Thousands of protestors hit the streets of France Saturday to demonstrate against a controversial draft security law that would criminalize sharing images of police officers if done for “malicious purposes.”
In Paris, 46,000 people gathered against the bill, according to the interior ministry. Police fired tear gas and stun grenades as some protesters lit fires and hurled rocks and fireworks at the security forces during an otherwise peaceful march.
Protesters also demonstrated in other French cities, such as Lille, Rennes and Strasbourg.
Many were also demonstrating against police violence, after the brutal treatment of Black music producer Michel Zecler at the hands of the police last weekend.
The focus of much of the anger on Saturday, fanned by the violent beating of Zecler caught on video, is the law’s 24th article, which says that those who distribute either video footage or photographic images of on-duty police officers with the intention of causing them harm could face prison sentences and fines.
A wide range of critics across French society say the controversial new security bill will curb press freedom, but President Emmanuel Macron and his Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin have pushed ahead with it nonetheless, hoping it would cast them as tough defenders of the French police, and law and order.
After the bill was passed by the lower chamber of the French parliament earlier this week (senators are yet to scrutinize the bill), Prime Minister Jean Castex said an independent committee would revisit the contentious article. However, Castex was forced into an embarrassing U-turn on the scope of the committee Friday, after a backlash from MPs and senators.
On Friday, Macron condemned the treatment of Zecler. “The images we all saw of the beating of Michel Zecler are unacceptable. They shame us,” the French president said in a statement posted on Facebook and Twitter.
Saturday’s protests were attended by a mix of journalists, civil liberties activists, and Yellow Jacket protesters, Reuters reported.
Criticism has come from farther afield too. The European Commission weighed in last week, saying that French journalists should be able to “do their work freely and in full security,” echoing similar concerns from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations.
Nine arrests were made later on Saturday, the authorities said, according to the BBC. Darmanin condemned “unacceptable” violence against the police.
ATHENS — Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias accused Germany of failing to live up to its leadership role in the EU by rejecting pleas from Athens to impose an arms embargo on Turkey.
“I really fail to understand Germany’s reluctance to use the enormous power of its economy to set a clear example to countries that they must obey international law,” Dendias said in an interview with POLITICO.
Against a backdrop of heightened tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece has appealed to European partners in recent weeks to stop arms sales to Turkey. Athens argues such weapons could be used against two EU member countries, Greece and Cyprus, if there is an escalation of disputes over territorial waters.
Greece has specifically called on Germany not to allow the delivery of six Type 214 submarines ordered by Turkey. Athens argues the vessels would upset the balance of power in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Dendias noted the deal for the submarines dated back to 2009, when the Turkish government and its foreign policy were very different.
“I understand the financial issue, but I am sure Germany also understands the huge contradiction of providing offensive weapons to a country that threatens the peace and stability of two EU countries. This is the definition of the word contradiction,” he said.
Dendias said he did not understand why Greece should even have to raise the matter with Berlin “instead of Germany realizing by itself, from the checks and balances of its own system, that this is not compatible with its role in Europe.”
Greece and Turkey are both members of the NATO alliance, but with long-standing disagreements on a variety of issues, including sea boundaries. Their relationship has reached a low point in recent months.
Over the summer, the countries came close to a military conflict, as the the Oruç Reis, a seismic vessel owned by Turkey’s General Directorate of Mineral Research and Exploration, started research activities in disputed waters. Turkish and Greek naval flotillas faced off against each other for weeks. Turkey has been conducting research and drilling off Cyprus in recent months as well.
Germany has tried to play the role of the mediator, with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visiting Athens and Ankara several times to push for a restart of diplomatic talks. Chancellor Angela Merkel helped avert a potential conflict by calling both Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
But Greece has voiced dissatisfaction with what Dendias has branded a policy of “appeasement” pursued by Germany toward Turkey. Athens argues Germany should be firmly on the side of its fellow EU members, Greece and Cyprus.
In the interview, Dendias called on EU leaders to send a clear message to Turkey at next month’s European Council summit. But he stopped short of explicitly demanding EU sanctions on Ankara.
