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Tomorrow’s world – VoxEurop (English)

Europe goes – eventually – green: some good news for starting the year. Cofounder Catherine André’s editorial.

Screen-Shot-2020-01-08-at-22-46-53-copyIn many respects, in Europe and across the world, 2020 has gotten off to a bad start — just as 2019 proved a bad ending to a decade which will be noted for its environmental catastrophes. The ice is melting at accelerated speed, flood and drought are hitting harder than ever, December’s COP25 in Madrid was a failure, uncontrollable forest fires are ravaging south-eastern Australia, bringing untold devastation to unique wildlife: quite literally, the planet is drowning, or roasting, depending on where you look.

Yet we also know: the coming decade, and the year 2020 in particular, will have to be a time of radical choices when it comes to environmental policy. The clock is ticking, as we’re so often reminded by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Meanwhile, global CO2 emissions have never stopped rising, despite the commitments undertaken by the 183 signatory states of the 2015 Paris agreement. At COP26, set to take place next November in Glasgow, governments will have to propose new action plans to limit the impact of global warming — while so little time remains.

The European Green Deal, presented on 11 December by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, shows new ambition. Is it capable of making Europe the first carbon neutral continent? How will this Deal, finally setting in stone Europe’s recognition of the climate emergency, produce a “just and socially fair” transition, one which will supposedly orient all of European policy? How will the influence of industrial lobbies in Brussels be held in check? As for the member states, whose attitudes towards climate change are hardly homogeneous — can they conform, unflinchingly, to the tendency now promoted by Brussels, which breaks with the earlier language of laissez-faire?

So many questions we need to ask ourselves, while acknowledging the radical paradigm shift the Deal represents, of which no-one has managed to grasp all the consequences. After the green wave in the last European elections, with particularly strong support from young Europeans, let’s bet on this proposal proving a genuine turning point, marking the beginning of a new era, and let’s make sure it doesn’t just remain on paper.

We thank our readers for all of their support and wish them an excellent 2020, under the banner of safeguarding the planet, a commitment we pledge ourselves to as a media outlet. This transition will never happen without a powerful mobilisation of citizens, a European public opinion which comes through loud and clear, and which we’re helping to forge.

In the coming weeks, in order to get closer to the concerns of Europeans, we’re going to make it possible for our community to become more involved in VoxEurop. Other surprises will be revealed over the course of the year.

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Escape from the Balkans – VoxEurop (English)

A growing phenomenon with worrying implications: the flight of workers, skilled or otherwise, from former Yugoslavia. A look at the data and political responses.

Lately there has been a growing number of alarmist articles published in the local press regarding the depopulation of former Yugoslavia. These articles often deploy long-term statistics comparing the current migratory patterns with those of the nineties, which were a consequence of political turmoil, war and the economic crises which characterised that decade. However, the use of this time frame has more to do with the now firmly established trend of explaining contemporary phenomena in the region as direct consequences of those earlier troubles, than with helping to understand the various phases in the region’s development.

On the one hand, the migratory tradition in former Yugoslavia region has deep roots, reaching at least as far as the second half of the nineteenth century, especially in the Habsburg region. Furthermore, the Yugoslav federation also experienced large-scale emigration in the 1960s when – alone among the socialist states – it legalised the migration of workers. 

On the other hand, it would be inaccurate to speak of a constant flow in the last three decades. Rather, migration from the region comes in separate phases. A turning point in the chronology comes in 2009-10, when the European Union allowed citizens of the western Balkans – with the exception of Kosovo – to travel within the Schengen zone without a visa. After this, a new phase began, with an increase in migration from former Yugoslavia towards northern Europe (Germany in particular), especially in more recent years. This was a consequence of a number of factors, including the impact of the economic crisis, and the opening of the German labour market for western Balkan workers. While transport hubs in many cities in the region teem with buses heading to destinations in northern Europe, registration for universities and schools falls, and there’s a growing market online for groups offering to act as intermediaries in the relocation of workers abroad. 

While the case of former Yugoslavia is particularly striking, emigration affects a large portion of eastern Europe and, to a lesser extent, mediterranean Europe – a symbol of the growing regional disparities across the continent. According to a Guardian report, from 2007 to 2018 most of south-east European countries have witnessed a population decline. Looking towards the future, the view is even more alarming: demographic projections for 2050 conducted by BIRN suggest a disturbing scenario, with a peak demographic decline of 29 percent in Bosnia and Herzegovina, while all the countries in the region – except Slovenia, with a slight improvement – will massively lose population. However, the estimates for migration are by nature imperfect, since they are mostly based on residency, which many people fail to update, especially when it comes to seasonal migration. Furthermore, in the absence of comparative studies, it is not currently possible to compare and contrast the existing data for each country, and there are often discrepancies in the sources which mean they should be treated with caution. 

