Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Reforming European education systems.

The mantra that we were hearing during the start of the economic crisis from our continent's leaders, was the "need to reform".

From their perspective, these reforms should mainly focus on Europe's social justice and security system.

It is true that some sacrifices and changes have to be made, in order to make Europe more competitive, ready to deal with the challenges ahead.

These challenges are created by an increasingly multi-polar and competitive world, in which Europe must secure a prominent place.

But if we are discussing about the future of Europe, then our efforts should be focused on the most obvious asset that we ought to invest in: our future generations, our youths.

Sadly right now our leaders are mainly rushing to stabilize Europe's banks and the single currency, the euro. Crushing of course the future of our continent's most valuable asset for recovery in the process; the creative potential of our young population.

Unemployment has hit hard people under the age of 30 across the continent, mainly due the austerity policies that were implemented. In addition, years of neglecting our educational and social security systems, contributed to the problem.

Since Europe must maintain or increase its competitiveness, it will need highly skilled and educated young workers, that will become innovators and entrepreneurs. Or simply that will attract companies to invest, taking advantage Europe's qualified workforce, either native born or migrant.

Therefore, our continent must establish new industries in which he would be a pioneer or hold an edge of competitiveness. That can never be achieved without skilled workforce, appropriately and adequately educated or trained.

Consequently Europe must reform its very educative system, in order to offer its youths the skills and knowledge to face the future. In addition of course with creating new jobs and industries.

Young Europeans must receive the right education to be able to fill jobs and professions that Europe will need, in order to achieve an economic breakthrough and innovation.

Despite the struggling EU economy, fewer and fewer Europeans are studying so-called ‘hard’ subjects like science, engineering and maths. Since 2006, the number of ICT and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) graduates in Europe has plunged by almost 10%!

In the workforce today, only half of Europeans are deemed to be ‘digitally skilled’. And yet, over 90% of jobs today require these digital skills. In other words, there is a ‘skills gap’ in Europe, and it’s growing worse.

The situation is especially perverse when you consider that so many young people across the continent are unable to find jobs, while at the same time there are employers out there struggling to fill vacancies. If things continue as they are, then there will be a predicted 825,000 unfilled vacancies just for ICT professionals alone by 2020. (Debating Europe)

The obvious thing to do of course, is to reform Europe's education system, to close this gap. We should introduce new subjects in our classrooms, that will prepare young Europeans for the upcoming shift.

I remember when I was a young man in high-school, having to memorize useless subjects like religion, or be taught music and arts in totally inadequate way. Teaching these subjects and course learning them was something mechanical, a thing that was always have been and no one dared to challenge it.

But wouldn't be much better if we scrapped some certain subjects out of our classrooms, or change the way they are taught, while introducing new ones. Subjects that will benefit our youths, helping them find a job in an increasing competitive Europe.

Naturally computer skills and languages are necessary, in a progressively diverse and technology or information driven continent. But these are not the only changes that European classrooms should see.

We still need old subjects like history, arts and science. Art because we need creativity in people. History so we won't repeat the same mistakes. And of course science to generate those scientists and innovators that Europe needs.

We just teach them the wrong way, from the wrong angle. In history we should teach the horrors of war and conflict, not glorify the heroic achievements of our ancestors. In arts we should encourage open mindedness and creativity, not just teach its boring history and significance in the past. 

We should introduce new subjects like European studies at the latter levels of education, in high-schools, so we will have informed European citizens.

Finally we should introduce sexual education in schools, to have happy and comfortable with their sexuality individuals, which will reduce stereotypes, discrimination, sexism and STI's or unwanted teen pregnancies. 

Human sexuality goes hand in hand with human creativity, so sexually aware humans make happy and creative individuals.

Europe must ponder on what kind of future generations does it want, apart from its politics and economic model. Where our leaders go wrong, is that they try to formulate first the economic model and then the society of people which it is supposed to exist for.

In reality they should work the other way around. First plan what kind of future European society they want, then reform their country's education and economy around it. Thus their main concern should be education, not the banking system.

Unless of course their vision for Europe is one of increasing inequality, with stagnant economy and relying on immigration to cover our workforce needs, resulting in increasing social backlash. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Syrian Civil War, closer in becoming a global one.

The US Senator John McCain has accused Russia of targeting Free Syrian Army rebel recruits backed by Washington.

McCain, who is head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Russian air strikes have hit forces that have been “armed and trained by the CIA because we have communications with people there.”
The above statement is clearly a proof that the CIA and the US are behind the creation of the Syrian conflict. The Syrian civil war is nothing more than a coup to overthrow Assad and his regime, to serve the geopolitical interests of the USA in the region.

One of course will now question; since they created this messy situation, will they accept all refugees from Syria? After-all, they have the responsibility for this development, not Europe. They should be ready to accept the consequences as well.

Most importantly, this constitutes a very dangerous and worrying development. Have any CIA officers been killed by the Russians in this attack and if yes, how will the Americans respond? This could lead to a renewed cold war in our planet, or even worse; a very hot one. 

Right before the bombs rained down, a Russian general arrived in Baghdad warned the U.S. military planners to keep America's own warplanes out of the way. U.S. officials said they would not alter their flight plans.

This is the beginning of a dangerous new phase of the international intervention in the Syrian civil war. Not only has Russia tried to order U.S. forces to step aside, it actually has the firepower to back up its demands. Some of the 35 warplanes Russia has deployed to Syria are specifically designed for fighting foes like the United States, not ISIS.

