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The struggle for the truth continues

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Consider the situation that the State Duma Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation (Lower House of the Russian Parliament) has called on the Russian government to immediately allocate money to projects aimed at combating anti-Russian propaganda, Russianophobia, and false information about the Russian Federation in the European Union.

Or, it would ask the government to provide more ambitious financial assistance to the “third sector in the EU Member States”, which promotes improved relations and cooperation between the EU and Russia, promotes Christian values, traditional family and marriage of men and women, peace and inter-national cooperation. What would be the reaction? Silence, cry and a series of articles on Putin’s regime and oppressed “civilian opposition,” but who cannot even get a three per cent support in the elections? Again, new penalties?

Or imagine another situation: How would the so-called European leaders, officials in Brussels, the European Commission and the European Council respond if the Russian Parliament, the Russian President and the Russian Government consistently expressed their grave concern over the deterioration of the human and civil rights situation and the rule of law, for example, in the Baltic Member States with the discriminated Russian minority? Silence and ignorance as heretofore? And how would they react if the Russians constantly criticized and pointed out violations of human and civil rights to Christian communities, such as in France? His president, Emmanuel Macron, is more concerned about the “gay suffering” in Chechnya than the oppressing and ejection of Christian symbols in French schools, or the punishment of Christian denominations and the use of Christian symbols. This childless and value-inconsistent president, who has already begun politically and ideologically breaking the Visegrad Four (V-4) and excitement of Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico with his blushing about the “tighter EU core,” in May in Versailles, he even said to President Putin he would be alert regarding gays in Chechnya. 

In other words, President Macron and his team, who had robbed Marine Le Pen’s agenda in the election campaign, are likely to be more concerned by gay people in Islamic Chechnya, which still has the largest natural increase in population among all subjects Russian Federation, such as the Russian minority in Ukraine, or peacekeeping and Minsk agreements by Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko. Does President Macron want to be a gay spokesman in Chechnya, or wants to create a “new turmoil” among gays and Islam that does not recognize and punish homosexuality in this autonomous republic in the Caucasus? I do not want to believe that President Macron would promote sex and the sexual orientation of one group or minority in Chechnya over the human and civil rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine. In still unfortunate Ukraine, which cannot escape from the influence of fascist and Nazi groups tolerated not only by the Poroshenko regime but also by the European Union. Its “Iron Prime Minister”, Angela Merkel, accused former President Yanukovych of refusing to sign an association agreement between Ukraine and the EU in November 2013 in Vilnius. Then, she told him she expected more from him. She was not curious about the arguments of the then Ukrainian government or the president that Ukraine would not survive its “break-away” from Russia and the CIS, and that it needed a substantial financial subsidy of almost 400 billion euros. If we realize after four years what Ukraine “sacrificed” to the altar of “the sacred EU”, what price the Ukrainians have paid for, what they have lost and gained, we must ask – didn´t the Ukrainians rightly expect from Angela Merkel more? And more than what the EU offered and guaranteed?

Now that Lithuania is proposing a New European Plan for Ukraine (the so-called Marshall Plan for Ukraine) for 2017-2020 to get at least € 5bn annually to implement “long-awaited reforms”, what does it prove? That Ukraine, after massive political and military support from the US and the EU or the staff of various international consultants and experts, is still unable to reform its values ​​and the economy for the image of the EU? Don´t you even see this image? This plan of further aid (the exact value of the current financial assistance is still unresolved, which could be a major shock to EU citizens, as in the case of the so-called Kosovo), is to be judged by the November EU Eastern Partnership summit. And there is also another package to be discussed in Brussels in early 2018. Under the EU’s external investment plan for Ukraine, there will be talk of the possibility of earmarking and drawing on € 88bn by 2020. So, if we make a short a reflection on what President Yanukovych told the office of President Merkel in Vilnius, wasn´t he right?

