Sub-zero weather in Russia risks gas shortage in Europe
Freezing weather sweeping across Europe has led to a shortage of vital Russian gas supplies to several countries. An EU energy spokeswoman said eight countries had seen a reduction in gas due to increased demand in Russia. She said the situation was not an emergency but was being monitored.
The cold snap is being blamed for scores of deaths in the eastern half of Europe where temperatures have plunged to below -35°C, and freezing temperatures have spread westward to Italy and France.
A sudden drop in Russian gas supplies – which pass through Ukraine – is raising fears of a repeat of a crisis in early 2009 when tension between Moscow and Kiev cut supplies to parts of Europe for about two weeks. Bulgaria, Serbia and Bosnia are countries almost completely dependent on supplies that come through Ukraine.
Gazprom, the Russian gas export monopoly, said on 3 February it was supplying as much gas as it could spare. “We are doing everything possible… all the systems are working in a stable manner,” a spokesman said.
EU energy spokeswoman Marlene Holzner said “I can confirm that there has been a decrease in gas deliveries in various member states – Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Italy. It’s not a situation of emergency yet.”
In Ukraine it was reported that more than 100 people had died from the freezing weather, most of them homeless. The authorities had set up nearly 3,000 heating and food shelters across the country and instructed hospitals not to discharge homeless patients. Black Sea ports closed after sea freezes
The Polish interior ministry said that eight people died from the cold on 3 February and two others had died of carbon monoxide poisoning from charcoal heaters.
In eastern Bosnia on 5 February three helicopters were being used over to deliver food and pick up people who needed evacuation. A state of emergency has been in force in the capital, Sarajevo, where snow has paralysed the city.
In neighbouring Serbia, according to senior emergency official Predrag Marić, some 70,000 people remained cut off and 32 municipalities throughout the country had introduced emergency measures. Critical situation as ice paralyses large rivers
UNDP research pinpoints areas of social exclusion
The UNDP report on ‘Regional Human Development Beyond Transition Towards Inclusive Societies’ examines in seven former socialist countries of Europe and Central Asia the level of the population’s inclusion in society.
The report looks at the vicious cycle of poverty from the perspective of those who experience it firsthand. The report presents findings from surveys in six countries and provides an overview of social exclusion in the region and recommended actions. The report also introduces a way to measure the extent to which people are excluded from economic life, social services, and social networks and civic participation.
An estimated 35 percent of people in the region are excluded from society, ranging from 12% in Macedonia to 72% in Tajikistan.
UNDP report Regional Human Development Beyond Transition Towards Inclusive Societies
(pdf 125 pages)
Link: Social exclusion in Armenia
Roma – implementing the EU Framework
In the wake of last year’s expulsions from France, the EU’s Roma framework has promised to take a tougher line on monitoring member states’ efforts to integrate marginalised minorities.
In the summer of 2010, the Roma became the subject of intense and renewed press attention after the French president, Nicholas Sarkozy, deported about 9,000 Roma to Romania and Bulgaria, bulldozing the illegal camps in which they lived on the outskirts of French cities.
Immediately NGOs, governments, institutions, organisations – notably the UN, the Council of Europe and EU bodies – and the media engaged in a fierce debate as to whether France was breaching human rights and freedom of movement of individuals by targeting Roma. The incident put the issue of Roma exclusion throughout Europe under the spotlight. It had come halfway through the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015, an initiative signed by 12 European countries – all with sizeable Roma populations.
The result was that the European Parliament, in a resolution on the expulsion of Roma from France, called for “concrete and forward-looking measures to improve the social integration of Roma” and to contribute “to improving the situation of Roma”.
EU framework goals:
|Education: ensuring that all Roma children complete primary school|
|Employment: cutting the employment gap between Roma and other citizens|
|Health: reducing the health gap, for example, by cutting child mortality among Roma|
|Housing: closing the gap in access to housing and public utilities such as water and electricity|
In addition, the EU justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, announced in April this year that member states had until the end of the year to draft national Roma plans in accordance with the EU strategy for Roma integration and inclusion.
Member states are obliged to develop and implement targeted policies, and devote sufficient resources to promote integration in four priority areas: health, housing, education and employment. The Commission is planning to introduce a robust monitoring regime – including annual reporting on progress – to ensure both that strategies will be properly implemented and the money set aside for Roma projects actually reaches the intended beneficiaries.
