The HRC is dead, long live the HRC?

The UN has elected a brand new Human Rights Council to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission. Why was the old HRC discredited? Well, basically and officially, because several of its members were known to violate human rights and/or to protect their own interests. It is only logical. However, who will be taking a seat in the new and improved HRC? Right, some of those very same countries that were known to violate human rights: China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
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The Roma goes to court

Gypsies Gain a Legal Tool in Rights Fight

But now, some leaders of the Gypsies, or Roma, are looking to a new model to try to achieve equality: the civil rights struggle of black Americans. More and more, the Roma are going to court to secure their rights, and doing so where they think it will have the best chance for success — among the new East European members of the European Union and those trying to join, which are seeking to impress Western Europe with strict interpretations of their new antidiscrimination laws.

EU Energy Policy II

Well the new EU energy plan has been released (and here, and you can also find the actual Commission statement here). The final product is pretty much as the leaks suggested.

As was indicated yesterday, Russia related concerns are central. The FT comments:

Russia supplies a quarter of Europe’s gas needs and the Union’s dependence on the country for energy was illustrated in January when a dispute between Moscow and Kiev disrupted gas deliveries to the EU.

All of this was I think anticipated on this blog back in January when the Gazprom/Ukraine dispute first really broke into the public arena. What wasn’t anticipated was this, and especially the gas related dimension of the Suez/Gaz de France merger.

The major changes taking shape in Europe’s energy sector at present undercut the arguments of those who have long been predicting a gradual break-up of monopolies and the disappearance of the industry’s biggest players. The planned merger of Suez and Gaz de France to counter an offensive by Enel and Veolia and the fight between Gas Natural and E.On for the hand of Endesa make it abundantly clear that concentration remains very much a watchword in the branch and that even powerful old public monopolies like Electricite de France could be forced into marriages with others in future.

None of the reasons trotted out to justify the merger between Suez and Gaz de France, to cite but that operation, dwelled on the future role of Russia in Europe’s energy landscape. True, the Russians aren’t directly involved in any of the operations underway in Western Europe. On further examination, however, Gazprom’s moves in recent months could be seen as justification for the consolidation.

The future Suez/Gaz de France grouping will become the leading buyer and the top supplier of gas in Europe. As such, it will rank as one of Gazprom’s prime customers in the world. That, however, isn’t necessarily good news for Gazprom. In its dealings with such a powerful client the Russian monopoly won’t be able to exert as much pressure upon it as upon a smaller entity, let alone bully it.

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The liberalism of fools?

I cannot recommend highly enough Ken Macleod’s post (found via Crooked Timber) on how the “socialism of fools” – Engels’ description of anti-semitism – was accompanied by a sort of “liberalism of fools”, to wit, the anti-Catholicism of the pre-WWII era. Macleod, acknowledging that anti-Catholicism is rather passé these days, wonders if hatred of something else, perhaps another sect, might fill the roll as a modern liberalism of fools.

And, on a not entirely separate topic, French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo (no website, not that kind of paper) is republishing the images, along with one on its cover of Mohammed crying “It’s hard to be loved by fools”. An effort by the Conseil français du culte musulman to stop publication through the French courts was rejected on a technicality.

Chirac, however, has demonstrated that he is not, contrary to widespread belief, the biggest fool in Europe. Unlike the Danish Prime Minister, he has “condemned all manifest provocations that are liable to dangerously arouse passions.” Alas, he has only retreated to the number two slot in European political idiocy. He also said, “Anything susceptible to harm the convictions of others, particularly religious convictions, should be avoided. Freedom of expression should be exercised with a sense of responsibility.” Right on count two, wrong on count one. Responsible freedom of expression means that when you go out to offend people, you can’t claim to be surprised when they are offended. But there is little point in free speech if it is forbidden from trying to change convictions.

And round and round this totally avoidable fiasco goes.
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Kosovo, Kosovo, Kosovo…

Just ran across this article at Radio Free Europe. Short version: Russia has decided that independence for Kosovo is probably inevitable, and has decided to milk it for maximum benefit to Russia. Putin’s saying, fine, independence for Kosovo — but then apply “universal principles”, and give independence to the Russian-supported breakaway republics of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and TransDnistria.

