Can France’s Emmanuel Macron save Europe in 2018?

Paris (CNN)Emmanuel Macron has earned the reputation of a man who dreams impossible dreams and then turns them into reality.

A dose of luck and good timing undoubtedly helped, but so too did his determination and the almost messianic sense of mission that he seems to bring to everything he does.
Now he wants to bring it to Europe. In his New Year’s Eve address he told not only the French, but also his “fellow European citizens,” that the European Union needed to rediscover its ambition in order to become “a more sovereign, more united, more democratic” union.
It is a theme he is likely to return to on Wednesday when he outlines his foreign policy priorities to journalists at the Elysee Palace.
His plan is no mystery since it was the subject of three major speeches in 2017 and has already been presented to the European Council. And it is, as you would expect, nothing if not ambitious.
The French President wants to do away with the Europe of nations to create something much closer to a nation of Europe. He wants the EU to have its own finance minister, its own budget, its own economic governance. He believes it should have its own army and border police force. He wants a harmonized tax system and, politically, a stronger European Parliament with transnational parties and lists.
In short, the sort of federal Europe that has, over the last few decades, been an almost taboo subject, spoken of in hushed voices in the corridors of Brussels, and certainly not called for by the leader of one of Europe’s most powerful nations.
In order to achieve that, he wants a consultation this year with Europe’s people and its nations, several of whom have spoken of their outright opposition to any moves toward federalism, precisely because their governments face electorates that have, in the past few years, voted for less Europe rather than more of it.
Among them are not just the Eastern countries, which would be excluded from the heart of the multi-tiered union that Macron envisages, but Germany, Holland and, possibly soon, Italy, which goes to the polls this year.
Jean Monnet, one of the architects and founding fathers of the EU, had predicted that Europe would be forged in its crises. But the recent ones, focused on sovereign debt and migrants, were born precisely of the fact that Europe had not yet forged itself, and seemed therefore to threaten the union existentially by reinforcing the positions and popularity of those who wanted it destroyed — the very nationalists and skeptics that Macron is calling on Europeans to resist.
The answer, he believes, is for Europe at last to answer the question of what it is: a loose federation of European nations or a federal European Union. It is the question that has divided and bedeviled Europe since its creation. And until Macron’s meteoric rise to power, the former had been defended with far more vigor than the latter.
Now the latter has a champion, willing not only to speak up for it, but to stake his substantial political capital on the necessity of its success. The real question is whether in 2018 — after all that has happened these last few years, from the debt crisis to Brexit — it is too late or, on the contrary, precisely the right time.
If Macron gets his way, Europe will take a massive leap to become much closer, in the end, to what its founding fathers had envisaged, but very different from what it has become. And, as with so many things in France these days, the feeling seems to be that if he can’t do it, then it simply cannot be done.

Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2018/01/03/europe/emmanuel-macron-europe-intl/index.html

Advertisements

Stasi files: scanner struggles to stitch together surveillance state scraps

Machine tasked with digitally reassembling torn-up East German secret police documents runs into trouble

The worlds biggest jigsaw puzzle may have to be solved by hand, as technology struggles to piece together millions of Stasi files ripped to shreds in the dying days of the East German regime.

The government-funded Stasi records agency confirmed this week that it had had to halt an 8m (7m) project to digitally reassemble the contents of 23 bags stuffed with torn-up documents detailing the activity of the secret police, because the scanning hardware it was using was not advanced enough.

Over the 40-year existence of communist East Germany, the state security ministry built one of the most tightly knit surveillance states in recent history. The Stasi, short for the Ministry for State Security, created a vast web of full-time agents and part-time snoops, with some historians calculating that there was one informant per 6.5 citizens.

After German reunification in 1990 an archive was set up to allow the systems victims to access their records, but not before stacks of paperwork were shredded or ripped up by hand to cover up the regimes activity.

While there are no official figures on the volume of destroyed records, researchers estimate that 10-40% of the archives contents may be lost to history.

Since the early 1990s workers employed by the agency have managed to piece together more than 1.5m pages of destroyed files by hand, shedding light on East Germanys use of doping in sports, links between the Stasi and West Germanys Red Army Faction terrorist group, and the persecution of writers critical of the regime.

The reassembled files brought to light the story of a young Austrian theology student who shopped several fellow students to the Stasi after they had confided in him their plan to escape across to the west. As a reward, the informant was handed a professorship at the University of Jena.

Until 2015, the Stasi records agency outsourced some of the manual puzzling work to the federal refugee agency in Bavaria.