Seemingly out of nowhere on September 21, they appeared at an air base in Latakia, a regime

stronghold in western Syria—28 of the Russian air force’s best warplanes, including four Su-30 fighters and a number of Su-25 attack planes and Su-24 bombers.

Soon six more Su-34 bombers and at least one Il-20 spy plane followed, part of a contingent of Russia forces reportedly including some 500 troops plus armored vehicles and SA-15 and SA-22 surface-to-air missiles.  
(The Daily Beast).

But Russia is not the only power to get involved after America. France is the only European country so far, to carry out its first airstrikes against ISIS in Syria last Sunday. (The Guardian)

Furthermore China is also getting involved. On September the 23rd, Al-Masdar Al-‘Arabi, (The Arab Source), claimed a Chinese naval vessel passed through the Suez Canal and is headed to Syria. To assist the Russians fighting the Islamic State and the US, plus the Gulf Emirate proxies trying to overthrow the Al-Assad government.

The website cites an senior officer in the Syrian Army stationed at Latakia who claims Chinese troops and military aircraft will arrive at the port city of Tartus within six weeks.

This is not a regional conflict anymore, but potentially we could see a new global war within the next few months, if not weeks. It is obvious that Syria, just as Ukraine were just the chessboard for a greater stir-up in the geopolitical status all this time.

The people of Syria are not just victims of the Assad regime, nor the rebels. They have been caught between bigger regional and international power games, that could potentially settle old open accounts for good. Unfortunately this will not happen in an easy or pleasant way for any of us. 

The rich Arab states hate the Assad regime and they are calling upon the Americans to overthrow him. Annoying in return Russia, as Assad is their only long-term ally in the region. The Russians are calling the Chinese in assistance to deal with the Americans and literally give them the message to back off-or else.

Finally Europe looks on confused and divided on what to do. No one wants a conflict or war, especially since our continent has not recovered yet from the economic crisis. We should be spending money on creating a fairer and brighter future for our youths, not destroy the little opportunities they have left.

Sadly, Europe might not have a choice, but to get engaged. Ukraine and Syria lie in its doorstep. Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing the Middle East, pouring into European countries. Soon enough and if the conflict in Ukraine continues, Europe will see a new stream of refugees arriving from the East.

We won't have the luxury of remaining passive or simply viewers. If the war mongering leaders of this planet continue with their immoral power games, none of us will be given a choice.

Potentially the only thing Europe could do, is to act as a mediator and try to bring some sense into the minds of those irresponsible leaders. If the conflict in the Middle East escalates, no region will be unaffected, especially Europe due to its proximity.

East against West, Christian against Muslim, Sunni against Shia, liberal against conservative. This will be an annihilation of our world as we know it.

Every war brings economic possibilities and growth, after the initial disaster. And as the resources in our world are seemingly gathered in a handful of individuals, perhaps some wish to initiate this redistribution of wealth and power. 

We have been watching these struggles for the past 6 years now, ever since the euro-one crisis has begun and how Greece was treated by the IMF and the EU. The war in Ukraine and Syria, the Arab Spring and the increasingly aggressive Russia. The animosity in the South China Sea. Things do not look good.

Perhaps us Europeans, will have to take to the streets soon enough. This time not to protect our hard won civil and social security rights, but the stability of our region and world peace. Please, leave Syrian people alone and stop meddling!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Outcome of the second Greek Elections.

On Sunday the 20th of September, the Greeks were called for a second time in a year to vote for their Parliament.

The previous Syriza/Anel government collapsed, due to a split in Syriza last month.

As result, the party's leader and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was forced to call snap elections.

About 25 rebel Syriza MPs, who objected to Mr Tsipras's acceptance of more austerity demanded by Greece's creditors, formed the Popular Unity party, challenging Tsipras and Syriza. (BBC)

Popular Unity was led by former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who argues that Greece would be better off leaving the euro and going back to the drachma. (BBC)

Many other high profile Syriza members, like the former Speaker of the Hellenic Parliament-Zoe Konstantopoulou, also joined the rebel party.

Consequently, Syriza went to elections without its most outspoken, anti-austerity and hard-line members; the Popular Unity, plus Yanis Varoufakis who quit previously.

Yet this development did not prevent Syria from winning the elections and Tsipras being reelected as Greece's Prime Minister.

In fact it made his position even stronger. Firstly because the Greek people reinstated Tsipras as their Prime Minister, sending a strong message to Europe that they are giving him another chance.

Secondly, with the more radical Syriza members gone, Tsipras will now face little opposition from within his party. 

This is definitely good news, but not only for Tsipras or Syriza. The development offers an opportunity to Greece and Europe, to find a quick solution and bring the indebted country back on track fast. 

That of course only if the newly elected government and its European counterparts, actually avoid the previous antics and actually cooperate. 

With less opposition from the hard-line anti-austerity members and with a more cooperative Tsipras, Europe must grasp this opportunity to assist Greece and support the new Greek government.

Ending the political instability in Greece, is of the utmost importance to end the economic one too. If Europe continues to torpedo Tsipras' Left-Wing government, then things can only get worse.

The Greek people have once again spoken. Europe must now respect their decision and support their new government, in finding a way out of the economic crisis. 

It is in the best interests of both Greece and of course, Europe itself.

Similarly, Syriza should start acting with a more professional and diplomatic manner when dealing with its European partners. 

