Showing posts with label EU. Show all posts
Showing posts with label EU. Show all posts

February 16, 2017

Russian Plant in WH is Discovered-What Else is Putin up to Now?

 Putin with “Bebe”(as Trump Called him) in visit to Kremlin
Former White House national security advisor Michael Flynn looks like a Kremlin plant. Russian fighter jets are buzzing a U.S. Navy destroyer at close range. One of its spy ships is hanging out off the east coast. And last night, we learned President Donald Trump’s campaign aides were in contact with Russian intelligence officials last year. But don’t think Russian President Vladimir Putin is playing the U.S. for a fool just because solely because he despises America—there’s a lot of precedent for these tactics.

Putin’s Kremlin has been hacking and meddling in the domestic affairs of its neighbors in Europe since the 2000s, so they had a lot of practice leading up to its alleged hacking of the Democratic National Committee. Be it the cyber attacks against Estonia in 2007, the hacking of Georgia’s government internet servers during its war against the country in 2008, the power grid hack in Ukraine in 2015 and its fake news offensives in Europe against opponents of nationalists politicians who favor the Kremlin, the Russians are pros at engineering chaos in a country’s political affairs.

Below is a brief history of how the Kremlin has masterfully meddled in its neighbors’ affairs, and how this kind of high-level destabilization is a new kind of warfare.

The Lead Up To Russia Hacking Estonia In 2007

In April and May of 2007, Russian hackers launched a series of cyber attacks that shut down dozens of government and corporate sites in Estonia for weeks. The denial-of-service attacks overwhelmed state-owned websites and commercial servers, forcing them to shut off access from outside of the country in some cases. (Russia denied any involvement.)

This all started when the Estonian government decided to relocate a six-foot-tall bronze statue in downtown Tallinn commemorating the fallen soldiers of World War II. The decision drew many ethnic Russians to the streets because they felt it was a slap in their faces. As far as the Estonian government was concerned, it was a symbol of colonialism that needed to be removed from downtown. (A little background: The Nazis occupied Estonia, along with the other Baltic nations Lithuania and Latvia, during the war. When the Soviets defeated the Nazis, they decided to stay and set up shop in the country until 1991 when the USSR fell. Roughly a quarter of the country is ethnic Russian, and Soviet imagery means a lot to them.)

In any case, the mere thought of moving the statue infuriated Moscow and is widely viewed as the motivating factor behind its hacking of the Estonian government’s internet systems.

The hack was preceded by a fake news offensive with Russian-leaning news sites claiming the Estonians cut the statue into pieces, making ethnic Russians in the country even angrier. Of course, as CNN reported, that wasn’t true at all. But the damage was already done. Ethnic Russians, who were already pissed that they were marginalized by the state (long story), had another reason to rise up against the government and develop a protectionist attitude towards Moscow.

The Estonians have since beefed up their digital security and are aiming to become what they call “a hack-proof government.” Now, no country is really hack-proof, but they’re giving it a go—having Russia as a neighbor gives them incentive to try. The U.S. would be wise to take a few lessons from the Estonian experience.

The Georgian President Became Hitler In 2008

I was in Georgia in August of 2008 when the Russians hacked into that country’s government computer systems. The hacking took place during its short, eight-day war with Russia, which was prompted by Georgian forces invading South Ossetia because they claimed the Russians were preparing to attack them first.

As far as the hack goes, David Hollis, a senior policy analyst with the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and a reserve Army officer at U.S. Cyber Command, said the hacks in Georgia were concealed through third-parties, making it harder to link the attacks back to Moscow, according to Foreign Policy.

According to Hollis, Russian offensive cyber operations began several weeks before the outbreak of the more familiar kinetic operations. Russian cyberintelligence units conducted reconnaissance on important sites and infiltrated Georgian military and government networks in search of data useful for the upcoming campaign. During this period, the Russian government also began organizing the work of Russian cybermilitias, irregular hackers outside the government that would support the campaign and also provide cover for some of the government’s operations. During this period the government and cybermilitias conducted rehearsals of attacks against Georgian targets.

