Sunday, December 14, 2014

Listen here Mr. Juncker!
EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has warned Greece against electing "extreme forces" into power and said he would prefer "known faces" - so far the strongest intervention of the EU top brass in the Greek campaign.

"I think that the Greeks - who have a very difficult life - know very well what a wrong election result would mean for Greece and the euro-zone," Juncker said during an Austrian public TV debate. (EUobserver)

In other words Mr. Juncker and in extent the European elites, are afraid that if Syriza gets in power after the next Greek general elections-something that is very possible- their "necessary economic healing program" that has kept Greece in harsh austerity for the past 5-6 years, will be in jeopardy.

Meaning that both the Greek economy, but what's more important to them-the very euro-zone itself- will face further instability and will be in danger of a total collapse.

As result, Mr. Juncker directly advises the Greek people, to keep voting for the established political parties that are predictable, willing to cooperate and do whatever the European and the global capitalist elites are advising them to do. In other words, those who are happy to proceed with the selling out of their people and their country's resources.

The oxymoron in this case is, that these established Greek political parties, are the very cause of the Greek economic collapse that put the whole euro-zone under the threat of disintegration.

It was these parties who lied about Greece's finances and economy, to join the euro. They are the ones who have made secret deals with Goldman-Sachs to cook the country's books and it was again them who misused EU funds.

Instead of Mr. Juncker and the European elites being angry at them and help the Greek people to punish them by replacing them, it is very peculiar that they now support them and are threatening repeatedly the Greeks that if Syriza comes into power, Greece will be kicked out of the euro and the whole hell will be unleashed upon them!  

In addition, they punish the ordinary Greek citizens with unbearably harsh austerity measures, even if the collapse of the Greek economy was not of their doing, rather of these political elites that Europe now supports.

It is clear that the European elites are corrupt to the core, just as the Greek ones are. They are all in this together, using Greece and other countries under austerity programs not just to simply fix the European economy; but mainly to safeguard the interests of the banks or the global capitalist elites.

Because if they really wanted to help the overall European economy, austerity would not be applied to the periphery states, as they are not the main cause of the faults within the euro-zone. How can a country that amounts for only the 2% of the euro economy, be solely at fault for its woes?

It is evident that Greece is sacrificed and used as a scapegoat, to cover the corrupt and rotten to the core European political and economic reality. Greece is only a small piece of this corrupt monstrosity that Europe has become, or perhaps it always has been.

And as it is the weakest link, it bares the bulk not just of the austerity, but also the slander and propaganda that accompany it, to cover the real issues that plague Europe at the moment.

Yet the European elites do not like to see a change in any country,or their "recipes" disturbed or challenged. No, I do not think that Syriza is the best solution that Greece needs right now, nor I support them.

But it is obvious that Greece-in fact the whole of Europe- needs a political reboot, with many new parties, political voices, ideas and activists that should be entering the mainstream political European reality. We need new politicians and leaders, together with an overall new political and economic reality across the continent. Because the old have failed us!

If Mr. Juncker and his colleagues in the EU institutions want a solution, they better start listening to the people and their needs first, not just the lobbies that surround them.

The European project must become something that the citizens will aspire to, not something that will be used by the rich elites,of the rich elite nations to maintain their wealth and economic or political status quo. Europe must become an equal continent with equal opportunities for all its citizens, and wealth equally distributed in all its members.

Sadly, I do not hope for Mr. Juncker to share this view, when his country under his leadership became a tax haven, gathering lost revenue from all other EU and non EU member states. Revenue that these countries badly needed and they are now called to collect from their poorer citizens to save their economy.

While Luxembourg of course gladly indulged in the unethical accumulation of the extra revenue and high living standards.The small country naturally is not the only one to be blamed, as many other states-especially the wealthier ones- across Europe have also implemented similar policies. how can Europe be truly united if it is unequal, or how can a country be proud or justify the fact that is part of an economic system that promotes inequality and poverty in other regions of the continent?

And not just that but then dare to lecture them on their economic failures and advise them on how to run their country. It is outrageous!

The LuxLeaks scandal has a far greater importance, as it is an indication of the reality that plagues the European economy and I am sure that it is only the tip of the iceberg.

It is in our interests as citizens to demand more transparency plus less intergovernmental-ism in the EU and other European international and national institutions. It is also in our interests to start getting more engaged with European politics, social issues and vote responsibly.

It will be very favorable if we manage to help each other in limiting the power, or replacing the old political elites that have ruled us since WW2. We need new parties to be formed that will bring new ideas, solutions and practices. Either the European establishment likes it or not.

Maybe it is not radical parties like Syriza that we need if we want change, but voting for the same parties that led us to this absolute disaster is definitely not wise or ideal.

Starting from Greece and the other EU states under an austerity program, it will be very refreshing to see new political powers emerging that will actually challenge the current status quo. Parties which will decisively proceed with the necessary reforms that these nations and in extent Europe itself, desperately need.

Because if these reforms do not take place, then the radical far right parties will surely become even more powerful in the future; and we all know what happens when these elements come to power.

Thus, if the European elites want the Greeks not to vote for extremist parties, they better start helping the citizens -not the rich of the country- get back on their feet and gain their trust again on the importance of the EU institutions. The rise of radical political parties in Greece was after all, partially of Europe's making!

