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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Michael's Afternoon 7 - 8 June

Voters across Europe went to the polls last week, in what is thought to be the biggest transnational vote in history. Votes are continuing to be tallied across the continent. Early results show a continent-wide shift to the right, with some exceptions. Austria: The main rightist People's Party made big gains. Belgium: The conservative Christian Democrats won. Bulgaria: Biggest right-wing opposition party won most of the votes. Cyprus: The opposition conservatives narrowly defeated the governing communist-rooted party. Czech Republic: The center-right Civic Democrats of former Premier Mirek Topolanek were set for a close victory. Denmark: An exit poll said the Danish People's Party, a government ally, will grab one seat in the European assembly. Another EU-skeptical group, the June Movement, will lose its single seat according to the poll, while other parties would maintain their seats. Estonia: The Centre Party gained two seats, while the Social Democratic Party lost its three. Finland: The center-right government coalition partners, the Conservatives and the Centre Party, and the main opposition Social Democrats, lost support in the election for Finland's 13 seats. France: President Nicolas Sarkozy's governing conservatives trounced the Socialists. Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives won a lackluster victory. Greece: The governing conservatives suffered a defeat - The main opposition Socialists -- winning their first election battle in nine years -- renewed calls for early general elections. Hungary: The far-right Jobbik party won three of 22 seats. The National Election Office said the main center-right opposition party, Fidesz, won 14 seats. Italy: A nearly complete count showed the conservative party of Premier Silvio Berlusconi lost support, while his anti-immigrant ally made gains in European Parliament voting. Ireland: Exit polls suggested government party Fianna Fail is likely to be pushed into second place. Latvia: Voters looked to an ethnic Russian party to rescue the Baltic state from its economic crisis. The result signaled a significant shift in voter sentiment. Lithuania: Exit polls said the conservative Homeland Union-Christian Democrats are leading the vote. Luxembourg: Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker's Christian Democrats looked set to take three seats. Malta: The opposition Labor Party scored a resounding victory, taking 57% of the vote. Netherlands: Geert Wilders' anti-Islamic party took 17% of the vote, or four of 25 seats. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's Christian Democrats held onto five seats, while the center-left Labor party took three. Poland: An exit poll showed Prime Minister Donald Tusk's probusiness Civic Platform party had 45.3% of the vote and the nationalist and conservative opposition Law and Justice party was second with 29.5% -- a shift to the center-right by voters. Portugal: The opposition center-right PPD was predicted to take 10 seats, while Prime Minister Jose Socrates' Socialists were expected to take seven. Romania: Partial results showed the two parties in the coalition government had won most of the votes in European Parliament elections, with the far right also gaining ground. Slovakia: The ruling Social Democrats won with 32% of the vote. Slovenia: The center-right opposition won the most votes, dealing a blow to the governing Social Democrats. Spain: The conservative Popular Party won two more seats than the ruling Socialists in preliminary vote tallies. Sweden: Exit polls said the new populist Pirate Party would win a seat, while the main opposition Social Democrats took six seats. U.K.: The ruling Labour Party suffered a major defeat, finishing third in the European poll. With nearly all results in on Monday morning, the main opposition Conservative Party won with roughly 29% of the vote. For the first time, the far-right, anti-immigration British National Party picked up two seats in the European Parliament.

Europe leaned to the right as the continent-wide European Parliament elections ended with a clear victory to conservative and rightist parties and a heavy loss for the Left, and the anti-immigrant far-right also gaining significant ground. Results of the marathon four-day European legislature polls, the biggest transnational vote in history, which ended Sunday, emerged to show an unexpected continent-wide shift to the right. The results granted conservative democratic parties an unprecedented win after securing 267 out of the EU parliament's 736 seats. Leftist parties came second with only 159 seats in the pan-European council, compared to 215 in last 2005 elections. And the Liberal Democrats came in a third place with 81 seats. Across the 27 member states, the biggest wins for Europe's center-right was secured in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Another unexpected winner in the election was the extreme far-right which scored big in some countries. Across Europe, far-right parties known for xenophobic, anti-Islam and anti-immigrant stances won around 40 seats in the legislature.

Turkish opinion leaders say they're worried about a rightward drift in European Union politics with the results of last week's elections. With center-right parties dominating the voting, all of whom oppose Turkey's efforts to join the EU, the country's political leaders blamed the vote on xenophobic and anti-Muslim rhetoric from some far-right candidates for the European Parliament. Turkey's Milli Gazete newspaper declared Monday, "Nazis came out of the elections in Europe," while on Saturday the religious conservative Zaman newspaper wrote: "Turkey-EU relations will be affected negatively in the case of rightist and racist parties strengthening in the EP. There are fears that racist parties who have common animosity against Turkey can reach numbers enough to form a group in the Parliament."