When the kinetic battle broke out on Aug. 7, Russian government and irregular forces conducted distributed denial-of-service attacks on Georgian government and military sites. These attacks disrupted the transmission of information between military units and between offices in the Georgian government. Russian cyberforces attacked civilian sites near the action of kinetic operations with the goal of creating panic in the civilian population. Russian forces also attacked Georgian hacker forums in order to pre-empt a retaliatory response against Russian targets. Finally, the Russians demonstrated their ability to disrupt Georgian society with kinetic and cyber operations, yet refrained from attacking Georgia’s most important asset, the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline and associated infrastructure. 

By holding this target in reserve, the Russians gave Georgian policymakers an incentive to quickly end the war.

It is important to note that Georgia’s former president, Mikheil Saakashvili, won office in 2004 after leading a pro-west “Rose Revolution” that aimed for EU and NATO membership. This irked Putin and put Saakashvili in Putin’s crosshairs onward.

Hackers were even able to create a collage of Saakashvilli photos next to images of Hitler. A widespread information war ensued with Russian television broadcasting RT-style coverage placing all of the blame on for the war on the Georgian government. Walking through the streets of Batumi, a sea resort town in western Georgia, during the middle of this, I often ran into Georgians who were just as angry with Saakashvili as they were with Putin. Though the country rallied in protest against Russia’s actions, the information war against Georgia’s leadership had done its damage.

Ukraine’s Power Grids Hacked In 2015 

A quarter million people in the Ivano-Frankivsk region of Ukraine lost power in December of 2015, after Russian hackers attacked its power girds, as reported by CBS News. Unable to respond, workers at the electric control center filmed the blackout with their cellphones. But the cyber attack went even further. Emails with infected attachments were sent to employees that collected their login information, leading to the loss of power at nearly 60 substations.

Russia, as usual, said, “It wasn’t me.”

The Ukrainians restored power in just a few hours, but experts told CBS News that such an attack in on U.S. power grids could take days to repair because our grids, which are automated and far more advanced, are more complicated to fix.

At any rate, the motive behind the hacks is tied to its two-year war against Kyiv in eastern Ukraine, where Moscow supports anti-government rebels. Nearly 10,000 people have died since the conflict began.

Now The Kremlin Is Hacking Europe

Just this week, French presidential frontrunner Emmanuel Macron’s party chief, Richard Ferrand, claimed Russia is running a cyberattack against the candidate, according to France 24. The attacks, Ferrand said, are mainly targeting its databases and email boxes. Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate competing with Macron for the presidency in May, is a Kremlin darling whose National Front party has received millions in loans from Russian banks to fund party activities.

It is widely believed that the Kremlin has a vested interest in Le Pen because she wants France to leave the European Union and seeks for France to become more isolationist. This would favor Putin, who is very suspicious of the EU, NATO and other international bodies that he feels threaten Russia’s security and economic interests.

Germany and the Netherlands have also charged Russia with attempting to influence its political affairs by launching cyber attacks against left-wing candidates so that nationalist ones that favor the Kremlin have a better shot at winning.

What does all of this mean, exactly?

Russia is a exercising a multi-prong attack that doesn’t require a single missile or bullet to be fired. With cyberattacks against a sovereign nation, Moscow doesn’t have to worry about a military reaction because NATO doesn’t have clearly established protocols on how to retaliate against hacking. This is all new territory for everyone involved, including the United States.

That said, Trump is clearly losing the optics warfare game against Putin right now. If Russia can look like it placed a compromised national security advisor in the White House, what is stopping the Kremlin from trying it in Europe, where most of its leadership looks to Washington for protection against a much bigger Russia?

June 29, 2016

Putin is Loving BREXIT But Wait….




