Top European Rabbi sounds alarm on rise of far right

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Top European rabbi sounds alarm on rise of far right

‘We’re going back to 1914,’ says Pinchas Goldschmidt; laments EU’s instability and that the US ‘replaced the State Department with Twitter’

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, seen writing a new Torah scroll at an event attended by Israeli and European rabbis, marking the Hebrew date of 69 years since the liberation of Jews in Europe, in the Western Wall tunnels, in Jerusalem's Old City, May 21, 2014. (Flash90)

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, seen writing a new Torah scroll at an event attended by Israeli and European rabbis, marking the Hebrew date of 69 years since the liberation of Jews in Europe, in the Western Wall tunnels, in Jerusalem’s Old City, May 21, 2014. (Flash90)

Today’s political climate poses a genuine danger to democracy, according to a leading European rabbi, who warned of a return to “total dictatorships” such as those that existed before World War I.

“We live in a totally new world where there is no control or editing of any kind of information,” said Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis. “The public discourse has become much more shrill and extreme. What has been accepted and understood as being the basis of a liberal democracy yesterday is questioned today.”

In a recent interview with The Times of Israel, the Swiss-born scholar and communal leader also criticized the US administration for “replacing” the State Department with Twitter, said the European Union was “not stable,” and warned the State of Israel against warming up to far-right parties, saying the Jewish state must never place short-term political gains ahead of historical truth.

Speaking about the rise of populist far-right parties across Europe, Goldschmidt indicated that the continent is returning to an age of unbridled nationalism mixed with racism.

“We’re going back to the past; we’re going back to 1914 in Europe. I don’t think we can exclude the turn to total dictatorships, where the situation of Jewish communities is going to become similar to those times when there were no democratic governments,” he said. However, he added that there is one caveat, in that “today you have the State of Israel, you have where to go.”

His fears of Western democracy collapsing are based on recent political and societal developments, he explained.

“The memory of the Holocaust and World War II and World War I is receding. People are living well. People’s attention spans, thanks to the internet, has gone down. Instead of reading books, people read headlines. Instead of getting information, people get opinions and tweets,” he said.

Even the US administration has “replaced the State Department with Twitter,” he lamented, referring to policy decision and diplomatic repartee on the micro-blogging platform.

“I am not painting a black future. I’m saying there are big dangers,” stressed Goldschmidt, who has headed the Conference of European Rabbis since 2011.

“The European Union is not stable; we’re dealing now with Brexit,” he added, noting that many far-right parties on the content advocate leaving the EU and want to “go back to 1914, where it was every country on their own.”

Nationalism in itself is not bad, but it becomes problematic when it is mixed with racism and threatens the foundations of democracy, said the rabbi, who has written several books on religion and politics.

King Felipe VI of Spain (R) shakes hands with CER President Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, at the Royal Palace El Pardo near Madrid, Spain, on December 13, 2016. (World Jewish Congress/File)

The walls that separate between the judiciary, the executive, and the legislative “are being broken down,” and the free press in under attack in today’s Western world, he went on. “All the institutions which give a guarantee to every citizen, and specifically to religious minorities, are in danger.”

Last month, Goldschmidt, who was born in Zurich and has served as the chief rabbi of Moscow since 1993, headed a delegation of the Conference of European Rabbis to Israel, which met with President Reuven Rivlin, Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, and other senior government officials.

In Jerusalem, Goldschmidt announced the appointment of an “ambassador” to coordinate the campaign “against far-right ideologies and extremism.”

This person, who has not yet been named, “will bring together leading politicians and stakeholders from across Europe to make sure that we are equipped to take action against the far-right,” according to Goldschmidt.

Rabbi Goldschmidt, second from left, visits the Knesset as head of a European rabbinical delegation, November 2018. (Eli Itkin/CER)

At their meetings in Israel, the rabbis warned the government against cozying up to such parties, even when they purport to support Israel.

“If a party is intrinsically racist, bigoted against large parts of society and intolerant of minorities, if Jews are not the target now, they will be in the near future,” he said in a press release issued in late November.

“Israel is uniquely placed to put diplomatic pressure on a state and she needs to be careful, take the lead from local communities and analyze a party’s approach and make a long-term decision. It is not worth a short-term endorsement or for Israel to receive political support, only to put the Jewish community at risk.”

Speaking to The Times of Israel in the lobby of his Jerusalem hotel, Goldschmidt also cautioned against establishing contacts with Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, who is not a member of but affiliated with the far-right Freedom Party, or FPOe.

Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl (George Schneider)

“The FPOe was founded by SS officers. Some politicians in Israel are talking about mending relationship with the Diaspora. Supporting them would do just the opposite,” he said.

Goldschmidt was careful not to openly criticize the Israeli government, but he did express understanding for critics of some Israeli decisions, such as a July joint statement Jerusalem issued together with Warsaw about the role of Poles in the Holocaust.

At the time, Yad Vashem slammed the document for containing “highly problematic wording that contradicts existing and accepted historical knowledge in this field.”

He also had some misgiving about Israel seemingly turning a blind eye to distortion of the Holocaust in some Central and Eastern European countries in exchange for diplomatic support.

“It is natural that current political necessities do take precedence over historical rights and wrongs,” Goldschmidt said. “Not all Jews are religious. Many Jews are secular. However, if there is something that is holy to all of us, it is the memory of the Holocaust victims. And that’s something we should not play with.”

Israel derives its strength not only from its thriving start-up scene or its military, the rabbi went on.

“It’s its morality. The morality and historic justice of a persecuted people returning to their homeland after 2,000 years of exile, and I believe that the Israeli government, when formulating foreign policy, should include all historical and moral aspects of Jewish history in order to form a policy which is not only acceptable today, but also for the future.”

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Indians get more UK visas as European Union citizens exit over Brexit

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

Indians get more UK visas as European Union citizens exit over Brexit

Indians were granted the highest number of visitor visas during the year ending September 2018: up 41,224 (or 10%) to 4,68,923; Chinese and Indian nationals alone accounted for just under half (47%) of all visit visas granted.

WORLD Updated: Nov 29, 2018 22:07 IST

Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Indian,UK visa,European Union
New figures released on Thursday show a rise in the number of visas granted to Indian professionals, visitors, students and family members, but also reflect the Brexit reality of more EU citizens leaving the United Kingdom.(File Photo)

New figures released on Thursday show a rise in the number of visas granted to Indian professionals, visitors, students and family members, but also reflect the Brexit reality of more EU citizens leaving the United Kingdom.

Indians were granted the highest number of visitor visas during the year ending September 2018: up 41,224 (or 10%) to 4,68,923; Chinese and Indian nationals alone accounted for just under half (47%) of all visit visas granted.

The demand for Indian professionals continued during the year, with 55 per cent of all Tier 2 (skilled) visas granted to them, the figures released by the Office for National Statistics show.

The number of Indian students coming to study at UK universities also showed a 33 per cent rise, to 18,735. Chinese and Indian students accounted for almost half of all students visas granted during the year.

There was also an increase in the family-related visas for Indians (up 881 to 3,574). The number of EEA family permits given to Indians (members of families of EU citizens) was also up 4,245 to 8,360, official sources said.

Figures showing more EU citizens leaving than arriving in the UK prompted renewed concern over the impact of Brexit. The net migration from the EU to the UK slumped to a six-year low, while non-EU migration is the highest in more than a decade.

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “EU migrants have been leaving in larger numbers since the referendum, and net inflows have greatly decreased”.

“The lower value of the pound is likely to have made the UK a less attractive place to live and work and economic conditions in several of the top countries of origin for EU migrants have improved”.

