Displaying items by tag: Europe
The death toll from flooding in Western Europe keeps climbing as rescue workers dig deeper into debris left by receding waters. Germany’s finance minister has proposed a package of immediate aid, of more than 300 million euros. Pray for the government also to dig deeper into available funds so that suitable rebuilding programs can be set up speedily. From experience with previous flooding, costs will be in the billions of euros. Police fear the number of dead may still rise in many areas. Pope Francis offered a prayer for the flood victims and for the efforts of all to help those who suffered great damage: ‘I express my closeness to the populations of Germany, Belgium and Holland, hit by catastrophic flooding.’ German officials have asked people not to make any more donations, as their generosity has left storage facilities for clothes and food full.
The Belgian government is under pressure to offer residence permits to hundreds of undocumented migrants who have been on hunger strike in Brussel’s Béguinage church and university buildings for sixty days and are in a life and death situation. Alarm grows because some are now refusing water. Four men stitched their lips together last month to press their case for legal access to the jobs market and social services. Two UN officials urged the government to offer temporary residence permits to the 476 hunger strikers. 150,000 sans papiers live in Belgium, according to the campaign group ‘We Are Belgium Too’, which is calling for the regularisation of undocumented migrants. Many have been in Belgium for five or ten years. Belgium’s minister for asylum and migration refused a blanket amnesty to undocumented workers. The deputy prime minister and other Socialist ministers threatened to quit the government if any hunger strikers died. It is becoming a political snowball.
Record rainfall in parts of western Europe has caused major rivers to burst their banks In Germany; at least 33 are dead and dozens missing after record rain left homes and cars washed away. The Rhineland-Palatinate state chief described the flooding as a ‘catastrophe’. At least six have died in Belgium. Liège city urged all residents to leave. The Netherlands is badly hit, with more deaths and many houses damaged in the southern province of Limburg. A number of care homes had to be evacuated. More rain is forecast for these areas.
The 2 July ‘Joint Declaration on the Future of the EU’ represents a significant endeavour by Eurosceptics to oppose efforts by European federalists to transform the EU into a godless multicultural superstate. The leaders of sixteen European political parties have announced an unprecedented alliance to defend the sovereignty of European nation states, protect the nuclear family, and preserve traditional Judeo-Christian values. The leader of Spain's conservative party said, ‘The EU's “Conference on the Future of Europe” has already written its conclusions. It seeks the forced federalisation of the EU against the true will of European nations and apart from the national parliaments. We do not want a federal Europe in which all decisions are made in Brussels. The EU is becoming a superstate carrying out cultural and religious transformations without tradition and attempting to change moral principles.’
Over a thousand festival-goers caught coronavirus after attending a 20,000-person event in Utrecht, leading the city's mayor to apologise, saying it was ‘an error of judgment’. Health authorities say the disease spread over both days of the outdoor music festival, leading to the highest count of infections that could be traced back to a single event. It was a ‘test-for-entry event’, meaning visitors were allowed if they presented a vaccination card, held a negative coronavirus test, or had had Covid-19 recently. Authorities now believe that the time frame (40 hours) for negative tests was too long. Dutch caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte apologised for his government's quick relaxation of safeguards, admitting what they thought was possible was wrong after all. Cases jumped fivefold in one week.
Beijing and Moscow have prioritised strengthening their military relationship, under the leadership of Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. Their defence ties have matured to the point that analysts claim the relationship constitutes a ‘de facto military alliance’ characterised by mostly high-level contacts and technical cooperation. There have been thirty joint exercises since 2003, and the scenarios associated with them (controlling islands and reefs; amphibious and air defence operations), the locations (Baltic, Mediterranean, and South China Sea), and live-fire operations with air missiles against cruise missile targets are quite telling. Meanwhile, the US has cut the size of its navy.
German security officials have arrested over 750 people after infiltrating encrypted mobile phone chat data. The investigation focused on a communications service used particularly by criminals in the illegal drug trade. Authorities seized 3.2 tonnes of cannabis, 320 kilos of synthetic drugs, over 125,500 ecstasy pills, 400 kilos of cocaine, ten kilos of heroin, 310 weapons, more than 12,200 rounds of ammunition, and assets worth €168 million. Frankfurt prosecutor Julia Bussweiler said that the investigation was far from over; they are still sifting through and evaluating seized data. Many people are in pre-trial detention. The investigation was assisted by authorities from France and the Netherlands; a further 45 were arrested across Europe, and authorities also seized a ‘record haul’ of cocaine.
Coronavirus restrictions are easing, and Germany’s economy is picking up as traders and service providers benefit, but industry suffers delivery problems. Global lockdowns have lowered production levels and interrupted supply chains. Essential raw materials, chemicals and component parts are in short supply and prices are skyrocketing. There are disruptions in container shipping, traffic congestion in ports and a shortage of containers, where three consortia control over 80% of the world market and dictate prices. For various reasons, the highest inflation since 2008 is on the horizon. In addition to the CO2 tax, world market prices for grain, which have risen 30%, are already raising the cost of living. Germany is an exporting country, dependent on international value-added trade-chains. There is now changed thinking concerning regional supply chains within the EU: now, instead of ‘just in time delivery’, storing becomes important.
With the rise of the Covid Delta variant, Europe is divided on how to police its borders. Paris and Berlin are concerned about the influx of British tourists to southern Europe and are calling for a coordinated effort as the variant continues its inexorable advance across the continent. Its rise is rekindling tensions over the management of the EU's external borders. These divisions were much discussed at the beginning of the pandemic and resurfaced at the European summit in Brussels last week. Some want to err on the side of prudence; others such as Spain, Portugal and Greece are anxious to protect their all-important tourist seasons. There is no blanket health policy covering Europe, but there are health policies that need to be coordinated between the 27 member states.
The German defence minister told the armed forces that reported racist and sexual abuse in a German platoon based in Lithuania has put their entire reputation at risk. The most recent incidents were a sexual assault against another soldier, singing anti-Semitic songs, and in April singing songs to mark Hitler’s birthday. There is a pattern of far-right extremism in the army: a soldier allegedly racially abused a non-white fellow soldier, and four German soldiers made animal noises when a black French soldier walked past. Far-right incidents in the elite KSK commando unit triggered calls for it to be disbanded as it had become partly independent of the chain of command. Police seized explosives and weapons at the home of a KSK soldier. Military intelligence said there were almost 600 suspected far-right supporters in the army, the KSK being a particular problem. Twenty members are suspected of right-wing extremism.