Former Yugoslavia confronting emigration

One of the countries in which emigration is taking a toll is Serbia, the most populous country in the region, with more than seven million inhabitants. According to a study by the Institute for Development and Innovation, with the support of the Westminster foundation, the approximately 49,000 people who leave the country each year, mostly young and educated, amount to an economic loss of two billion euro per year. According to other sources, seventy percent of young Serbians would like to emigrate, due to a desire for better earnings, or from a pessimistic outlook towards prospects in their home country. The government recently established a team to combat this tendency, gathering people from both politics and academia. However, the results of this endeavour are yet to amount to any significant progress.

Bosnia and Herzegovina appears to be in an even worse situation, even if there’s a lack of official statistics (which the authorities nevertheless claim to possess). According to estimates from the Union for Sustainable Return and Integration in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 173,011 people left the country in the last five years and 73,468 Bosnians have requested to relinquish their citizenship. However, according to some calculations the number of people who have left the country in recent years is closer to half a million. The country’s population, which was 4,372,000 according to the 1991 census (before the war), has fallen to 3.5 million in the 2013 census. The official figures, however, conceal a much more worrying reality. According to other statistics, almost half of citizens born in Bosnia and Herzegovina no longer reside in the country. This depopulation has lead to a paradoxical turn of events: in the district of Una-Sana, for example, where thousands of refugees are stuck at the border of Europe, the authorities can’t manage to find enough local workers to fill a factory labour shortage.

Emigration also seems to be affecting Montenegro, with its little more than 620,000 inhabitants, according to the 2011 census. In the absence of official figures, the NGO KOD estimates that 150,000 individuals have left the country between 1991 and 2012. This trend has had a particularly strong impact on the mountainous northern region. While in some cases this is long-term migration, in others it is seasonal, towards nearby Croatia, where wages are higher. Meanwhile, in 2019 Montenegro faced a labour shortage in its tourist sector. Migration towards North Macedonia, a country with little more than two million inhabitants, also seems to have become a regular phenomenon. In all cases, Germany seems to have absorbed the majority of emigrants, with other nearby countries (Austria, Switzerland or Italy) playing a decidedly more marginal role.

It’s not hard to imagine the factors pushing citizens in the region towards departure: unemployment, low wages, lack of job prospects, rampant corruption and the low quality of institutions. The abolition of visa requirements for the region in 2009-2010 brought with it a spike in asylum requests, especially for Germany. However, these were rejected, since the western Balkan countries are considered “safe”. This phenomenon is particularly apparent among specific groups, such as the large and marginalised Roma community.

The case of Kosovo and the lack of visa liberalisation

Since 2010, Kosovo is the only country in former Yugoslavia whose citizens still require Schengen visas to travel within the EU. This, combined with specific as well as more general factors in the region, helps staunch the flow, legal or otherwise, of one-way migration, given the more serious impediments to travel.

That said, relative to the region, the country with the lowest average age (29) still fails to avoid the general demographic decline. According to the study Depopulation HotSpots, relative to just below two million current inhabitants, the resident population will fall by 11 percent by 2050. The trend can be explained by a number of factors, of which continual emigration is one of the most important.. 

According to the Guardian, Kosovo has lost 15.4 percent of its population between 2007 and 2018, which is the greatest decline in all of Europe. Yet how reliable are these estimates? Not very much, according to many experts in Kosovo and elsewhere. A reliable figure for the population decline in Kosovo since 1991 (not to mention 2007) is 4.3 percent. In the case of Kosovo, the reason for the error is that the country possesses no reliable figures prior to the 2011 census. Moreover, the numbers are often tied to political propaganda: while the sizeable Kosovar diaspora is seen to maintain a close relationship with the homeland, often maintaining residence there, the depopulation of the country’s Serbian community is often cited for political ends by Belgrade.

While access to credible figures is complicated, the underlying problem remains: Kosovars, especially the young, struggle to leave their country. The preferred method for legal migration, in recent times, is Croatia. The Croatian embassy in Pristina declared that from 1 January to 15 April 2019 the number of visa applications was 2,414. In the same period for 2018 there were 1,155 applications, and in 2017 there were 901 applications: a constantly increasing trend, confirmed by the long lines that can be seen every day in front of the Croatian embassy in the Kosovar capital.

According to a study published in April 2019 by the European Policy Institute of Kosovo, in the period between 2008 and 2018 a total of 203,330 Kosovar citizens left the country and applied for asylum in the European Union.

A veritable mass exodus seems to have occurred in 2014-15, when hundreds of Kosovars left each day, mainly by bus to Belgrade before trying to cross Hungary on their way to other EU countries. By February 2015, there were at least 1,400 Kosovars at the border between Serbia and Hungary, while in the first months of 2015 42,000 Kosovars applied for asylum in the EU.