He said Europe should give a “logical answer” to Turkey’s recent actions that would match European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s pledge to lead a “geopolitical” Commission.
Shortly before the last EU summit, the Turkish vessel returned home, and both sides agreed to restart talks. At the summit on October 2, EU leaders warned Ankara it could face sanctions over its activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, but refrained from taking any action — only for the Turkish ship to resume its mission a few days later.
This time around, Turkey has again signaled the ship will return to port in advance of the summit, saying its mission will last until November 29. The summit is scheduled to begin on December 10.
Dendias suggested that if EU leaders followed the same course as last time, it would mean they had not learned their lesson.
“If you do the same things you did in the past and expect another outcome in the future, this is something described with the word ‘naive’ — and that’s a mild term for it, I would say,” Dendias said.
“Europe would send the wrong message to all the countries in the broader region. Whoever acts arbitrarily, whoever violates international law, whoever blackmails, is at the end of the day left unpunished or is even rewarded.”
Dendias declined to specify what the EU’s message should be. He said it should depend on whether Turkey shows a real change in attitude in the coming days and weeks.
Dendias said he is looking forward to working with the next U.S. administration. Both President-elect Joe Biden and his nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, know the region and Greek-Turkish problems very well, he said.
“I believe that the region needs the presence of the United States and particularly its military presence, in a way that would offset the lack of European military presence in the region,” he said.
EU politicians who say they want to get tough on Russian President Vladimir Putin should stop coddling Kremlin-connected oligarchs and welcoming their wealth, Alexei Navalny and three other leading Russian opposition figures told the European Parliament on Friday.
Navalny, who survived an assassination attempt with a chemical weapon in August and received treatment at a German hospital, told a hearing of the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee that the EU should sanction individual oligarchs as cronies of a criminal state.
Navalny said it was a mistake to penalize mid-ranking officials even if they were directly responsible for human rights abuses because they do not travel or keep assets abroad.
“The main question we should ask ourselves is why these people are poisoning, killing and fabricating elections,” Navalny said. “And the answer is very very simple: money. So European Union should target the money and Russian oligarchs.”
Navalny accused European politicians of hypocrisy by allowing oligarchs who grew rich off of Putin’s authoritarian rule, such as Alisher Usmanov and Roman Abramovich — billionaires who own stakes in U.K. football clubs — to keep luxury boats in European ports.
“Let me say it very straight [as long as] the most expensive yacht of Mr. Usmanov is standing in Barcelona or in Monaco, no one in Russia or in the Kremlin even — they will not treat European sanctions seriously,” Navalny said. “They just think that they are playing the European Union.”
“Just tell Mr. Usmanov, Mr. Abramovich, Mr. Rotenberg, etc. etc.: ‘Guys you are acting against the Russian people, you are acting against Europe, you are all of the time advocating that Europe is something very bad, so please take your yachts and get them somewhere to the nice harbors of the Belarusian Republic,’” Navalny said. “This approach will be very effective and very welcome from the Russian people.” (Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, brothers and two of Russia’s richest men, are considered close friends of Putin.)
Navalny appeared before the Parliament via videoconference along with Vladimir Kara-Murza, who twice was the victim of mysterious poisoning incidents; Vladimir Milov, a former deputy Russian energy minister who has been living in exile; and Ilya Yashin, an opposition activist still in Russia, who like Navalny has faced repeated arrests.
Navalny called on the EU to develop a new approach toward Moscow. “The basis of a new approach should be very clear dividing two things: Russian people who must be welcomed and treated very warmly from European Union from my perspective and Russian state which must be treated like a bunch of criminals,” he said.
The hearing was chaired by Urmas Paet, an Estonian MEP from the liberal group, who noted Russia’s role in recent crises in Ukraine and Belarus and accused the Russian government repeatedly targeting opposition figures.
“I am very happy to see Mr. Navalny healthier and safe after his poisoning,” Paet said. “The violent attack against Mr. Navalny is unfortunately neither the first nor the last one perpetrated against the Russian political opposition.”