Some of the statements made from previous Greek government officials, were utterly unacceptable and naturally they did not help the negotiation process.

Not that Syriza must totally compromise and abandon its efforts to end, or at least limit  the austerity policies. But in the past, we were witnessing a cacophony of opinions from its members, plus a total disrespect of Greece's partners by the Syriza/Anel officials.

But these elections did not bring only positive developments. One of the definitely negative outcomes is that the Far-Right Golden Dawn party, remained the third political force in Greece. 

It seems that sadly, they are here to stay for many years to come in the Greek political reality, posing constantly a threat to the country's future.

If for any reason this government collapses again, Golden Dawn could be further empowered and gain more support among the Greek voters; and that will make Greece's economic recovery almost impossible.

The second negative development is that Tsipras is looking to form a new coalition with his old partners, ANEL (Independent Greeks). If the Syriza rebels were not helping the negotiations with their intransigence, ANEL leader Panos Kamenos, has also often made inflammatory comments that had the same effect.

Ideally Tsipras should have been more open to a coalition government with a less hard-line party. Besides he should have learned a lesson; that by aggressive approach to negotiations you can never win support and the argument.

Especially when your party and government officials have a mind of their own, making statements that add oil to the fire. Greece has a justified goal to pursue, but it won't achieve its goals without skillful negotiators and politicians. 

The final major negative development that we observed in these Greek elections, was the very low turn-out. About 44 % of Greeks who were eligible to vote did not go to the polls on Sunday. 

In real numbers this means that out of 9,836,997 Greeks who could cast their ballot approximately only 5,562,820 people voted. This is the highest abstention rate in the history of Greek parliamentary elections following the fall of the dictatorship in 1974. (Greek Reporter)

That is a worrying occurrence. The Greek voters, totally disillusioned and fed up with their country's political reality are becoming apathetic towards the democratic process.

But what would one expect from them? After having voted against austerity and for a party that allegedly promised to end it, yet somehow the same party signed for a third bail-out.

The Greek and European leadership have to realize, that they have a responsibility towards them and all the other nations of the continent. If of course themselves value and truly support democracy. 

Europe is losing a generation with high youth unemployment rates and experiences increasing inequality, both among its nations and its people. How do our leaders want to be remembered in the future? We should hope not as those who surrendered our continent to vested interests. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Europe's outer borders should be collectively patrolled.

When we observe how Europe is dealing with the migrant crisis, it is evident that EU member states are coming to a breaking point and often at odds wit each other.

During the weekend, we have witnessed a spat between countries in the new refugee frontier; Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary.

But sadly, this is not the first time that's happening. Last week, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban blamed Greece for the refugee crisis in his country, adding that the EU needs to deploy forces to Greece’s borders.

“If Greece is not capable of protecting its borders, we need to mobilize European forces to the Greek borders so that they can achieve the goals of European law instead of the Greek authorities," Orban said. 

He did not elaborate on how exactly such a plan will turn into real life, but he proved that he has probably never heard of FRONTEX, the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union. (Keep Talking Greece)

Although his antics may seem out of sync with the rest of Europe, he is right in this case. Frontex may well exist for a number of years now, dealing with illegal migrants in Europe's borders; but they never had to face such scale of arrivals before.

One would have thought that ever since the crisis begun, the organization would be boosted with new recruits and funds, to deal with the increase of refugees entering Europe's outer borders. But such action did not take place, at least not yet.

In April, a Frontex report published the results of annual negotiations it has with member states over border staff and equipment.

The report shows shortages of Frontex-requested border staff ranging from 4% to 20% in various roles including first line officers and interview experts.

The cumbersome manner in which Frontex has to negotiate and persuade countries to lend equipment many months in advance has had an impact on operations during the summer’s crises.

The inflexibility causes Frontex difficulties ensuring continuity in its emergency operations: member states have been lending equipment for only single months at a time. It means Frontex is often scrambling around for new resources from around Europe every month.

So much so that Frontex relies in part on Iceland, a non-EU country which the agency says has lent more than a third of its entire coast guard fleet to help in Greece and Italy. Norway, another non-EU country, has been similarly co-operative.

Each member state has the sufficient capacity to handle border control, but when the migratory pressure becomes exceptionally high, they might require additional assistance of either technical equipment or specialized border guards.

The role of Frontex is to coordinate the deployment of such additional assets and human resources from other EU/Schengen Area countries, as described in its founding regulation.

As chaos continues to grip key migration routes, Frontex officials have admitted to the Bureau it “badly need(s) border guards on the Greek islands, border guards and technical equipment on the land border between Greece and Turkey, Bulgaria and Turkey and, crucially along the Hungarian border with Serbia.”

The Bureau has also learned that despite more than two million refugees amassing in Turkey and planning their dangerous trips across the borders, Frontex has not had a single member of staff based there gathering intelligence about smugglers. (EU Observer)

From the above report it is obvious that Europe is failing again in protecting its own borders. Each state government prefers to either push the responsibility to its neighbors, the countries of entry, or the rich destination nations, but they are avoiding doing the obvious; cooperating in a pan-European effort to tackle the crisis.

If European politicians want to control their nation's borders, they got to understand that primarily it is in their interests to shield the outer borders of Europe, at the entry points.

Instead of bickering and trying to shift responsibility, they should first of all utilize what they have already set up; an agency with a particular task in minding Europe's common borders, like Frontex.

That naturally means, increasing the funding and supplying it with all necessary resources, plus recruiting individuals to work for the agency.