By mishandling the EU economy plus allowing plutocracy, greed, elitism and intergovernmental-ism to be at the core of European and Greek politics, parties like Syriza and the Golden Dawn in Greece-but also many similar ones in other EU nations- found the opportunity to gain power.

Perhaps if the European establishment fears the challenges that these parties bring, they should soon proceed with something that they should have done decades ago; reform and reinvent themselves.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A sex purchase ban across Europe?
As Ireland is on the way to join the Scandinavian nations in making illegal to purchase the services of a sex worker, could this be an initiative for a pan European effort in eliminating prostitution and one of its main consequences; human trafficking?

On Thursday the 27th of November, the Irish Justice Minster Frances Fitzgerald made the formal announcement of the plan. That will make Ireland, after Sweden, Iceland and Norway, the fourth European state to proceed with the implementation of legislation that criminalizes paying for sex. (The Journal

The law undoubtedly worked in Sweden, but could it be a successful model for the rest of Europe? In Sweden the purchase and brokering of sexual services have been criminalized several years ago, although the selling of sexual services remains legal. The law provides for up to six years in prison for pimps and up to 10 years for traffickers of prostitutes. (Spiegel Online)
As result Sweden has significantly less prostitution than its neighboring countries, even if we take into account the fact that some of it happens underground. Another benefit of the ban is that hardly any country in the European Union has fewer problems with human trafficking.

According to the Swedish police, 400 to 600 foreign women are brought to Sweden each year to be prostitutes. In Finland, which is only half the size of Sweden, that number is between 10,000 and 15,000 women. Illegal trafficking is facilitated in Finland by the country's proximity to Russia and the Baltic states, but now Helsinki is also considering introducing a law based on the Swedish model.

The ban on the purchase of sexual services is also intended to bring about a fundamental change in societal attitudes. Nowadays every schoolchild learns that purchasing sex for money is illegal. The next generation in Sweden will consider this to be much less ordinary than we do today.(Spiegel Online)

The oddity with this law is, that it is going to be legal to practice prostitution, but illegal to buy it. It is like being legal to sell cigarettes, but illegal to buy them. And if this works as we have seen in Sweden, why don't we apply it for other social issues, like drugs and alcohol abuse? We could prosecute drug users on a similar note and leave drug dealers alone. Why is that not ethical?

After all, if drug users are thought to be vulnerable and unstable members of the society, so are the prostitutes and those who seek to have sex with them. Many of the girls that practice this "profession" have had a very turbulent adolescence or childhood. As many of the men who visit them.  

 In a relative article published by the Guardian four years ago, some interviewees explained their reasons to the journalist, of why they visit a brothel. One of them, named "Alex", spoke about his experience of childhood cruelty and neglect and linked this to his inability to form close ­relationships with anyone, particularly women.

He admitted sex with ­prostitutes made him feel empty, but he had no idea how to get to know women "through the usual routes". When asked about his feelings ­towards the women he buys he said that on the one hand, he wants ­prostitutes to get to know and like him and, on the other, he is "not under ­delusions" that the encounters are anything like a real relationship. But to the third person, he would like them to appear as they are "in love".

On a similar note, a German photographer named Bettina Flitner, took portraits of clients at the brothel Paradise in Stuttgart, Germany. The men, aged 21 to 73, told her why they visited brothels. Their answers were quite frank and revealing. (Animal NewYork)

Most of the men said that they visit brothels because they could not attract the women they wanted, or they did not have the patience or confidence to approach them. Others they were simply unable to ask what they liked in a sexual intercourse, from their wives or partners. Some, they felt that they had full control of the act, since they paid and they get what they wanted.

From the above responses it is clear that finding a partner and having sex is not something that comes easy for everybody. And in a capitalist society we are used to be able to buy anything. So some people find it easier to pay for their most intimate moments, than get over their issues and reach out to other people, for a healthy relationship.

But this is nothing new. Prostitution always existed in human societies, since the antiquity. The fact that it is referred as the "oldest profession" in the world, manifests that. Yet it is not something that involves women only. Male prostitutes, the so called gigolos are also common.

These laws do not clarify how the male prostitutes will be affected or even if they are also included. In addition they do not address the profession of escorts, either male or female. Do these laws apply only on the "lower end" prostitutes, those of the streets and brothels?

It is well known that escorts for the rich elite circles are very common too and they often stem out from the modeling profession. If these cases are not included, then it will mean that these laws are solely targeting the prostitutes of the streets, perhaps because in these circles, criminality is more widespread.

As result, the act of purchasing sex will still remain a privilege of the rich. Plus, the success in Sweden has not come without side effects.Prostitutes themselves are for the most part, opposed to the criminalization of their customers. They feel that they are being pushed into the role of victim and that the ban robs them of their livelihood.

The fact that there are fewer customers narrows the prostitutes' choices. When things are bad, they are willing to go with guys who want to have "rougher" sex and don't want to use a condom. Many feel that their "business" has become tougher and more dangerous, with more competition and more violence.