 It seems, however, that Mrs Merkel or the entire EU leadership was not about the truth and Ukraine, but about starting another scenario – the coup and the economic chaos in Ukraine. The result is not just a civil war in Donbass and the return of the Crimea to Russia but also the departure of more than 2.5 million Ukrainian citizens – refugees to Russia and more than a million Ukrainians for work and “European life” in Poland. The number of Ukrainians who left for work in other EU countries because they cannot live at home is still not publicly spoken. Nor about how many of them already have Romanian, Hungarian, Polish, Slovak, German or Austrian citizenship. In the case of Slovakia, just a small example – since the abolition of the visa requirement more than 200 000 Ukrainians passed over the Slovak Schengen border, of course, they went further to the West. The way in which Angela Merkel and former French President Francois Hollande supported the unconstitutional coup in Ukraine was and remained scandalously like when the “German-French integration engine” opened the EU to more than a million different migrants in 2014 and 2015, neither the Italians nor the Greeks could keep it. Mrs Angela Merkel, as well as other EU leaders, had already known that was organized by business smugglers and managed migration under the auspices and command of ‘third sector volunteers’. Instead of vigorous and decisive action (protecting borders at sea and on land), the EU, under Angela Merkel, wanted to corrupt Turkey and reimburse the costs of organized crime for a “social and racial engineer project” for the EU and build a so-called refugee Islamic camps in Turkey. Angela Merkel has allowed her to gamble with the EU and its citizens, and left the fate of the migratory crisis in the hands of Ankara.

It was the amazing value and peace policy of the EU, a great demonstration of how the EU, Angela Merkel and other leaders (including Martin Schulz) can crush and make people’s lives safer, threatening peace and security, which later confirmed new sexual and terrorist attacks in Western Europe and Scandinavia. Let’s go back to Russia for a moment. Let’s imagine another Russian reaction – predictable regarding current Russians. Russian constitutional and state organizations declare “the fight against EU propaganda, its lies, its perverse civilization, integration, anti-Christian and cultural values.” They then compile lists of politicians, activists and the media that disseminate “harmful and false EU propaganda” on the contrary to traditional Russian civilization values. Subsequently, special foundations, funds and civic associations will be set up to organize various seminars and discussions with citizens, and to inform the “embarrassed Russian democracy and the Russian society” about these dangers, the EU conspiracy portals and media against Russia and the negative impacts of their activities for the entire Russian society. Do you think Russia does not have to make such a decision? Or is it so internally strong that it does not need to protect the Russian society by such measures?

To sum up, MEPs who voted in favour of alleged Russian political and financial support for “radical and extremist parties” in the EU Member States have not yet been able to tell the public what this is about. They cannot give the public any proof of who, and as of Russia or the “Russian world”, these parties are funding the parties, what is the value of this aid. Nonetheless, the MEPs ask the European Commission to draft a draft legislation guaranteeing the transparency of the funding of political parties in EU countries by foreign entities. I personally would like to support this request, and broaden the requirement for transparency regarding the financing of the Third Sector and not only by foreign but also domestic subjects. Many so-called domestic entities were based on foreign capital. Let’s look at the result of this Members’ initiative. Maybe none. The media, ideological value struggle for the truth continues. Unfortunately, it is not only between American and Russian civilizations, but also between the so- called European (especially Anglo-Saxon) and Russian civilization. If the outcome of this struggle between the EU and Russia is a new constructive dialogue based on the truth, the recognition of errors and mistakes, the renewal of the strategic partnership between the EU and Russia, everyone will be relieved. In this case, there will be a new era of economic, cultural and social development in Europe and Russia. We all need such development.

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Europe

From Davos to Munich

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An overview of the views and attitudes of European officials during the Davos and Munich Conference and their comparison with each other suggests that the security, economic, and political concerns of European countries have not only not diminished but are increasing.

During the World Economic Summit in Davos, the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France both gave a significant warning about the return of nationalism and populism to Europe. This warning has been sent in a time when Far-Right movements in Europe have been able to gain unbelievable power and even seek to conquer a majority of parliaments and form governments.