First Published: Nov 29, 2018 18:27 IST

PLO Commander: We Support Russia’s Move to Revive Political Process

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

PLO Commander: We Support Russia’s Move to Revive Political Process

Sunday, 25 November, 2018 – 09:30
The Palestine Liberation Organization office is seen in Washington, U.S., November 19, 2017. (File Photo: Reuters)
Ramallah- Kifah Zboun
The Palestinian leadership supports any Russian move to revive the political process in order to bring an end to the Israeli occupation, said Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee member Wasel Abu Youssef.

Speaking to Asharq al-Awsat, Abu Youssef stated that the PLO is confident of any role played by Russia and hopes that there will be a serious approach to starting a path leading to ending the occupation.

“We asked its (Russian) officials to join forces with most of the world’s countries in order to block US decisions against the Palestinian people and their rights,” asserted Abu Yusuf.

He described Russia as a “friendly country” of the Palestinians that has always supported the rights of the Palestinian people.

He explained that “basically we were looking forward to an effective Russian role within the mechanism of an international alternative to the path of the previous settlement, which was exclusively sponsored by the United States.”

“We expect Russia, China, the EU to be a major part of the international mechanism. We want an international role in the face of the deal of the century.”

Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia would be ready to host a meeting between Palestinians and Israel and to act as a mediator.

“It is impossible to create stability in the Middle East, including in Libya and Iraq, without a solution to the oldest regional problem, the Palestinian problem,” Lavrov said on his trip to Rome.

“We support the need for a resumption of direct talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We confirm again our offer from several years ago to host a meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Russia without any preconditions,” asserted the Russian Minister.

It is not clear if Lavrov’s statement meant that Russia would play a role in the political process or merely an attempt to bring the views closer and break the deadlock.

A few weeks ago, Russia’s special envoy to the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, confirmed his country’s support for the initiative proposed by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to hold an “international peace conference.”

Bogdanov praised “Abbas’ wise stances that support stability in the region on the basis of the international legitimacy resolutions.”

The Russian official reiterated his country’s support for the Palestinian people and their right to determine their fate and to establish an independent state on the 1967 border, with Eastern Jerusalem as its capital.

Abbas is seeking to launch an international peace conference, which will result in an international mechanism involving the quartet committee, including the United States, and European and Arab states, consisting of five or seven states under the umbrella of the United Nations, which is at the heart of a political process with the Palestinians and Israelis.

Abbas tried to convince France of his initiative, but French President Emmanuel Macron was not convinced, unlike his predecessor, Francois Hollande, who launched a two-phase conference in 2016 and 2017.

The Palestinian President personally worked to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to launch an international peace conference using his influence in the region.

The Palestinian ambassador to Moscow Abed al-Hafeez Nofal said that Russia, and not just the US, now has an effective role in the region due to the great changes that have taken place in the Middle East.

US officials said President Donald Trump wanted to see the plan executed in February, but his advisers would prefer a more cautious approach, given the political crisis that swept through Israel over the past week.

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said that reaching peace is currently impossible and that Trump should focus his energy elsewhere until the Palestinians are ready to compromise.

“I think, personally, it is a waste of time,” Shaked said.

Abbas has repeatedly declared that he would not even listen to the plan after the US declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the transfer of the US embassy to the city, and other decisions taken by the US administration against the Palestinian Authority.

Israel says Washington is the only country capable of overseeing negotiations.

Finland: Truth, Knowledge, History Of This Ancient North European Nation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACTBOOK)

 

Finland

Introduction Finland was a province and then a grand duchy under Sweden from the 12th to the 19th centuries, and an autonomous grand duchy of Russia after 1809. It won its complete independence in 1917. During World War II, it was able to successfully defend its freedom and resist invasions by the Soviet Union – albeit with some loss of territory. In the subsequent half century, the Finns made a remarkable transformation from a farm/forest economy to a diversified modern industrial economy; per capita income is now on par with Western Europe. A member of the European Union since 1995, Finland was the only Nordic state to join the euro system at its initiation in January 1999.
History Prehistory

Prehistoric red ochre painted rock art of moose, human figures and boats in Astuvansalmi in Ristiina, the Southern Savonia region from ca. 3800–2200 BCE

According to archaeological evidence, the area now composing Finland was first settled around 8500 BCE during the Stone Age as the ice shield of the last ice age receded. The earliest people were hunter-gatherers, living primarily off what the tundra and sea could offer. Pottery is known from around 5300 BCE (see Comb Ceramic Culture).The arrival of the Battle Axe culture (or Cord-Ceramic Culture) in southern coastal Finland around 3200 BCE may have coincided with the start of agriculture. However, the earliest certain records of agriculture are from the late third millennium BCE. Even with the introduction of agriculture, hunting and fishing continued to be important parts of the subsistence economy, especially in the northern and eastern parts of the country.

The Bronze Age (1500–500 BCE) and Iron Age (500 BCE–1200 CE) were characterised by extensive contacts with other cultures in the Fennoscandian and Baltic regions. There is no consensus on when Finno-Ugric languages and Indo-European languages were first spoken in the area of contemporary Finland.

Swedish era (until 1809)

The sea fortress of Suomenlinna was founded by a discusion of the Swedish Diet in 1747 as a defence works and naval base, to be built on the islands off Helsinki.

Sweden established its official rule of Finland in the 13th century by the crown. Swedish became a dominant language of the nobility, administration and education; Finnish was chiefly a language for the peasantry, clergy and local courts in predominantly Finnish-speaking countries. The Bishop of Turku was usually the most important person in Finland during the Catholic era.

The Middle Ages ended with the Reformation when the Finns gradually converted to Lutheranism. In the 16th century, Mikael Agricola published the first written works in Finnish. The first university in Finland, The Royal Academy of Turku, was established in 1640. In the 18th century, wars between Sweden and Russia led to occupation of Finland twice by Russian forces, known to the Finns as the Greater Wrath (1714–1721) and the Lesser Wrath (1742–1743). By this time “Finland” was the predominant term for the whole area from the Gulf of Bothnia to the Russian border.

Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire (1809–1917)

Main article: Grand Duchy of Finland

On March 29, 1809, after being conquered by the armies of Alexander I of Russia in the Finnish War, Finland became an autonomous Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire until the end of 1917. During the Russian era, the Finnish language started to gain recognition, first probably to sever the cultural and emotional ties with Sweden and thereafter, from the 1860s onwards, as a result of a strong nationalism, known as the Fennoman movement. Milestones included the publication of what would become Finland’s national epic, the Kalevala, in 1835; and the Finnish language achieving equal legal status with Swedish in 1892.

Despite the Finnish famine of 1866-1868 – the last major famine in Europe – in which about 15 percent of the population died, political and economic development was rapid from the 1860s onwards. The disaster of famine led Russian Empire to ease regulation and investment rose in following decades.[7] The GDP per capita was still a half of United States and a third of Great Britain.

In 1906, universal suffrage was adopted in the Grand Duchy of Finland, the second country in the world where this happened. However, the relationship between the Grand Duchy and the Russian Empire soured when the Russian government made moves to restrict Finnish autonomy. For example, the universal suffrage was, in practice, virtually meaningless, since the emperor did not approve any of the laws adopted by the Finnish parliament. Desire for independence gained ground, first among radical nationalists and socialists.

Civil War (1917–1918) and early independence

On December 6, 1917, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Finland declared its independence, which was approved by Bolshevist Russia.