But workers have struggled with files that were torn up more than four times. Once you have nine snippets per A4 sheet of paper, the human brain really cant keep up, said Dagmar Hovestdt, the spokesperson for the Stasi records agency.

A so-called ePuzzler, working with an algorithm developed by the Fraunhofer Institute and costing about 8m of federal funds, has managed to digitally reassemble about 91,000 pages since 2013. However, it has recently run into trouble.

A
A member of the Stasi Museum shows folders with records gathered by an informer for the secret police. Photograph: Felipe Trueba/EPA

For the last two years, the Stasi records agency has been waiting for engineers to develop more advanced hardware that can scan in smaller snippets, some of which are only the size of a fingernail.

The ePuzzler works by matching up types of paper stock, typewriter fonts, or the outline of the torn-up page. It has struggled with handwritten files that were folded before being torn, leaving several snippets with near-identical outlines.

The ePuzzler has also required human assistance to feed in paper snippets and check over the completed jigsaw puzzle, further slowing down the process.

We currently dont have a scanner that we can work with, said Hovestdt, adding that her agency was hopeful that technological progress would allow the archive to resume reassembling destroyed records this year.

The Stasi records agency said its attempt to virtually piece together the history of a surveillance state was without a precedent in the world. We are dealing with a research project that requires us to develop a technology entirely from scratch.

In the meantime, a small team of manual puzzlers continue their work of matching up more crudely ripped files by hand.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/03/stasi-files-east-germany-archivists-losing-hope-solving-worlds-biggest-puzzle

Can a commune revival fix London housing crisis?

(CNN)Upper Street, Islington, is the heart of chic and cosmopolitan North London — a mile-long stretch of award-winning restaurants, boutiques and public gardens.

The iconic Georgian houses rank among the British capital’s most desirable and expensive, with prices reaching $10 million. Local residents include movie stars Colin Firth and Emma Watson.
But just off the main street, tucked away among the stylish facades, is a parallel universe.
While the borough has shot upmarket, one of London’s oldest communes has never strayed from the vision of Franciscan Monk Greg Moore, who founded Islington Park Street Community in 1976, as a refuge for the vulnerable and low-paid.
Eighteen housemates, aged 19 to 79, share four grand old houses with the partitions removed. They also share resources and responsibilities, each paying $43 a week for food and bills, which has allowed them to survive in this elite neighborhood over four decades.
“People receive what they need and give what they can,” summarizes Karen Grace, a care worker who has spent five years at the home.
Places here are allocated according to need, and applicants are filtered to maintain a balance of age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and support needs — accommodating people that need care, and others that can provide it.
The community includes a victim of domestic abuse, an ex-prisoner, and people suffering with mental illnesses. Many have struggled to access social services outside, which are facing government cuts. “This is a place to have a sense of safety and support,” says Grace. “People here have experienced the opposite.”
Such an arrangement may seem more of a throwback to the idealism of swinging 1960s London than the modern metropolis with its surging skyline of luxury high-rise towers.
But in a city where the cost of living has shot up rapidly, the communal approach presents a potential solution for many struggling residents.

Tale of two cities

London’s property market has become increasingly unaffordable for many on middle and low incomes.
The average house price in the English capital recently passed $800,000 — Monaco and Hong Kong are the only more expensive cities, according to Knight Frank — and the year to 2014 saw a record 18% rise. Properties deemed “uninhabitable” by estate agents can fetch almost $1 million.
The rental sector offers little relief. British tenants pay the highest rents in Europe, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of wages, according to the National Housing Federation. A separate study found that Londoners pay around 60% of their incomes in rent, while some councils have even been forced to re-house low income residents outside the city.

London’s luxury underground living.

“For 30 years we have not built enough homes,” says Tom Copley, chair of the Housing Committee at the London Assembly. “We need 49,000 new homes a year to meet demand and fewer than half are being built. Many of these are luxury homes being bought by speculators that don’t serve the needs of the majority of Londoners.”
“We’re seeing huge overcrowding, people living in poor conditions, sky-high rents…and unfortunately these trends will continue.”
Islington Park Street is not immune to this harsh climate. Property owner One Housing Group — which acquired it from a philanthropic trust — is seeking to “decant” residents ahead of “potential sale of the land and property.”
Residents are fighting a legal battle to protect their community, and their campaign has struck a nerve with activists, politicians and celebrities.
“The wider issue is people being priced out of London and someone needs to bring attention to it,” says Grace. “It is social cleansing…I hope we can win our case and become a symbol of hope for the housing movement.”