In 2015, there were 122,657 Kosovar migrants in Europe – legally or otherwise. In 2018, this number reached 9,175, demonstrating how, after a period perceived to be “open borders”, people attempting to leave the country were more focused on legal means such as temporary visas, work and study.

According to the European statistics agency Eurostat, the highest number of Kosovars who acquired residence were in Germany (47 percent), then in Italy (twelve percent), France and Austria (around nine percent each), and Slovenia (around seven percent). In 2016, more than 21,000 Kosovars acquired legal residence in EU countries. As for illegal immigration, 141,330 Kosovar citizens were reported to have entered the EU illegally. These figures don’t include legal migrants, such as those whose residence is covered by work permits, states the report.

“A fifth of the Kosovar population has attempted to leave Kosovo by illegal means”, claims Taulant Kryeziu, co-founder and programme director of the European Policy Institute of Kosovo. Nevertheless, the institute’s statistics show that between 2016 and 2018 illegal migration decreased considerably, with more opting for legal migration, and that the principal destination for Kosovars – in general – is still Germany, with 38,000 visas allocated in 2018, 13,000 of which for long-term residence.

Why are young people leaving? There are many reasons, but the main reason is work. Kosovo, according to official figures, has a total unemployment rate of 31.4 percent, and a youth unemployment rate of 57.3 percent. Apart from lack of jobs, the salaries are among the lowest in Europe.

There have been many efforts on the part of political leaders in the country, in the midst of a severe political crisis, to limit this outward flow, but the perception of a far too fragile rule-of-law and a high rate of corruption (Transparency International places Kosovo at 98 out of 180 in its ranking of the most corrupt countries in the world), doesn’t help. Nor does any of this encourage emigrants to return.

According to a report by the UNHCR on the hundreds of thousands of displaced people from Kosovo, a total of 3,236 Serbians and 576 Roma expressed their interest in voluntarily returning to Kosovo after the war in 1999. In 2005, Kosovo established a minister for Community and Return, who tried to encourage people to remain in the country or return to it, but the results – to date – are evidently pitiful.

The Westbalkanregelung

Thus, on the map of the Balkan peninsula there are various migratory flows, exiting but also entering, since 2015, with the increasing arrivals of refugees along the so-called “Balkan route”. 2015 was also a crucial year due to Germany adopting a special regulation called the Westbalkanregelung. This allowed all western Balkan citizens with a work contract to obtain work permits, without any particular requirements concerning qualifications or knowledge of the German language. 

The Westbalkanregelung, which includes Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania, helped open legal passage for migrants who had previously relied on the asylum process. Now 25 percent of foreign workers in the German labour market originate from the western Balkans. These workers are mainly employed in the construction and catering sectors. The Westbalkanregelung will be in force until 2020, and it is still unclear what its fate will be after this time. “In the past, it was asylum seekers who arrived, now it’s construction workers”, runs a triumphant headline in Die Welt. However, it is not yet clear what will become of these workers if their contracts are not renewed, given that only five percent have permanent residence. 

In any case it seems probable that Germany will remain an attractive destination for the foreseeable future. As was the case in the sixties, when Yugoslavs filled direct trains to western Germany, the theme of emigration has taken deep roots within local popular culture. 

“I can no longer wait, take me to the United States. Take me to the Golden Gate, I will assimilate”, the Bosnian group Dubioza Kolektiv sing with bitter irony. The brain-drain also forms the backdrop of the Serbian series Jutro će promeniti sve (“everything will be different in the morning”), concerning the dilemmas faced by the thirtysomething protagonists. There are also, of course, documentaries touching on this theme, such as Davor Obrdalj’s Nestajanje (“The Disappearance”) describes the story of three young people with specialised training, fleeing from a Sarajevo where everything is determined by party affiliation. Emigration is thus a theme that seems to be on everyone’s lips, except the local political classes, who for the moment prefer to sit on their hands.

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We will not save the Web by colluding with its enemies – VoxEurop (English)

Tim Berners-Lee, the World Wide Web’s inventor, has written a “contract for the Web” which aims to save the network from the abuses threatening it. But his effort is supported by the same big tech firms that are already hard at work undermining all the document’s founding principles.

Tim Berners-Lee’s latest crusade to save the Web leaves a bitter taste.

The man who was first to denounce the suffocating threat of what he called “walled gardens” now intends to offer their owners a “contract”. A contract that would also involve governments and citizens. A contract vague enough to have no contractual value. And so a contract immediately approved, supported and signed by… Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft.

If we want to save the Web it will not be done with those who have methodically undermined all the Web’s founding principles.

In April 1993, four years after inventing the Web, Berners-Lee made his great gift to humanity: he decided to put the invention in the public domain. That the Web has been so successful, that it has revolutionized information, social relationships, knowledge, is first and foremost because it was placed in the public domain. The technical architecture, the communication protocols, the document formats: no one could subsequently claim private ownership over this network and infrastructure, or its accumulated content.