Kara-Murza noted that he and Navalny were lucky compared to their colleague Boris Nemtsov, who was murdered in 2015 on a bridge near the Kremlin. And he urged European leaders to uphold their own standards and values when it comes to dealing with Russia.
He said Russian citizens would change the situation in Russia on their own, and dismissed assertions that the West is trying to carry out regime change.
“The only thing we do ask our friends and colleagues in the Western world and in particular in the European Union is that you stand on your own values, is that you practice what you preach,” Kara-Murza said, “that you do not enable and support in effect the corrupt, kleptocratic and authoritarian regime of Vladimir Putin by allowing his cronies and his oligarchs to use EU countries essentially as havens for the money that they are looting from the people of Russia.”
Navalny told the MEPs not to worry that the Russian public would interpret sanctions against oligarchs as an attack on Russia in general. “It’s very simple: just target particular oligarchs. Everyone from left to right hates them.”
The leaders of Poland and Hungary doubled down on their threat to veto the EU’s €1.8 trillion budget and coronavirus recovery package on Thursday, rejecting efforts to tie the spending to the rule of law.
Following a meeting in Budapest, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán released a joint declaration that committed them to continue the fight: “We have decided to align our positions on these issues. Neither Poland, nor Hungary will accept any proposal that is deemed unacceptable by the other.”
Both countries are under EU investigation for backsliding on democratic standards as their ruling parties tighten their grip on the judiciary, media and other institutions. They insist they’ll only give way on the budget if there is a “substantial modification” to a contested rule of law mechanism that would allow the EU to block funding if a country breaks the EU’s fundamental principles.
Morawiecki warned that tying cash to democratic standards is “extremely dangerous for European unity. This is a bad solution which creates the danger of the breakup of the union.”
The hardening of the Polish-Hungarian position — which comes despite intensive attempts by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to settle the dispute — means EU leaders are now heading for a major clash on rule of law at their upcoming European Council summit on December 10-11.
While Warsaw and Budapest are adamant that they won’t accept what they call “arbitrary” rule of law provisions, the rest of the bloc and the European Parliament insist they won’t give way on a principle they feel defines the EU’s fundamental values.
“It is clear that there is absolutely no support for reopening the conditionality mechanism in the European Parliament or in the Council,” said a senior EU diplomat. “With their statement, Poland and Hungary are moving deeper and deeper into isolation.”
The Hungarian-Polish declaration is a blow to Germany, which leads negotiation efforts as it holds the rotating Council of the EU presidency and has invested great political capital in the budget and recovery fund deal.
The Polish and Hungarian position is that the conditionality mechanism does an end-run around the EU treaties and “applies vague definitions and ambiguous terms without clear criteria on which sanctions can be based, and contains no meaningful procedural guarantees.”
Their statement also complains that the rule of law scheme allegedly goes beyond what EU leaders agreed in their budget deal in July. They insist that if the EU wants to make a link between rule of law and the budget it should be done by amending the bloc’s founding treaties — which effectively gives each member country a veto.
Speaking at a joint press conference following the meeting, Orbán said he was unconcerned about the prospect of a halt in EU funding. The two countries are among the largest recipients of EU cash, which is crucial to their economies. If the veto threat isn’t lifted soon, the EU will have no budget as of next year and would have to rely on emergency mechanisms.
“Hungary faces no financial loss if the European crisis management budget does not come together,” Orbán said.
Both leaders also insisted they were within their rights to wield the veto threat.
“I see that the larger member states and the media would like to apply pressure saying that the Hungarian veto was somehow inappropriate,” Orbán said, adding: “I would like to emphasize that the veto is a legal tool.”
Morawiecki said Warsaw “won’t hesitate to use a veto for the good of the whole EU,” adding that the rule of law conditionality was a tool to attack certain countries.
Europe could have two coronavirus vaccines approved for use as soon as December.
But as the world celebrates what appears to be some quite remarkable scientific progress, an October survey on attitudes to vaccines among 18,000 adults across 15 countries, published this month, offers a note of caution.
The survey showed many people are in no rush to get themselves a vaccine shot, if and when that becomes possible. Some major European economies — notably France and Spain — recorded some of the lowest acceptance rates.