New adventures in communal living

Yet the lack of affordable housing has also fostered creativity among struggling Londoners and new forms of communal living are emerging to relieve the pressure.
Property guardians‘ pay cheaper rent to stay in empty buildings, including office blocks and schools that can accommodate dozens. Inter-generational housing offers another solution, connecting struggling younger people with senior citizens that appreciate the company.
For those seeking more than just affordability, however, converted industrial zones have proved appealing by offering creative live-and-work spaces. Jose Castroviejo made the leap to a former textile factory in East London after months of couch surfing and “rip off rents.”
“I was attracted by the ethic and environment,” says Castroviejo, an events producer, originally from Madrid. “There is a sense of community…it’s tremendously creative and one of the only places in London where you say ‘hi’ to people on the street.”
Several hundred young, artistic people inhabit a network of converted spaces through an arrangement that makes one tenant a leaseholder that can sublet to dozens of housemates at lower than market rates.
Collective responsibilities are minimal, but spaces and resources are available to the community, and events such as the Hackney Wicked festival are undertaken collectively.
“There is a ‘freecycle’ element,” says Castroviejo. “Anything you don’t want that’s reusable is left in a hallway and usually within 24 hours it is re-absorbed into the community.”

The next top model

London also recently gained its first cohousing project — already a popular concept in Germany — which involves residents planning their own community with shared resources, spaces, and decision-making.
The Copper Lane development is home to 13 people, who spent six years and $3 million converting a disused nursery site into energy-efficient homes with communal gardens and a rooftop courtyard.
“We were looking for a way to retain our own self-contained living spaces, combined with indoor and outdoor spaces which would encourage different forms of interaction,” the residents explained in a statement.
Activists anticipate Copper Lane will be followed by many similar but diverse projects.
“We have over 75 groups (in Britain) who are developing,” says Sarah Hewitt of the UK Cohousing Network. “It’s growing fast… groups have different priorities, whether it’s about being eco-friendly, spiritual or affordable.”
Housing campaigner Leslie Barson is at the forefront of the movement in London. As a leader of the London Community Housing Co-operative (LCHC), she is developing a self-build project in the central borough of Westminster for dozens of families. She hopes the venture will tackle affordability and host social spaces for education and urban agriculture.
“Housing is just seen as a way of making money and it is driving people out,” says Barson. “People can’t afford enormous rents so they fall into housing benefit (welfare) and our tax money goes to subsidizing private landlords. We say rent should be no more than one-third of average earnings for the area.”
The LCHC hopes to eventually launch several new communities around the city, harnessing innovations such as straw bale building material to manage costs and sustainability.
The major obstacle is securing land, which generally goes to the highest bidder. Developers are obliged to provide a proportion of affordable housing, but rules can be skirted, and the definition of affordable housing has been questioned by leading charities.

Winning hearts and minds

The UK government has given qualified support to community development schemes through its ‘right to build’ initiative, which encourages local authorities to provide land for them, although it remains an uphill struggle.
“If you’re in a bidding war with a commercial operator you lose,” says Gavin Smart, director of policy and practice at the Chartered Institute for Housing. “Public sector finances are under intense pressure, and if local authorities let land go cheaper they take a loss.”
Barson wants more active support: “The Mayor should be telling councils to facilitate passing land to community builders. We’re entering new territory and need goodwill on all sides.”
The activist believes there is huge demand for these projects, which should provide leverage. If the authorities prove un-responsive, Barson says a rent strike is one option to convince them.
But if land is secured, there is still a psychological challenge for communal models. Proponents must overcome the aversion that many feel to the distinct lifestyle, and even veterans admit that adjustment takes time.
“People are used to living as individuals,” says Professor Paul Chatterton, founder of a cohousing community and author of “Low Impact Living“. “You need training to understand how to live and work together.”
Yet the luxury of choice may not last. If the pressure on London housing keeps growing, more of the city’s beleaguered residents could need each other to survive.

Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/02/business/commune-london/index.html

Fierce row over plans to publish antisemitic texts by French writer Cline

French publisher Gallimard says it will publish 1930s pamphlets by Louis-Ferdinand Cline, who called for extermination of Jews

A fierce row has erupted in Paris after a major publisher announced it would produce a new collection of the violently antisemitic hate pamphlets by novelist Louis-Ferdinand Cline.

