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Security issues take center-stage in the wake of Berlin attack

January 12, 2017

Truck crashed into a Christmas market in Berlin

Police officers next to the truck at Breitscheidplatz, in Berlin | Britta Pedersen/EPA


Last month’s terror attack in Berlin shook the country to the core. The attack was the first of its kind in Germany. Policy-makers are responding with a series of hardline security measures.

Some of the proposed measures include: deportation reforms, traceable ankle tags, more comprehensive negotiation and cooperation with dangerous individual’s country of origin, new grounds for incarceration, an increase in surveillance for individuals who may pose a threat, and cutting development aid to countries that refuse rejected asylum applicants.

The proposed  measures were agreed on by both the CDU (Christian Democratic Union), represented  by interior minister Thomas de Maizière, and the SPD (Social Democratic Party),  represented by justice minister Heiko Maas. The joint press conference comes just days after the CDU and SPD traded jabs over how to proceed in the wake of the Berlin terror attack. In an interview with Bild am Sonntag,  de Maizière placed blame on the SPD for the lack of willingness to cooperate with their grand coalition partners, the CDU. SPD general secretary Katarina Barley dismissed de Maizière’s comments, saying they only meant to, “distract from his own failures.”

Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the SPD and vice chancellor, recently spoke out in favor of tighter security measures. Gabriel is shaping up to be one of Merkel’s biggest challengers for the chancellery in 2017, though he is trailing big in most early polls.

Gabriel is an advocate of increased video surveillance and a ban on Salafist mosques. In a recent interview with Der Spiegel, Gabriel took a strong stance on combatting terrorism and radical Islam in Germany, stating he has, “zero tolerance” for such things.

The Green Party is opposed to the tighter security measures. The party is viewed by many as weak on security, a label that could cost the party votes in next fall’s elections. Party co-chairman Cem Özdemir said the Greens, “….are not participating in the parties’ efforts to outdo one another.” One of the biggest points of contention for the Greens is the idea of increasing survelleincae. Party co-chairman Simone Peter stated that, “Surveillance has no basis in the constitution.” Surveillance is a difficult issue for Germany to grapple with, due to its prominent role in the oppressive regime of the GDR.


Cem Özdemir rightly called out the recent actions of both the SPD and CDU for what they really are, little more than political jockeying. Both parties are trying to stave off voters defecting to the AfD (Alternative for Germany Party), a problem the Greens do not face. Additionally, both parties realize that security is the hot issue of the moment in Germany as well as the entire European Union. The AfD has found success emphasizing the importance of security and linking it to migration issues. Pew Research Center found in a survey on global attitudes taken in the spring of 2016 that 85% of Germans consider ISIS a major threat to the country, while 66% say that cyberattacks from other countries represents a major threat to the country. Pew Research Center Found in another public opinion poll from the fall of 2016 that 61% of Germans believe that refugees will increase the likelihood of terrorism in Germany. The SPD and CDU each have eyes toward fall’s federal elections. Both know that issue of security will play a central role, a deviation from the 2013 federal election in which the economy took center stage following the European debt crisis. In 2016 Germany’s GDP grew by 1.9 percent, and the biggest issues facing the European Union are the refugee crisis, security issues, and Brexit, not failing economies.

The reality of the terror attack in Berlin was that the correct security measures were in fact already in place. Anis Amri was well-known to German authorities. Yet, the proper authorities ignored all the warning signs, allowing Amri to carry out the deadly attack, citing a lack of hard evidence against him. Amri had committed multiple crimes since coming to Europe, served a jail sentence in another European Union country, used up to 14 different identities, and mingled with known radical Islamists. Is all that not evidence of someone who fit the description of a potentially dangerous individual? Increasing surveillance, ankle tags, these things will do little to prevent further attacks. Authorities had all the information they needed, they failed to act.

German authorities thwarted a planned terror attack in October. While police did receive aid from Syrian refugees in apprehending the suspect, they also deserve praise for how they handled the situation. Intelligence services identified the suspect as a potential threat and had him under surveillance for months prior to his apprehension. However, the suspect committed suicide while in custody, a costly human error and institutional failure.

One measure that should help increase security in Germany, that has been proposed, is amending deportation practices. There must be ground for the deportation of rejected asylum seekers deemed a danger to German society from the Maghreb countries  (Algeria, Morroco, and Tunisia) to their country of origin. Not only would this aid in preventing large-scale terror attacks, but also events similar to the 2015-2016 New Year’s eve attacks in Cologne.

Germany must change the conversation surrounding their national security debate. The wake of an event like the one in Berlin is not a time to score cheap political points. There is too much blame being thrown around, from all sides of the political spectrum. The blame lies not with a certain political party or politician, rather with isolated failings of law enforcement individuals. Now is the time for Germany to analyze the misdoings of the lead-up to the attack on Breitscheidplatz and learn from the mistakes in order to prevent a similar attack from happening in the future.