And yet what is killing the Web today is precisely its preemption by private actors, known in Europe as Gafam (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft) and Natu (Netflix, Airbnb, Tesla, Uber), or in China as BATX (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, Xiaomi).

What is killing the Web today is the privatization of something its inventor bequeathed to us in 1993, in a deliberate political act, as the common property of humanity.

What is killing the Web today is the extinction of the public part of the Web’s usage, the public part of its language and its technical architecture.

Today we can expect no more help from the Gafam. They have become capitalist corporations like any others, seeking only profits and rents, striving only for endless speculation on a market in which they are both the actors and the regulators.

Just as clothes don’t make the man, open-plan offices filled with foosball tables and pastel beanbags do not make virtue or ethics.

Facebook is a mortal danger to our democracies, as the Cambridge Analytica scandal showed. Google uses 1930s-style anti-union methods to silence internal contestation. On all these platforms the fight against hate speech is something of an extrajudicial sham: in reality, the toxic technical architecture of the platforms thrives on the tendency to speculation and one-upmanship inherent in such speech. 

All these companies hide behind a cult of the algorithm as an alibi for their fraudulent manipulations to prioritize or invisibilize speech, both public and private. All these companies subcontract the moderation of their most abhorrent content to poor employees working in poor conditions on the other side of the world. And let us not forget the reality of dehumanized working conditions in Amazon’s warehouses across Europe and the United States.

And what about the return to the 19th-century model of piecework (the so-called gig economy) and its working poor? Must we point out that all these companies are tax-exempt in proportions and forms that amount to mass organized fraud? It is with their help that we hope to save the Web, when every day they distort its function and trammel its ambition? And with a contract that demands no commitments to saving the Web other than wanting to?

To save the Web we do not need a contract. We need an independent index (of pages, profiles and the like), which might help rehabilitate the public part of our interactions in a non-market commons.

To save the Web we do not need a contract. We need strong and binding public regulation, ready if necessary to dismantle these calculating behemoths, and ready to pronounce anew that their code will never be our law.

To save the Web we do not need a contract, but rather a struggle. “Algorithms” are nothing more than human decisions in the service of predetermined moral and political values. We must fight to ensure that these algorithms are transparent to inspection, robust against all manipulation, and predictable for those they govern. As numerous specialists have described, and as all defenders of digital freedoms are now demanding.

From the architect of the Web’s emancipatory promise we might have expected something other than a nebulous contract to soothe the consciences of companies which predate on our rights and freedoms. We might have expected Tim Berners-Lee to continue denouncing the perpetrators, rather than provide them with a convenient alibi. A negotiating table does not belong on a trading floor. As long as it stays there the Web will continue to die.

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Europe will likely miss 2030 climate goals – VoxEurop (English)

While the Commission is unveiling its Green Deal on 11 December, the European Environmental Agency’s latest report says that Europe as a while will not achieve its 2030 climate and energy targets if no urgent action is taken in the 10 coming years.

The European Environmental Agency (EEA) new report published on 4 December predicts that Europe will not achieve its 2030 climate and energy targets “without urgent action during the next 10 years”. The report also calls on Europe’s policymakers to put Europe on track “to avoid irreversible change and damage”. Investing in sustainability and stopping funding for environmentally damaging activities, especially fossil fuels, is needed it said.

The current European policy actions provide an essential pillar for the future progress of the European Union in climate, but they also require “better implementation and improved coordination,” warns the EEA report. European biodiversity and nature remains the biggest area of “discouraging progress” – only two of the 13 specific policy objectives set for 2020 in this area are likely to be met.

While EEA report notes that most of the 2020 targets will not be achieved, it acknowledges that there is still a chance in the next decade to meet longer-term goals, due to increased public awareness, technological innovation and the shift in Europe’s political agenda. “We have a narrow window of opportunity in the next decade to scale up measures to protect nature, lessen the impacts of climate change and radically reduce our consumption of natural resources,” said EEA executive director Hans Bruyninckx.


As a result, the European social systems of production and consumption (food, energy and mobility) must be transformed, since the society’s resource use is mostly linked to economic activities and lifestyles, states the report.

Most solutions are already identified but they require urgency, concludes the report – which was outlined at COP25 climate talks in Madrid and used to frame EU environmental policy. According to Bruyninckx, “we already have the knowledge, technologies and tools we need to make key production and consumption systems such as food, mobility and energy sustainable”.

Additionally, the report warns that the acceleration of climate change (heat waves, forest fires, flooding and changing patterns in the prevalence of infectious diseases) is likely to bring elevated risks, particularly for vulnerable groups.

“Environmental risks to health do not affect everyone in the same way, and there are pronounced local and regional differences across Europe in terms of social vulnerability and exposure to environmental health hazards,” warns the report.