That said, the EC noted in April this year that up to €26.5 billion of EU funding is currently earmarked to support member states’ efforts in the field of social inclusion, including Roma projects.
Romania is the EU country with the biggest Roma population, numbering around two million, almost ten percent of the country’s total population. More than 90% of the Roma expelled from France in 2010 were Romanian.
Magda Matache, executive director for Romani CRISS, a Roma human rights group based in Bucharest, commented on Romania’s new draft plans to comply with the EU framework. She warned that the Romanian proposals “are very superficial, unprofessional and they don’t prove a clear interest of the government in the Roma issue. I am afraid that the European Commission is preparing its next big failure.”
Robert Kushen, executive director of the European Roma Rights Centre points to the EU framework’s call that all Roma children should complete primary school. “Almost all member states’ national plans on education demand much higher levels. Primary school just won’t give Roma the abilities they need to get a job,” he says, adding that the EU framework recognised what must be done but is, at the same time, lacking ambition.
Other countries In the period preceding the 2004 accession of the central European states, the European Commission insisted that Roma integration must remain a priority for the Czech Republic, Slovenija, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania. On paper, all those countries comply with EU standards on human rights, employment, housing and education. In reality, Roma remain at a distinct disadvantage, facing social deprivation and segregation across Europe.
|It was not just France which has targeted Roma.|
|Germany intends to return around 12,000 Roma to Kosovo, half of whom are children including many who are German-born, notwithstanding the call to western European states by UNICEF and the Council of Europe to stop forcibly returning Roma to Kosovo.|
|Sweden has deported some 50 Roma for “begging”, even though begging is not a crime in Sweden.|
|Denmark, Belgium and Finland have summarily expelled Roma in 2010.|
Macedonia takes over chairmanship of Decade of Roma Inclusion
Muslim leaders lament restrictive legislation and media bias in central Europe
Muslim leaders from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia came to Prague on 28 June to share their experiences and to discuss challenges faced by their communities. The numbers of the Muslim populations in the Visegrad countries vary significantly, as do their historic backgrounds. But the debate brought out some challenges which are shared by Muslims across the region: islamophobia, media bias and severe legislative restrictions.
The Muslim presence in Central Europe goes back centuries but today’s Muslim communities in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary only began to form in the 1970s and 80s, with the influx of students from the Middle East and North Africa.
The sizes of the present-day Muslim communities in each of the Visegrad Group countries range from around 35,000 in Poland to less than 5,000 in Slovakia. This is one of the reasons why legislation makes it difficult for Muslim organisations to register as religious communities and acquire the same rights as much larger religious groups.
In Poland, Islam enjoys the same status as the Catholic Church and other mainstream religions. In the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, however, there are far too few Muslims for the group to be granted rights such as teaching religion in public schools, performing service in the armed forces and in prisons. Also, they are not eligible for state funding.
In the Czech Republic, for instance, religious communities may only apply for such rights 10 years after their initial registration and only after submitting 10,000 adult signatures.
Slovak legislation is the most restrictive of the Visegrad countries. There, the law requires 20,000 signatures for a religious group even to register, and Slovakia is perhaps the only European country without a mosque. Muhammad Safwan Hasna is the Head of Slovakia’s Islamic foundation. “According to 18th century data, there were nearly 300 Muslim families living in Bratislava, mostly merchants from the Balkans. A Moorish-style mosque was built at that time that survived until the Second World War. It would be interesting to find out why Bratislava in the 18th century was more tolerant than it is now.”
A Polish researcher highlighted the issue of islamophobia and the role of the media. “I believe that here, the Polish media play a very important role. Instead of providing the public with balanced and informative reporting, they provide stereotypes and they strengthen them. I argue that they create a new folk devil. In the past, it used to be the Jews. But now the Jews are gone, and the Muslims are the new folk devil.”
The leaders of the Czech, Slovak, Hungarian and Polish Muslim communities said fighting against media bias and prejudice would be crucial for their integration within society. They also noted their communities were dynamically growing, both through immigration and conversion.
Corruption remains major concern across western Balkans
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released in a new study on 17 May. The report Corruption in the Western Balkans: Bribery as Experienced by the Population is based on a survey conducted last year among more than 28,000 people in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
In the survey citizens of the western Balkans view corruption as the third most important issue that their countries need to address, after unemployment and poverty.