While attitudes might be altered by ongoing trial results and targeted communication campaigns by regulators and governments, any coronavirus vaccine will only be successful if people choose to take it.
You better watch out, you better not pout: Santa Claus is still coming to town — despite the pandemic.
Politicians across Europe have spoken up in recent days to confirm that the man who knows whether they’ve been naughty or nice — i.e. following coronavirus rules — is himself not obliged to abide by all pandemic precautions, given his role in cheering people up at the end of a miserable year. The news is likely to come as a relief to the North Pole native given that his routine would certainly exceed even the most liberal limits for how many households a person may visit.
Belgium’s Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke and Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden wrote to Santa Claus earlier this month, telling him he would not have to quarantine upon arrival in the country, even if he was traveling from a high-risk area.
“We do recommend that you always keep your distance, wash your hands sufficiently and wear a face mask where necessary,” they wrote, adding: “A Spanish virologist also confirmed to us that your beard protects you sufficiently and serves as a mask.”
Meanwhile in Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte published a letter this month which he sent to a 5-year-old boy named Tommaso, who was worried the pandemic might stop Santa Claus from delivering Christmas gifts.
But Santa “confirmed that he always uses a mask and keeps the right distance to protect himself and all the people he meets,” Conte wrote, adding that it might be a good idea to leave some hand sanitizer out for Santa in addition to the customary milk and biscotti. Conte also said there is no need to tell Santa whether you were naughty or nice. “I told him that this year in Italy was a very difficult year and that you and all the children were adorable,” he wrote.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has received similar letters from children just as worried as Tommaso, among them 8-year-old Monti, who wrote: “Dear Mr. Johnson … I was wondering if you and the government had thoughts about Santa coming this Christmas,” suggesting he could leave hand sanitizer out alongside some cookies.
That would be an “excellent idea,” Johnson said in a response he tweeted on Wednesday, adding that according to his chief medical adviser, “provided Father Christmas behaves in his usual responsible way and works quickly and safely, there are no risks” to anyone’s health.
Further north, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in October that she knows “Santa will not be prevented from delivering … presents on Christmas Eve” as he is a key worker. “He’s got lots of magic powers that make him safe to do that,” she added.
The United States’ top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci has also said that Santa has “good innate immunity” and therefore will be exempt from regular restrictions because he won’t “be spreading any infections to anybody.”
So even in the face of the pandemic, Europe will at least be spared a Blue Christmas without Santa this year.
Sonia Khan is a director at Cicero/AMO and a former special adviser in Sajid Javid’s Treasury.
LONDON — The spending review is usually the lesser-known sister of the U.K. government’s annual budget — and a bump in the road on the way to something much bigger.
For the seasoned Treasury official, it normally means it’s time to dust off the battle wear and stock up on heart-pumping treats to keep the blood sugar up. Against the backdrop of COVID-19, however this year’s spending review means so much more.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s big moment marks the first time we will get a sense of what domestic policy making could look like beyond the pandemic. And it’s as much about what the chancellor doesn’t say today as what he does — the policies that aren’t announced and the departments that are rarely spoken of.
Spending reviews are dedicated to the allocation of government spending for the next year, without the distraction of a discussion on taxes. So we will get to see which policy areas are being prioritized, which are being put on the back-burner, and which are on their way out.
In this review, the green revolution, infrastructure and defense are clearly set to do well. But what about overseas aid? How will we bolster our trade capabilities post-Brexit? How will our welfare system cope with the steep rise in unemployment? Small, local infrastructure projects seem to be in favor, but what of the High Speed 2 railway project and other major schemes? How will the future of 5G figure alongside plans for greater connectivity? The answers to these questions will give us a sense of the big policy trends and an indication of the government’s priorities: Will this be a government of smooth roads and better local services, or of big, nationally-driven innovation projects?
It’s the spending review which will sow the seeds of Boris Johnson’s promised reset — and commentators will be looking at who has had an influence on the review as much as what’s been decided. Fiscal hawks will consider whether the Treasury has been emboldened to return to its conservative ways on public spending — now that some of the alleged proponents of higher state spending are no longer in government.