“The science is clearer than ever: We are in the process of destroying the very ecosystems that sustain humanity,” said Ester Asin, the director of European policy at NGO WWF. “EU governments must provide strong support on delivering the European Green Deal [and] demonstrate through concrete actions that they have heard the citizen protests which have dominated much of this past year,” she added.


The first-ever European climate law to achieve a transition to climate-neutrality by 2050 will be officially presented in March 2020, although the package will be unveiled by the commissioner for the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, on December 11.

According to Timmermans earlier this month: “In the next five years we will put in place a truly transformative agenda,” adding that “there will be multiple benefits for Europe and Europeans if we get this right”.


“In the European Green Deal, new European Commission President von der Leyen will set the tone. There is no alternative but to rapidly phase out all fossil fuels and pollution, abandon failed market mechanisms, cap our use of resources, and bring back nature,” said the director of NGO Friends of the Earth Europe Jagoda Munić. According to Greenpeace EU spokesperson Franziska Achterberg, “the new commission must follow its own agency’s advice and rethink the economic system that for decades has rewarded pollution, environmental destruction and human exploitation”.





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Out of the hat – VoxEurop (English)

Out of the hat – Muzaffar Yulchiboev

Following the 9 December summit in Paris with President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose countries have been at war since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, have agreed to exchange all respective prisoners by the end of the year, to disengage their soldiers from three new points on the front line by the end of March 2020, and to open new crossing points in eastern Ukraine.

They also recommitted themselves to the implementation of the 2015 Minsk Agreements which have remained a dead letter to date.

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The EU carbon market, serving its purpose at last? – VoxEurop (English)

Without a high enough carbon price, surplus emissions permits will remain high and the European carbon market will remain broken.

Coinciding with the end of COP25 in Madrid, the forthcoming European Council on 12 and 13 December could raise the long-term climate ambitions of the European Union. Already, 25 of the 28 member states have declared themselves in favour of a 2050 goal for greenhouse-gas neutrality – where greenhouse gas emissions are entirely offset by absorption of atmospheric CO2 (mainly by forests and soils). Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic made their agreement conditional on more help from Europe to decarbonise their energy infrastructure. In the medium term,  the target remains the one set in 2014: a 40% reduction in emissions in 2030 (compared to 1990).

An inefficient carbon market

The main tool of European climate policy is the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), i.e. the carbon market. If it is to achieve its medium- and long-term objectives, a review of the EU ETS is needed. Today, it remains ineffective, despite the measures put in place to improve it.

Created in 2005, the ETS mechanism imposes a decreasing emissions cap each year on some 11 000 large industrial installations responsible for 45% of the Union’s CO2 emissions: coal and gas power plants, cement plants, steel plants, etc. Since 2012, airlines are also subject to this tax, but only for intra-European flights. For the period 2012-2020, the reduction of the cap has been set by member states at 1.74% per year, in line with the overall target path (a 20% reduction in EU emissions in 2020 compared to 1990).

If a company emits less CO2 than its cap, it accumulates quotas that it may sell on the market. In the event, this condition was not really necessary, since the companies decreased their emissions faster than the cap imposed on them – due in part to policies promoting renewables and energy efficiency. The 2020 objective was thus achieved in 2017. For the period 2020-30, the cap is to be reduced by 2.2% per year. But this level is still insufficient to achieve the proposed EU target of carbon neutrality in 2050, says the Institute for Climate Economics (I4CE) in its latest annual review.

The cap imposed on companies is implemented by way of emissions permits, or quotas. One quota represents the right to emit one tonne of CO2. Companies must return as many allowances to the authority each year as they have emitted tonnes of CO2 (or the equivalent for other greenhouse gases). If a company emits less than its cap, it accumulates permits that it may resell on the market. If it emits more, it must buy additional permits in order to comply.

A glut of quotas

However, since emissions turned out to be well below the number of permits allocated to all reporting companies, the system ended up accumulating a lot of unused permits. By 2018, there were estimated to be 1650 million of them, the equivalent of one year’s emissions. It is this accumulation of surplus permits that explains the drop in prices on the quota market to 2018. The problem is that when it is cheap to buy CO2 emissions rights, companies have no incentive to invest in order to reduce their emissions.

Since 2018, CO2 prices have recovered and analysts anticipate a further increase in the short term. Several measures implemented since 2013 have helped reduce excessive quota allocations. First, Europe no longer recognises international carbon credits, a mechanism that was put in place under the now-defunct Kyoto Protocol. When a European company launched low-carbon projects in the global south, it could put them to its credit. This possibility contributed significantly to the inflation in unused quotas.