The main focus of the study, funded by the European Commission, was on the actual experience of administrative corruption, rather than people’s perceptions. According to the UNODC, “one in six respondents was exposed to some form of bribery with a public official in the 12 months before the survey.”
Cash payments were found to be the primary form of bribery in the region: two-thirds of all bribes were paid in cash last year. But there were big differences among the countries. The average bribe ranged from €103 in Albania to €1,212 in Macedonia. In Albania cash payments accounted for the vast majority of bribes, while the other types of bribery, such as the giving of food and drink, of valuables or other goods to a public official were described as “rare exceptions”.
Of those who admitted to have paid at least one bribe last year, 28% said they had done so to receive better treatment. As many respondents cited speeding up a procedure as the reason for this, while 16% said they resorted to it to avoid paying a fine; 12% said the money helped them finalise a procedure.
UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov commended the countries for acknowledging the need to conduct the survey and for their efforts to curb corruption. “The areas highlighted in this report provide us with a realistic viewpoint of the on-the-ground situation, which is so critical to authorities as we collectively work together in countering corrupt practices at all levels.”
According to EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle, the study “offers a very useful assessment” of the corruption situation in the western Balkans. “The European Commission has been following this issue very closely and attaches great importance to this issue, undoubtedly one of the most important benchmarks for any candidate or potential candidate country wishing to fulfil its European perspective.”
European Parliament 2009 elections
|Click here for the results of European Parliament elections on 10-13 June 2004
from the ten central European countries and our South-east region of England.
Schengen area enlargement
|The Schengen area
On 21 December 2007 nine newer EU member states, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenija joined the Schengen area.
|The Portuguese EU presidency announced in Brussels on 4 October that passport and customs controls at the borders between the new and the old EU member states will be abolished on the 21 December, two weeks before the original date. The Schengen area will open to nine of the new EU states.
Portuguese Interior Minister Rui Pereira, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, confirmed that the Schengen expansion should take place just before Christmas this year. The original plan had been to start the new year 2008 with an expansion of the Schengen zone. The border-free zone currently includes 13 EU countries plus Norway and Iceland. Many of the 2004 accession states have said that an end to border checks is essential for their citizens to feel part of the EU.In Malta on 24 September the Ministers of the Interior for the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovenija and Slovakia had met to endorse progress on the agreement on the border information exchange system called SISone4all. It was agreed that the SISone4ALL project could be successfully implemented and that controls and checks at the internal borders between the Schengen Member States should be lifted by the end of December 2007 for sea and land borders, and by the end of March 2008 for air borders.Cyprus is working to join Schengen in 2009 along with non-EU member Switzerland. Romania and Bulgaria may qualify to be included in 2011.
How the European Union has grown
|1951||Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg founded the European Coal and Steel Community and, in 1957, the European Economic Community.|
|Dates of joining|
|Denmark, Ireland, United Kingdom
Portugal and Spain
|1992||EEC is renamed European Union, aims to adopt a single currency and a common foreign policy.|
|1995||Austria, Finland and Sweden|
|2004||Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenija, plus Mediterranean islands Cyprus and Malta, joined EU on 1 May.|
|2007||Accession on 1 January of Bulgaria and România, subject to conditions on further adjustments.|
|Applying to join|
|Cyprus, Malta apply to join
Hungary and Poland
Romania, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria
Czech Republic and Slovenija
|1999||EU agrees Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenija, Slovakia, Cyprus and Malta can join by 2004. Romania and Bulgaria must wait until 2007. Turkey ruled unready to open entry talks.|
|Entry negotiations completed with 10 states.
Accession treaties signed.
EU regards Stabilisation and Association agreement with Kosovo desirable, under UN Security Council Resolution 1244/99.
|2004||Accession on 1 May of 8 central European countries: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenija, together with Mediterranean states Cyprus and Malta
Croatia given official status of candidate country on 18 June.
|2005||Croatia and Turkey began accession negotiations.
Macedonia (FYROM) granted candidate status
|2009||Iceland submitted application for membership on 23 July.|
|2010||New government in Moldova encouraged to prepare for an application.|
|2011||Croatia may be ready to join.|
|2012-15||Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia may begin formal accession negotiations.|