We got huge unemployment ravaging Europe's youths, why don't we start employing people to work where they are needed the most nowadays?

Unemployed people could apply to be assigned for paid work for a season, a year or more-event permanently on a Greek island, southern Italy, Malta, Bulgaria, Hungary and so on.

In addition, as the report suggests, people could be employed directly in refugee camps in Turkey or Lebanon, where a large number of refugees arriving in Europe are coming from.

In this way, we could control who enters our continent, plus we could have already their documents and identity, before they hand them out to smugglers, arriving illegally in our continent. If there is a way to avoid alleged ISIS fighters entering Europe, perhaps this is one.

Our leaders were hiding their heads in the sand for too long, being preoccupied by the economic crisis and Greece. They hoped that this humanitarian urgency would never knock our door.

Now that they were proven wrong and people are arriving in their hundreds of thousands, they still rush to protect their borders and blame their EU partners, than take action and responsibility.

This crisis once again affects all EU states, so the solution must be achieved in absolute coordination, cooperation and participation by all the union's members.

We should support Frontex and if needed, send additional forces and officers in the entry points on Europe's borders. Furthermore we could assist countries like Turkey and Lebanon by sending them resources, plus officers to encourage legal migration into Europe, discouraging illegal one.

We must understand that since we have opened our borders, the only way forward and to deal with this challenge is to act united and unanimously.

We can not bow to the pressure from nationalist and conservative parties, which take advantage from this situation to achieve their goal; raising the internal borders in Europe again. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

European Dis-Union faced with refugee crisis.

The current refugee crisis that Europe is faced with, proved to be more than just a humanitarian tragedy; it has become a huge test for EU's capability in dealing with such crises.

The outcome is in mild terms, rather embarrassing.

Some member states like Hungary are raising fences, refusing to allow the streams of the refugees arriving from Syria and Afghanistan enter.

Under a huge pressure, Germany and other countries are suspending the Schengen agreement, jeopardizing one of the greatest benefits that EU citizens receive with their country's membership.

Additionally states like Slovakia and Cyprus are willing to accept only Christians, as if humanitarian help is extended only to homo-religious people.

Nations mainly from the Eastern block but also Denmark and the UK, are refusing to accept the proposed by the EU Commission refugee quotas, on redistributing 120,000 people across the block.

As result, Germany recently has threatened the states which refuse the quotas, with sanctions. The Germans are annoyed-and rightly so- that they are expected to accept the bulk of the refugees.

So they are pointing out that since most of those countries also happen to be nations that receive large amounts of supplemental funding from European Union, these funds could be cut off if they continue to refuse quotas. (International Business Times).

This attitude only adds oil to the fire. The real issue is the huge differences of mentality, type of economy, culture and attitude towards migration among the European states.

While Germany is trying desperately to shake off the image of the "bad guy" in the continent and appear welcoming, open and friendly, other nations do not have the same aspirations.

Many former European colonial powers like France, are well used to multiculturalism and in fact they have based and modeled their economies around migration. Other countries like Sweden have been rich and open societies for a very long time and are organized, prepared to deal with the issue.

On the other hand, Eastern countries like Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, are only recently advancing as economies and societies. They have been caught totally unprepared for such crisis and in fact, it is doubtful that they ever expected to find themselves as refugee destination.

Until not so many decades ago, it was them who were fleeing the clusters of oppressive communist regimes, to enter the wealthier Western Europe and America. One would have expected them to be more open and welcoming to refugees, as they have been in similar conditions in their recent history.

But they aren't. The governments of Prague and Budapest in particular are strongly opposing the EU Commission quotas, infuriating many EU officials and the governments of Western European nations.

Their excuse is that Islam is "not compatible with Europe's Christian values," or that they already have many Ukrainian "refugees". In reality the first argument is contradicting the EU's very values, a union that they were so keen to join for economic reasons; yet they have difficulty accepting certain obligations attached to it.

Human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights – these values are embedded in the EU treaties, that they signed for. (Europa.eu) Respect for human rights and dignity, something that is extended to all humans, as Christian Europeans do not comprise the whole humanity.

Secondly, the Ukrainian's that flee to Eastern Europe are not necessarily "refugees" as they are allowed to work and do the jobs that the locals are turning down, for better paid ones in the Western EU states. They are simply economic migrants, as many of their nationals are in other richer European states.

Refugees in general, are not allowed to work for a considerable amount of time and they rely on the host country's welfare system. Alas, this excuse is rather daft.

Yet, their attitude is partially understandable. Migration into their countries is something new.

Many of the Western nations struggled to accept their first migrants back in the '50s. As the richer nations managed to deal with the issue, so will the new EU member states one day.

It is just that they were caught unprepared like most of the continent for something like this, plus they still see themselves and countries of emigrants and workers to the West.

Contrary to all the above, the states who oppose the quotas are partially right. The EU, Europe as a whole, the UN and the rich Western or Eastern nations, should have been more generous in helping countries like Turkey and Lebanon.

These nations have been hosting refugees in greater numbers and for a considerable amount of time. Europe has failed them, because if it played a more active role in the crisis since the beginning, now it would not have to face floods of refugees arriving on its doorstep. This "welcoming" attitude is too little too late.

It is clear that European leaders have failed us-the EU citizens, the refugees and their countries, as well as these nations who were until now dealing with the problem; with little help from the rest of the international community. We should have acted a long time ago.