Contrary to Lenin’s and Finnish socialists’ expectations, the majority of Finns voted non-socialists parties in 1917 general elections. Soon in 1918, the violent wing of social democratic party started a coup, which led a brief but bitter Civil War that affected domestic politics for many decades afterwards. The Civil War was fought between “the Whites”, who were supported by Imperial Germany, and “the Reds”, supported by Bolshevist Russia. Eventually, the Whites overcame the Reds. The deep social and political enmity between the Reds and Whites remained. The civil war and activist expeditions (see Heimosodat) to the Soviet Union strained eastern relations.

After a brief flirtation with monarchy, Finland became a presidential republic, with Kaarlo Juho Ståhlberg elected as its first president in 1919. The Finnish–Russian border was determined by the Treaty of Tartu in 1920, largely following the historic border but granting Pechenga (Finnish: Petsamo) and its Barents Sea harbour to Finland. Finnish democracy didn’t see any more Soviet coup attempts and survived the anti-Communist Lapua Movement. The relationship between Finland and the Soviet Union was tense. Finnish ethnicity was targeted by genocide in the Soviet Union, though little of that was known in Finland. Finland disliked all forms of socialism, leading Germany’s national socialism to deteriorate relations with Germany. Military was trained in France instead and relations to Western Europe and Sweden were strengthened.

In 1917 the population was 3 million. Land reform was enacted after the civil war, increasing the percantage of capital-owning population.[7] About 70% of workers were occupied in agriculture and 10% in industry.[8] The largest export markets were United Kingdom and Germany. Great Depression in the early ’30s was relatively light in Finland.

Finland during World War II

During World War II, Finland fought the Soviet Union twice: in the Winter War of 1939–40 after the Soviet Union had attacked Finland and in the Continuation War of 1941–44, following Operation Barbarossa in which Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Following German losses on the Eastern Front and the subsequent Soviet advance, Finland was forced to make peace with the Soviet Union. This was followed by the Lapland War of 1944–45, when Finland forced the Germans out of northern Finland.

The treaties signed in 1947 and 1948 with the Soviet Union included Finnish obligations, restraints, and reparations as well as further Finnish territorial concessions (cf. the Moscow Peace Treaty of 1940). Finland ceded most of Finnish Karelia, Salla, and Pechenga, which amounted to ten percent of its land area and twenty percent of its industrial capacity. Some 400,000 evacuees, mainly women and children, fled these areas. Establishing trade with the Western powers, such as the United Kingdom, and the reparations to the Soviet Union caused Finland to transform itself from a primarily agrarian economy to an industrialised one. Even after the reparations had been paid off, Finland continued to trade with the Soviet Union in the framework of bilateral trade.

Cold war

In 1950 a half of the workers was occupied in agriculture and a third lived in urban towns.[9] The new jobs in manufacturing, services and trade quickly attracted people towns. The average number of births per woman declined from baby boom peak 3.5 in 1947 to 1.5 in 1973.[9] When baby boomers entered the workforce, the economy didn’t generate jobs fast enough and hundreds of thousands emigrated to the more industrialized Sweden, migration peaking in 1969 and 1970.[9] This mass migration is largely the reason why 4.7 percent of Sweden’s population speak Finnish today.

Officially claiming to be neutral, Finland lay in the grey zone between the Western countries and the Soviet Union. The “YYA Treaty” (Finno-Soviet Pact of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance) gave the Soviet Union some leverage in Finnish domestic politics. This was extensively exploited by President Urho Kekkonen against his opponents. He maintained an effective monopoly on Soviet relations, which gave him a status of “only choice for president”. There was also a tendency of self-censorship regarding Finno-Soviet relations. This phenomenon was given the name “Finlandisation” by the German press (fi. suomettuminen). When Finlandisation was not enough, direct censorship was used, including in 1700 books and many movies, and asylym-seeking defectors were returned to be killed by the Soviet Union. Soviets created and financed anti-Western and pro-Soviet youth movements peaking in 70s, when communist-led Teen Union harassed teachers suspected of bourgeois ideas, and their former members have still a lot power. Soviet intelligence services sometimes used their contacts to install personnel in the administration, mass media, academia, political parties and trade unions. Politicization was widespread and public sector workers were often dependent on having the correct political party membership.

However, Finland maintained a democratic government and a market economy unlike most other countries bordering the Soviet Union. Property rights were strong. While nationalization committees were set up in France and UK, Finland avoided nationalizations. After failed experiments with protectionism, Finland eased restrictions and made a free trade agreement with the European Community in 1973, making its markets more competitive. Local education market expanded and an increasing number of Finns also went to have education in the United States or Western Europe, bringing back advanced skills. There was quite common, but pragmatic-minded, credit and investment cooperation by state and corporations, though it was considered with suspicion. Support for capitalism was widespread.[7] Savings rate hovered among the world’s highest, at around 8% until 80s. In the beginning of the 1970s, Finland’s GDP per capita reached the level of Japan and the UK. Finland’s development shared many aspects with Asian countries such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan.[7]

Having been targeted by Soviet intelligence and youth propaganda, liberals lost support and socialist-majority generations seized power in 70s and 80s. Corporatism and taxes were increased. The power of social democrats and the almost overnight-grown trade union SAK became hegemonic in politics.[10] In 1991 Finland fell into a Great Depression-magnitude depression caused by combination economic overheating, depressed Western, Soviet and local markets, and disappearance of Soviet barter system. Stock market and housing prices declined by 50%.[11] The growth in the 1980s was based on debt, and when the defaults began rolling in, GDP declined by 15% and unemployment increased from a virtual full employment to one fifth of the workforce. The crisis was amplified by trade unions’ initial opposition to any reforms. Politicians struggled to cut spending and the public debt doubled to around 60% of GDP.[11] After devaluations the depression bottomed out in 1993.

Liberalization and integration with the West

Like other Nordic countries, Finland has liberalized the economy since late 80s. Financial and product market regulation was removed. The market is now one of the most free in Europe. State enterprises were privatized and taxes were cut. However, unlike in Denmark, trade unions blocked job market reforms, causing persistent unemployment and a two-tier job market. Trade unions also blocked social security reform proposals towards basic income or negative income tax. Finland joined the European Union in 1995. The central bank was given an inflation-targeting mandate until Finland joined eurozone.[11] The growth rate has since been one of the highest of OECD countries and Finland has topped many indicators of national performance.

In addition to fast integration with the European Union, safety against Russian leverage has been increased by building fully NATO-compatible military. 1000 troops (a high per-capita amount) are simultaneously committed in NATO operations. Finland has also opposed energy projects that increase dependency on Moscow.[12] At the same time, Finland remains one of the last non-members in Europe and there seems to be not enough support for full membership unless Sweden joins first.[13]

The population is aging with the birth rate at 10.42 births/1,000 population or fertility rate at 1.8.[9] With median age at 41.6 years Finland is one of the oldest countries [14] and a half of voters is estimated to be over 50 years old. Like most European countries, without further reforms or much higher immigration Finland is expected to struggle with demographics, even though macroeconomic projections are healthier than in most other developed countries.