There is no doubt that Moscow was hoping for Britain to leave the European Union. Its propaganda channels such as RT eagerly championed the "Leave" case, and following the narrow but clear vote in the UK to leave the EU, Russian newspapers and commentators were jubilant.
It’s not so much Brexit itself that matters to the Kremlin, but rather the hope that this will generate yet more division and distraction in the West. But Vladimir Putin ought not to regard this as an undiluted win, because there are some buried risks for Russia, too.

A Europe focused on its own internal problems is one not focused on Russia’s transgressions

The Kremlin’s calculation is that the Brexit referendum will not only lead to protracted negotiations over Britain’s withdrawal but will also encourage other fragmentary pressures.
Already, populists across Europe are calling for their own referendums, from France's Front National and the Dutch Party for Freedom on the right to the Five Stars movement in Italy on the left.
There is also a new enthusiasm for secession in Scotland by the Scottish Nationalists, who narrowly lost an independence referendum in 2014, and in Italy from the Lega Nord, which campaigns for the independence or autonomy of northern Italy from Rome.
Although there is no evidence of any meaningful Russian impact on Brexit, its propaganda machine and covert "active measures" operations are much more active and effective in continental Europe — for example, the Front National received an $11.7 million loan from a Russian bank in 2014.
Russian assets will continue to be thrown behind these various campaigns. But regardless of whether these parties and movements succeed, as long as Europe is occupied with its own internal problems, then as far as Putin is concerned, the Kremlin wins.
It’s not that Putin expects or necessarily even wants the EU to fall apart. After all, he does not harbor any imperialistic designs on Europe. What he wants is a West too disunited and inward-looking to be able meaningfully to resist Russian adventurism in its self-claimed sphere of influence.
Already, figures such as Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin have suggested that Britain’s departure will lead to a relaxation of the sanctions regime imposed on Russia since it annexed Crimea and invaded southeast Ukraine.
Putin is also hoping that turmoil in Europe will infect NATO, undermining its coherence. Governments needing to shore up their domestic support or facing separatist political campaigns at home may be less committed to maintaining or increasing their defense expenditure, for example, or to deploying troops to support their allies.
Finally, a post-Brexit Britain is likely to suffer prolonged economic troubles. Desperate to attract business, London may be tempted to ignore calls for greater transparency and accountability in its financial sector.
As a result, it would become a welcome hub for Russian dirty money and dubious business deals, allowing Moscow some opportunities to bypass the effects of Western sanctions.

But there are lots of ways this could backfire on Russia

For all this, there are some grounds to suggest the outlook will not be quite so purely beneficial for Russia.
The economic impact of Brexit is already mixed. Russia made a $3.7 billion paper profit on its gold reserves in the first 24 hours after the vote, as prices rose in response to global uncertainty.
But much of Russia’s foreign exchange reserves were in sterling, which duly shrank in value by about $1.2 billion in the same period. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak is also worried about the risks of a serious further slump in oil prices, on which the budget depends.
Konstantin Kosachev, chair of the Russian Senate’s foreign affairs committee, has warned that "if the EU gets weighed down in its own problems, and crosses the line into crisis, then it will affect our trade relations."
While Britain accounts for just 2.7 percent of Russia’s exports and 1.9 percent of its imports, the EU as a whole is the country’s main trading partner, accounting for about half of each. If Brexit has negative economic implications for the rest of the EU, then this will inevitably have knock-on effects on Russia, already stuck in a recession likely to last years.
The weaker the Russian economy, the harder it is to maintain the loyalty of the elites, to pacify the masses, and to keep spending on the modernized military on which Putin is relying for so much of his international clout these days.
Furthermore, if Brexit seriously weakens the EU, it might actually make Russia’s geopolitical position more challenging, not less.
In Moscow, it has become fashionable to sneer at the EU’s sluggish and hesitant foreign policy initiatives, constrained as they are by both bureaucratic inertia and a culture of consensus and conciliation. As one Russian foreign ministry staffer put it to me, "Europe just wants to make things nice for everybody."
However, there is also a growing recognition that the EU acts as a moderating influence on some of its more aggressive and ambitious members. A particular concern is Poland, a country with a growing economy, a desire to assert a strong regional role, longstanding antagonism toward Russia, and a strong, nationalist government.
Russia’s business ombudsman Boris Titov called Brexit "not the independence of Britain from Europe, but the independence of Europe from the US." However, while he claimed there would be a "united Eurasia" within a decade, the more immediate likelihood is that Washington will double down, not withdraw from Russia’s immediate strategic neighborhood.
If it feels that Europe is increasingly ineffective, a post-Obama White House may look more assiduously at cultivating direct regional relationships with Ukraine and in Central Asia. This would be a much more direct challenge to Moscow's authority, forcing it to come to terms with its lack of positive support and real soft power in Eurasia.
Overall, then, Putin may still have reasons to regret what he wished for. His ideal is an EU that is distracted, divided, and weakened, but not mortally so. He may, however, find that he has traded a cozy and polite neighbor for an uncertain, volatile, and sometimes aggressive one.
Mark Galeotti is a senior research fellow at the Czech Institute of International Affairs, a visiting fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations, and the director of Mayak Intelligence. He blogs at In Moscow’s Shadows and tweets as @MarkGaleotti.