Secondly, the allocation of carbon credits, hitherto mainly free of charge, began to be done by auction for industries not subject to international competition, namely electricity production (with exemptions for Central European countries). Finally, a mechanism to remove part of the surplus quotas from the market, known as the Market Stability Reserve (MSR), has been put in place and is operational since 2019.

However, these efforts remain very insufficient. They have helped generate a CO2 price which allows an efficient gas-fired power plant to be competitive with an inefficient coal-fired power plant. But the price is not high enough to shut down all coal plants and even less to discourage all use of fossil fuels by heavy industry.


Accelerating the end of fossil energy

The recent increase in the price of CO2 permits and the expansion of allocations by auction has at least had the advantage of increasing the revenues that can be used for the energy transition. Member states are required to allocate at least half of their auction revenues to spending on climate and energy. These revenues increased from € 5.5 billion in 2017 to € 14.2 billion in 2018.

However, in the absence of a European carbon tax – which would require unanimity among member states – the main challenge of the carbon market remains that of generating a CO2 price capable of accelerating the end of fossil energy, in line with the polluter-pays principle. The measures introduced so far have only reduced the surplus quotas on the market, not eliminated them.

In the future, this situation could even worsen under the effect of other energy-climate policies. Indeed, the Union has set itself a target of a 32% share of renewable energy in final energy consumption by 2030, as well as a 32.5% reduction in that consumption compared to a “business as usual” scenario. In addition, about ten member states have already adopted a plan to get out of coal.

If these policies are implemented without, at the same time, a downward revision to the emission ceilings for the period 2020-2030, the market will remain permanently in surplus with low prices. This is an argument for a measure unilaterally introduced by the UK in 2011: the introduction of a floor price for CO2, with a regular annual increase of the floor.

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Call for respect for press freedom and journalistic independence in Europe – VoxEurop (English)

At the conference it is organising in Paris on 6 December, the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) joined forces with other organisations defending press freedom to call on European institutions and governments to adopt effective measures to protect the Fourth estate for the sake of democracy. VoxEurop joins the call.

Association of European Journalists

Reporters Without Borders

European Federation of Journalists

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom

South East Europe Media Organisation

the International Press Association

Meeting in Paris, this 6 December,

We note that, while European journalists enjoy a generally privileged situation compared to many other regions of the world, Europe is no longer a completely safe place for the profession and for press freedom. Indeed we observe that Europe is the part of the world where press freedom has deteriorated the most in recent years.

With the erosion of the “European model”, as mentioned by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in its latest report on press freedom around the world, journalists have become the target of increasingly virulent, even violent, attacks by political leaders. Using social networks to bypass the sometimes critical mediation of professional journalists, politicians no longer hesitate to designate the press as an outright adversary. They call on their supporters to attack news organisations reputed to be hostile, and obstruct the work of journalists through judicial harassment. This phenomenon is all the more obvious given the current trend of societies towards polarization, which is making public debate increasingly fraught.

Over the past five years, the AEJ, the EFJ, RSF and the eleven other partner organisations of the Council of Europe Platform for the Protection of Journalism have reported 256 serious violations of press freedom in the member states of the European Union, including 60 cases of violations of the physical integrity of journalists (including 14 murders of journalists in France, Poland, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Malta). Of these 256 press freedom violations in the EU, public authorities were the direct source of the threat in 57% of cases.

In addition, there have been breaches of the rule of law in several member states of the European Union and the Council of Europe. These weaken the democratic framework essential for the existence of a free and independent press and, by also attacking public broadcasting, prevent it from playing its essential role fully, particularly during elections. If the rule of law is not respected, the press and the judiciary are at the mercy of politicians.

To this can be added the growing mistrust of elites, supposedly including journalists, as well as measures restricting individual freedoms and press freedom adopted by governments under the guise of combating terrorism, and economic difficulties linked to the crisis in the media sector.

Against this background, with the press under attack, the credibility of journalists is undermined, public support falters, and a sense of impunity sets in among those who are the subject of investigative journalism.

In addition to the threats and insults of political leaders, we see interference by state authorities and attacks by criminal organisations operating in Europe, which target investigative journalists in particular. In addition to the high-profile cases of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Ján Kuciak, physical attacks and death threats by mafia groups against journalists are frequent in several countries.