Geography Location: Northern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Bothnia, and Gulf of Finland, between Sweden and Russia
Geographic coordinates: 64 00 N, 26 00 E
Map references: Europe
Area: total: 338,145 sq km
land: 304,473 sq km
water: 33,672 sq km
Area – comparative: slightly smaller than Montana
Land boundaries: total: 2,681 km
border countries: Norway 727 km, Sweden 614 km, Russia 1,340 km
Coastline: 1,250 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm (in the Gulf of Finland – 3 nm)
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive fishing zone: 12 nm; extends to continental shelf boundary with Sweden
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
Climate: cold temperate; potentially subarctic but comparatively mild because of moderating influence of the North Atlantic Current, Baltic Sea, and more than 60,000 lakes
Terrain: mostly low, flat to rolling plains interspersed with lakes and low hills
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Baltic Sea 0 m
highest point: Haltiatunturi 1,328 m
Natural resources: timber, iron ore, copper, lead, zinc, chromite, nickel, gold, silver, limestone
Land use: arable land: 6.54%
permanent crops: 0.02%
other: 93.44% (2005)
Irrigated land: 640 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 110 cu km (2005)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 2.33 cu km/yr (14%/84%/3%)
per capita: 444 cu m/yr (1999)
Natural hazards: NA
Environment – current issues: air pollution from manufacturing and power plants contributing to acid rain; water pollution from industrial wastes, agricultural chemicals; habitat loss threatens wildlife populations
Environment – international agreements: party to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Sulfur 85, Air Pollution-Sulfur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography – note: long boundary with Russia; Helsinki is northernmost national capital on European continent; population concentrated on small southwestern coastal plain
Politics Politics of Finland takes place in a framework of a semi-presidential representative democratic republic and of a multi-party system. The President of Finland is the head of state, leads the foreign policy, and is the Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Forces. The Prime Minister of Finland is the head of government; executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in the Parliament of Finland, and the government has limited rights to amend or extend legislation. The president has the power of veto over parliamentary decisions although it can be overrun by the parliament.

Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. The Judiciary consists of two systems, regular courts and administrative courts, headed by the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court, respectively. Administrative courts process cases where official decisions are contested. There is no “Constitutional Court”, i.e. the constitutionality of a law cannot be contested.

Though Finland has a primarily parliamentary system, the president has some notable powers. The foreign policy is led by the president, “in co-operation” with the cabinet, and the same applies to matters concerning national security. The main executive power lies in the cabinet headed by the prime minister. Before the constitutional rewrite, which was completed in 2000, the president enjoyed more power.

Finns enjoy individual and political freedoms, and suffrage is universal at 18; Finland was the first country to give full eligibility to women. The country’s population is ethnically homogeneous with no sizable immigrant population. Few tensions exist between the Finnish-speaking majority and the Swedish-speaking minority, although in certain circles there is an unending debate about the status of the Swedish language. According to Transparency International, Finland has had the lowest level of corruption in all the countries studied in their survey for the last several years.

The labor agreements also pose significant political questions. Bargaining is highly centralized and often the government participates to coordinate fiscal policy. Finland has universal validity of collective labour agreements and often, but not always, the trade unions, employers and the government reach a Comprehensive Income Policy Agreement. Significant trade unions are SAK, STTK, AKAVA and EK.

People Population: 5,238,460 (July 2007 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 16.9% (male 449,548/female 433,253)
15-64 years: 66.7% (male 1,768,996/female 1,727,143)
65 years and over: 16.4% (male 344,798/female 514,722) (2007 est.)
Median age: total: 41.6 years
male: 40 years
female: 43.1 years (2007 est.)
Population growth rate: 0.127% (2007 est.)
Birth rate: 10.42 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Death rate: 9.93 deaths/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Net migration rate: 0.78 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.04 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.038 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.024 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.67 male(s)/female
total population: 0.958 male(s)/female (2007 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 3.52 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 3.84 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 3.2 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 78.66 years
male: 75.15 years
female: 82.31 years (2007 est.)
Total fertility rate: 1.73 children born/woman

The president’s performance in Paris was a stunning abdication of global leadership!

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SLATE NEWS)

 

Trump Retreats From the West

The president’s performance in Paris was a stunning abdication of global leadership.

U.S. President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and his wife Brigitte Macron attend a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Sunday.
U.S. President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and his wife Brigitte Macron attend a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Sunday.
Benoit Tessier/AFP/Getty Images

The most disturbing thing about President Trump’s disgraceful performance in France this past weekend is the clear signal it sent that, under his thumb, the United States has left the West.

He came to the continent to join with other world leaders to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. But the significance of the armistice is not so much to commemorate the fallen in an absurd and ghastly war as it is to celebrate the special peace—grounded in a democratic European Union and a trans-Atlantic alliance—that grew in its wake and the greater war that followed.

And yet, after flying nearly 4,000 miles across the Atlantic, Trump stayed in his room in Paris on Saturday rather than making the additional 50-mile trip to the Aisne-Marne cemetery, where 50,000 American soldiers were laid to rest a century ago. His excuse for not attending was lame, to say the least. His aides said, after the fact, that rainfall precluded a trip by helicopter—a claim refuted by the writer James Fallows, an instrument-certified pilot who, as a former White House official, is familiar with this helicopter.

A later claim, that the route posed a challenge to the large presidential motorcade, is doubly insulting. It’s insulting, first, to the Secret Service and White House travel office whose professionals prepare for, and surmount, any and all obstacles on such trips (an insult exacerbated by the fact that none of the other leaders’ security teams had any trouble dealing with the route); second, to the armed forces and allies, who must wonder whether Trump might turn away from the challenges of mobilizing armored battalions to the front lines in the event of an invasion.

Let us stipulate that Trump didn’t want to get his hair mussed or that security risks frightened him, which may also explain the fact that he hasn’t yet visited American troops in any war zone. (By contrast, Obama made his first trip to Iraq three months into his term and, in his time as president, flew eight times to Afghanistan; George W. Bush, in his two terms, made four trips to Iraq and two to Afghanistan.) However, this does not explain Trump’s late showing for Sunday’s ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe, or his skipping of the march toward that event down the Champs-Elysees.

Among the more than 60 world leaders who gathered for the ceremony, only he and Russian President Vladimir Putin were latecomers. (British Prime Minister Theresa May didn’t come to France at all, perhaps owing to her own current problems with the EU.) Many cocked eyebrows have been thrown at the photo of Trump beaming at Putin, while other allied leaders went deadpan, as his friend from the Kremlin approached.

Back in 1917, Russia was the first allied nation to leave the war as the Bolsheviks took power, in part thanks to the Germans, who smuggled Lenin onto a train from Zurich back home, where he proceeded to lead the revolution. That same year, the United States was the last allied nation to enter the war, supplying the aid and firepower that helped break the stalemate and secure victory.

President Woodrow Wilson then led negotiations for a peace on such onerous terms to the defeated powers—historian David Fromkin called it “a peace to end all peace”—that a resumption of war 20 years later was almost inevitable. World War II was fueled by nationalist impulses and facilitated by the crumbling of empires—both of which resonate with developments in global politics today.

This was the context of French President Emmanuel Macron’s speech at the Arc de Triomphe, in which he condemned nationalism—the “selfishness of nations only looking after their own interests”—as a “betrayal of patriotism.” In part, and most obviously, he was jabbing at Trump, who listened with a scowl; but he was also warning against, as he put it, “old demons coming back to wreak chaos and death.” Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it, George Santayana once wrote. The problem with Trump is he never knew history—and doesn’t think he needs to learn it. His election marked Year Zero, as far as he is concerned: He frequently says that he’s unlike, and better than, any previous president, so any lessons of the past are irrelevant.

Macron and everyone else at the Arc had not only the rise of Trump in mind but also the turn toward right-wing nationalism in Hungary and Poland, the uncertain course of Brexit in Britain, and the collapse of Angela Merkel’s centrist coalition in Germany—leaving Macron as the last surviving celebrator of the post-WWII Western traditions, and he too is buffeted by pressures from the left and the right.

At such an occasion so rife with moment and symbolism, any other American president would have felt compelled to repair and strengthen this union. If there were any doubts that President Trump understands little about his mission, and cares even less, this trip dispelled them once and for all.