June 28, 2016

UK Finance Minister: Taxes Going Up Spending Down After Brexit (Inter.Grph)


Finance minister George Osborne said on Tuesday that Britain would have to raise taxes and cut spending to deal with the economic challenge posed after Britons voted to leave the European Union.
Include the following visualization to show how various economic forecasts have predicted the Brexit will affect the UK's GDP.

Brexit is Not the End of England but Just a Part of It

This isn’t meant to scare you, but let’s consider the absolute worst-case scenarios of “Brexit.”

All over the world, political scientists and financial professionals have been hunkered down trying to game out the economic implications of Britain’s surprise decision to leave the European Union. Many of them had already done various calculations, but now that the decision is real, a surfeit of new scenarios has emerged.

Most of the war-gaming has been focused on the direct economic blow to Britain. But the catastrophe-shouting there has almost certainly been overly loud: Yes, Britain’s economy is likely to suffer in the near term as the government reconstitutes and tries to negotiate its divorce with Europe. And yes, the pound will probably continue to lose value, and the uncertainty of Britain’s relationship with Europe will paralyze investment until new rules of engagement are put in place.

All of which will makes markets around the world shudder, shrug and generally behave like petulant teenagers. “Stocks have entered a new realm of volatility, unlikely to abate anytime soon,” according to a Wells Fargo research note issued on Monday. It warned, “Get used to it.”

But it would be wrong to focus exclusively on Britain when considering the possible financial ramifications and permutations. In a truly dire scenario, Britain is just the leading domino. It’s the next dominoes — most likely across the Channel — that matter more.

“We see Brexit as just one step in a process that is unavoidable of further referendums by other nations to exit the E.U.,” Felix Zulauf, an investor who operates a hedge fund in Switzerland, wrote in a note on Monday, contending that “the damage” of Brexit “will therefore be far worse for the E.U. than for the U.K.”

Of far greater concern will be if other European Union countries attempt their own exits — even if their efforts are unsuccessful. More glimmers of no-confidence among nations in the consortium could ultimately lead to a crisis that would be felt far beyond Europe.

Consider this: Italy’s government is considering pumping as much as $45 billion into its banking system after the Brexit vote. Shares of the biggest Italian banks have fallen more than 20 percent since the results of the vote were announced. And Italian banks are considered particularly vulnerable because they hold hundreds of billions of euros in bad loans. If Brexit forces a material economic slowdown across the Continent, Italy’s banks — without a rescue plan — could significantly suffer.

Remember: There’s no need to panic now, at least not yet. But if, down the line, Italy’s economy were to falter and help from the European Union was not forthcoming without tough conditions — remember Greece and the possibility of Grexit? — we could witness the seceding of Italy, which will be the third-largest member of the consortium after Germany and France (assuming that Britain does officially leave).