Now since we are forced to deal with the problem, we must show solidarity firstly among ourselves and secondly towards the refugees.

We can not allow only a handful of countries in the Mediterranean to tackle the crisis on their own, nor Germany to take full responsibility and all of the refugees.

For once, let's show real unity and solidarity in our "union" and to the world that Europe can handle the leadership that sometimes is required from it. Instead of being an example of bigotry, we should act as one of compassion and global jurisdiction that inspires others to follow suit.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Blue Star Program.

http://www.bluestarprogramme.ie/ What is the Blue Star Program?

The Blue Star Program aims to foster better understanding and knowledge of the European Union among pupils in Irish primary schools through classroom projects and activities.

Beginning with a pilot year in 2011, the program has been run for four successful years to date and is now entering its fifth year in 2015-2016. Blue Star’s goal is to lessen the information and communication deficit that exists about the EU and how it affects the lives of Irish citizens among this key demographic in Ireland. 

 It’s no exaggeration to say that, year on year, the program succeeds in fostering a strong sense of citizenship and knowledge of Europe among its participants - be it a small, rural 20 pupil school in Westmeath or a 1,000 pupil school in Dublin – and that this sense of ‘belonging’ and knowledge extends far beyond the school walls into wider local communities.

The Blue Star Program is a venture of the Communicating Europe Initiative, supported by the Office of the Minister of State for European Affairs in the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Education and Skills, the European Commission Representation in Ireland and the European Parliament Information Office in Ireland. European Movement Ireland has acted as the National Implementation Body for the program since its pilot year in 2011.

What’s involved in the Blue Star Program?

The Blue Star Program asks teachers and pupils to carry out projects and tasks related to the History, Geography, Culture and Institutions of the EU.  There is a huge amount of flexibility in the program and schools are encouraged to get creative in their interpretation of these key elements and the way in which they can be fulfilled.  

History projects can be related to a significant European event or a pivotal person in European history, for example. Geography projects may focus on a specific EU country where the children can learn about that country’s population, language, similarities with Ireland, etc. Cultural projects can look at food, places and art of Europe, while Institutional projects teach pupils how the EU works and how the different European Union institutions co-operate with each other in accessible and fun ways.

The hard work that the pupils put into their projects culminates on Europe Day (9th May each year) when schools are supported and encouraged to exhibit and showcase these projects to parents and the wider community.

Schools that successfully complete the Blue Star Program are awarded two Blue Star certs and a Blue Star flag to mark their participation in the program. Pupils and teachers that have taken part in Blue Star cite it as a highlight of the school year, and we have schools who sign up year after year to take part and interpret the program in new, fresh and exciting ways.

Why get involved in the Blue Star Program?

To date, over 400 schools and approximately 35 - 40,000 children have participated in the programme. Last year the Blue Star Program was active in 175 Irish primary schools, interacting with almost 15,000 students in every corner of the country.

Its success didn’t stop there either; following a nomination in 2014 by Ireland South MEP, Mr. Sean Kelly, hundreds of Irish national school teachers who are involved in the Blue Star Program were made joint Irish winners of the prestigious European Parliament’s European Citizen’s Prize at an awards ceremony in Brussels in February 2015.

Article via the European Movement of Ireland and the Program's website.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Europe's migrant crisis, needs an immediate and united response.

For the past few weeks we have witnessed an unprecedented humanitarian crisis overwhelming Europe.

Thousands of refugees are arriving wave upon wave on European shores in the Mediterranean. People fleeing from war torn regions, mainly from the Middle East, are trying to find shelter in rich European nations.

For these migrants, it is either flee or die. Their sheer numbers are challenging our continent's ability to respond, plus it poses a hot topic for a debate.

The phenomenon is not new; in fact it has been increasingly worsening for the past few years. But while in the past it was mainly Italy, Spain, Malta and Greece that bared the bulk of refugee numbers, today we observe every single European nation being affected by it.

Just over the weekend, thousands of refugees were pushed back by police in FYROM, on the country's borders with Greece. Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary are also finding themselves being overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people entering their borders, with mixed responses.

But even countries away from Europe's doorstep are being affected. The French port of Calais has become a hot-spot in the continent's migrant crisis, since thousands are arriving in the region trying to enter illegally in the UK.

Europe has been very slow to respond until now, simply because the problem affected predominantly the southern bordering states. In addition to this, the numbers of the refugees were lower plus many of them were falsely categorized as economic migrants from Africa.

Only recently EU members have agreed to share the load of refugees that were entering Europe via Greece and Italy, after many failed attempts to reach to an agreement. In mid-August the process has started, yet the negotiations exposed the cracks in European "unity".

The EU has proposed a quota system, backed by southern nations, which would see other EU nations commit to resettle a certain number of refugees who arrive in Mediterranean countries.

The plan, however, has met with resistance from some countries, including the U.K. and Germany. They have resisted the idea of mandatory quotas, arguing that refugees should not be sent to countries in which they may not want to live.

As negotiations took place in early July, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi lashed out at fellow EU leaders for rejecting the quotas, and accused his peers of looking after only their own interests. (International Business Times).

"If that's your idea of Europe, you can keep it," Renzi told his counterparts. "Either give us solidarity or don't waste our time," according to Australia's ABC News

This reaffirms the weakness of Europe, which is placing national interests above the urgency in finding a solution on European level. There has been a cacophony of responses to a problem that affects everyone in Europe; rich nations and poor, EU members or not, transition states or destination ones. 