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Do Macedonians want their country to join NATO and the EU?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

Do Macedonians want their country to join NATO and the EU? A historic referendum will decide

Rally in Skopje, MAcedonia in support for the referendum on EU and NATO accession.

Pro-referendum rally on 16 September 2018 in Skopje. Photo by Andreja Stojkovski via Twitter, used with permission.

On September 30, Macedonians will vote in a referendum to decide whether their country should join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance and the European Union (EU).

The referendum is part of a process that began in 1993, when all political parties in the then newly independent Republic of Macedonia declared joining NATO a key strategic priority. Many believe that membership in the military alliance would help protect Macedonia, located in the volatile Balkans region, from external aggression and civil war. Years later the country made a similar commitment to strive for EU membership.

Admission to both NATO and the EU require the consensus of all existing members, so Macedonia needed first solve bilateral disputes with its neighbors, some of which already belonged the two organizations.

The biggest obstacle was the long-standing naming dispute with Greece, which has hindered Macedonia’s development for 27 years. In June 2018, as a precondition for removing the Greek veto on its EU and NATO membership, Macedonia signed an agreement which obliges the country to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia.

In spite of the agreement, the name change remains a core issue. The September 30 referendum explicitly asks:

‘Are you in favor of EU and NATO membership by accepting the Agreement between the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Greece?’

A majority must participate

The referendum is not legally binding but rather consultative, and will only be considered valid if a majority of registered voters participate. But failure to reach the required 50 per cent voter turnout would not stop the NATO and EU accession process, which requires further action by parliament.

According to one Twitter user:

Мутен@toVornottoV

30 септември дава можност за конечно помрднуење од status quo-то у кое што смо заглавени и конечно ослободуење од бизарен проблем што не влече надоле скоро 30 године. Затоа ќе .

September 30 provides an opportunity to finally move from the status quo which has stymied us, to finally break free from a bizarre problem that has been holding us down for almost 30 years. That’s why #IVote.

For other voters, the referendum is both symbolic and cathartic, representing a return “to the right path” after “the lost decade” of democratic backsliding, and many have been holding their breath in anticipation:

mindрluмbеr@mindplumber

Цела држава се неуротизирала, све се остава за „после 30-ти“.
А бе, сендвич да сакаш да купиш, таа на скарата ќе ти каже „немој сеа, ај после 30-ти, да се расчисти“

The whole state has become neurotic, everything is left [for] ‘after the 30th’. Even if you want to buy a sandwich, the barbecue lady might say, ‘Not now, let’s do it after the 30th, after the situation clears’.

Calls for a boycott

This anxiety may have to do with the boycott campaign being waged by right-wing populist opponents and led by several fringe non-parliamentary parties, including pro-Russian, Euro-skeptic and anti-NATO United Macedonia, which styles itself on Putin’s United Russia.

The campaign stokes the fears of ethnic Macedonians by presenting the country’s name change as the first step along a slippery slope that will lead to genocide, or ethnocentric. The campaign is steeped in disinformation and hate speech, from intentional misinterpretations of the consequences of the agreement with Greece, to claims that the government has given citizenship to Albanians from Kosovo to boost the number of “yes” votes. There have even been suggestions of election fraud, to which one Twitter user replied:

Ленка многу кенка@RedRadish5

Кога стварно мислиш дека ќе местат гласање излегуваш да гласаш за да им отежнеш, а не седиш дома

When you really think that authorities plan voter fraud, citizens go out and vote to make it harder for them, they don’t sit at home.

Meanwhile, the main opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, a member of the conservative European People’s Party (EPP), has sat on the fence, neither openly endorsing the boycott campaign nor encouraging its supporters to participate in the referendum and vote against the agreement with Greece, which it considers “a capitulation”.

Other EPP members have accused VMRO-DPMNE of hypocrisy, as high ranking party officials participated personally in the boycott, and the campaign was vigorously promoted by media outlets reputed for being party mouthpieces.

Representatives of the ruling SDSM have also claimed that VMRO-DPMNE had attempted to make a deal, promising to throw its support behind the referendum if its former party leaders on trial for corruption were given an amnesty. The government refused, and the VMRO-DPMNE’s indecisive position is largely being interpreted as sign of weakness:

НиколаСтрез@NikolaStrez

За едно од најважните прашања за Македонија, вмро нема став и повикува секој да гласа по свое убедување.

Очекувам на следните избори, кога ќе сакаат да дојдат на власт, да излезат со истиот став и да не сугерираат за кого да гласаме.

VMRO-DPMNE has no official position on one of the most important issues for Macedonia, and has declared that people should vote according to their own preference. In the next elections, I expect that they will adopt the same position and won’t advocate whom to vote for.

Social media tactics and allegations about Russia

On social media the “I boycott” campaign (#бојкотирам) started over the summer, and involved mainly anonymous social media profiles and sock puppets from the VMRO-DPMNE troll army. Observers noticed a high number of new profiles appear in August 2018, suspected to be automated bots originating outside the country. The campaign was also shared via profiles linked to specific individuals, including VMRO-DPMNE’s foreign lobbyists, Macedonian nationalist organizations operating in the diaspora, and Macedonia’s president, who gained his position with the party’s support.

Around 50 people attended the Boycott campaign rally in Ohrid on 22 September. Photo by GV, CC-BY.

Western sources alleged that Russia was trying to obstruct the consolidation of the NATO and EU process; when asked, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev diplomatically said that the authorities have not found “evidence of direct Russian influence with fake news” regarding the referendum, and that he trusts Macedonia’s NATO allies on this matter.

Prior to that statement, however, Zaev was less reserved in pointing to Kremlin-related attempts — including the funding of violent protests by a Greek-Russian oligarch — to obstruct the deal with Greece. Moreover, an independent journalist discovered that back in 2015, a Russian troll farm specialist named Anna Bogacheva had visited Macedonia on business. She has since been named as one of 13 Russian nationals indicted over alleged interference in the 2016 United States election.

The “I Boycott” campaign has also employed tactics used by the American alt-right, including use of the Pepe the Frog meme, which was ridiculed even by VMRO-DPMNE members who couldn’t understand how their party’s symbol, the mighty lion, was reduced to a frog.

Ready for change

There have been attempts, mostly through cyber-bullying, to intimidate activists and ‘dissenting’ right-wing figures who have said they will take part in the referendum. Former VMRO-DPMNE government minister Nikola Todorov’s revelation that he would vote “no” exposed him to particularly vicious harassment on Facebook. But in spite of some of the threats issues, observers don’t expect much violence.

Numerous citizens have also expressed their support for both the referendum as the ultimate tool of democracy, and for the government-backed campaign to vote in it:

Бени@Shushmula

Скоро три полни децении живееме во пештера а сакаме светот да не знае и прифати.
Од сето тоа светот знае само дека живееме во пештера.

Almost 3 decades we’ve been living in a cave, while wanting the world to know about as and to accept us.
Out of all that, the world only knows that we’ve been living in a cave.
#IVote!

If surveys conducted in the months before the referendum are anything to go by, most Macedonian citizens are ready for change, even if that means swallowing the bitter pill of the name change in exchange for the long-term benefits of NATO and EU membership.

IS THE E.U. GOING TO ‘LIBERATE TRIPOLI’?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Haftar Hints at ‘Liberating Tripoli’

Saturday, 8 September, 2018 – 09:15
European Parliament President Antonio Tajani arrives at a European Union leaders informal summit in Brussels, Belgium, February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Brussels, Cairo- Abdullah Mustafa and Khalid Mahmoud
Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar said Thursday that the “Tripoli crisis shouldn’t go longer and liberating the Libyan capital is inevitable.”