While we welcome the efforts made so far by the European Union and the Council of Europe to respect the rule of law and freedom of the press, we believe that this is not enough to guarantee a healthy and safe environment for this freedom to be fully exercised. For this reason we ask Europe’s political leaders, and the institutions of the European Union:

  • To address judicial harassment and “gag procedures” (SLAPPs, strategic lawsuits against public participation) by adopting legislative measures that afford effective protection to journalists against such practices, whose sole purpose is to limit journalists’ freedom of expression, and by ensuring a favourable and safe environment in which journalists can work;

  • To put an end to the application of exorbitant criminal sanctions, including prison sentences, in defamation proceedings in all European states;

  • To ensure that measures to protect press freedom and pluralism are implemented effectively by the European Union, by expressly assigning this competency to a member of the European Commission;

  • To ensure the pluralism and independence of public-service broadcasting so that it can fully play its public-service role of informing citizens in an inclusive and pluralistic manner, by putting in place effective safeguards against political interference, in particular with regard to appointments to editorial posts;

  • To create an effective early warning mechanism against any violation of press freedom along the lines of the Council of Europe’s “Platform to strengthen the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists”;

  • To guarantee the integrity of the public space against the spread of false news, while fully preserving freedom of information and freedom of speech;

  • To impose democratic guarantees in the digital space so as to guarantee freedom of opinion and expression, as promoted by the “Information & Democracy” initiative launched by Reporters Without Borders;

  • To support the “Journalism Trust Initiative”, also launched by RSF, which aims to promote freedom, independence, pluralism and reliability of information, as well as other similar initiatives and projects from other organisations recognised by the journalism community;

  • To set up educational programmes on media and news in late primary, and secondary, education;

  • That the European Parliament periodically assess respect for press freedom in all EU member states and candidates for membership, particularly during election campaigns;

  • To extend the powers of the European Ombudsman so that this office may verify compliance with the European Charter of Fundamental Rights not only by the European institutions but also by all its member states;

  • That the member countries of the European Union and the Council of Europe implement without delay Recommendation 2016/4 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe “on the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists and other media actors”;

  • That the member countries of the European Union and the Council of Europe ensure that the United Nations: 1. adopt the “International Convention on the Safety and Independence of Journalists and Other Media Professionals” proposed by the International Federation of Journalists, so that crimes and attacks against journalists worldwide no longer go unpunished, and 2. create the mandate of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Safety of Journalists, called for by a coalition of more than 100 organisations and media.

A free and independent press is the best guarantee for the proper functioning of democratic institutions, and a bulwark against authoritarian abuses and manipulation of public opinion. It is in everyone’s interest that the press remains this way, and the duty of public authorities to ensure it.

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Raging bull – VoxEurop (English)

Raging bull – Vasco Gargalo

The 25th Conference of the States Parties to the Climate Change Convention (COP25) was inaugurated on 2 December in Madrid by UN Secretary General António Guterres. It was scheduled to be held this year in Chile, but Santiago had to give up at the last minute, due to the social protest that has been raging in the country for weeks.

The European Union, which claims to be the “champion of the green transition”, has announced that on 11 December, on the eve of the closing of COP25, the Commission will present to the European Parliament its “Green Pact” aimed at achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

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How the diaspora behaves in the ballot box – VoxEurop (English)

At the latest Romanian presidential elections, almost one million Romanians voted from abroad, largely by casting their ballots in more than 800 polling stations open from Friday through Sunday. A visual exploration of the data.

At the Romanian presidential elections in 2019, Romanian citizens living abroad could vote for three days for each of the two turns of elections in more than 800 polling stations around the world. This is on top of the possibility to vote by correspondence. Both longer opening times for polling stations and voting by correspondence have been introduced in 2019 after waiting times of many hours  – effectively corresponding to voter suppression – marred recent elections.

Romanians living abroad took advantage of the possibility to vote without standing for hours in a queue: an unprecedented 940.000 people voted at the second round of the presidential election on 24 November 2019, corresponding to more than 10 per cent of the total votes cast.

This is more than double the number who took part to the previous presidential elections in 2014 (close to 400.000 voters) and multiple times the less than 150.000 who took part to the 2009 presidential vote. Given that the diaspora overwhelmingly supports one of the sides (an astonishing 94 per cent of votes cast abroad were in favour of incumbent Klaus Iohannis) this is clearly of significance, even if due to the current electoral legislation this impacts mostly presidential elections and referenda, while it has noticeably less impact on parliamentary elections where the diaspora only determines four MPs and two senators .

How many voted, and who are they?

Italy tops the list of countries by number of Romanian voters. However, more than 100.000 people cast their ballot also in the UK, Germany and Spain.


The age distribution of voters is quite telling of Romania’s migration patterns, with Romanian citizens voting in the UK and Germany being much younger than those who vote in Italy and Spain.


Besides these broad trends, careful readers will have noticed anomalies in the above age distributions (in particular, the sharp drop in the number of voters older than 52). They are, however, not related to migration patterns and instead mostly reflect the unusually sudden demographic changes brought about by the demographic policies promoted by the Ceaușescu regime .

It is worth noticing that Italy is the only country where there are have been more female than male voters.



Romanian polling stations easy to reach across Europe

One of the factors that made it possible for so many Romanian citizens to cast their ballot from abroad was the impressive number of polling stations that were open from Friday to Sunday for both turns of the presidential election. The fact that polling stations are open across a large number of countries is not, by itself astonishing: many countries open polling stations at their embassies or consulates. What is staggering, is the density of polling stations opened around Europe.



