Death be not proud

An unremarkable death.

“A Nigerian man who was being sent back to Nigeria on a special repatriation flight died at Zurich Airport Wednesday night 17 March, under circumstances that the police and federal authorities have not made clear. An investigation into his death has been opened and Bern announced Thursday that all such special flights are cancelled until further notice.”

Each day thousands, if not tens of thousands of asylum seekers languish in detention centers around the European Union, waiting for their cases to be resolved. Most wait in vain for a flight back home, even if that means near certain death. They work in Europe’s kitchens, on its streets and in its homes but have few if any rights.

Immigration is one of the core challenges that Europe faces but an honest discussion about the need for immigrant labor, and the rights these migrants should have, has not been started. Most Europeans can only see what migrants take, not what they add and unscrupulous politicians only seek to fame the flames of unrest. Until Europeans begin to recognize their role in deaths like the one noted above they will continue to occur.

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Wither the Union?

Is the death knell sounding for the Euro and the Union? Der Spiegel asks the question.

“Critics warn that the euro zone is about to face a crucial test. Since the introduction of the common currency, they argue, the countries within the zone have grown further and further apart instead of growing together into a single economic zone, partly because there are no longer any currency fluctuations to offset competitive discrepancies.

“The community now consists of countries like Germany and Finland on the one side, with large current account surpluses, and countries like Greece and Portugal on the other, with massive deficits. The latter, unable to keep up with the continent’s powerhouse economies, lived on credit for years, partly as a result of low interest rates.”

The Washington Post considers the larger question of European unity, or lack thereof.

“In recent weeks, bitter disputes have broken out in Brussels over the naming of high-level diplomats overseas, while E.U. nations have been unable to reach a key agreement on how — and whether — to save Greece and prop up the hard-hit euro.

“The frictions in Europe could further pressure global currency and bond markets, hamper expansion of the euro and derail attempts to boost the region’s clout on the world stage.”

During America’s recent economic crisis the term “too big to fail” became something of a meme. The Euro, and the European Union, is also too big to fail. No matter what big economies like Germany or France think or their leaders say, they need the Union as much as the smaller nations do, if not more. The free flow of trade and labor are vital, after all export leaders like Germany depend on other E.U. nations as a ready market for their goods.

What the recent turmoil has exposed is the weak structure, especially fiscal structure, the Union is based on. The European Union has long been based on the myth that member states would keep their sovereignty and gain the benefits of union without any sacrifice. The reality is that nations within the Union have a responsibility to each other as well as their citizens and must behave that way.

Europeans, as well as their leaders, must ask the hard questions about what they want and what they are willing to sacrifice to get it. Smaller nations like Greece must join the 21st century (that means actually paying taxes and reigning in budget deficits) and nations like Germany must accept the fact that their status means that they have to help out when the going gets rough and not just threaten to ditch their responsibilities.

Much of what we are hearing and reading is posturing but beneath that we more serious issues that should not just continue to be ignored once the current crisis is dealt with. Nations within the union must start acting and dare we say believing that they are indeed in a union rather than a domestic partnership…

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Zoom, Zoom

While high speed rail has been a fact of life in Germany and France for a generation it is slowly making inroads elsewhere in Europe as we learn from the New York Times.

“Since a high-end, high-speed rail connection between Barcelona and Madrid opened in 2008, a 325-mile journey that takes about 6 hours by car can be completed in just 2 hours and 38 minutes, from city center to city center.

“Two years ago, nearly 90 percent of the six million people traveling between Madrid and Barcelona went by air. But early this year the number of train travelers on the route surpassed fliers, and the trajectory is ever upward.”

Not only is this great for the environment (train travel emits about one quarter the about of emissions as flying) it is good for the economy of this beleaguered E.U. member.  As Spain builds up its high speed network getting from point A to B, especially when B is not directly served by a large airport, will be easier and more fun than flying.

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We’ll be back in a Moment

One step forward… well you know the rest…

“The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) must close at the end of 2011 for up to a year to address design issues, according to an LHC director.”

The atom smasher will reach world record collision energies later this month at 7 trillion electron volts.

“But joints between the machine’s magnets must be strengthened before higher-energy collisions can commence.”

There are those who point the the LHC as an example of how pan European cooperation is always doomed to fail. Quite the contrary this is a great example of who things rarely go smoothly at first but must constantly be tweaked and reexamined, must like the project of Europe itself.

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Fear of a Falling Pound

Has what many feared when the troubles in Greece begun come true?