French publishing house Gallimard has insisted it will go ahead with the publication of the 1,000-page collection of 1930s pamphlets by Cline, who called for the extermination of Jews. The publication date is not set but Gallimard has insisted its intention is to frame the texts and put them back in their context as writings of a great violence, marked by the antisemitic hatred of the author.

But Serge Klarsfeld, the celebrated French lawyer and Nazi-hunter who was hidden from Nazis in Nice as a child during the occupation, has demanded the publication be stopped, threatening legal action if Gallimard continues.

Cline continues to be hailed as one of Frances most brilliant writers for his 1932 novel Journey to the End of the Night, regarded as one of the greatest French works of the 20th century. But his reputation has been tarnished by his rabid, antisemitic, pro-Hitler wartime pamphlets.

Aided by the French collaborationist Vichy government, German authorities deported about 78,000 French Jews to death camps during the occupation from 1940 to 1944. Cline fled France at the time of the Normandy landings in 1944 and was later sentenced for collaboration in his absence, was spared prison and was able to return France.

When Gallimard was reported to be about to publish the collection of Clines anti-semitic writings this spring, the government stepped in. The prime ministers delegation in charge of fighting racism, anti-semitism and anti-LGBT hatred last month made the rare move of summoning the publisher. It urged it to include, in any new edition of three anti-semitic texts written between 1937 and 1941, notes giving the full context drawn up by specialists, including historians. The editor is understood to have rejected this, claiming that notes by a literary expert on Cline would suffice.

Then Klarsfeld, who founded the group Sons and Daughters of Jewish Deportees from France, stepped in to demand publication be stopped.

Klarsfeld who previously called Cline the most antisemitic Frenchman of his day, said his pamphlets had influenced a whole generation of collaborationists that sent French Jews to their deaths. Although the lawyer supported historians studying the texts, he said that presenting a shiny new edition of Clines abject writing in bookshops would be intolerable and no amount of footnotes could temper that.

The pamphlets have been out of print since 1945 and Cline, who died in 1961, had said he didnt want them re-issued. But his widow, now aged 105, recently U-turned and signed over the rights.

A furious row has raged in literary circles between those for and against publication. The literature professor Henri Godard argued that brushing the pamphlets under the carpet would create an unhealthy situation and it was better for readers to be aware of and critically assess them as full published texts. Some argued that pirate editions were available for sale or online and that Gallimard was seeking to publish in France a collected volume already produced in Quebec, Canada in 2012 although Le Monde warned that the Canadian editions notes were insufficient.

The historian Pascal Ory argued: We have to confront these texts directly armed with scientific criticism, otherwise they would be online with no context.

But others shot back, saying the repackaging of Clines violent anti-semitic texts by a major publisher like Gallimard would give them a veneer of respectability and could white-wash Clines role in the war.

Although Adolf Hitlers Mein Kampf is being reprinted in France in March, some historians have said there is a vast gulf between a historic document like that and Clines rambling hatred.

Four historians wrote a furious opinion piece in the Nouvel Obs magazine arguing that any footnotes were unlikely to be consulted much and that the exercise risked at best voyeurism, at worst nostalgia, or the sanctification of appeals to murder wrapped up in a chocolate box of prestige.

Some politicians on the left joined Klarsfeld in saying that because courts have acted against far-right writers as well as French comedian Dieudonn Mbala Mbala for antisemitic comments, it was untenable to then allow a major literary publisher to re-issue antisemitic texts.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jan/05/fierce-row-over-plans-to-publish-antisemitic-texts-by-french-writer-louis-ferdinand-celine

Moscow-led church in Ukraine refuses to bury boy from Kiev branch

Death of a baby crushed by a man jumping from apartment block exposes religious divide in the Orthodox Christian country

The death of a baby crushed by a drunk man who committed suicide by jumping out of an eighth-floor apartment in Ukraine has exposed the religious divide in the Orthodox Christian country.

A Moscow-led church in the central city of Zaporizhia refused to bury the one-year-old boy killed on New Years Eve because he was christened by a rival church overseen by Kiev.

Local media reported that the boys bereaved father punched the priest in anger in an incident that has prompted renewed acrimony between the two branches of Ukraines main faith.

The Ukrainian church splintered into rival Moscow- and Kiev-led branches when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The bad blood between the two has been heightened by the war in eastern Ukraine between Russian- and Kiev-backed sides that has killed more than 10,000 people in nearly four years.

The Moscow-led denomination is much larger and is dominant in Zaporizhia a city of more than 700,000 people that was founded more than 1,000 years ago and is now an industrial hub.