The "nice" customers are afraid of being caught. And so the girls are left to work with the more "troubled" men, those with whom they have to drive far out of the city so that they'll feel safe from the police. Thus putting them at their mercy. (Spiegel Online)

Some sex workers dislike all kinds of projects that focus on portraying their clients as immoral and predatory.They believe that anti-prostitution advocates or “abolitionists” cherry pick the worst examples which put pressure on law enforcement and the state to arrest sex workers and their clients and create laws that create further trouble for them.

Instead of trying to understand these men, they illustrate them as villains them and are not doing sex workers any favors. Sex worker and blogger Caty Simon explains: "They are awful bullshit which is about classing sex workers as victims without agency and pathologizing people’s sexuality.  Obviously, within a patriarchal, whorephobic, transphobic, racist capitalist context clients can be exploitative of sex workers".

Caty made an analogy to McDonald's, to explain how she feels about such laws.  "Customers and employers can treat food service employees like shit in the context of capitalism but that doesn’t mean the act of buying fast food is inherently wrong.  Clients and people in general should be taught to respect sex workers and their labor rights.  Not to be told that transactional sex is wrong. Plus, criminalization of clients, as we see in Sweden, leads to pathologization and marginalization of sex workers as the trade is driven underground, while the state perceives sex workers as victims". (Animal New York).

In other countries like Greece, prostitution is legal and regulated. Brothels are also legal and persons engaged in prostitution must register at the local prefecture and carry a medical card, which is updated every two weeks. It is estimated that fewer than 1,000 women are legally employed as prostitutes and approximately 20,000 women, most of foreign origin, are engaged in illegal prostitution. (Wikipedia)

As we see from the above example, if the laws in Greece prohibited illegal street prostitution, the result would be very favorable. Since fewer than 1000 women are legally employed as prostitutes, with a medical card and health care, then the real issue that contributes to human trafficking and any other illegal activity, is exactly the fact that the corruption in the country allows for illegal, uncontrolled prostitution to flourish.

Another example of a different approach to prostitution can be seen from another wealthy country, Switzerland. Prostitution there is also legal and regulated. Recently the country saw drive-through brothels being established and after a year in operation, the plan was granted as a "success".
The sex workers agreeing to take part in the scheme, have to get permit and pay tax to avail of the drive-in's creature comforts, which include a laundry, showers and a cafe. At the same time, the city of Zurich launched a crackdown on unregulated prostitution and confined the oldest trade to just the drive-thru and two other zones.

The city's officials are pleased with the results. 'The new regulation of street prostitution has attained its objectives of protecting the population and the sex workers,' they said in a statement. Social services said that as well as protecting prostitutes, few neighbors were bothered by the comings and goings at the drive-in in the Altstetten district.

No increase in street walkers had been noticed in the two other districts of the city where prostitution is tolerated, they said. Previously, residents had risen up in protest at the number of prostitutes descending after dark on the Sihlquai, a main street near the city center, and the authorities were worried about human trafficking if the trade was left unregulated.

'The first year of the service has been positive,' Zurich social services said in their statement. The number of prostitutes working in the drive-in averaged 15 a night, half the number who worked the old red-light area before the city stepped in to regulate the business. 

Sex worker rights advocates all over the world along with organizations such as World Health Organization, and UN Women all agree that full decriminalization, rather than Swiss-style regulation and licensing, is the best human-rights based approach to keeping sex workers safe. (The Daily Mail)

These are only but a few arguments for or against the criminalization of purchasing of sex, or how to deal with the issues of prostitution and human trafficking. As Europe has a wide variety not only of cultures, but also temperaments and climates, it will be hard to find a one-size-fits-all solution.

How would people in the Southern, warmer parts of Europe respond to a total sex purchase ban for example? Could they be as easily deterred from buying sex, as the more controlled Swedish men? Or could more culturally conservative nations, follow the example of those who are more liberal, like the Netherlands?

Perhaps it is time to alter our views on sex and sexuality, or even prostitution altogether. If we legalize prostitution and bring it totally under state control, then as we have seen both prostitutes and the men who visit them can be protected in terms of health and working conditions. 

Yet this does not guarantee a solution to the human trafficking problem, as the case of Greece shows. Mainly because while there could be legal prostitution, it must come under a total ban of the illegal one and most states fail to achieve this. Even in the case of Switzerland, violence and other illegal activities among the prostitutes and their circles are still an issue. 

In the case of Sweden on the other hand, while prostitution is almost eliminated-at least from the public eye- the prostitutes themselves are left in a greater danger and more vulnerable. Perhaps if we chose to adopt this model, we could also offer support and help to these women to either start another career, or quit their addiction to drugs, which is often the reason why they become prostitutes in the first place. 

Criminalizing prostitution in effort to eliminate it, but only publicly and the streets where is visible, does not mean that the root of the problem is dealt with: it just goes underground. And though the laws in Sweden have brought definitely results, it is left to be examined how the health of the sex workers is fairing after being forced to work without condoms. Or how their working conditions are being shaped, when they have to put up with more violent clients. 

Sex workers also need to be included in this plan and their needs to be met, or their voices to be heard. Maybe it is time to see their "profession" or contribution in our societies differently and grant them more respect, ending many very old taboos. A number of them are coerced into prostitution, while others are doing it as a necessity or because of drug addiction, poverty, psychological and mental problems or lack of education. 