In her speech, Angela Merkel emphasized that the twentieth century’s mistake shouldn’t be repeated. By this, the German Chancellor meant the tendency of European countries to nationalism. Although the German Chancellor warning was serious and necessary, the warning seems to be a little late. Perhaps it would have been better if the warning was forwarded after the European Parliamentary elections in 2014, and subsequently, more practical and deterrent measures were designed. However, Merkel and other European leaders ignored the representation of over a hundred right-wing extremist in the European Parliament in 2014 and merely saw it as a kind of social excitement.

This social excitement has now become a “political demand” in the West. The dissatisfaction of European citizens with their governments has caused them to explicitly demand the return to the twentieth century and the time before the formation of the United Europe. The recent victories of right wing extremists in Austria, Germany and…, isn’t merely the result of the nationalist movement success in introducing its principles and manifestos. But it is also a result of the failure of the “European moderation” policy to resolve social, security and economic problems in the Eurozone and the European Union. In such a situation, European citizens find that the solutions offered by the moderate left parties didn’t work in removing the existing crises in Europe. Obviously, in this situation “crossing the traditional parties” would become a general demand in the West. Under such circumstances, Merkel’s and other European leaders’ warnings about the return to the twentieth century and the time before the formation of the United Europe simply means the inability of the Eurozone authorities in preventing the Right-extremism in the West.

These concerns remain at the Munich Security Conference. As Reuters reported, The defense ministers of Germany and France pledged to redouble their military and foreign policy cooperation efforts on Friday, inviting other European countries to participate if they felt ready to do so.
In a speech to the Munich Security Conference, German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen said Europe’s countries would not be able to respond nimbly enough to global challenges if they were stymied by the need to decide joint foreign policy approaches unanimously.

“Europe has to up its pace in the face of global challenges from terrorism, poverty and climate change,” she said. “Those who want to must be able to advance without being blocked by individual countries.”

Her French counterpart Florence Parly said any such deepened cooperation would be complementary to the NATO alliance, which itself was based on the principle that members contributed differently depending on their capacities.

“The reality has always been that some countries are by choice more integrated and more able to act than others,” she said.

The push comes as Germany’s political class reluctantly concedes it must play a larger security role to match its economic pre-eminence in Europe, amid concerns that the European Union is unable to respond effectively to security concerns beyond its eastern and southern borders.

But in their deal for another four years of a “grand coalition” government, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats have agreed to boost spending on the armed forces after years of post-Cold War decline.

The deal, which must still be ratified by the Social Democrat membership, comes as Germany reluctantly takes on the role of the continent’s pre-eminent political power-broker, a role generations of post-war politicians have shied away from.

Days after U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis reiterated President Donald Trump’s demand that European countries spend more on their militaries, Von der Leyen pledged to spend more on its military and the United Nations, but called in return for other countries not to turn away from mulitlateralism.

The pledges come as the EU seeks a new basis on which to cooperate with Britain, traditionally one of the continent’s leading security players, after its vote to leave the EU.

Earlier on Friday, the leaders of the three countries’ security services said close security cooperation in areas like terrorism, illegal migration, proliferation and cyber attacks, must continue after Britain’s departure.

“Cooperation between European intelligence agencies combined with the values of liberal democracy is indispensable, especially against a background of diverse foreign and security challenges,” they said.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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Election Monitoring in 2018: What Not to Expect

Alina Toporas

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This year’s election calendar released by OSCE showcases a broad display of future presidential, parliamentary and general elections with hefty political subjecthoods which have the potential of transforming in their entirety particularly the European Union, the African Union and the Latin American sub-continent. A wide sample of these countries welcoming elections are currently facing a breadth of challenges in terms of the level of transparency in their election processes. To this end, election observation campaigns conducted by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Council of Europe, the Organisation for American States (OAS), the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division, the National Democratic Institute, Carter Center and even youth organisations such as AEGEE and Silba are of paramount importance in safeguarding the incorruptibility of election proceedings in fraudulent and what cannot be seen with the naked eye type of fraudulent political systems, making sure elections unfold abiding national legislation and international standards.

What exactly does an election observation mission supposed to accomplish?   