That, in turn, could lead to a true catastrophe: Italy would probably be forced to return to the lira, which would most likely be tremendously devalued. An unstable lira would cause huge problems for investors and banks across the globe that have interests in Italy, as well as a massive credit crunch within the country. (By the way, you could replace “Italy” with “Spain” or “Portugal” in this scenario and end up in much the same place.)

Long before then, however, there is a decent chance that we will see another country — probably the Netherlands — try to make a run for it. After Britain voted to break away from the European Union, Geert Wilders, the populist leader of the Netherlands’ surging anti-immigrant Party for Freedom, posted on Twitter, “Hurray for the British.” He added: “Now it’s our turn. It’s time for a Dutch referendum.” He used this hashtag: #ByeByeEU.

The Netherlands is a relatively healthy country, so — as a matter of pure economics — the repercussions of its leaving the European Union would most likely be muted. But if Brexit wasn’t enough of an inspiration for other fiercely nationalistic and economically healthy countries to seek an exit, watching a place like the Netherlands that actually uses the euro (unlike Britain, which never switched from the pound) could prove to be a convincing model.

Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has already predicted that several countries will leave the European Union within the next five years, which is increasingly becoming the conventional wisdom. Given the low growth of so many countries in the union, it is hard to imagine that a populistic revolt won’t emerge.

“The global economy remains stuck in a deflationary expansion of minimal growth and minimal rates,” Merrill Lynch wrote in a note to investors on Monday. “And electorates are increasingly voting in the developed world against wage deflation, high unemployment, immigration and inequality.”

James Pethokoukis, a commentator at the American Enterprise Institute, recently found a memorandum written in 2011 during the euro crisis by Willem Buiter, the global chief economist at Citigroup, that imagined the destruction of the European Union. “A breakup of the Euro Area would be rather like the movie ‘War of the Roses’ version of a divorce: disruptive, destructive and without any winners,” he wrote, describing how “even a partial one involving the exit of one or more fiscally and competitively weak countries, would be chaotic.”

Here’s what would happen: “Exit, partial or full, would likely be precipitated by disorderly sovereign defaults in the fiscally weak and uncompetitive member states, whose currencies would weaken dramatically and whose banks would fail,” Mr. Buiter wrote at the time. “If Spain and Italy were to exit, there would be a collapse of systemically important financial institutions throughout the European Union and North America and years of global depression.”

For now, let’s hope these worst-case scenarios are just that.

June 23, 2016

Initial Brexit Results {Updated}

The initial Brexit results from Reuters show that 57.3% of the votes cast are in favor of remaining in the EU while 42.7% of the votes cast support leaving.
Include the following visualizations on current Brexit results and maps on the various political and economic unions in Europe.

As of 11:45PM Eastern on Thursday evening, the BBC has reported that the United Kingdom vote on Brexit will result in a decision to leave the European Union. Voter turnout is reported at over 70%, one of the largest in UK history.

November 13, 2015

Ukrainian Lawmakers Change their Minds on LGBT Rights [Why?]

 The EU helped bring Same Sex marriage in the Uk and now it helps a former satellite of the Soviet Union
accepts LGBT rights.