If we try to understand the issues that push women (or men) to sell sex and men (or women) to buy it from them, then we could find a fairer and more permanent solution that could be applied across Europe. Because apart from the moral issues that arise, prostitution together with drug abuse form two of the main causes of criminality across the continent. 

Yet dealing with this particular problem, that is so intertwined with one of the very basic need of every human being-sexuality- can be tricky. So sometimes banning laws, prohibitions, fines and criminalization can only mask the problem, not solve it effectively.

We should not allow our traditional version of "morality" to get in the way of a solution that will affect millions of sexually dysfunctional individuals, because in some cases, it is this "morality" that makes them dysfunctional in the first place. And a society full with such people, it can't be a healthy one either.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

IGLYO: fighting the corner of LGBT youths in Europe.

http://www.iglyo.comCurrently Europe’s youth is facing a very challenging future. Unemployment and an ongoing economic crisis, with an ever increasing competition for skills are placing a great pressure on young people.

But a small minority is faced with even greater challenges, as they are fighting an ongoing battle for acceptance and equality. Europe’s LGBT youth is often misunderstood or ignored. Fighting their battles are a number of various NGOs and organizations, many of them established by the young people themselves, like IGLYO.

IGLYO (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Youth and Student Organization), was founded in 1984. It has over 80 member organizations working in over 40 countries in the Council of Europe and beyond, focusing on LGBT youths.

Patrick Dempsey, the Co-Chair of IGLYO, talks to the Eblana blog about the work of the organization and the recent worrying developments for LGBT individuals in the Eastern part of the continent. Finally, he explains what measures should be taken in the future to ensure equality for all in Europe.

Patrick describes how the Court of Human Rights, has played an important role in achieving basic freedoms for LGBT people across the Council of Europe. “In Western Europe, there is more of a chance a nation will have legislation in place, safeguarding gender identity issues. In the East, we recently have witnessed homosexual propaganda bills being considered or being passed in national parliaments,” Patrick describes.

Russia's 'non-traditional sexual relations' bill has led to an increase in societal prejudice toward LGBT people, and similar laws were considered in Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

There are also cases within the EU's borders. “Latvia for example, is considering something similar. In Lithuania, the law on protection of minors against detrimental effects of public information and providing punitive guidelines can be used against individuals and organizations,” he continues.

Posters, placards, slogans, lyrics, and public speeches fall under the vaguely-worded bill. The 'homosexual propaganda' laws are the harshest and most worrying challenges to fundamental rights and freedoms in many years, Patrick explains.

On a more positive note the EU has included a section of LGBTI rights within the accession candidate country reports, which focus on the accession candidate countries’ protections of LGBTI people and raises concerns.

The European Parliament passed the Lunecek Report which calls for a road-map on sexual orientation and gender identity. A road-map on sexual orientation and gender identity would ensure there is a comprehensive policy to protect the fundamental rights of LGBTI people, securing existing rights within the areas of competency of the European Commission.

“It would also be significant in the area of education,” Patrick believes. The Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner has already spoken out on equal access of education to LGBT youth and recommends IGLYO's minimum standards on tackling homophobic and transphobic bullying as positive guidelines in the area. 

But primarily, it all depends on the national government policies. Some nations have grasped the multilevel approach of ensuring that anti-bullying policies are pursued by all stakeholders at all levels, between Department's of Education, teachers bodies, LGBT youth organizations and student bodies.

Still in some countries their activities are hidden, ignored and actively discouraged. Russia and Lithuania's 'propaganda' laws are clear examples where states are actively trying to stop the vital work of LGBT youth organizations.

IGLYO has been fortunate in working at the Council of Europe level. “We have great partners, particularly with the European Bureau of Secondary Schools Unions, the European Student's Union, the European Youth Forum and other human rights organizations like the European Disability Forum and Roma organizations,” Patrick says.

IGLYO is in its 30th year and a big issue during these times has been education. “This year, we conducted research on the impact of homophobic and transphobic bullying in education, training and employment,” he continues.

“We launched minimum standards, shaped by LGBT youth across Europe, to help tackling homophobic and transphobic bullying. We conducted norm-criticism seminars with stakeholders and are working teachers’ guides and tool-kits. We also worked with the European Parliament on a seminar on homophobic and transphobic bullying,” Patrick describes.

Inter-sectionality, which explores the intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination and how different types of discrimination interact, is a focus for IGLYO. The organization wants to ensure that all of its work and members reflect the diversity of LGBT youth. “We have held roundtables on gender, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity and dis-ability, which were a great success. We also ran a conference to empower activists on this issue,” he notes.

IGLYO is the main representative of LGBT youth and continues to work closely with European Parliament, Council of Europe, UNAids and other human rights organizations in ensuring the voices of LGBTQ youth are heard.

Currently their concerns often evolve around marriage equality. It is a very important step in recognizing the validity of a same-sex relationship, according to IGLYO. Loving same sex relationships are as positive for society and families as loving opposite sex relationships.

Marriage equality is not just important in ensuring full rights and responsibilities. For LGBT young people it allows them to have equal aspirations as their straight peers. “All young people dream of their futures, whether that's to do with jobs or family,” Patrick mentions.

