Countries Most Critical of Russia Sanctions Least Affected

Prime Ministers David Cameron of the United Kingdom and Justin Trudeau of Canada listen to Italy's Matteo Renzi at the G7 summit in Shima, Japan, May 26
Prime Ministers David Cameron of the United Kingdom and Justin Trudeau of Canada listen to Italy’s Matteo Renzi at the G7 summit in Shima, Japan, May 26 (Palazzo Chigi)

The European countries that are among the most critical of the blog’s sanctions against Russia have been the least affected by the punitive measures, research shows.

A report from the Geneva-based Program for the Study of International Governance (PSIG) found that Italian exports, for example, suffered less than the European average from the sanctions, which restrict European companies from trading with Russian businesses and individuals who are linked to President Vladimir Putin’s regime.

Yet at a European Council summit on Friday, the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, blocked a proposal from France, Germany and the United Kingdom to add penalties for Russia’s bombing of civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Read more “Countries Most Critical of Russia Sanctions Least Affected”

Austrian Nationalists Take Risk by Demanding Recount

Austria’s nationalist Freedom Party is taking a risk with voters’ faith in their democracy by demanding a recount of the votes cast in last month’s presidential election, which it lost by a whisker.

Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache said on Wednesday there had been irregularities in the counting of postal votes, which might have swung the election in Alexander Van der Bellen’s favor.

Van der Bellen, formerly of the Green Party, defeated the Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer by under 31,000 votes. Read more “Austrian Nationalists Take Risk by Demanding Recount”

Austria’s Presidential Election Was About the Next Election

Austrian castle
Hohenwerfen Castle in Werfen, Austria, near the German border, August 14, 2015 (Daniel Parks)

The near victory of Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party in Austria’s presidential election has sent shockwaves around Europe. These have only partially been diminished by the revelation that Hofer, who led by a 52-48 percent margin on election night, actually lost to his Green Party opponent, Alexander Van der Bellen, by a margin of 30,000 votes once postal ballots were fully tallied.

Far-right parties have been enjoying an upsurge in support across Europe in recent years, but it has been rare for them to make it into government — and rarer still for them to make headway in electoral systems that do not use proportional representation.

The United Kingdom Independence Party managed to win only a single seat in the Britain’s Parliament in 2015 despite earning more than 13 percent of the vote. In France, the Front national came first during the initial round of regional elections this past year only to fail to win a single region when those races went to runoffs. Hofer’s achievement is therefore momentous in that he not only came first in the initial round of the presidential race with 35 percent but very nearly prevailed in the second round, when every other major candidate and party united against him. Read more “Austria’s Presidential Election Was About the Next Election”

Faymann’s Resignation May Not Help Social Democrats

Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann resigned on Monday, two weeks after his Social Democratic Party’s candidate placed a distant fourth in the presidential election.

Faymann, who governed for nearly eight years at the head of a grand coalition with the conservatives, recognized that his own party had lost faith in him, saying, “The government needs a new start.”

But unless his successor — who can be named by the parties without the need for snap elections — makes a clearer choice as to where the Social Democrats stand, he or she may not do much better in stemming the party’s declining popularity. Read more “Faymann’s Resignation May Not Help Social Democrats”

Austria, Balkan States Agree to Curb Immigration

Austria and nine Balkan nations agreed to measures in Vienna on Wednesday that they hope will reduce the flow of migrants across the region.

Given that there is no “European solution in sight,” the countries are forced to pursue “national solutions,” argued Austria’s foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz.

Neither Germany, the most popular destination for migrants, nor Greece, the southern doorway into Europe, were invited to the conference — to the dismay of both. Read more “Austria, Balkan States Agree to Curb Immigration”

Austria to Erect Fence on Border, Germany Critical

Signs on the Austrian-German border, August 26, 2007
Signs on the Austrian-German border, August 26, 2007 (The Joneses)

Austria said on Wednesday it would erect fences on its border with Slovenia in an effort to control the flow of migrants into the country, sparking a row with its other neighbor, Germany, which complains the Alpine country is not properly managing the movement of asylum seekers.

As recently as two months ago, Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann took fellow European Union member state Hungary to task for building a wall on its border with Serbia. “To think that you can solve something with a fence, I believe this is wrong,” the Social Democrat said at the time.

But on Wednesday, he played down the new barrier on Austria’s southern frontier, saying, “It’s about order and control. There will not be a fence around Austria.” Read more “Austria to Erect Fence on Border, Germany Critical”

Mass Migration Seen Dividing Europe, Attitudes Harden

Mass immigration into the European Union is threatening to overwhelm governments and calling into question member states’ commitment to free travel within the bloc.

The German interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, warned on Wednesday that unless other European countries agreed to take in more refugees, the lack of border controls within the Schengen Area would be unsustainable.

“In the long run, there won’t be any Schengen without Dublin,” he said, referring to the agreement signed in the Irish capital that requires refugees to claim asylum in the country they first arrive in. Some border states, including Greece and Italy, have been lax in enforcing the rule, allowing refugees to travel north and claim asylum there.

De Maizière reported that Germany expects 800,000 refugees will arrive in the country this year. “Germany cannot bear the strain if, as has been the case, around 40 percent of all asylum seekers to Europe come here,” he said.

107,500 migrants arrived in Europe in July alone, a record number. 37,500 of them applied for asylum in Germany. Read more “Mass Migration Seen Dividing Europe, Attitudes Harden”

Nord Stream Belies Countries’ Non-Russian Gas Efforts

Nord Stream pipeline construction
Nord Stream pipeline construction (Gazprom)

Defying the European Union’s efforts to diversify the bloc’s gas supply away from Russia, some of the continent’s largest energy companies signed deals with Gazprom this month that would double the capacity of the Nord Stream pipeline.

If the extension goes through and Russia builds another gas pipeline through Turkey and the Balkans, it would be able to largely bypass Ukraine which currently transits about half the gas Russia sells to Europe. Read more “Nord Stream Belies Countries’ Non-Russian Gas Efforts”

Austrian-Russian Pipeline Deal Undermines European Gas Policy

Ships on the Black Sea seen from Sukhumi, Abkhazia, May 12, 2009
Ships on the Black Sea seen from Sukhumi, Abkhazia, May 12, 2009 (WomEOS)

European attempts to wane the bloc off Russian gas were set back last week when Austrian energy firm OMV agreed with Russia’s Gazprom to bring the South Stream pipeline to the Alpine nation’s Baumgarten gas hub, outmaneuvering Italy, which had wanted it to terminate there.

The European Commission had put the approval process for South Stream on hold after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March, saying it did not comply with its regulations on ownership and pipeline access. Austria and Russia circumvented this by signing a bilateral agreement.

Bulgaria, which imports almost all its natural gas from Russia, also backs South Stream. Read more “Austrian-Russian Pipeline Deal Undermines European Gas Policy”

Austrian Ruling Parties Fend Off Euroskeptic Challenge

Austria’s ruling parties won reelection on Sunday despite a strong showing for Euroskeptic liberal and nationalist parties.

Chancellor Werner Faymann’s Social Democrats, who had campaigned on a platform of defending jobs and pensions got 27.1 percent of the vote, preliminary results showed, down more than two points from 2008. The conservatives shed more than two points to 23.8 percent, giving the two parties a thin majority in parliament for another five years.

Conservative leader Michael Spindelegger, who is also foreign minister, said he was open to continuing the coalition but refused to rule out forming a government with the nationalist Freedom Party as it did between 2000 and 2007. “This result is a wake-up call,” he told ORF television. “We can’t simply go on as before.” Read more “Austrian Ruling Parties Fend Off Euroskeptic Challenge”