Speaking to tribal leaders in Benghazi, he declared that he would liberate Tripoli through a well-structured plan to end what he called militia rule.

“We will not be silent about the current situation in Tripoli anymore,” he stressed.

Haftar warned that, if elections in Libya are not transparent, his LNA will obstruct them.

The parliament called on its members to attend two sessions at its headquarters in Tobruk Monday and Tuesday in order to enact the bill of a referendum over the constitution. These sessions are the last chance before heading to the presidential elections in case the quorum is not met to pass the bill.

Meanwhile, disputes continued between France and Italy over the Libyan crisis, although Italy’s Defense Minister Elisabetta Trenta urged cooperation between the two countries.

In a related matter, European Parliament president Antonio Tajani said Friday that “the future of Libya is being decided now, and the EU has to play a central role in managing this crisis. If we are not able to carry out this task, we will leave the door open for the ambitions and interests of countries.”

“In the absence of a stable Libyan government that can control the country´s borders and territory, managing migration flows from Libya´s coast will become more difficult,” Tajani said, adding that the smuggling of weapons and drugs will continue to help terrorists, putting in danger the safety of African and European citizens.

“The country is a powder keg ready to explode.

“The clashes in Tripoli that caused over 200 dead over the last few days have further exacerbated internal conflicts and, despite an agreement on a ceasefire, the situation remains extremely fragile.”

Luxembourg: Truth, Knowledge, History Of This European Nation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACT BOOK)

 

Luxembourg

Introduction Founded in 963, Luxembourg became a grand duchy in 1815 and an independent state under the Netherlands. It lost more than half of its territory to Belgium in 1839, but gained a larger measure of autonomy. Full independence was attained in 1867. Overrun by Germany in both World Wars, it ended its neutrality in 1948 when it entered into the Benelux Customs Union and when it joined NATO the following year. In 1957, Luxembourg became one of the six founding countries of the European Economic Community (later the European Union), and in 1999 it joined the euro currency area.
History The recorded history of Luxembourg begins with the acquisition of Lucilinburhuc (today Luxembourg Castle) by Siegfried, Count of Ardennes in 963. Around this fort, a town gradually developed, which became the centre of a small state of great strategic value. In 1437, the House of Luxembourg suffered a succession crisis, precipitated by the lack of a male heir to assume the throne, that led to the territory being sold to Philip the Good of Burgundy.[3] In the following centuries, Luxembourg’s fortress was steadily enlarged and strengthened by its successive occupants, the Bourbons, Habsburgs, Hohenzollerns, and the French, among others. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, Luxembourg was disputed between Prussia and the Netherlands. The Congress of Vienna formed Luxembourg as a Grand Duchy in personal union with the Netherlands. Luxembourg also became a member of the German Confederation, with a Confederate fortress manned by Prussian troops.

The Belgian Revolution of 1830–1839 reduced Luxembourg’s territory by more than half, as the predominantly francophone western part of the country was transferred to Belgium. Luxembourg’s independence was reaffirmed by the 1839 First Treaty of London. In the same year, Luxembourg joined the Zollverein. Luxembourg’s independence and neutrality were again affirmed by the 1867 Second Treaty of London, after the Luxembourg Crisis nearly led to war between Prussia and France. After the latter conflict, the Confederate fortress was dismantled.

The King of the Netherlands remained Head of State as Grand Duke of Luxembourg, maintaining personal union between the two countries until 1890. At the death of William III, the Dutch throne passed to his daughter Wilhelmina, while Luxembourg (at that time restricted to male heirs by the Nassau Family Pact) passed to Adolph of Nassau-Weilburg.

Luxembourg was invaded and occupied by Germany during the First World War, but was allowed to maintain its independence and political mechanisms. It was again invaded and subject to German occupation in the Second World War in 1940, and was formally annexed into the Third Reich in 1942.

During World War II, Luxembourg abandoned its policy of neutrality, when it joined the Allies in fighting Germany. Its government, exiled to London, set up a small group of volunteers who participated in the Normandy invasion. It became a founding member of the United Nations in 1946, and of NATO in 1949. In 1957, Luxembourg became one of the six founding countries of the European Economic Community (later the European Union), and, in 1999, it joined the euro currency area. In 2005, a referendum on the EU treaty establishing a constitution for Europe was held in Luxembourg.

Geography Location: Western Europe, between France and Germany
Geographic coordinates: 49 45 N, 6 10 E
Map references: Europe
Area: total: 2,586 sq km
land: 2,586 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Area – comparative: slightly smaller than Rhode Island
Land boundaries: total: 359 km
border countries: Belgium 148 km, France 73 km, Germany 138 km
Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)
Maritime claims: none (landlocked)
Climate: modified continental with mild winters, cool summers
Terrain: mostly gently rolling uplands with broad, shallow valleys; uplands to slightly mountainous in the north; steep slope down to Moselle flood plain in the southeast
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Moselle River 133 m
highest point: Buurgplaatz 559 m
Natural resources: iron ore (no longer exploited), arable land
Land use: arable land: 27.42%
permanent crops: 0.69%
other: 71.89% (includes Belgium) (2005)
Irrigated land: NA
Total renewable water resources: 1.6 cu km (2005)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 0.06 cu km/yr (42%/45%/13%)
per capita: 121 cu m/yr (1999)
Natural hazards: NA
Environment – current issues: air and water pollution in urban areas, soil pollution of farmland
Environment – international agreements: party to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Sulfur 85, Air Pollution-Sulfur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Environmental Modification
Geography – note: landlocked; the only Grand Duchy in the world
Politics Luxembourg is a parliamentary democracy headed by a constitutional monarch. Under the constitution of 1868, executive power is exercised by the Governor and the cabinet, which consists of several other ministers. The Governor has the power to dissolve the legislature and reinstate a new one, as long as the Governor has judicial approval. However, since 1919, sovereignty has resided with the Supreme Court.

Legislative power is vested in the Chamber of Deputies, a unicameral legislature of sixty members, who are directly elected to five-year terms from four constituencies. A second body, the Council of State (Conseil d’État), composed of twenty-one ordinary citizens appointed by the Grand Duke, advises the Chamber of Deputies in the drafting of legislation.

The Grand Duchy has three lower tribunals (justices de paix; in Esch-sur-Alzette, the city of Luxembourg, and Diekirch), two district tribunals (Luxembourg and Diekirch) and a Superior Court of Justice (Luxembourg), which includes the Court of Appeal and the Court of Cassation. There is also an Administrative Tribunal and an Administrative Court, as well as a Constitutional Court, all of which are located in the capital.

People Population: 486,006 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 18.6% (male 46,729/female 43,889)
15-64 years: 66.6% (male 163,356/female 160,425)
65 years and over: 14.7% (male 29,206/female 42,401) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 39 years
male: 38 years
female: 40 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 1.188% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 11.77 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 8.43 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: 8.54 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.07 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.02 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.69 male(s)/female
total population: 0.97 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 4.62 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 4.62 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 4.62 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 79.18 years
male: 75.91 years
female: 82.67 years

Malta: Truth, Knowledge, History Of This Mediterranean Island Nation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACT BOOK)

 

Malta

Introduction Great Britain formally acquired possession of Malta in 1814. The island staunchly supported the UK through both World Wars and remained in the Commonwealth when it became independent in 1964. A decade later Malta became a republic. Since about the mid-1980s, the island has transformed itself into a freight transshipment point, a financial center, and a tourist destination. Malta became an EU member in May 2004, and will begin to use the euro as currency in 2008.
History Early settlements of Malta

Malta is home to the oldest freestanding structure in the world: the oldest of all the megalithic temples on the islands is il-Ġgantija, in Gozo (Għawdex) dating back to before 3500 BC. One of the very earliest marks of civilization on the islands is the temple of Ħaġar Qim, which dates from between 3200 and 2500 BC, stands on a hilltop on the southern edge of the island of Malta. Adjacent to Ħaġar Qim, lies another remarkable temple site, l-Imnajdra. The people who built these structures eventually died out or at any rate disappeared. Phoenicians colonized the islands around 700 BC,[7] using them as an outpost from which they expanded sea explorations and trade in the Mediterranean.

