (18/01/2016)

Hospodářské noviny - Czech Republic

Iran will now become an Eldorado for profiteers, the liberal business paper Hospodářské noviny predicts: "Many people are happy that the deal negotiated with Iran last year will improve the situation there. Iran will have no nuclear weapons and will once again engage in international cooperation. Those who hold this view won't complain that Czech businessmen will also be travelling to Tehran to vie with competitors from all over the world who have suddenly rediscovered Iran as a huge market. ... However at least one thing should remain taboo: the sale of weapons. Russia has already sold Iran S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems. Now it's negotiating the delivery of T-90 tanks and Su-30 fighter jets. If we don't want to end up completely cynical we shouldn't behave like Vladimir Putin." (18/01/2016)

El País - Spain

The comprehensive lifting of sanctions against Iran is excellent news, writes the centre-left daily El País: "Considering the violent panorama in the region one could easily accuse US President Barack Obama of naivety when he declares that today the US, the Middle East and the world are safer places than they were. But the leader of the country which official Iranian rhetoric calls the 'great Satan' is right. … Iran is not just a historical regional power but could also be a major agent in the strategic fight against jihadism. Its isolation complicated that strategy and also created ever-growing rifts with other major Arab powers. It is crucial that all parties take part in certain security and cooperation forums; the reincorporation of Iran will without doubt lead to greater understanding." (18/01/2016)

Il Giornale - Italy

Europe should now make the case for lifting the sanctions against Russia demands the national conservative daily Il Giornale: "The Europeans have followed all the whims of the Americans. Even when they continued the Cold War against Russia with threats from Nato and condemnations in the form of sanctions because of Russia's Crimea policy. … Meanwhile the Americans failed to see the Islamist threat and instead continued their battle against those who are in fact their most natural allies. What can we Europeans, including individual citizens, do against this? We can try to dispel the climate of distrust vis-à-vis Russia. The Cold War must be ended and the sanctions must be lifted. We must help Russian and Ukraine to agree on a constitution that guarantees autonomy for both sides. We must campaign for peace between America, Russia and Europe." (17/01/2016)

MAIN FOCUS | 15/01/2016

Warsaw defends itself against criticism from Brussels

In response to the EU Commission's decision to open an inquiry against Warsaw Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło has defended the national conservative government's course, saying that Poland has the right to take sovereign decisions. Commentators hope that Warsaw and Brussels will be able to resolve their dispute. But they also criticise the EU for being more lenient with Poland and Hungary than with candidate countries like Serbia.

With articles from the following publications:
Novi list - Croatia, The Irish Times - Ireland, Gość Niedzielny - Poland

Novi list - Croatia

The centre-left daily Novi List explains all that is at stake for Europe in the controversy with Poland: "Europe must not lose Poland. And that's why Brussels can't afford to simply look on calmly as the anti-democratic virus spreads from Budapest to Warsaw. Because Poland is not Hungary. Poland, with its 40 million inhabitants, is the largest and most successful of the new EU member states, and with its constructive Europe policy it has taken the leading role in young Europe. For two decades the 'Weimar Triangle' in which Poland, Germany and France discuss and vote on their decisions regarding Europe has been in place. Poland is the most important state in the post-communist world, and too vital a state to be left in the grip of Polish ultra-nationalists who see in Brussels and Europe only what they once saw in Moscow." (15/01/2016)

The Irish Times - Ireland

The fact that Poland and Hungary are not facing any real consequences even though the rule of law there is under threat is frustrating for countries like Serbia that are making a great effort to comply with the EU's standards, notes the centre-left daily The Irish Times: "Despite the European Commission discussing the ramifications of the new Polish laws at their weekly meeting this week, the possibility of any substantive action is unlikely. ... Turning a blind eye to deteriorating rule of law standards in its own member states opens up credibility questions for the European Union. Already, countries who are on the path to EU membership, such as Serbia, are voicing frustration at having to meet high standards of rule of law, while countries such as Hungary and Poland blatantly breach those standards." (14/01/2016)

Gość Niedzielny - Poland

The EU Commission's probe is unjust because constitutional courts in other EU countries are no better off, the Catholic website Gość Niedzielny sniggers: "Let's start with the UK. It doesn't even have a constitution in the sense of a legal act that takes precedence over other laws. So of course there can be no probes into the constitutionality of the laws. And why not? The Brits believe that parliament alone is sovereign. ... The second example is the Netherlands. This state is all the more interesting in that its constitution bans controls of the constitutionality of laws. And then there's Luxembourg: the grand duchy does have a constitutional court, but it's very weak. Citizens or groups of MPs have no right to question the constitutionality of laws, only the courts do. ... The question arises: does the EU Commission also have its eye on the UK, the Netherlands and Luxembourg?" (15/01/2016)

MAIN FOCUS | 14/01/2016

EU examines rule of law in Poland

The EU Commission launched a probe on Wednesday to examine whether Poland's recent reforms are undermining the rule of law and democracy in the country. The EU should beware of imposing sanctions on Warsaw, some commentators admonish. Others call on the Polish government to take Brussels' warning shot seriously.

With articles from the following publications:
Fakt - Poland, Neue Zürcher Zeitung - Switzerland, Delfi - Lithuania

Fakt - Poland

The EU's move is a clear warning to the Polish government, the conservative tabloid Fakt surmises: "Some commentators have played down the significance of the European Commission's decision. … But this is the first time the EU has ever used this mechanism. And it certainly won't show our country in a flattering light. The Eurocrats have withdrawn our status as the best pupil among the new EU members and basically put us on the penalty bench, so to speak. This is a warning signal for the PiS. It must not use its election victory or the will of the people to justify all its political moves and the way it has gone about pushing them through. After all, the Polish people didn't vote for the PiS because they wanted it to reform the constitutional court. There was certainly no talk of that during the election campaign." (14/01/2016)

Neue Zürcher Zeitung - Switzerland

The liberal-conservative daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung urges the EU to say yes to dialogue but no to sanctions in handling the situation in Poland: "The launching of the rule of law probe which mainly consists in initiating dialogue between Brussels and Warsaw may be a good way to promote mutual understanding. … EU sanctions against Poland, which would have little chance of being implemented anyway, would be the wrong approach. In all probability they would be counter-productive, firstly because they would provoke nationalist defensive reflexes and legitimise the PiS's questionable policies. And secondly because sanctions would call into question the very fundamental values the EU claims to be upholding. A lack of respect for the sovereignty and the will of Polish voters is hardly in keeping with democratic principles." (14/01/2016)

Delfi - Lithuania

There is no single correct response to the developments in Poland, political scientist Kęstutis Girnius writes on web portal Delfi: "In the eyes of some Western observers some of the new Polish government's actions stand in contradiction to the principle of the rule of law. The government disregards decisions by the Constitutional Tribunal and is trying to take control of the media. ... The EU can't turn a blind eye when its most important values are ignored. If the attempt to punish Poland fails it will be exposed as a paper tiger. If sanctions are imposed it would humiliate the most powerful state in Eastern Europe, and many Poles would see the EU as an enemy. No matter how Lithuania votes [the decision to impose sanctions must be unanimous] it will draw the ire of either Poland or Germany and Brussels." (14/01/2016)

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