For both the prime minister and the chancellor, then, the spending review marks the first time their politics will be defined. Are they libertarians who want to devolve power to the regions and give people more control over their lives? Or do they think state intervention is needed to make us more prosperous? Which of their political heroes will they emulate — Churchill, Thatcher — or someone else?
It’s a challenge both men know well, having tried to maintain balance in a political party which is divided along similar ideological lines.
For Sunak, it will go deeper still. With the independent forecasting body, the Office for Budget Responsibility, expected to publish gloomy forecasts on the nation’s economy, the chancellor will have to decide what role he wants to play. Will he remain the chipper chancellor willing to spend our way to success — or will he become the more melancholy caretaker, taking on the role adopted by chancellors past who have prioritized curbing spending and debt?
Businesses will look to Sunak to set a path — and the part of his speech focused on the macroeconomics will be more important than ever. It will offer the first sign of how our economy moves forward, of the difficult choices ahead, where the burden for revenue-raising will fall, and the timeline to the next budget.
This year, we can clearly see how these decisions will impact our own lives. Will our shopping become more expensive if interest rises? Will there be a stampede for house-buying next year when the stamp duty freeze ends? Will the COVID-19 employment schemes reach a new cliff edge — and what will that mean for jobs?
This is not a normal spending review because we’re not in normal times. Decisions on the political path ahead, so far left unanswered amid the pragmatic response to COVID-19, will now be pressing. Sunak has experience in making tough choices — the COVID-19 business support schemes included clear losers as well as winners. But this time, we’ll be looking out for winners and losers on a bigger scale.
The spending review could well be the “last hurrah” before trickier decisions are made. But the main questions for this government still stand. Who do they want to be? How will Johnsonism and Sunakism be defined in the history books — and how will that differ from the platform on which they were elected?
Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is more than 95 percent effective and will be free for all Russian citizens, the government announced Tuesday.
Moscow’s Gamaleya Research Institute, which serves under the Russian health ministry, said in a release that international markets will be able to purchase the serum for $10 per dose, with patients requiring two.
This would mean Sputnik V is “cheaper than mRNA vaccines with similar efficacy levels,” the institute said, referring to the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna candidates.
If those claims are true, it would put Russia’s vaccine candidate in a unique position compared to other promising vaccines. Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna candidates have efficacy of over 90 percent, too, but they use a brand-new mRNA formula that will need to be kept in subzero conditions.
The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine was found to have similar effectiveness, but it can be stored in standard fridges, which reduces costs. The Sputnik V uses the same viral vector technique, allowing it to be stored in similar conditions, the Russian institute said.
Russia’s announcement in August that it had found a vaccine candidate both shocked and excited the world, but was promptly met with criticism and concerns over transparency.
Notwithstanding Tuesday’s findings, independent researchers have expressed trepidation.
Ian Jones, of the University of Reading, said that the “the Sputnik dose […] is twice that of the Oxford full dose yet appears not to have had any issues of inhibition. What exactly the ideal dose is for these adenovirus vectored vaccines is therefore a little uncertain.”
In the fifth chapter of The Wonk’s Survival Guide to the European Green Deal, POLITICO looks at efforts to help vulnerable regions, people and industries prepare for a low-emissions future.
Workers on the front lines of the green transition
The Green Deal is forcing people to retrain and sometimes to relocate.
By KARL MATHIESEN and KALINA OROSCHAKOFF
Thorsten Pfirmann has a harsh message for young people looking for a lifelong, stable job in the coal-fired power industry — it’s not going to happen.
“I am trying to share my example, that every person needs to change, to learn something new, move ahead,” he said over the phone. “I tell them: ‘If you come to the plant, aged 22, with the fixed notion that you’ll be working in the same workshop when you retire at 60 — it’s not going to be like that. You’ll have to develop.’”
That was his own journey. Pfirmann’s career began at a hard coal power plant in Karlsruhe, in southwestern Germany. In 1987 he joined as a trainee to become an industrial mechanic. “I was 15. Very young. My father told me, ‘Go there, there you’ll have a secure workplace, good conditions, good payment, good further education.’”