Political Turmoil: The Rise of Populist Rhetoric in Austria and Italy

December 9, 2016


austriaHeinz-Peter Bader/Reuters


On December 4, 2016, Austrians went to the polls to cast their votes in a rerun of the presidential elections. Since the aftermath of American elections, calculations on the electability of radical candidates have changed. The campaign of right-wing Freedom Party member, Norbert Hofer, was similar to that of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. Supporters of Hofer say that he represents the next pillar in a “new world order”. Campaign slogans of “Make Austria Great Again” popped up across the internet. Some individuals even posted memes displaying the country’s former borders during the period of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In contrast to Trump’s blunt speaking style, Hofer comes off as more neighborly. When asked about Trump’s election campaign, Hofer stated that, “I’m happy that we don’t have anything like this in this style in Austria.” Nonetheless, Hofer embraced a similar platform to Trump in regards to his pro-Russian and anti-immigrant sentiment.

Although Hofer did not win the Austrian presidential elections, the recent poll displayed how well populist candidates may fair across Europe. Hofer accumulated 46.7% of the votes compared to the 53% garnered by his opponent Van der Bellen. In spite of his lost, Hofer’s Austrian Freedom Party still remains a formidable force in Austrian politics.




After the defeat of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s constitutional revision plan, Renzi decided to resign from his position. Anti-immigrant and anti-euro populists on both sides of the political spectrum have taken this opportunity to gain access to their nation’s highest office. Parties such as the Five Star movement are polling similar percentages to Renzi’s center-left Democratic Party. Five Star lawmaker in the lower house of the Italian Parliament, Manilo Di Stefano, sees a trend that is spreading all over Europe. Citizens are no longer satisfied with the status quo. Besides the the same old politics, Italian votes have felt alienated by Renzi for over two years.

The recent referendum resulted in 59% of voters opposing the revisions proposed by Renzi. Choosing a successor to Renzi will now lie in the hands of Italian President Sergio Mattarella. Renzi was asked by Mattarella to postpone his resignation until the government passes the budget. In the meantime, Renzi will act as a “caretaker prime minister”. Although this delay may provide more time for succession planning, the political situation will not drastically change. Allies of Renzi saw the rejection of the constitutional changes on Monday as a momentous setback. Brexit started the process of disintegration, and many believe that the European Union must diverge from the status quo.



East-West World Chess Championship Rivalry

December 2, 2016

This past Monday, two grand master chess players, Sergey Karjakin of Russia, and Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the defending World Chess Champion, faced off in downtown Manhattan in a best of twelve games World Chess Championship. Both players went into Monday’s match having won one win each and drawing the other nine games. While this chess match may not be as widely covered as Bobby Fischer’s 1972 “Match of the Century,” where Fischer defeated the Soviet Union’s Boris Spassky during the height of the Cold War, becoming the first American to ever win the title; there are similar political undertones of East-West tension and worldly uncertainty.


Karjakin, seen here, has been an outspoken supporter for Russian President Vladimir Putin

Karjakin has publicly supported President Vladimir Putin, particularly in regards to the Russian occupation of Crimea where Karjakin himself is from. Carlsen, fearful of the possibility of Russian hackers giving Karjakin information on his strategy has employed Microsoft Norway to help strengthen his personal cyber security. Furthermore, throughout his campaign, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has openly expressed interest in strengthening relations with Russia and Putin, while simultaneously calling into question current NATO members such as Norway. This has led to wide speculation on security strategies in Europe, and the future of NATO.




Carlsen, pictured here, defeated Karjakin in the overtime match on Wednesday.

After 35 minutes of play and 30 moves, game twelve ended in a draw. Karjakin and Carlsen met again on Wednesday where Carlsen won decisively in a best of four-overtime match. Carlsen’s win was not surprising as he was the heavy favorite to win, however much can be said for the playing style of Karjakin, who consistently forced draws and earned the respect of those watching the match. Carlsen’s defeat over Karjakin, continued the drought of a Russian World Chess Champion, a sport traditionally dominated by Russians,  particularly in the Cold War.

While the world waits to see if the East-West chess rivalry continues on in the future, the world will also have to wait to see how US-Russian relations play out and the future of NATO.




The Future of European-American Relations

November 18, 2016


German Chancellor Merkel speaks with U.S. President Obama outside the Elmau castle in Kruen

© Reuters

United States’ President Barack Obama is in Europe to put the final touches on what he hopes will cement his legacy as one of the most pro-European leaders that the US has seen in decades. One primary goal of Obama’s last foreign trip in office is to assure the United States’ NATO allies of its commitment to the organization.