Once you get past the initial reaction (“Wow, what a jerk”), this bears a little thinking about.
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Troubled Waters And No Bridge

Global Voices has a story (Hat Tip Financial Times and Simon World) about how China dissident Shi Tao has more than a little cause to be angry with Yahoo. Reporters Sans Frontiers, on analysing the text of the verdict in Shi Tao’s case (he was sentenced to 10 years in April for “divulging state secrets abroad”) , found that details supplied by Yahoo Holdings (Hong King) Ltd helped identify and convict him.

As Global Voices indicates Yahoo “provided the Chinese investigating organs with detailed information that apparently enabled them to link Shi’s personal e-mail account (on the Chinese Yahoo! service at yahoo.com.cn) and the specific message containing information treated as a “state secret” to the IP address of his computer”.

Now this raises a number of interesting issues.
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Controversy Over Kosovo Refugees In Germany

This is an updated version of an earlier post. I first retain the post as it was, then I have added some reflections in the light of comments received.

The Independent is running the following story:

Germany is deporting tens of thousands of Roma refugees to Kosovo despite clear threats to their safety and dire warnings from human rights groups that they will face “massive discrimination” on arrival.
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Turkey and the EU: Poles apart?

Like most numbers of the Spectator, the festive, XL-sized holiday edition is marred by the presence of Mark Steyn. But don’t let that put you off, there’s some good stuff there as well. And one of the better bits is an essay by Prof. Norman Stone on Turkey (Potential EU Accession of) (reg. req.).

For the most part Stone paints a picture of the old Ottoman Empire as something much less uniformly Islamic than some think. You should already be aware, of course, that what would later (in truncated form) become Turkey was a multicultural, multiethnic, multireligious state, but if you weren’t, Stone gives you a quick background. (By the time it fell apart, the Ottoman Empire had become the ‘Sick Man of Europe’; but for centuries it was a success.) What you might not have known, though, was that the orthodox Christians of the Ottoman realms were only too happy to be part of a nominally Islamic polity. The orthodox patriarchs and the Muslim sultans saw in the latinate West a common foe. Indeed my own suspicion is that the Greeks felt a keener enmity than the Turks. The sultan, understandably, might well have seen the theological differences between orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism as obscure and uninteresting (how many of us in the post-Christian lands of the west are aware of, let alone take much interest in, the distinctions between the theravada and mahayana strains of Buddhism?) To the bishops of the orthodox world, though, the sultan served (whether he cared about this or not) as a bulwark against the centralising domination of their brother-bishop at Rome.

But what set Stone off was a recent article in Die Zeit by Prof. Hans-Ulrich Wehler. The title of Wehler’s article, which formed part of the contra side in a Zeit-sponsored debate on Turkish accession to the EU, has some unfortunate historical echoes: “Das T?rkenproblem“.
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In Other Important News.

To those of you, gentle readers, who have only recently discovered afoe, it may be interesting to find out that we’re not usually an – almost – single issue blog. Quite to the contrary. However, one unfortunate consequence of having only limited resources is the obligation to choose how to use them. When we chose to make Ukraine a priority, it was unavoidable to write less about other important issues.

Yet there is one thing in particular that I would like to mention: Europe may have stood up for citizen rights in Ukraine, yet at home, things do not always look as brightly. According to a report by statewatch.org, the Council of the European Union has asked the European Parliament to “use its urgency procedure to rush through the measure on mandatory fingerprinting and biometric passports [(draft as pdf)] for all EU citizens at its plenary session [this] week (1-2 December).”
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Turkey recommended for EU accession talks

The European Commission has recommended that accession talks for Turkey should begin, but hasn’t laid out any dates for the process:

Commission officials are reporting on the progress Turkey has already made, along with Bulgaria and Romania.

The final decision on Turkey rests with the leaders of all 25 EU member states in December – with accession years off.

The Commission’s recommendation is a milestone in an increasingly impassioned debate.

The decision was reached by a “large consensus” among commissioners, one EU official said, but no vote was taken.

There was also no recommended date to start negotiations with Turkey.

More from The Scotsman/PA, EU Business, Reuters and EU Observer.

Update: The full text of Romano Prodi’s speech can be found here and I’ve copied it below, so you can click on the ‘continue reading’ link to see it as the English HTML link on the site doesn’t seem to be working (pdf and doc links are).
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