“Marriage equality implies to young LGBT people that if you want a family of your own, that's just as valid and supported as your straight friends wish for a family. It tells them that they aren’t second class citizens, nor will their families be,” he adds.

Patrick believes that civil partnerships are a welcome step forward, but the title still implies a difference between relationships and families. Full equality should be considered a minimum standard, not 'equality, but...'

Yet for some of IGLYO's members, marriage equality is not an issue as of yet. For them, they are more concerned about their right to assemble peacefully, organize themselves, attend prides and ensure their own safety.

“This does not mean marriage equality is not a concern, just that it is a prospect  many LGBT communities in Europe can't think forward to as they are fighting for their most basic human and democratic rights. In the EU, half of LGBT people felt discriminated against in the past 12 months,” Patrick states.

Additionally it's important that there is a basic level of respect and understanding in European media, as words can have great impact. In terms of marriage equality debates, very negative language has been used in debates to 'other' LGBT people - saying that LGBT people are not capable of raising families, when they already have done, and are doing.

The public and social media must ensure debates are open, but also must ensure they are fair, respectful and do not promote hate speech. Hate speech can have a negative impact on LGBT young people and act as a trigger for substance abuse or self harm.

Another issue concerning all European youths in general is that often there is a presumption that sex education can promote promiscuity and poor choices. “Sex education puts a weight on how big of a deal sex can be,” Patrick says.

It empowers young people to make safe and informed decisions about sex and their own bodies, as well as ensuring that young people are aware of the legal age of consent and encourages them to say no if they feel uncomfortable. “LGBT young people should have equal access to sex education and ensure that they too are informed and safe,” he concludes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The major European economies are the gangrene of this continent.
Ahead of the European summit in Brussels on 24 October, French President François Hollande said that economic growth was a bigger priority than the EU pact limiting national deficits to less than 3% of GDP, and that France would therefore apply a “maximum of flexibility” when interpreting the rules. (Debating Europe).

That of course means that France will once again "be forced" to break the EU budget rules, for the good of its economy and naturally, the good of all European economy.

Because "they are too big to fail," the EU leadership will allow France to bend the rules, instead of proceeding with a partial bail-out like in Spain, or tightening its supervision on the French economy. The excuse is that if France fails, Europe will not be able to bail it out and so the whole European economy will suffer, France being the second largest euro-zone economy.

That is true, but Europe can certainly place some limitations on France, so the country's government and policy makers do not act carelessly ever again. If limitations are not followed, then perhaps an IMF supervision if not a bail-out, would force the French leadership to focus on the economy and stop creating scandals around their private lives.

After all it is outrageous, only years after the EU and its richer member states slated Greece for breaking the rules and getting itself into trouble, now they are so lenient on France. You see it is easier to criticize and point the finger, when you know that the same rules won't ever apply to you.

It is not just the fact that Greece had to be humiliated from its very "partners," nor that it had to become the scapegoat for all the faults in the euro-zone and most EU institutions: what is even more unacceptable is that the Greek people had to see their living conditions dramatically lowered, just so the European banks-which include many French ones- could be saved.

If we examine the connection of the Greek, Cypriot, Irish and Portuguese debt with the German, French, British and American bond holders in their banking system, then it is clear that whatever money was saved from the severe spending cuts in these nations, went straight to the maintenance of the European banking system.

In other words, the Greeks, the Irish and the Portuguese, had to go through painful austerity measures in order the banks of this continent, but also the euro itself to be saved. And while these nations were happily sacrificed by the European elites in order to achieve economic stability in the continent, other nations like France are spared not just from humiliation but also the degradation of their citizens' living standards.

Thus it is clear that this type of "union" that the EU is at the moment, is anything but equal or fair. Bigger member states can get away with everything because they are too "important," while others are called to pay up and are humiliated on top of that, for something that was not entirely their fault in the first place!

It is not just France but also Italy, Germany and Britain who have been acting like bosses, spoiled brats and bickering divas for the past years of the crisis. We have witnessed the German elites dictating other nations how to "keep their books" or deal with their affairs, while they hold a less painful solution in their hands: Germany needs to start spending.

But because this would go against their very economic philosophy and also hurt their economy and interests, they think they can dominate the economic policies of the whole continent and tell other nations how to run their countries.

With the excuse of also being "too big to fail," or Europe's leading economy that has to bail out the rest of "less competent" member states, they have hijacked the European economy. The fact that the euro benefits their economy the most, while it is seriously hurting the rest of the smaller states conveniently eludes them.

And not just them, but all their satellite economies like Holland, Finland and Austria have been very bold in the past of criticizing other nations about their economic affairs, seeking to indulge their citizens with populism and cover up the cracks in their own economies.

Cracks that in the case of Holland but also Finland who recently fell back into a recession, can not be covered by blaming the Greeks, the Irish or the Portuguese anymore.

Britain and Italy are also up in arms over the EU's budget and we have even seen the British PM David Cameron lashing out at the EU, about a €2.1bn surcharge on the UK from the union's block, branding it as "unjustified." All this, even as it emerged that British officials played a role in endorsing the calculations. (Financial Times).