 President elect Donald Trump lambasted NATO on the campaign trail, calling for major changes to the alliance. Trump ultimately questioned the United States’ commitment to its NATO allies, and called for smaller nations relying heavily on US support to pay for the privilege.  NATO mandates that 2% of GDP must be spent on national defense budgets. However, even some of the biggest, most powerful countries in NATO do not comply with this (Germany only spends about 1.4% on the Bundeswehr.) Increasing military spending in Germany is unpopular across the political spectrum and it is unlikely Germany will make the jump to 2% anytime soon. Poland and Lithuania are two of the more notably European countries complying with the 2% rule. Trump’s relations with Russia could also impact his attitude toward NATO, as NATO and the Kremlin have long been at odds, even now 26+ years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Obama’s choice to visit Europe is a reassurance of the trans-Atlantic relationships he worked so hard to foster during his time in office. Obama met with German chancellor Angela Merkel, who he characterized as, “probably my closest international partner these last eight years,” among other world leaders in Berlin.

Obama’s choice to visit Germany is also a symbolic one. Relations between the two nations have strengthened under the two leaders. In a 2016 Pew poll 57% of Germans had favorable views of the United States, while 86 % of Germans said they have confidence in Barack Obama to do the right thing regarding world affairs. Time and time again Obama has reached out to Merkel and Germany in combatting global crises, rather than the United Kingdom and France, which separates him from his predecessors. In a post-Brexit world Germany is the face of the European Union now more than ever. The EU goes as Germany goes. Obama recognized this early in his presidency and made Merkel one of his closest confidants. The two collaborated on the 2008 financial crisis, the situation in Ukraine, Syria and the refugee crisis, among other things.

The election of Donald Trump and the end of Obama’s presidency marks a period of uncertainty for the European Union. Obama’s policy in office was to favor a strong European Union, and for the United States to maintain strong ties to the EU. Obama publicly stated his support for the United Kingdom’s “remain” campaign during the Brexit referendum. Obama emphasized the US’s desire to negotiate trade deals with the UK as part of the EU as a block, rather than individually. During the lead-up to the vote, Obama went as far to say that the UK will, “go to the back of the queue” in negotiating trade deals with the US if they were to go through with Brexit.

So what will a Donald Trump presidency mean for the European Union? For one, Trump has cozied up to a few prominent right-wing European politicians. While there is speculation about his true feelings toward Putin and the nature of the two’s relationship, Trump has met multiple times with the head of the UK Independence Party and one of Brexit’s biggest proponents, Nigel Farage. Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders made an appearance at the GOP convention over the summer in Cleveland to show his support for Donald Trump, not the first meeting of the two like-minded politicians.

For now, it’s all speculation, but changes are on the horizon for Europe. With France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Hungary all set for major elections in 2017, and a Trump presidency looming, the European-American connection Obama spent so hard to build and maintain is hanging in the balance.

Implementing a Brexit Strategy

November 11, 2016

On November 3, 2016, the British High Court halted an expedited withdrawal of the UK from the European Union. The High Court ruled in favor of Parliament having a say prior to the invocation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. In its ruling, the High Court stated that MPs must vote on the right of the UK to begin the EU withdrawal process. After the High Court’s ruling, the UK government announced that it would appeal to the Supreme Court. The appeal against the High Court’s decision will take place on December 5th in the Supreme Court. Once invoked, Article 50 will allow for formal withdrawal talks for up to two years. British Prime Minister Theresa May believes that talks will commence by the end of March 2017.


The Evening Times


Other UK member states such as Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have voiced their opinions. The Scottish government continues to pressure the Holyrood Parliament for its right to a binding vote on Article 50. Moreover, the Scottish government will seek to oppose the UK government to push for its involvement in a decision. Scotland’s most senior law officer, the Lord Advocate, will apply to be heard during the appeal to the Supreme Court. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, believes that the Scottish Parliament and other devolved parliaments of the UK should be consulted before the triggering of Article 50. Ms.Sturgeon seeks not to veto the process of England and Wales leaving the EU, but states that, “[the] democratic wishes of the people of Scotland and the national parliament of Scotland cannot be brushed aside […].”

The Welsh government also plans to intervene in the appeals process to clarify possible implications from the judgement. Northern Ireland’s leading lawyer forecasts that a separate legal challenge to Brexit will help bypass the standard legal process to take proceedings to the Supreme Court.


Courtesy of AFP


The Liberal Democrats along with several MPs from the Labour Party are willing to vote against triggering Article 50. Other minister see MPs voting against Article 50 as a ploy to “re-run” the original referendum to gain a more favorable result. Without the Supreme Court overturning the judgement next month, a bill will be created to invoke Article 50 early next year.



Money Forgery: A Reoccurring Problem in the EU

November 4, 2016

This week Bulgarian Officials seized over €13 million worth of forged currency after being tipped off by a member of the public that the fake bills were going to be circulated in the immediate future. The bills were strictly comprised of €500 euro notes, which are set to be phased out in the coming months, but could have had a devastating impact on the European Union economy and value of the EURO.