Caroline Flint's dramatic resignation on Friday was the denouement of a bloody week that saw five women leave the government. The high hopes of 1997, when Labour had 101 female MPs, gave way to snide references to WAGs: Women Against Gordon. Suddenly Brown's relationship to female colleagues was being questioned. Do men flounce? Has a man ever been described as "flouncing out of government", as Caroline Flint was? Or of plunging a "stiletto heel" into the heart of the prime minister? "I don't even know what the male equivalent of a stiletto heel would be," says Caroline Flint. "What is it? I don't think there is one, is there? It's just this same old thing about how women are portrayed. That when a man speaks out he's assertive, and when a woman does it she's aggressive." Does Gordon Brown discriminate against women? "I think you can talk the talk, but it's about actions," says Flint. "You've only got to look and see at where women are in cabinet and where they aren't, and they aren't in positions of power, they aren't running spending departments. There's only Yvette now who's actually running a spending department." The problem, according to a former cabinet minister who didn't want to be named, is that Brown simply doesn't feel comfortable around women. "He just doesn't trust them in the way he trusts men. The power players within his inner circle are almost without exception men."

BIRN team investigated concerns about freedom of the press in Kosovo and discovered the media’s critical voice is being jeopardised by conflicts of interests, political and business interference and the psychological power of Omerta. According to the US Department of State in 2008: “Journalists in Kosovo are intimidated by the government officials, public service workers, as well as by businesses. Some media are financed by business groups and by political interests groups, which offer them financial support in exchange for positive reporting.” Freedom House, a Washington DC based organisation which assesses freedom of expression in all countries, said of Kosovo: “Most media in Kosovo face great financial difficulties. The editorial independence remains weak and media are adhering to business interests. Public broadcaster Radio Television Kosovo is particularly at the whim of political and economic interests.” The issues around freedom of press were thrust into the open when, at the end of May, Kosovo’s Parliamentary Speaker Jakup Krasniqi declared that civil society and the media in Kosovo were directed by the Government. Freedom of expression is absent when there is only one voice.

Group of Eight leaders used to luxury five star hotels will be staying in police academy barracks during July's summit in the quake-stricken Abruzzo capital L'Aquila, the foreign ministry's secretary-general, Giampiero Massolo, confirmed Monday. ''All the leaders have decided to stay at the school,'' Italy's summit pointman told ANSA, adding that the barracks had received ''a quality stamp of security'' and were ''absolutely suited and defendable'' as the summit venue. The premier announced the move in a bid to help focus international attention on the damage caused by the April 6 quake, which devastated the city and left nearly 300 dead, and to save money that can be used to help reconstruct the area. Massolo underlined that while the venue had not been chosen to avoid demonstrations by G8 protestors, the government hoped that ''a place that has already been hit so hard will be a disincentive''. The last time Italy hosted the G8 summit it was marred by violence. More than 300,000 demonstrators converged on Genoa for the summit in July 2001, and during two days of mayhem one protestor was shot dead while attacking a Carabinieri policeman, shops and businesses were ransacked and hundreds of people were injured in clashes between police and demonstrators.

With the opening of this third millennium, environmental issues – already evident since the 20th century – acquired a new intensity, coming to the forefront of daily attention. According to the theological understanding of the Orthodox Christian Church, the natural environment is part of Creation and is characterized by sacredness. This is why its abuse and destruction is a sacrilegious and sinful act, revealing prideful despise toward the work of God the Creator. Humanity, too, is part of this Creation. Our rational nature, as well as the capacity to choose between good and evil, bestow upon us certain privileges as well as clear responsibilities. Unfortunately, however, human history is filled with numerous examples of misuse of these privileges, where the use and preservation of natural resources has been transformed into irrational abuse and, often, complete destruction, leading occasionally to the downfall of great civilizations. For our Orthodox Church, the protection of the environment as God’s creation is the supreme responsibility of human beings, quite apart from any material or other financial benefits that it may bring. The almighty God bequeathed this “very beautiful” world (Gen. 1.26) to humanity together with the commandment to “serve and preserve” it. Yet, the direct correlation of this divine mandate for the protection of creation to every aspect of contemporary economic and social life, ultimately enhances the global effort to control the problem of climate change by effectively introducing the ecological dimension into every aspect of life. Thus, we call everyone to a more acute sense of vigilance for the preservation of nature and all creation, which God made in all His wisdom and love. And, from the See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we invoke God’s blessing for World Environment Day, offering praise to the Creator of all, to whom is due all glory, honor and worship.