This bill in other words has been agreed by all our government officials beforehand, but Cameron just wants to indulge the British public with some good old traditional Tory Euro-skepticism. As UKIP gains popularity, he is basically trying to save the interests of his party and his career as PM, using the EU once again as a scapegoat.

It is clear that the EU is a serious mess, not because of the "laziness" of the smaller states, rather the constant bickering of the major economies of the continent. France is arguing with Germany, Britain with both and the EU itself and Germany with everyone else in the block, about how the European economy should be run.

The interests of the countries who are branding themselves as "too big to fail," are hurting the unity of Europe, but also the economies of all the smaller nations caught up in the middle of the big nations' power games. And while the citizens of the peripheral economies are seeing their incomes slashed, the living standards of those in the big economies remain the same, if not getting better.

If we want to keep the euro and build a fair European union, the living standards, salaries and pensions in the euro-zone must be harmonized. In other words, if the salaries of the Greeks are slashed by 40% in a couple of years, then something similar must be applied on other richer euro-zone members until all reach a similar level.

Yet in this case the French citizens will evade such fate, because they are lucky to live in a country "too big to fail." But when the Greeks and the Portuguese arrive in their country seeking a better future, because Europe's economic policies have destroyed theirs in their own countries, then they will complain about the rise of immigration. Additionally perhaps just like Britain, they will seek to limit the free movement of citizens in the EU.

Something which I will remind them is a de facto right for all EU citizens since the creation of the Single Market, now the rich nations are seeking to reverse in order to protect their own interests. After reading all the above, one would ever thought why would any country would seek to join such union.

A union that is dominated by former colonial or imperial powers, that have not forgotten their skills of how to rob off resources from smaller weaker nations. All they have to do now, instead of invading them is to throw more and more debt on them and force them into bail out agreements, which they will have to repay for decades to come.

The real problem here is inter-governmental-ism and  the selfish attitude of the rich elites, of the richer nations that while trying to protect their own interests, are bickering among them on who will get the lion's share. There are two solutions for this mess: either dismantle the EU or proceed with a closer federation.

Dismantling it could mean a very messy break-up which most likely will destroy what is left of the European economy. Moreover it could also lead to war once again knowing Europe's recent history, or the absolute surrender to third powers like Russia, America and China. Once European nations are divided and weakened, it will be easy for other regions to rise and take advantage of the situation.

A closer union will mean that the interests of the "too big to fail" nations are put aside and a European federal or confederate government, will make sure that all countries are treated equally and wealth or opportunities are equally shared.

But Europeans have not yet reached a certain level of maturity to realize this and so protectionism, conservatism and nationalism prevails.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scottish Independence Referendum: A lesson for Europe.
For one day, the whole Europe turned Scottish. The Referendum on Scottish independence got the attention of the whole continent and everyone is waiting for the result. The outcome of the referendum is undoubtedly important for Europe, for a number of reasons.

First of all, one of Europe's biggest powers will never be the same again. If Scotland decides to leave, the United Kingdom, it's flag, economy and its position in the EU will dramatically change.

If Scotland gains its independence from the UK, as it is the most pro-European nation in the Kingdom, it will inevitably affect the referendum on UK's EU membership scheduled for 2017. Without the Scottish vote, if the rest of the Kingdom is still as Euro-skeptic after the Scottish departure, it will surely mean the withdrawal of the country from the EU.

That will create unprecedented changes for the EU itself as well as the UK. Economically a separated Scotland will face many challenges, but there will be surely some for the remaining Kingdom itself. Both they will have to either re-apply or re-negotiate their EU membership and as the UK is one of the EU's major economies, things can get complicated to say at least.

If the YES side of the referendum wins and Scotland becomes an independent nation, it will open the door for many other regions of Europe to also seek theirs: Catalonia is closely watching the Scottish vote result, but also Corsica, Flanders, Sardinia, the Basque country and many other regions might follow suit.

This will create a new Europe, a continent of regions. Many Europeans fear the secessionist agenda of the nationalist movements across Europe, as they fear the collapse of the whole EU and the European economy. Others welcome the development, believing that a new united or federal Europe must be a federation of regions and not of the traditional states that we know, so they see their breaking up as necessary.

No matter what, if Scotland says YES to independence, Europe will never be the same again. And even if it votes NO, some lessons are still to be learned for the EU itself.

One of the driving forces of the surge in popularity of the nationalist party in Scotland, was the very bad policies that the centralized UK government in Westminster followed for the past years. The London based elites, were ignoring the signs coming from Scotland, taking for granted the fact that their country remained united for more than 300 years.

They continued to implement neo-liberal policies, while the Scots were obviously increasingly unhappy. In fact some analysts believe that the whole referendum is based not so much on driven nationalism, but continuous dissatisfaction with Westminster's financial policies.

Similar events triggered independence movements and uprisings in European history so many times before. If a population is not happy about their ruling elite, they will eventually protest or revolt. And when this population has a national identity different than the elites that rule them, then what starts as a protest against the policies adopted, it becomes a nationalist and independence movement.

That was exactly what happened during the collapse of the Ottoman empire and the former Yugoslavia. So why don't our leaders ever learn? It is obvious that the economy and how it is managed is sometimes a greater force than any nationalist feelings.In fact dissatisfaction of one's financial reality can often incite them.