The Hungarian government decided to build a wall on its borders with Serbia to prevent refugees "pouring in". Slovakia announced that it won't accept non Christian refugees, as "it has no mosques". 

Other countries like Bulgaria and Hungary opted our from the EU's refugee distribution plan, while the UK is still reluctant to decisively cooperate fully with the rest of the continent on the issue.

It is evident that Europe should have formed a joined policy for such humanitarian crises, since the phenomenon is not new. Ever since the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, or later the Arab Spring, the rise of ISIL or even the war in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea by Russia, Europe should have been prepared; but it is not.

It is understandable that our continent is yet to recover by the economic crisis, plus many states are seeing a rise of Far Right and nationalist parties as result. A situation that naturally creates difficulties when dealing with issues such immigration.

But that is why sharing the responsibility, either it is financial or humanitarian one, must become a norm among European states. Since the situation is too much for one country to handle and since we are all affected by the crisis, then it deeper cooperation would seem sensible, if not inevitable.

What we have instead is European governments trying to deal with the issue as economic migration; which is not. Besides even if it was, the response should have also been a unanimous one. By establishing EU job centers in the countries of origins of the migrants, Europe should encourage legal migration and discouraging illegal one.

Potential migrants would be assessed in these centers and be given visas to work legally in the EU, in the state that required their skills and needed workers for a agreed amount of time. Since our continent is one of the richest regions of the world, it inevitably attracts migrants from less affluent regions. 

Yet the recent arrivals are not in their majority economic migrants. They are fleeing war torn regions, or brutal regimes like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in a desperate effort to save their lives.

It is inevitable that Europe will be affected one way or the other for many years to come. 

The longer we prolong our response, the worse the situation will become. And we must help these people for many reasons. 

Firstly Europe prides itself of being a beacon of stability, prosperity, peace and foreign aid. Secondly because in past times, it was Europeans who were fleeing their countries after the devastating World Wars.

And lastly, we must not forget that our leaders decided to side with USA in toppling leaders in the Middle East, changing the status-quo and tilting the balance of power. The result of our decision to meddle in the region's affairs, was the creation of  radical Islamist groups that were successful in establishing themselves in the area.

The threat of ISIL reaching its goal and becoming a major power in the region is very real. The result will mean that the phenomenon of migration into Europe won't stop any time soon. This group is committing an ethnic cleansing it is effort to gain more land and power from other nations in the region.

If Europe wants to deal with the issue it has only two options; either agree on how to deal with the refugees and cooperate as a continent, or engage fully in a war against ISIL and try to destroy them. Something that the radical Islamist group seems to desperately want to achieve and Europe tries to avoid.

As long as there is no peace in Middle East, the numbers of the refugees will keep growing and coming. Europe must decide how to deal with the issue,or with ISIL. It can not hide its head in the sand and hoping that the problem will just go away.

A war hides many dangers, as Europe risks to look like a colonial power again and create a rift with all Muslim countries, permanently damaging its image and relations with these nations. Unless of course it decides to cooperate with other Islamic nations that are also fighting ISIL and were until now black-listed by Europe; like Iran and the Assad regime in Syria.

Since there is little will to engage in a war as a continent with the radical Islamists, then the other solution is to try and deal with the refugee crisis. All European nations must cooperate and form a united response to the problem.

Set up refugee welcome camps all over Europe, while sharing their number and the financial responsibility to accommodate them. Agree on the creation of a policy that will ensure either their integration in our countries, or gradual repatriation once the threat is over in theirs. Our continent must prepare for the future.

It is not necessary that they will stay in Europe for good, at least not all of them. Yet we do have the moral obligation to be part of the solution. 

We have far more resources than nations like Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan, which have been dealing with the problem for far longer than us. We should also try to reach into agreements for help and cooperation with other rich regions of the world, engaging them and ensuring a global response to the crisis. 

The problem is real and growing. Europe has the responsibility to act, both towards its own citizens and the refugees. If the situation continues without being properly dealt, it poses a major security threat for all European nations and a potential cause for social arrest and instability. It has simply passed the decision time and it needs urgently action. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Information on the European Economic and Social Committee.



The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) was established by the Treaty of Rome in 1957. 
Its main function is to serve as a bridge between Europe and organised civil society, therefore allowing for the representation of various economic and social interest groups. 
The EESC contributes to strengthening the democratic legitimacy of the EU as it is the only EU body made up of citizens and not politicians.


The EESC gives Europe’s social and economic groups a platform to express their points of view on EU issues. The main task of the EESC is to offer opinions and advise the main legislative and executive institutions of the EU; the European Parliament, The Council of the European Union and the European Commission.
In certain cases, it is mandatory procedure for the Commission or the Council to consult the EESC. Additionally, the EESC may also adopt positions on its own initiative. The Amsterdam Treaty (1997) further broadened the areas for referral to the Committee, and allows it to be consulted by the European Parliament. The Committee issues around 170 opinions annually, of which 15% are issued on its own initiative.