An election monitoring mission consists of operational experts and analysts who are all part of a core team and are conducting their assignments for a period of time varying between 8 and 12 weeks. Aside from the core team experts and analysts, there can be short-term or long-term observers and seconded observers or funded observers. Joining them, there is usually a massive local support staff acting as interpreters and intermediaries. Generally, an election observer does not interfere with the process, but merely takes informative notes. With this in mind, it is imperative of the observer to make sure there isn’t any meddling with votes at polling stations by parties and individual candidates; that the people facilitating the election process are picked according to fair and rigorous benchmarks; that these same people can be held accountable for the final results and that, at the end of the day, the election system put in place by the national and local authorities is solid from both a physical and logical standpoint. Oftentimes, particularly in emerging democracies, the election monitoring process goes beyond the actual process of voting by extending to campaign monitoring.

In practical terms, the average election observer needs to abide by certain guidelines for a smooth and standardised monitoring process. Of course, these rules can vary slightly, depending on the sending institution. Typically, once the election observer has landed in the country awaiting elections, their first two days are normally filled with seminars on the electoral system of the country and on the electoral law. Meetings with candidates from the opposition are sometimes organised by the electoral commission. Talking to ordinary voters from builders to cleaners, from artists to businesspeople is another way through which an election observer can get a sense of what social classes pledged their allegiances to what candidates. After two days in training and the one day testing political preferences on the ground, election day begins. Since the early bird gets the worm, polling stations open at least two hours earlier than the work day starts, at around 7am. Throughout the day, observers ask voters whether they feel they need to complain about anything and whether they were asked to identify themselves when voting. Other details such as the polling stations opening on time are very much within the scope of investigation for election monitors. Observers visit both urban voting centres and rural ones. In the afternoon, counting begins with observers carefully watching the volunteers from at least 3 metres away. At the end of the day, observers go back to their hotels and begin filling in their initial questionnaires with their immediate reactions on the whole voting process. In a few weeks time, a detailed report would be issued in cooperation with all the other election observers deployed in various regions of the country and under the supervision of the mission coordinators.   

Why are these upcoming elections particularly challenging to monitor?  

Talks of potential Russian interference into the U.S. elections have led to full-on FBI investigations. Moreover, the idea of Russian interference in the Brexit vote is slowly creeping into the British political discourse. Therefore, it does not take a quantum physicist to see a pattern here. Hacking the voting mechanism is yet another not-so-classic conundrum election observers are facing. We’re in the midst of election hacking at the cognitive level in the form of influence operations, doxing and propaganda. But, even more disturbingly, we’re helpless witnesses to interference at the technical level as well. Removing opposition’s website from the Internet through DDOS attacks to downright political web-hacking in Ukraine’s Central Election Commission to show as winner a far-right candidate are only some of the ways which present an unprecedented political savviness and sophistication directed at the tampering of the election machinery. Even in a country such as the U.S. (or Sweden – their elections being held September of this year) where there is a great deal of control over the physical vote, there is not much election monitoring can do to enhance the transparency of it all when interference occurs by way of the cyber domain affecting palpable election-related infrastructure.

Sketching ideational terrains seems like a fruitful exercise in imagining worst-case scenarios which call for the design of a comprehensive pre-emptive approach for election fraud. But how do you prevent election fraud? Sometimes, the election observer needs to come to terms with the fact that they are merely a reporter, a pawn which notwithstanding the action of finding oneself in the middle of it all, can generally use only its hindsight perspective. Sometimes, that perspective is good enough when employed to draft comprehensive electoral reports, making a difference between the blurry lines of legitimate and illegitimate political and electoral systems.

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Europe

Can Europe successfully rein in Big Tobacco?

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Photo by Mateo Avila Chinchilla on Unsplash

In what looks set to become the ‘dieselgate’ of the tobacco industry, a French anti-smoking organization has filed a lawsuit against four major tobacco brands for knowingly selling cigarettes with tar and nicotine levels that were between 2 and 10 times higher than what was indicated on the packs. Because the firms had manipulated the testing process, smokers who thought they were smoking a pack a day were in fact lighting up the equivalent of up to 10, significantly raising their risk for lung cancer and other diseases.