Our leaders should always keep the population happy and prosperous to avoid dissidence, or give the nationalists an opportunity to gain popularity. 

This can prove as a very valuable lesson for the EU itself and I think there are already signs of revolt against it, from ordinary Europeans. When power is centralized and detached from the people it is supposed to govern, it becomes irrelevant and secessionist or nationalist movements are eventually tearing this governing power apart.

So even if I am pro-European and a European federalist, I do not wish the EU to become a centralized government, under the model of France and Paris for example. A looser federation or confederation is more desired, especially when we are talking about 28, soon to be more different nation states.

If Brussels concentrates all power in Europe, it will soon (if not already) start behaving like Westminster: ignoring the voice or wishes of the people, blindly following policies that are very unpopular. That in return will empower the nationalists that will seek any opportunity to break away and so the dissolution of the EU as an institution will be inevitable.

If the EU or the UK are to survive, they need to change from within, before they are forced to change by the people. The weakening of a centralized power, taking always into account the public opinion and giving national and regional governments a greater say, might just do the trick to save a union.

It is obvious that the UK has failed but also others like Spain and the EU itself are not far behind. More integration does not necessarily mean concentration of power in one place, but standardization and harmonization of economic prosperity, living standards, opportunities and education throughout any union.

The above combined with a constant respect of the public opinion, cultural exchanges and a strong focus on our common identity, will prove much more effective in keeping the EU alive for the long term. At least more effective than a centralized government in Brussels.

If 300 years of unity fail to convince the Scots in remaining in the United Kingdom due to economic failures, what can be said about the EU with just over 50 years of history?

The European Union must become a federal socialist entity, promoting prosperity and equality across the block. Yet it must not limit itself to economic governance, it must become a cultural and a social project itself. After all it is also culture and common values that bind people together, not just a single currency.

The best of luck to Scotland, no matter what the outcome. This day is yours and the whole Europe is watching you. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The neverending war on terror!
Since last Monday and after the International Conference on Peace and Security that took place in Paris, the world edges closer to another war in the Middle East. (The Guardian)

Western Powers, this time joined by leaders of many Arab countries,vowed to use "whatever means necessary" to defeat the ISIS threat. France and Britain already are stepping up to join the US in the fight against the militants.

Overall leaders and diplomats from over 30 countries agreed on the urgency of stopping the expansion of ISIS in Iraq and the surrounding region. 

Sadly I am afraid that Europe and the West has no choice but to intervene. We should have never meddled with the region's affairs and declare a war on "terror" so easily, especially when there was no evidence to back it up. Europe made a mistake in joining the war in Iraq. 

We have destabilized the region and what is going on over there is serious. We need to take action, or it will  come back to bite us if we ignore it.  

In case the region falls under ISIS control, it is obvious that these fundamentalists won’t stop there. The whole region will sink into a radical theocratic Middle Ages and having a neighbor like that is not good. How could we have relations or trade with a country gripped by such regimes?

After they committed their recent gruesome criminal acts, of beheading two US journalists and one British aid worker, their hatred towards the West is evident. It is one thing to kill captured military personnel and another to kill an aid worker, who is there to help and do humanitarian work.

To them, the late David Haines was just another much hated Westerner. The fact that he had nothing to with the policies that his country has pursued in the region, did not bother his executioners. Solely his nationality was enough to get him killed. 

So imagine how could we ever send businessmen, tradesmen, aid workers, tourists, doctors or journalists to a region gripped by radicals and enhance our cooperation and collaboration with these countries. In other words, while ISIS is strong in the Middle East, we can never have any safe relations with the Levant.

And not just that, but if we take into account the number of the European born Muslims that were radicalized and fled to Syria or Iraq to fight, the issue becomes even more serious. It is known that Mr. Haines' executioner had British accent. In other words, there are radical Muslim individuals, perhaps with connections to ISIS living in Europe as we speak.

If ISIS gets absolute control of the region, what tells us that they won't seek to act within our countries too with their European Muslim members? Perhaps they could organize terror attacks on European soil, in retaliation of Europe's involvement in the US led wars in Iraq.

Everyone in Europe could be in danger then, either their government took part in the operations against Iraq or not. The free movement of people within the EU could be in jeopardy, once we enter a phase of high terror attack risk and the implications will affect everyone.

It is clear that the threat of ISIS must be eradicated. But it must not be only the work of America, Europe or the "West". Firstly because we can not be seen as the "Crusaders" again, as this will drive more people into the ISIS circles. 

Secondly, Arab countries and other nations from the region must actively participate in the operations. It is in their interests too to stop the spread of radical elements in their neighborhood. ISIS has been killing Islamic religious minorities in the territories that they have captured. 

The threat they pose is universal, so the Arab and other Muslim nations (yes, including Turkey and Iran-they are at risk too after all) should stop hiding behind America's or Europe's back and take action. If ISIS gets more empowered, it will be their citizens, either Christian or religious Muslim minorities that will also be under threat. What nation would allow that to happen?