After the fall of Tyre, the islands later came under the control of Carthage (400 BC), a former Phoenician colony, and then of Rome (218 BC). The islands prospered under Roman rule, during which time they were considered a Municipium and a Foederata Civitas. Many Roman antiquities still exist, testifying to the close link between the Maltese inhabitants and the people of Rome. The island was a favorite among Roman soldiers as a place to retire from active service. In 60 AD the islands were visited by Saint Paul, who is said to have been shipwrecked on the shores of the aptly-named “San Pawl il-Baħar” (Saint Paul’s Bay). Studies of the currents and prevalent winds at the time however, render it more likely that the shipwreck occurred in or around Daħlet San Tumas in Marsascala.[citation needed]

After a period of Byzantine rule (fourth to ninth century) and a probable sack by the Vandals, the islands were conquered by the Arabs in 870 AD. The Arabs, who generally tolerated the population’s Christianity, introduced the cultivation of citrus fruits and cotton, and irrigation systems. Arab influence can be seen most prominently in the modern Maltese language, a Semitic language which also contains significant Romance influences, and is written in a variation of the Latin alphabet.

The period of Arab rule lasted until 1091, when the islands were taken by the Siculo-Normans. A century later the last Norman king, Tancredo di Lecce, appointed Margarito di Brindisi the first Count of Malta. Subsequent rulers included the Swabian, Angevin, Aragonese, Castillians who reconstituted a County of Malta in 1283. The Maltese nobility was established during this period; some of it dating back to 1400. Around thirty-two noble titles remain in use today, of which the oldest is the Barony of Djar il-Bniet e Buqana.

Knights of Malta and Napoleon

In 1530 Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain gave the islands to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in perpetual lease. The Crown of Aragon had owned the islands as part of its Mediterranean empire for some time. These knights, a military religious order now known as the “Knights of Malta”, had been driven out of Rhodes by the Ottoman Empire in 1522. They withstood a full-blown siege by the Ottoman Turks in 1565, at the time the greatest naval power in the Mediterranean sea. After this they decided to increase the fortifications, particularly in the inner-harbour area, where the new city of Valletta, named after Grand Master Jean de la Valette, was built.

Their reign ended when Malta was captured by Napoleon en route to his expedition of Egypt during the French Revolutionary Wars in 1798. As a ruse, Napoleon asked for safe harbour to resupply his ships, and then turned his guns against his hosts once safely inside Valletta. The Grand Master knew that he could only allow a few ships at a time to enter the harbour, due to the Treaty of Trent. Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim capitulated, and Napoleon stayed in Malta for a few days, during which time he systematically looted the movable assets of the Order, and established an administration controlled by his nominees. He then sailed for Egypt, leaving a substantial garrison in Malta.

The occupying French forces were unpopular, however, due particularly to their negative attitude towards religion. Their financial and religious reforms did not go down well with the citizens. The Maltese rebelled against them, and the French were forced behind the fortifications. Great Britain, along with the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, sent munitions and aid to the rebels. Britain also sent her navy, which instigated a blockade of the islands. The isolated French forces, under General Claude-Henri Belgrand de Vaubois, surrendered in 1800, and the island became a British Dominion, being presented by several Maltese leaders to Sir Alexander Ball.

British rule and World War II

In 1814, as part of the Treaty of Paris, Malta officially became a part of the British Empire, and was used as a shipping way-station and fleet headquarters. Malta’s position half-way between Gibraltar and the Suez Canal proved to be its main asset during these years, and it was considered to be an important stop on the way to India.

In the early 1930s, the British Mediterranean Fleet, which was at the time the main contributor for the commerce on the island, was moved to Alexandria as an economic measure. Malta played an important role during World War II, owing to its proximity to Axis shipping lanes. The bravery of the Maltese people in their long struggle against enemy attack moved HM King George VI to award the George Cross to Malta on a collective basis on April 15, 1942 “to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history”. Some historians argue that the award caused Britain to incur disproportionate losses in defending Malta, as British credibility would suffer if Malta was surrendered, as Singapore had been.[8] A replica of the George Cross now appears in the upper hoist corner of the Flag of Malta. The collective award remained unique until April 1999, when the Royal Ulster Constabulary became the second – and, to date, the only other – recipient of the collective George Cross.

Independence

After the war, and after the Malta Labour Party’s unsuccessful attempt at “Integration with Britain”, Malta was granted independence on September 21, 1964 (Independence Day). Under its 1964 constitution, Malta initially retained Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of Malta, with a Governor-General exercising executive authority on her behalf. On December 13, 1974 (Republic Day) it became a republic within the Commonwealth, with the President as head of state. A defence agreement signed soon after independence (and re-negotiated in 1972) expired on March 31, 1979 (Freedom Day) when the British military forces were withdrawn. Malta adopted an official policy of neutrality in 1980 and for a brief period was a member of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries. In 1989 Malta was the venue of an important summit between US President Bush and Soviet leader Gorbachev, their first face-to-face encounter, which signaled the end of the Cold War.

Malta joined the European Union on May 1, 2004.[9] Following the European Council of 21 to 22 June 2007 it joined the Eurozone on January 1, 2008.

Geography Location: Southern Europe, islands in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Sicily (Italy)
Geographic coordinates: 35 50 N, 14 35 E
Map references: Europe
Area: total: 316 sq km
land: 316 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Area – comparative: slightly less than twice the size of Washington, DC
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 196.8 km (does not include 56.01 km for the island of Gozo)
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
exclusive fishing zone: 25 nm
Climate: Mediterranean; mild, rainy winters; hot, dry summers
Terrain: mostly low, rocky, flat to dissected plains; many coastal cliffs
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Mediterranean Sea 0 m
highest point: Ta’Dmejrek 253 m (near Dingli)
Natural resources: limestone, salt, arable land
Land use: arable land: 31.25%
permanent crops: 3.13%
other: 65.62% (2005)
Irrigated land: 20 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 0.07 cu km (2005)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 0.02 cu km/yr (74%/1%/25%)
per capita: 50 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards: NA
Environment – current issues: limited natural fresh water resources; increasing reliance on desalination
Environment – international agreements: party to: Air Pollution, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography – note: the country comprises an archipelago, with only the three largest islands (Malta, Ghawdex or Gozo, and Kemmuna or Comino) being inhabited; numerous bays provide good harbors; Malta and Tunisia are discussing the commercial exploitation of the continental shelf between their countries, particularly for oil exploration
Politics Malta is a republic,[11] whose parliamentary system and public administration is closely modeled on the Westminster system. The unicameral House of Representatives, (Maltese: Il-Kamra tar-Rappreżentanti), is elected by direct universal suffrage through single transferable vote every five years, unless the House is dissolved earlier by the President on advice of the Prime Minister. The House of Representatives is made up of sixty-five Members of Parliament. However, where a party wins an absolute majority of votes, but does not have a majority of seats, that party is given additional seats to ensure a parliamentary majority. The Constitution of Malta provides that the President appoint as Prime Minister the member of the House who is best able to command a (governing) majority in the House.