Now, at the age of 49, he’s a member of the Worker’s Council of energy company EnBW and last year spent 100 days on the road to help negotiate the country’s phase out of coal. Germany agreed to dump the dirty fossil fuel no later than 2038 — a deal painstakingly agreed by the federal government, states, industries and unions.
That shift is crucial both to Germany’s climate goals and to the EU’s Green Deal aim of becoming climate neutral by 2050, although campaigners complain it’s much too slow.
While those policies were hammered out in meeting rooms in Berlin and Brussels, their impact is most keenly felt on the ground. It’s forcing ordinary people to retrain and shift careers, something that’s generating both political and economic tensions across the EU.
“Most have understood that the coal industry is dying,” Pfirmann said. “We want to show alternatives.” That means everything from new labor agreements to creating new jobs, and training people to do them.
“Green politicians would come here, say, ‘Relax, the coal industry is losing jobs but there are new wind power jobs’ … but they are in Hamburg and Rostock and not in Karlsruhe. That kind of talk is maddening for people,” Pfirmann said, warning that cavalier attitudes toward the human dimension of going green is “what’s sinking or raising public acceptance for the energy transition.”
From fish to gas to politics
In the Danish port of Esbjerg, change and opportunity are more familiar neighbors.
Like many local men of a certain age, 52-year-old Jakob Lykke started his working life on the trawlers in what was once the country’s largest fishing port. When the North Sea oil and gas boom arrived in the ’70s and ’80s, he quit fishing and went back to school.
“That’s what the people from Esbjerg know. They know when there’s a transition on the way. A lot of them were getting a new education so they can work in the oil and gas industry,” he said.
He worked the rigs and then the docks, as oil and gas ruled Esbjerg for three decades. The 2014 oil price crash and the growing offshore industry changed things yet again.
“I remember this clearly, five years ago now … When you came to Esbjerg you could see 40-50 kilometers away the … installation ships” lining up to collect new wind turbines, he said. Esbjerg was no longer just an oil and gas town.
A lifelong union member, Lykke’s own career has turned increasingly toward helping workers develop new skills. He took on work as a trainer, and has risen to be chairman of 3F, Denmark’s most powerful union. He’s now campaigning to be mayor of his native town.
Education is at the core of the transition, he believes. His membership is split between the roaring wind sector (to which the EU gave a boost last week when it announced its goal to expand capacity by 25 times in 30 years) and around 1,500 well-paid oil and gas workers. Many of those, Lykke said, are “scared” about the future “because every politician and also the EU are talking about green development and transition.”
Unlike the wrenching transition facing German coal workers, the skills acquired on a Danish oil rig can be redeployed without moving away. A rig technician can learn the safety requirements to clamber up a wind turbine in a few weeks.
“That’s the reason why I’m using a lot of my time to make the education for them. So when they are closing down the oil platform, they have the education, so they can move from oil gas to the industry with wind without problems,” he said.
“This is the chance and we must take it,” he tells concerned workers. “We are not fighting against it, we’re fighting with it.”
Slovakia’s car industry faces Green Deal fears
The world’s leading car producer braces for the electric vehicle revolution.
By JOSHUA POSANER
Ladislav Kamenický admitted he was scared. It was October 2019, and the Slovak finance minister was at a small meeting of politicos and think-tankers near a crystalline lake high up in the Tatra Mountains.
The topic that had him nervously running through his country’s economic profile was the car industry — Slovakia’s major manufacturing base and driver of employment. “The automotive industry is in transformation, and I see in the future a completely different landscape,” Kamenický told POLITICO at the time.
The danger to Slovakia comes from the accelerating shift to electric cars — a technology that will be needed if the EU is to slash greenhouse gas emissions from transport and hit its Green Deal target of becoming climate neutral by 2050.
That’s because Slovakia made a winning bet on combustion-engine cars. It’s the world’s largest carmaking country per capita, with the sector accounting for 13 percent of GDP and employing 275,000 people. The industry encompasses everything from small-parts suppliers to enormous factories owned by Volkswagen, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia and Peugeot churning out finished models. The industry has driven the transformation of the country of 5.4 million from the rust belt of Czechoslovakia to a modern EU economy.