My overall attitude is anti-war and against any European, or Western invasion and military intervention anywhere on the planet. But since we have made a huge mistake in following America in every war, now it is time to face the consequences and clean our act up. Having ISIS and any other radical organization right on our doorstep, with potential members in our lands and with a totally mistaken policy towards the Middle East, is a recipe for disaster and a serious security threat.

I hope Europe and the West have learned a lesson here. Next time they decide to intervene and meddle in another region's affairs they must think twice. Once you destabilize a region you open a Pandora's box. All bad things that were hidden dormant, or were laying as sentiments in the bottom are stirred and come up to the surface. 

Especially when you are doing a shake up to overthrow a lesser bad, or someone who you have been supporting initially, it indicates either the highest level of stupidity or corruption in the Western political elites.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Peace in Europe is obviously in the hands of the ordinary people!
 I can not believe what is happening in Europe once again.

It is almost a year since Ukraine entered a very turbulent and critical stage in its history. From protests and demonstrations, to edging very closely to a civil war.

The country is in a critical stage, that could destabilize the whole region, Europe's relationship with Russia and the continent itself.
The European and Russian elites have been engaging in a ridiculous tug-of-war over the country. The two regions are close partners and rely on each other, never mind the close historic ties that binds them. Russia was always an integral part of Europe and its history. But ever since the cold war, both sides are wary and critical of each other.

Europe's suffocatingly close alliance with America and the megalomania of the Russian leadership, with the vision of restoring Russia's former"glory" and pride, is tearing Ukraine apart. It is no secret that both sides have interests in the region and they are trying to promote them. But the Ukrainian people must have the final say themselves, about the future of their country.

Personally I do not see why the Western powers are still feuding with Russia and vice versa. Europe, America and Russia would be better off as close partners, but the remnants of the cold war are still a thorn in their potential deeper partnership.

The European elites imposed sanctions on Russia, by ending its exports of oil equipment, placing an embargo on Russia's arms trade and cutting off Russian bank finance, as well as placing sanctions on individual Russian elites. Russia in return, placed a ban on EU fruit, food and agricultural products.

This is the silliest trade war there has been for a while. By placing sanctions on each other, the two sides are not only harming the other's economy, but also their own. They are behaving like children that are angry with each other and so they are destroying whatever good they have built together!

Can these elites be trusted? No! In the past it was the same attitude of Europe's political elites that led to two world wars that killed millions of Europeans. Interestingly enough, this summer we commemorated the 100 years since the beginning of the First World War, in which millions of young European perished.

Are we people, going to allow them to do the same on European soil once more? Will hundreds or thousands of young Ukrainians, Russians and other Europeans have to die, over the future of Ukraine? A country that should after all decide its future on its own, by all democratic means.

I do not understand why the Russians are so afraid of "losing" Ukraine. The Russian minority in the eastern part of the country, will always remain ethnic Russian, with the only difference that they will be also EU citizens if the country joins the EU.

Russia will have a direct influence and a say in the EU, if MEPs and other politicians from the Russian speaking regions of the expanded EU, enter the Brussels institutions. Provided of course that the Russian minority is treated with respect by the Ukrainian and European authorities.

But the attitude of Europe is also wrong towards Russia and Ukraine. The American influence in their relations is obvious, and it is not helping. The only way to encourage the integration of the few remaining nations in the eastern region of Europe to join the EU, is what Europe does best: trade!

We should be engaging with trade and bilateral agreements, with all former USSR democracies. If Europe offer "funds" in order to gain control over these nations, it then corrupts these countries. We give money in one pro-democracy party, that in the end becomes addicted to foreign money and uses all means to stay in power, by keep twisting the arm of their donors for more funds, in exchange for more democratic reforms and keeping the status quo.

These money are being misused and they corrupt the "democratic" elites which eventually they become gangrenous both to the country and the donors. It would be better to engage with them with trade, and bit by bit via investments and continuous cooperation, change will come naturally, as well as their entry in the European institutions. 

It will be the people themselves who will initiate it, after seeing how we in the rest of Europe live, come in contact with our values and way of thinking, once they come over here to work, study or do business. And vice versa, when European tradesmen go over there to start businesses and invest in their countries, they can become beacons of European values.

The exact same attitude Europe must have towards Russia. The more we criticize the country for the bad decisions and practices that their corrupt elite is doing, the more we help nationalism rise among the population and support these elites, as they are viewing them as heroes and protectors of their nation and values. This is going nowhere and Russia should become a key ally of Europe and even America itself.

In other words, the wrong attitude and grave mistakes of the Russian and European elites, could cost the lives in a great number of Europeans once again (I include the potential Russian victims, as they are Europeans after all). We should not allow them to bring disaster in our continent again. 

The Ukrainian people have nothing to separate with the Russians, the Russian with the Europeans and so on. We are all striving for a better future and living standards, our goals and interests are in fact uniting us. If our elites want to play games with our welfare, over power, land and dominance over another then they are not representing our interests and we should show them the way out! 

If there is any chance for peace in Europe, it is obvious that is lies in the hands of the ordinary Europeans, Ukrainians and Russians. Do not fall for your government's propaganda, for blinded nationalism and the promise that your interests lie in a nation state, a national government or on constant power games between your nation's and other neighboring ones.

Refuse to be part of your political elite's mistakes and wrong doings, or it will be you and your children that will pay the price once again.