“Until now, that is. Suddenly, investors are asking if Britain may soon face its own sovereign debt crisis if the government fails to slash its growing budget deficits quickly enough to escape the contagious fears of financial markets.

“The pound fell to $1.4954 on Tuesday, its lowest level against the dollar in nearly 10 months. The yield on 10-year government bonds, known as gilts, slid as investors fretted that Parliament would be too fragmented after a crucial election in May to whip Britain’s messy finances back into shape.”

The U.K. is one of Europe’s largest economies and as much as the situation has rattled the markets; even a hint of instability in London would be far, far worse that what has happened in Greece. In reality the fear of contagion is just that, fear, much of it unfounded. But if there is a lesson to be learned it is that European governments must take their budget deficits seriously and perhaps more importantly they must work together to avert any future crisis. Until European governments begin not only to act, but to plan, in concert this period of instability may return again and again.

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Let Freedome Ring?

I’m sure that when Poland joined the European Union they never expected something like this.

“On 2 March 2010, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously ruled that Poland discriminated against a gay man on the grounds of his homosexual orientation by denying him a right to succeed a tenancy of a flat where he had lived with his deceased partner.”

On the other hand perhaps progressives there hoped for exactly this kind of decision. The E.U. is not just about trade and mobility; it is also about rights and common standards. For some in Poland this is sure to be fodder for extremism. For others it comes as a welcome sign that human rights are being expanded. The shockwaves from this ruling are sure to be felt for some time to come.

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The Limits of Security

The German Constitutional Court has ruled on an important law regarding privacy. We learn more from

“Germany’s highest court on Tuesday overturned a law that let anti-terror authorities retain data on telephone calls and e-mails, saying it posed a “grave intrusion” to personal privacy rights and must be revised.”

“The Karlsruhe-based Federal Constitutional Court ruled that the law violated Germans’ constitutional right to private correspondence and failed to balance privacy rights against the need to provide security. The law had ordered that all data — except content — from phone calls and e-mail exchanges be retained for six months for possible use by criminal authorities, who could probe who contacted whom, from where and for how long.”

One of the issues that all democracies face is how to balance freedom and security. The German high court has decided that too many freedoms were being sacrificed in the name of security and that citizens needed to be afforded more protections.

Is this the start of a move back towards the protection of personal liberties? It seems clear that the idea that security trumps all else has lost favor, at least on the continent. The real question is whether legislators and executives in Europe’s governments will come to the same conclusions as the courts are coming to…

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Freedom Can’t be Free

Why is it that some in government see the worst in everything?

“Open Wi-Fi ‘outlawed’ in Digital Economy Bill

“The government will not exempt universities, libraries and small businesses providing open Wi-Fi services from its Digital Economy Bill copyright crackdown, according to official advice released earlier this week.

“This would leave many organisations open to the same penalties for copyright infringement as individual subscribers, potentially including disconnection from the internet, leading legal experts to say it will become impossible for small businesses and the like to offer Wi-Fi access.”

Open wi-fi access points are great for students and those who can’t afford their own broadband internet connections. This law would make life harder on many people without eliminating the problem it is meant to solve. Laws which restrict freedom in the name of security can be good but this is not one of those laws…

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We’ll be Back

Just wanted to let you know we’re taking some much needed down time but we will be back next week feeling refreshed! Until then….

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A delicate balance

Spain has a long history with Islam and has often been seen as a less reactionary place than some other nations in western Europe. But a small town in Spain has found itself the center of controversy.

“But Cunit has gained a new distinction: It is famous in Spain as the town where a Moroccan-born Muslim woman with a master’s degree and a head of curly hair says she was threatened by Muslim fundamentalists because she took off her veil and tried to live like a Spaniard.

“The treatment of Fatima Ghailan, 31, prompted an investigating magistrate to bring charges against the sheik of the local mosque, Mohamed Benbrahim, and the head of the Islamic Association, Abderraman el-Osri, the leading figures in Cunit’s Muslim community.”

This is exactly the kind of behavior that those on the far right in places like Austria and France warn of and it is sad to see their fears realized even if it is an exception to the rule. Those who practice Islam must, as those who practice any religion, respect the freedom that those who live among them have. The whole point of religious freedom, which is part of the bedrock of democracy, is that people can live as they see fit. We must not seek to ban things we disagree with nor force those who live in ways we disagree with to submit to our ideals of what constitutes proper worship.

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