But electric vehicles are a completely new industry — and the worry in Slovakia is that there will be fewer factory jobs for making EVs than to assemble conventional cars, and those might not be located in Central Europe. Battery-powered cars need five to 10 times fewer parts than existing models, Kamenický said, “I’m scared of what will be if the automotive industry will not be in Slovakia,” he said.
The country’s short-term prospects remain positive. After suspending plans to relocate production to Turkey, Volkswagen agreed this month to move assembly of Passat and Škoda Superb models to its plant in Bratislava. That will create new jobs, but further anchors the production of internal combustion engine vehicles in Slovakia.
The EU’s drive to phase out conventional cars means there will have to be a change. Brussels is mandating a slash of 90 percent in transport emissions by 2050, so only zero-emissions cars will make the grade. Slovakia makes only a few of those.
Labor unions are fretting over what’s to come. “If four more foreign carmakers come to Slovakia today, our standard of living will not fundamentally improve, we will still be just a production workshop,” said Peter Mrázik, a trade union official at the Jaguar Land Rover plant near Nitra in western Slovakia.
He says nine out of every 10 future jobs will require digital skills, putting conventional assembly line workers on the back foot. “Increasingly, we are lagging behind in digitization, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, bioengineering, the green economy, advanced services and infrastructure,” said Mrázik. “Slovakia is one of the most endangered countries.“
The solution, according to the Slovak auto industry’s biggest cheerleader in Brussels, is creating a regional supply chain to keep the country competitive in electromobility. “Slovak car plants are among the most modem in the world,” said Maroš Šefčovič, a Commission vice president who has spearheaded the EU’s push to fund its own battery cell industry.
He says Slovakia can, with targeted EU funding, be at the center of a new regional supply chain for battery electric vehicles in the future. “There are solid reserves of lithium in the Czech Republic,” Šefčovič said. “Slovakia should build a gigafactory and research and development center, and then there is discussion with Hungary concerning a [battery] recycling plant.” He pointed to InoBat, which wants to build a battery cell plant in Slovakia, and has secured funding from Czech utility CEZ while lodging an application for more financing with the European Investment Bank.
There are already other companies springing up in Slovakia to support clean mobility. “We know that our small country is really known for automotive,” said Juraj Ulehla, a former investment banker who co-founded Voltia, which converts and leases electric vans, and Greenway, which is rolling out fast charge points across Central Europe. “On the other hand, such a dependency creates a potential problem for the future if the switch to electric is not done.”
“It is not only a problem for Slovakia, but here it is maybe more visible,” he said. “The revolution has already started.”
Nette Nöstlinger contributed reporting.
A rearguard action against one of Germany’s last coal projects
Germany’s hard-fought phase-out doesn’t mean an immediate end to mining, as one village is discovering.
By KALINA OROSCHAKOFF
KEYENBERG, Germany — Coal-fired power ends no later than 2038 in Germany — but that’s not soon enough for Barbara Oberherr. The 60-year-old faces eviction from her home in the bucolic village of Keyenberg to make way for the expansion of an open-pit coal mine, Garzweiler II, operated by utility RWE.
“You cannot replace home — for no money in the world,” she said.
Keyenberg in North Rhine-Westphalia has the bad luck of being one of the last communities to be destroyed by coal. The Garzweiler open-pit mine expansion has sparked fierce resistance from locals and climate campaigners, but RWE insists that the project has to go ahead to ensure the region’s energy security.
The political dustup is one of the results of the German government’s attempt to build a political consensus around ending the country’s use of coal to produce energy by 2038. But rather than provide for a smooth exit from the dirty fuel, the shift is fueling resistance in affected regions like Garzweiler — and providing Berlin with an unwelcome illustration of the difficulties in balancing environmental efforts against traditional political concerns like jobs and energy security.