The family of the boy, who was killed as he was being led out of the apartment building by his father, belong to the Kiev Patriarchate.

His father, Roman Polishchuk, said the priest of the Moscow-led church they turned to told the family he could not perform the burial ceremony.

The priest said our baby was unchristened and our church was a sham, Polishchuk told the local news site Forpost. My wife cried and threw herself before him on her knees, but this did not help.

The priest, Yevgen Molchanov, said the father punched him and a small brawl broke out inside the church before the family was forced to leave. The parents eventually took the babys body to the church where he was christened to perform the burial rights.

Molchanov said he had no choice because those were the rules of his faith.

I am very sorry. I feel for those people, he told Forpost. But there are certain lines I cannot cross. A child christened by the Kiev Patriarchate remains unchristened … And the Kiev Church itself is a hoax.

A spokesman for the Kiev Patriarchate said such incidents had happened before and only fed frustrations among the faithful in Ukraine.

There is no official document from the Moscow Patriarchate saying this must be the case, Yevstratiy Zorya wrote on Facebook. This is all completely arbitrary and based on some verbal orders that are issued under the guise of secret canons.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/05/moscow-led-church-in-ukraine-refuses-to-bury-boy-from-kiev-church

A Leviathan Sets Sail to Keep Turkey Warm

Turkey is getting a giant helper to avoid last December’s gas shortages.

The world’s biggest specialized vessel to import liquefied natural gas, a cheaper and quicker solution than a land-based facility, is on its way to help with imports of the fuel mainly used for heating and power generation. The MOL FSRU Challenger, as long as the Eiffel Tower, is expected to arrive from South Korea this month and start by year-end.

Last winter, a cold snap gripped the whole region, including Iran, where Turkey gets some of its gas from. That meant the nation couldn’t get hold of enough fuel to meet its booming gas demand and the grid asked private power plants to reduce fuel demand by as much as 90 percent.

A first floating storage and regasification unit, the Neptune, arrived in December to complement two onshore terminals at Aliaga and Marmara Ereglisi.

“We expect Turkey to import more than last winter, and last winter they increased demand,” said Gyorgy Vargha, chief executive officer of MET International AG, a Zug, Switzerland-based energy trader that trades LNG mainly in southern Europe. “It is a growing market.”

Turkey was the fastest-growing market for LNG imports after China, South Korea and Japan in the first half of the year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which forecasts uneven demand in the nation through 2030.

The 345-meter (1,132 feet) tanker can store 263,000 cubic meters of LNG, enough to cover more than a day’s gas demand in Turkey. It was sailing westward, just south of India as of Tuesday.

The ship can also export the fuel for use in neighboring regions, according to Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd., the owner and operator of the vessel.

State gas grid operator Botas Boru Hatlari Ile Petrol Tasima AS signed the lease agreement for the vessel, which will be located at Dortyol near the Syrian border.

Read more: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-24/a-leviathan-sets-sail-to-keep-turkey-warm

French police sniper accidentally shoots waiter during Hollande speech

Official says two people injured by marksman when he tripped and discharged weapon during presidential address at opening of high-speed railway line

At least two people have been injured after a gun was accidentally fired during a speech by President Franois Hollande, French media have reported.

Hollande was speaking in the town of Villognon in central France to mark the opening of a high-speed railway line between Paris and Bordeaux when a police marksman accidentally opened fire, the Sud-Ouest newspaper reported.

The paper quoted local officials as saying the member of the elite gendarmerie protection squad charged with protecting the president was positioned on a rooftop about 100 metres from the marquee where the ceremony was taking place.

The safety catch on the officers rifle was reportedly off and the shot was fired when he tripped while adjusting his position. The bullet pierced the marquee roof, hitting a waiter in the leg and a railway employee in the foot, according to Pierre NGahane, state prefect of the Charente region.

There were unconfirmed local media reports that the sniper had shot himself in the foot and could be seen hopping up and down.

Hollande, who is not standing for a second term in the presidential elections next month, had just started speaking to the guests at a cocktail party to celebrate the opening of the line when the shot went off, the paper reported.

A loud noise like a gunshot is heard on video footage of the presidents speech. I hope there is nothing serious, Hollande said, then looked to his left and said, I dont think so. He then continued his speech.

An inquiry had been opened into the incident, officials said. The injuries were not said to be serious and Hollande was among the guests who rushed to their aid, according to Le Parisien.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/28/french-police-officer-accidentally-fires-gun-at-hollande-speech