According to the National Committee Against Smoking (CNCT), cigarettes sold by the four companies have small holes in the filter that ventilate smoke inhaled under test conditions. But when smoked by a person, the holes compress due to pressure from the lips and fingers, causing the smoker to inhale higher levels of tar and nicotine. According to the lawsuit, the irregularity “tricks smokers because they are unaware of the degree of risk they are taking.”

It was only the most recent example of what appears to be a deeply entrenched propensity for malfeasance in the tobacco industry. And unfortunately, regulatory authorities across Europe still appear unprepared to just say no to big tobacco.

Earlier this month, for instance, Public Health England published a report which shines a positive light on “tobacco heating products” and indicates that electronic cigarettes pose minimal health risks. Unsurprisingly, the UK report has been welcomed by big tobacco, with British American Tobacco praising the clear-sightedness of Public Health England.

Meanwhile, on an EU-wide level, lawmakers are cooperating too closely for comfort with tobacco industry executives in their efforts to craft new cigarette tracking rules for the bloc.

The new rules are part of a campaign to clamp down on tobacco smuggling, a problem that is particularly insidious in Europe and is often attributed to the tobacco industry’s own efforts to stiff the taxman. According to the WHO, the illicit cigarette market makes up between 6-10% of the total market, and Europe ranks first worldwide in terms of the number of seized cigarettes. According to studies, tobacco smuggling is also estimated to cost national and EU budgets more than €10 billion each year in lost public revenue and is a significant source of cash for organized crime. Not surprisingly, cheap availability of illegally traded cigarettes is also a major cause of persistently high smoking rates in the bloc.

To help curtail cigarette smuggling and set best practices in the fight against the tobacco epidemic, the WHO established the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005. The first protocol to the FCTC, the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, was adopted in 2012 and later ratified by the EU. Among other criteria, the Protocol requires all cigarette packs to be marked with unique identifiers to ensure they can be tracked and traced, thereby making smuggling more difficult.

Unsurprisingly, the tobacco industry has come up with its own candidates to meet track and trace requirements, notably Codentify, a system developed by PMI. From 2005 through 2016, PMI used Codentify as part of an anti-smuggling agreement with the EU. But the agreement was subject to withering criticism from the WHO and other stakeholders for going against the Protocol, which requires the EU and other parties to exclude the tobacco industry from participating in anti-smuggling efforts.

The EU-PMI agreement expired in 2016 and any hopes of reviving it collapsed after the European Parliament, at loggerheads with the Commission, overwhelmingly voted against a new deal and decided to ratify the WHO’s Protocol instead. Codentify has since been sold to the French firm Impala and was rebranded as Inexto – which critics say is nothing but a front company for PMI since its leadership is made out of former PMI executives. Nonetheless, due to lack of stringency in the EU’s draft track and trace proposal, there is still a chance that Inexto may play a role in any new track and trace system, sidelining efforts to set up a system that is completely independent of the tobacco industry.

This could end up by seriously derailing the EU’s efforts to curb tobacco smuggling, given the industry’s history of active involvement in covertly propping up the black market for cigarettes. In 2004, PMI paid $1.25 billion to the EU to settle claims that it was complicit in tobacco smuggling. As part of the settlement, PMI agreed to issue an annual report about tobacco smuggling in the EU, a report that independent researchers found “served the interests of PMI over those of the EU and its member states.”

Given the industry’s sordid history of efforts to prop up the illicit tobacco trade, it’s little surprise that critics are still dissatisfied with the current version of the EU’s track and trace proposal.

Now, the CNCT’s lawsuit against four major tobacco firms gives all the more reason to take a harder line against the industry. After all, if big tobacco can’t even be honest with authorities about the real levels of chemicals in their own products, what makes lawmakers think that they can play a viable role in any effort to quell the illegal cigarette trade – one that directly benefits the industry?

Later this month, the European Parliament will have a new chance to show they’re ready to get tough on tobacco, when they vote on the pending proposal for an EU-wide track and trace system. French MEP Younous Omarjee has already filed a motion against the system due to its incompatibility with the letter of the WHO. Perhaps a ‘dieselgate’ for the tobacco industry might be just the catalyst they need to finally say no to PMI and its co-conspirators.

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