The President of the Republic is elected every five years by the House of Representatives. The role of the president as head of state is largely ceremonial.

The main political parties are the Nationalist Party, which is a Christian democratic party, and the Malta Labour Party, which is a social democratic party.

The Nationalist Party is currently at the helm of the government, the Prime Minister being Dr. Lawrence Gonzi. The Malta Labour Party is in the opposition.

There are a number of smaller political parties in Malta that presently have no parliamentary representation.

On February 4, 2008 President Dr. Eddie Fenech Adami dissolved the Parliament, acting on a request from Prime Minister Dr. Lawrence Gonzi[12]. The general elections were held on the March 8, 2008, and four political parties presented candidates on all districts; namely, the two main parties, the Democratic Alternative (Alternattiva Demokratika), and the recently-formed National Action (Azzjoni Nazzjonali). The Nationalist Party won the election by a slim majority of 1580 votes, which were however enough to secure its third consecutive term[13]. The Malta Labour Party conceded the election on 10 March, and Dr. Alfred Sant resigned from the position of Party Leader later that morning.

People Population: 403,532 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 16.4% (male 33,954/female 32,158)
15-64 years: 69.7% (male 142,338/female 138,792)
65 years and over: 13.9% (male 24,240/female 32,050) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 39.2 years
male: 37.9 years
female: 40.6 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 0.407% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 10.33 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 8.29 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: 2.03 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.06 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.03 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.76 male(s)/female
total population: 0.99 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 3.79 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 4.25 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 3.3 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 79.3 years
male: 77.08 years
female: 81.64 years (2008 est.)
Total fertility rate: 1.51 children born/woman (2008 est.)
HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate: 0.2% (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS – people living with HIV/AIDS: less than 500 (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS – deaths: less than 100 (2003 est.)
Nationality: noun: Maltese (singular and plural)
adjective: Maltese
Ethnic groups: Maltese (descendants of ancient Carthaginians and Phoenicians, with strong elements of Italian and other Mediterranean stock)
Religions: Roman Catholic 98%
Languages: Maltese (official), English (official)
Literacy: definition: age 10 and over can read and write
total population: 92.8%
male: 92%
female: 93.6% (2003 est.)
Government Country name: conventional long form: Republic of Malta
conventional short form: Malta

Corporate concentration threatens American democracy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THE WORLD POST’)

 

Corporate concentration threatens American democracy

By Nathan Gardels, WorldPost editor in chief

Corporate concentration in the United States is not only increasing inequality but also undermining competition and consumers’ standard of living. Politically, the commensurate lobbying influence of big tech, big finance and other large conglomerates has created what political scientist Francis Fukuyama calls a “vetocracy” — where vested concerns have amassed the clout to choke off legislative reforms that would diminish their spoils.

Why the opposite is happening in the European Union is an unfamiliar tale of how governance one step removed from electoral democracy has been able to resist the lobbying of organized special interests to make policy that benefits the average person.

Active antitrust policies in the second half of the 20th century fairly leveled the playing field of American commerce. “But starting around 2000, U.S. markets began to lose their competitive edge,” Germán Gutiérrez and Thomas Philippon write, based on a new study of theirs.

“Now, Internet access and monthly cellphone plans are much cheaper in Europe than in America, as are flights. Even in Mexico, mobile data plans are better priced than in the United States. … Meanwhile in the United States, deregulation and antitrust efforts have nearly ground to a halt. The United States has not completed a major reform to the goods and services market since 1996, and as a result, its industries have grown increasingly concentrated.”

What explains this stunning shift is deliberate policy choices. As the authors relate: “European countries created the single market, which took effect in 1993, and deregulated their domestic markets. Today, most European Union countries score better than the United States in enacting policies that make industries more competitive. Not surprisingly, antitrust enforcement remains active in Europe, with two recent cases against Google resulting in over $7.7 billion in fines. European markets are also less concentrated than U.S. markets.”

Gutiérrez and Philippon argue that “free markets are supposed to discipline private companies, but today, many private companies have grown so dominant that they can get away with bad service, high prices and deficient privacy safeguards. … If America wants to lead once more in this realm, it must remember its own history and relearn the lessons it successfully taught the rest of the world.”

Mario Monti — who was Italian prime minister from 2011 to 2013 as well as the E.U. competition commissioner from 1999 to 2004 and is famous for “shooting down mergers in flames” — agrees with Gutiérrez and Philippon. But he adds an important dimension they don’t discuss: how the much-maligned “technocratic” European Commission has been more able than American antitrust authorities to resist undue corporate influence over policy decisions.

While antitrust efforts in the United States are highly sensitive to election cycles and outcomes, Monti points out, the European Commission (which is indirectly elected by the European Parliament) operates at arm’s length from politics and can make decisions that are independent from lobbyist pressures on parliaments at both the national and European level. As he put it in a recent interview, “the more far away you are, the less you feel under pressure.”

The result is policy decisions that are more disinterested because the process is less politicized. This same technocratic distance in Brussels that has enabled a vigorous competition policy also applies to Europe’s landmark privacy regulation, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), passed earlier this year.

Yet as Giovanni Buttarelli, the E.U.’s data protection supervisor charged with implementing the GDPR, laments, passing a law is only the beginning of reining in big tech abuses. “First came the scaremongering. Then came the strong-arming. After being contested in arguably the biggest lobbying exercise in the history of the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation became fully applicable at the end of May,” he writes from Brussels. “Since its passage, there have been great efforts at compliance, which regulators recognize. At the same time, unfortunately, consumers have felt nudged or bullied by companies into agreeing to business as usual. This would appear to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the new law.”

The challenge of implementing the law now, says Buttarelli, is continually challenging big tech. As he puts it, “The E.U. is seeking to prevent people from being cajoled into ‘consenting’ to unfair contracts and accepting surveillance in exchange for a service.”

Buttarelli is looking ahead to the next phase of reform. Under that reform, “Devices and programming would be geared by default to safeguard people’s privacy and freedom. Today’s overcentralized Internet would be de-concentrated, as advocated by Tim Berners-Lee, who first invented the Internet, with a fairer allocation of the digital dividend and with the control of information handed back to individuals from big tech and the state.”

While big tech lobbyists have so far frustrated privacy legislation at the national level in the United States, California has been able to pass curbs on abuses of personal data. Ironically, this was due not to technocratic insulation from politics but its opposite: the citizens’ ballot initiative. A San Francisco real estate magnate funded the gathering of qualifying signatures for a proposition that would impose the same kind of limits on use of personal data in California as contained in the GDPR, forcing big tech to come — reluctantly — to the table.

State legislators then negotiated and passed a measure this summer along GDPR lines that would be open to amendment as technology evolves. With legislation secured, the initiative was withdrawn from the public ballot. (If law is made by the citizens’ ballot initiative, it can only be amended by another vote of the public.) As state Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D), who crafted the compromise between privacy advocates and the tech companies, notes, the law in effect makes California’s attorney general the nation’s “chief privacy officer,” since most of the big tech companies affected are located in Silicon Valley.

Making a market that works for the average citizen requires government that acts in the public interest, not at the behest of the largest players in the economy who underwrite the electoral and legislative process. To the extent that elected legislatures are captured by organized special interests, the “vetocracy” can be circumvented either by indirectly elected technocratic authorities or by direct democracy through the citizens’ ballot initiative.

The experiences with antitrust and privacy regulation examined in The WorldPost this week suggest that a mixed system that combines disinterested technocrats, elected representatives and direct democracy — each as a check and balance on the other — would be the most intelligent form of governance.

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