RWE argues that mining the lignite is necessary while cleaner alternatives are being built up. Under this year’s German coal phase-out law, the company was given a guarantee to tap the lignite in Garzweiler for energy security reasons. By 2030, the company argues, it will have closed down two-thirds of its national power plant capacity, two of its three open-pit mines, and cut around 6,000 jobs.
On the other side of the divide are people like Oberherr, whose family has lived in Keyenberg for centuries. Her house is on the main street, which already shows signs of desolation. The butcher has gone. The local café has closed. “What you’ve got now, you won’t get back,” she said. “I don’t want to demonize the company … the politicians, it’s a tough business, but you’ve got to manage the jump.”
Other villages have had to make way in the past. Under lengthy resettlement programs, locals move to new, rebooted versions of their old villages, neighborhoods more akin to U.S. suburbia than western Germany’s rural hinterland.
Local campaigners, including Oberherr, filed an unsuccessful legal challenge against the coal exit law. The group, which is supported by NGOs like ClientEarth, argued that the law violates their fundamental rights to property, legal protection and dignity.
Oberherr has also become increasingly concerned about the environmental implications of the mine’s operation and of coal use. Opposition to the mine has spawned protest camps drawing students and campaigners from across the country. Their presence “gives you the strength to go on,” Oberherr said.
The government in Berlin and the region’s capital Düsseldorf are watching closely.
The coal exit law was the result of a fragile compromise following fraught negotiations among representatives from unions, local politicians, the energy industry and civil society. While the law means turmoil in parts of Germany’s energy industry and despair in places like Keyenberg, many campaigners say the bill was watered down, and argue the measures are too slow to seriously tackle Germany’s emissions .
That’s an argument government officials reject. The intervening period will be necessary to provide jobs in the affected regions and come up with alternative forms of energy production.
But for Oberherr, that distant green energy perspective won’t save her home, which is why she’s fighting to block the mine.
“I was raised in a strict way, but at [the age of] 58, I joined the opposition … we’re the last ones who can do something about it,” she said.
The price of decarbonization
Going green poses steep economic and political costs to the EU’s remaining carbon-heavy regions.
By LAURENZ GEHRKE
The collieries of the Welsh valleys, Wallonia and France’s Nord-Pas-de-Calais helped fire the Industrial Revolution and today’s climate change problem. They’re long closed, but coal still has a grip on parts of Europe.
Closing the last coal mines and shutting the remaining coal-fired power plants are crucial to the EU’s Green Deal target of reaching climate neutrality by 2050. But going green carries steep economic and political costs. Many of the traditional coal-reliant areas of Western Europe still haven’t recovered from the shock of the end of coal — and now the same problem awaits swaths of Poland, Romania, Germany, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.
It’s not just coal mines. The EU’s Just Transition Fund is aimed at carbon-intensive regions — largely those still reliant on old-fashioned smokestack industries that face a wrenching transition.
All photographs by Getty Images and iStock; illustration via iStock
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he sees Turkey as part of Europe, but stressed that Ankara will not give in to “attacks” and “double standards,” amid months of tensions with Brussels.
“We see ourselves as an inseparable part of Europe … However this does not mean that we will bow down to overt attacks to our country and nation, veiled injustices and double standards,” Erdoğan said Sunday in a speech to members of his AK Party, according to Reuters.
He added in more conciliatory remarks that “we do not believe that we have any problems with countries or institutions that cannot be solved through politics, dialogue and negotiations.”
Turkey is still formally a candidate to become an EU member, although EU and foreign affairs ministers decided to effectively freeze accession talks in June 2018.
More recently, tensions between the EU and Ankara have been rising over Turkey’s drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean in search for natural gas in disputed waters also claimed by Greece and Cyprus. The EU earlier this month extended its sanctions by one year over what it described as “Turkey’s unauthorised drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean” and EU leaders will discuss whether to impose further sanctions at a meeting next month.
Further fueling the conflict, Erdoğan called last Sunday for a “two-state” solution in Cyprus during a high-profile visit to the Turkish-Cypriot north of the island, which has been divided since Turkey’s 1974 invasion.
The EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell responded last Thursday, saying: “It is important that Turkey understands that its behavior is widening its separation from the European Union.”