Make-up of the EESC

There are 353 committee members representing 28 Member States including 9 positions for Irish representatives. These members are nominated by their respective Member State governments, and then appointed by the Council. Once appointed, these representatives act independently of their national governments. They have a renewable term of office of five years.
Every two and a half years the Committee elects a President and two Vice Presidents. The current president is Henri Malosse from France and his vice-presidents are Jane Morrice and Hans Joachim Wilms from the United Kingdom and Germany respectively. The president is responsible for the orderly conduct of the Committee’s business. He is assisted by the vice-presidents, who deputize for him in the event of his absence.
The Committee is organised into six sections, each one dealing with a specific policy area.
  • Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment (NAT)
  • Economic and Monetary Union and Economic and Social Cohesion (ECO)
  • Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship (SOC)
  • External Relations (REX)
  • The Single Market, Production and Consumption (INT)
  • Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society (TEN)
Furthermore members are split into general groups within the EESC depending on their foremost activities. There are 3 groups
  • Employers – consisting of members coming from the private and public sectors of industry.
  • Employees – representing all categories of employees. The members of this group represent national trade union organisations.
  • Various Interests Group – Bringing together representatives from sectors of economic, social and civil life that are not covered by the first two groups.
As a rule, the full Committee meets in plenary session nine times a year. At the plenary sessions, opinions are adopted on the basis of section opinions by a simple majority. They are forwarded to the institutions and published in the Official Journal of the European Union.
This article was originally published on the European Movement of Ireland 's "Just the Facts" web-page!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Greece's failure, Europe's shame!

After 5 years being in the media spotlight for its economic woes, the Greek drama reached finally-or hopefully- its crescendo.

Lat week on early Thursday hours, the Greek Parliament approved the new bitter austerity measures, to ensure a new bail-out package.

The decision naturally caused an outrage among the people of Greece and Europe.

Just days before the Greeks were called to vote in a referendum. Its purpose was to decide if they would accept their country's European partners' demands for further austerity, in exchange for a third bail-out.

However, the European establishment warned-or rather threatened- the Greeks, that the outcome would determine the continuation of the country's euro-zone membership. Initially the referendum was not meant to be about a YES or NO to euro membership; the Greeks have repeatedly expressed their wish to remain in Europe's single currency.

But Greece's European partners in their desperation to ensure a continuation of it's austerity program, proceeded in totally unacceptable threats. They were undermining Greece's democratic process, purely to protect their financial interests.

With the excuse that the previous governments signed for the previous bailout deals, the Troika and the Eurogroup are demanding the continuation of a program which even the IMF admitted they got wrong.

Greece's debt became unsustainable. The second and third bailouts are needed only to pay off the interests of the first, plus the damage that it did in the country's economy. Instead of a renegotiation, a partial debt relief and a new plan to kick-start an economic recovery, Greece's creditors insist on further austerity and the diminution of the Greek public's living standards.

Austerity does not help reforms in Greece. It impoverishes ordinary Greeks and helps radical parties become established. Greece needs growth stimulus in return for structural reforms. It does not need Europe's money in the form of bailouts, which end up in Greek and thus European banks. 

European investments are needed to create jobs and lift Greek people out of poverty, in combination with structural reforms and modernization of the country's economy.

So why is Europe insisting on such disastrous policy for Greece, is it perhaps because the whole European economy is in tatters? Possibly other euro-zone member states are keen on having a steady flow of cash into their economies, in the form of the interest that the Greeks pay on their loans.

The German economy for example has benefited hugely from the Greek loan repayments and as it is one of Greece's main creditors, it is also one of the main beneficiaries from the whole situation. It is no wonder that Germany's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, has adopted such a hard-line position towards Greece, refusing a debt relief.

This is a sign that the EU has lost its original purpose. The Eurogroup, an informal body comprised by all euro-zone member states, is dominated by the "vision" of just one country's minister of finance.

In an interview in the New Statesman magazine, the former Greek Finance Minister explains how Mr Schaeuble controls the decisions taken in the Eurogroup. In addition he describes the utterly disgraceful demeanor of Greece's European partners, towards him and his government.

"It’s not that it didn’t go down well – it’s that there was point blank refusal to engage in economic arguments. Point blank. … You put forward an argument that you’ve really worked on – to make sure it’s logically coherent – and you’re just faced with blank stares. It is as if you haven’t spoken. What you say is independent of what they say. You might as well have sung the Swedish national anthem – you’d have got the same reply. And that’s startling, for somebody who’s used to academic debate. … The other side always engages. Well there was no engagement at all. It was not even annoyance, it was as if one had not spoken".

Not that Mr. Varoufakis himself or Syriza, do not have a fair share of blame; but at least he had the decency of resigning, something that Mr Schaeuble has not yet the backbone to do. Greece and the Syriza government have made huge concessions to their creditors, only to be met with irrational hostility by them, under the excuse of lack or "trust".

In reality, Syriza in in power for just 6 months. The lack of trust the Europeans are insisting on, is deriving from the previous governments that they supported and they still wish to re-establish.

Under such negative climate and scaremongering, the Greek referendum result was of course a NO. Prior the election date, there was a different rally daily.One day Greece's main cities were hosting a demonstration supporting a YES vote, the next supporting NO. Political TV spots became very common, alongside numerous televised political debates.

Never was the country so divided, since the devastating civil war. Businessmen and wealthy individuals openly supported a YES vote. Business is easier within the euro-zone and ensuring Greece's membership was a priority for the country's elites.

On the other hand, public sector employees, lower class and working middle class or pensioners were strongly supporting a NO vote. They are the least flexible and competitive groups, that are opposing change and reforms.

A major role in the defeat of a YES vote was the fact that the Greeks did not wish to return to pro-austerity governments. Many analysts believe that the voters voted NO, because they did not want the former New Democracy leader and Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras to return in power. 