There is an exceptional density of polling stations not only in the Republic of Moldova, where many local residents have obtained Romanian citizenship, but also in the most densely populated parts of England, in Belgium, in some parts of Spain, and across Italy, which has long been a major destination for Romanians leaving their native


Most Italians live half an hour or less from a Romanian polling station

Locating Romanian polling stations on a population density map of Italy, it soon appears that polling stations have not been opened only in major cities, but also in relatively sparsely populated areas.


In order to gauge how close the average resident of Italy lives from a Romanian polling stations, we have calculated the distance between each polling station and each inhabited location of Italy, weighting the result according to the number of residents of each location (Eurostat publishes a dataset with figures on how many people live in each square kilometer of the continent: there are about 172.000 cells in Italy’s population grid).

After a computing-intensive process (the details are outlined here ), it emerged that Italians live on average about 18 km – as the crow flies  – from a Romanian polling station; more than 50 per cent of Italians live less than 13 km from one. Even considering the actual estimated driving distance and time, the result is quite impressive: on average, Italians would need to drive about 40 minutes to reach a Romanian polling stations.

Half of Italians could reach one in less than 35 minutes, and an overwhelming majority in less than one hour. Considering that migrants are more likely to live in urban centres rather than in remote locations, the actual figures for the average Romanian citizen living in Italy are likely significantly lower. It is true that some Romanian citizens likely live in locations that are more than two hours by car from a polling station, but, after all, this time voting by correspondence was also available to Romanian citizens living abroad.


Overall, the high number of polling stations is certainly one of the factors that made it possible for about 190.000 Romanians to cast a ballot in a polling stations in Italy, and for almost one million of them to do the

same from all around the world.

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EU states fail on sharing refugees – VoxEurop (English)

A mandatory 2015 scheme to dispatch people seeking international protection from Greece and Italy across the European Union did not deliver promised results, say EU auditors.

Although member states took in some 35,000 people from both countries, the EU auditors say at least 445,000 Eritreans, Iraqis and Syrians may have been potentially eligible in Greece alone.

The lead author of the report, Leo Brincat, told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday (13 November) that another 36,000 could have also been possibly relocated from Italy.

“But when it boils down to the total migrants relocated, you will find 21,999 in the case of Greece and 12,706 in the case of Italy,” he said.

The EU auditors say the migrants relocated at the time represented only around four percent of all the asylum seekers in Italy and around 22 percent in Greece.

Despite being repeatedly billed as a success by the European Commission, the two-year scheme had also caused massive rifts with some member states – leading to EU court battles in Luxembourg.

When it was first launched among interior ministers in late 2015, the mandatory nature of the proposal was forced through by a vote, overturning objections from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.

Only last month, the advocate-general at the EU court in Luxembourg had declared the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland likely broke EU law for refusing to take in refugees from the 2015 scheme. While the Czech Republic took 12 people, both Hungary and Poland refused to host anyone at all.

Similar battles have for years played out behind closed doors as legislators grapple with deadlocked internal EU asylum reforms.

The concepts of sharing out asylum seekers, also known as relocation, are at the core of that deadlock.

Politics aside, Brincat’s report honed in on the so-called “temporary emergency relocation scheme” whereby EU states had agreed to take in some 160,000 people from Greece and Italy over a period spanning from September 2015 to September 2017.

Large numbers of people at the time were coming up through the Western Balkans into Hungary and onto Germany, while others were crossing from Turkey onto the Greek islands.

After the EU cut a deal with Turkey early 2016, the set legal target of 160,000 had been reduced to just over 98,000.

When the scheme finally ended in September 2017, only around 35,000 people had been relocated to member states along with Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

“In our view, relocation was really a demonstration of European solidarity and with almost a 100 percent of eligible candidates in Greece and in Italy having been successfully relocated,” a European Commission spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

Bottlenecks and other problems

The EU auditors present a different view. They point out Greek and Italian authorities lacked the staff to properly identify people who could have been relocated, resulting in low registrations.

They also say EU states only took in people from Greece who arrived before the deal was cut with Turkey in March 2016.

Another issue was member states had vastly different asylum-recognition rates. For instance, asylum-recognition rates for Afghanis varied from six percent to 98 percent, depending on the member state. Iraqis had similarly variable rates.

Some migrants also simply didn’t trust relocation concept. Others likely baulked at the idea being sent to a country where they had no cultural, language or family ties.

Almost all of the 332 people sent to Lithuania, for example, packed up and left.

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had even poked fun of it in late 2016. He had said asylum seekers from Greece and Italy were hard pressed to relocate to his home country of Luxembourg.

“We found 53 after explaining to them that it was close to Germany. They are no longer there [Luxembourg],” he said.

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