Screen Shot 2016-11-03 at 3.17.32 PM.png

A German authority shows the media counterfeited Euro notes seized on a recent police raid.

The problem of counterfeited currency is not a new phenomenon for the European Union. In 2013 Portuguese officials seized €380,000 in counterfeited notes, which lead to a number of arrests. Just recently it was reported that counterfeited money crimes rose by nearly 42% in Germany and is plaguing other nations as well.

Each year Europol releases an official situation report on counterfeiting in the European Union.  In the 2015 report, it was found that most counterfeit goods and forged notes came from China and passed through a number of transit countries before reaching Europe.

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This map from the 2015 Europol Counterfeiting Situation Report shows how far Chinese counterfeiting has spread throughout the world.

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This pie chart from the 2015 Europol Counterfeiting Situation Report depicts the transit countries where Chinese counterfeited goods pass through.

Due to the shear magnitude of this problem, many local police services are unable to do an effective job of rounding up these counterfeit bills.


Is Trade Policy the Next Big Issue facing the European Union?

October 26, 2016


The CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) deal that the European Union and Canada finally came to terms over after seven years of ongoing negotiations is now in jeopardy. The agreement requires ratification from all 28 member states of the European Union. The deal is currently being held up by the regional assembly in Wallonia – the French speaking region of Belgium – who have blocked the ability of the Belgian national government to ratify the agreement.

This type of de-facto veto enacted by Wallonia is a concern for policy-makers in Brussels. It represents a threat to future trade deals with other nations, but it also raises large questions over local and national sovereignty. The European Union negotiates trade as a unified, central bloc, rather than individually state by state.

Trade has become an increasingly central issue for politicians and citizens alike in today’s interconnected, globalized world. It has been a hot-topic issue in the upcoming United States’ presidential election, it was oft-debated in the lead-up to the Brexit referendum, and now has become at the center of debate for the European Union. The larger issue of disconnect between policy-makers in Brussels and ordinary British citizens was a primary tactic of the leave campaign during the Brexit referendum. Other right-wing populist parties in Europe, such as the VVD in the Netherlands led by Geert Wilders (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), are looking to the British as an example and exploring the possibility of holding similar referendums about leaving the EU. Wallonia, the region of Belgium holding up CETA, is traditionally industrial region located in Europe’s rust belt with a left-leaning political leadership. The economy has been on the downswing, with 16 percent unemployment. Walloon politicians are concerned over the economic, legal, and environmental implications of CETA on the region.

All of this begs the larger question, how can the European Union maintain a balance of national and regional sovereignty while still negotiating in the best interests of the Union as a whole in matters of trade? Is what’s good for Bavaria or Lombardy also good for Wallonia? Is what’s good for Germany also good for Romania? The answers to these questions are complicated. John F. Kennedy once said, “A rising tide lifts all boats”. It’s no secret that Germany and France are the economic engines of the EU and as a result they hold tremendous influence in Brussels. The responsibility of countries such as Germany and France to lead is even greater now that a Brexit is imminent. Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande realize this, and have developed an extremely close working relationship, the like of which has not been seen in post-WWII French-German relations.

A two agreement solution has been proposed by politicians in Brussels in order to reach a compromise. This proposal would give the EU the power to negotiate larger, more comprehensive aspects of the deal, such as tariffs and regulations. However, it would maintain national and regional sovereignty by allowing them to negotiate “second-tier” issues such as investment protection and local health and environmental standards. Legally and logistically, this proposal has many hurdles to clear. Trade negotiations and deals take years, sometimes even a decade or more to reach. The two track solution would run the risk of limiting the negotiating power of European Commission. Future trade deals could potentially break down at the national or regional levels, resulting in frustration over the lost time and resources spent negotiating.

Yet, ceding power to Brussels means surrendering key aspects of national sovereignty. Romania and Bulgaria were until recently sceptics over CETA based on the restrictions on visa-free travel for their citizens in Canada. While neither objected CETA based on principle, they saw the negotiations as an opportunity to gain rights for their citizens that all other EU-member state’s citizens previously held. This marks another problem with current EU trade policy, the possibility of internal state politics muddying the process.

The European Union can now add trade policy to its already long list of issues to address. It has become evident that there are rippling effects globally for internal EU politics. CETA represents just one deal with Canada, a large and prosperous nation, but what will happen when the United States, or Japan, or China, come to the negotiating table for new agreements? Will the process again be held up in a region of 3.5 million people? If yes, maybe the United Kingdom was right in leaving, as countries like Canada and the United States will sidestep the long, drawn-out headache of negotiating with the EU in favor of quick, efficient dealings with the UK.