A YES vote could have led to a crumbling of the SYRIZA government and a return of the New Democracy. So the fact that Mr. Samaras made the mistake not to resign as the New Democracy leader, after he lost the general elections in February, may have contributed to the referendum result.

Well that what's happens, when personal egos and ambitions are stronger than democratic legitimacy. European leaders such as Samaras or Schaeuble, do not want to admit defeat or that they made a mistake. Instead they wish to remain in power, while it is obvious that the people do not want them.

With a majority of 61%, the ΝΟ side the Greeks made it clear to Europe that they do not want any more austerity. They also made a point that with threats you do not win and that they have no place in a democracy; as Greece and Europe itself pride themselves of being. 

Despite all this, Europe ignored the result of the referendum and continued its financial strangulation of Greece and the Syriza government. 

They had the ECB turning the cash tap off for the indebted country, thus forcing Syriza to proceed to capital controls for Greece's banks, further damaging its economy. 

People could only withdraw €60 per day from ATMs. Pensioners were particularly hit as most of them do not hold bank cards. 

Cash became scarce within the Greek market. Employees could not be paid and even online orders could not be made with Greek credit cards. Companies were not able placing orders to import goods from abroad. Trade within Greece also became difficult, as nobody had enough cash to purchase necessary quantities. 

The tourism industry was severely hit, as people were afraid to spend and travel. In addition foreign visitors were cancelling their reservations in fear of becoming stranded and without cash, during the Greek tourism high season.

Is that how Europe wants to help Greece and its economy to recover? Could they at least have the decency to admit that their interests are anything but for the interests of the Greek people? European leaders want to punish Syriza or make sure that this leftist government collapses so others won't spring up across Europe. 

Yet they are missing the forest while looking for the tree. Europe and the euro, as well as the fortunes of the people of the continent cannot be hijacked by personal aspirations, ideologies and interests. 

Syriza came in power and it might soon go, but so will Chancellor Merkel or Mr. Schaeuble. Yet their current actions will have an impact on millions of Europeans for decades to come. What will be their legacy in the future generations of Europe?

Monday, June 22, 2015

USA:When the model of Western societies, fails.

For decades the United States of America has been promoting itself as a country of equality, opportunities for all and as a model for the rest of the Western world.

In the recent years though, I am not so sure that USA can claim the role of the leader in our hemisphere,or that it can expect the rest of us to follow its example.

During the past years, a disturbing and shameful phenomenon has been increasingly becoming an occurrence; young African Americans have been shot or brutally killed by US police.

Ever since February 2012 and the death of Trayvon Martin, who was shot by neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman, about 16 more black Americans were killed in similar way.

The latest case was of Freddie Gray from Baltimore in April 2015, who fell into a coma after sustaining injuries to his spinal cord, due to police violence during his arrest.

This incident led to the Baltimore Riots, a protest and response towards police brutality. As have numerous other incidents before, like these in Ferguson-Missouri, which saw a repetitive wave of violence as result.

These deaths of course are only the tip of the ice-berg. The United States of America is not the country that it wants to believe it is anymore; at least not for its African American citizens.

Discrimination, lack of equal opportunities and alienation is the reality for a large number of black youths in the US. Their government has failed them, as it prefers to waste money on wars abroad, instead of investing in projects that will promote equality.

In some other cases, African American criminality is being exaggerated or distorted, as the American discourse on crime is deeply politicized and influenced by racial and class bias. (AlterNet)

Often the number of criminal activities that are attributed to black Americans are overestimated, as the above article in AlterNet describes. Resulting of course in further discrimination and stereotyping.

The United States often lectured Europe on what type of society it should aspire to become. They actively promoted and encouraged multiculturalism in our continent and elsewhere, human rights, freedom of speech, liberalizations and privatizations.

All of the American values became eventually and gradually European as well. As result, our continent is increasingly becoming a multicultural continent, that resembles more and more the USA.

But what aspirations is America giving Europe now? That it has to allow millions of non-Europeans to legally become citizens of a unified continent, only to be treated as second class citizens and be discriminated against by the very state they were born in?

Will Europe adopt the exact model of America, or will it be capable to avoid its closest ally mistakes and shortcomings?

If African Americans still struggle to achieve justice and equality centuries later after the creation of their motherland, what chances have the more recent arrivals in Europe from other continents to achieve these?

It is evident that the struggles of some people for equality in USA have not ended. Europe's closest ally resembles progressively Hans Christian Andersen's story, the Emperor's New Clothes.

Everybody is aware what is going on, but they just don't dare to express their honest view because well, it is the emperor and it can't be criticized by his subjects!

If America wants to lecture Europe and the rest of the world on freedom, democracy and equality, it better show a better image of itself to us. Plus it needs to start looking after its own citizens and internal problems first.

In an ever changing world, they can not rely on their military might for too long, to promote their model of society and ideology on others. They need to start aspiring their values to the rest of us, just like they did decades ago.

Obviously it is not just Europe who is suffering from a crisis of values and direction, together with an economic, political and social crisis. America has its own demons to face still.

It would be of a great benefit to people of both sides of the Atlantic, to get to know their weaknesses and mistakes. Learn from and help each other, to avoid repeating the same errors.

For that we need a closer cooperation, but not solely on a business level that our elites are insisting. We need to start engaging social groups from both sides, to teach one another about integration, social justice and equality.

If Europe is to become like the USA, then I am not sure I want to live in any sort of federal political or economic formation, in which minority groups are treated like the African Americans nowadays.