Ukrainian lawmakers have approved a bill that bans discrimination of gays, key legislation intended to help pave the way for visa-free travel between Ukraine and the European Union.
The 450-seat parliament on Thursday approved the bill with 234 votes. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hailed parliament's action as a "historic" move that brought the nation close to its longtime goal of winning the visa-free regime.
Ukrainian authorities have sought to forge closer ties with the EU amid a conflict with Russia, which annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and supported pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine.
The bill banning discrimination of gays at workplace had been rejected on four previous attempts, reflecting a strong opposition from those in parliament who saw the document as a challenge to the country’s Orthodox Christian traditions.
It’s not that the Ukrainian Parliament is pro gay civil rights.  These people were satellites of the USSR for an eternity in political years. After the USSR fell apart the European Union pushed for these nations allied with the former Soviet Union to be able to join the west’s European Union and incorporate themselves to the democracies of the West. 
The European Union proposed to the Ukraine to join them and be able to get Europeans travel there and visa verse without visas which is unwelcome for tourist and other business. The Ukrainians being in a bind of having to import natural Gas from Russia and other staples was anxious to strike a deal with the West to help untangled itself front he Soviet Union. But then the EU asked for the LGBT to have equal rights. There the old fashioned conservatives in Ukraine’s parliament balked and the EU said good bye!. 
Well, the Ukrainians have had a change of heart. Bread on the table is better than caring who loves whom. They have agreed to change positions and join the EU with their rules on Civil Rights. If the Republican in the US congress were dependent on the EU we would have had gay marriage a long time ago without a Supreme Court decision.
So as much credit we would like to give it to the Ukrainian Congress I will give all the credit to the EU!!!

November 3, 2015

Did Ireland’s Same Sex Referendum Change Activism? {Beware of referendums}


Five months after gay marriage was approved by the Irish public in a landmark referendum, the office of Irish president Michael Higgins formally signed the country’s new marriage equality law into effect on Thursday (29 October).
On that same day, on the other side of Europe, gay rights activists gathering in Athens from across the continent fretted that the high-profile victory could lead some to draw the wrong conclusions.

Activists generally oppose referendums, because when the majority is allowed to decide on the rights of a minority it rarely works out well for the minority. (Photo: Mortimer62)
The activists were meeting at the annual conference of the International Gay and Lesbian Association of Europe (ILGA).

The Irish victory loomed large over the occasion. It marked the first time a country approved gay marriage through a popular vote, was a major turning point in the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights. With the US Supreme Court legalising gay marriage in America just one month later, many gay people thought, "we've finally made it".

All countries in Cold-War-defined Western Europe, barring Italy and Greece, now have some form of legal recognition for same-sex couples.

The North Atlantic now has same-sex marriage on all of its shores, barring the rocky cliffs of Northern Ireland. Malta, often thought of as being an island outpost of the Vatican, shocked observers earlier this year when it not only enacted gay marriage, but also instituted the world's first legal recognition of transgender rights.

But don't put down the placards just yet, the ILGA leadership told the activists in Athens.

"I get very often the comment, 'now that you're starting to get marriage all over, surely you're nearly done,'" said Evelyn Paradis, secretary-general of the ILGA.

"No. The LGBTI equality agenda has never been all about marriage. Marriage is not the be all and end all."

She noted that for a lot of people, employment discrimination is actually a much more important issue than marriage, and there is still much work to be done on that front, particularly for transgender people.

Even on the marriage front, it should not be assumed that what happened in Ireland will inevitably be replicated in the rest of Europe. There is still no gay marriage in the countries of Central Europe, including Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

Swiss citizens may even vote to enact a constitutional ban on gay marriage in a referendum in February, becoming the first Western European country to do so. Such bans already exist in a handful of Eastern EU member states including Poland and Bulgaria. Russia's abuse of its LGBTI population, whether by the government or by its citizens, has become notorious.

The ferocious resistance and street protests by a large segment of the French public to last year's passage of gay marriage law in France showed that even in the West, the public still needs convincing regardless of the legislation on the books.

Be wary of referendums                            

So what lessons can be drawn from the Irish experience?

The referendum loomed large over this year's ILGA summit. Gráinne Healy, the chairwoman of Marriage Equality Ireland, who led the yes campaign, was greeted like a rock star as she gave her keynote speech.

Some in the audience were moved to tears as she described the jubilation felt after 62 percent of Irish voters said yes to marriage equality. But it was an awkward jubilation, she noted, because she disagreed with the very premise of the vote.

"Let's be clear, it was always the preferred option that marriage equality would be legislated for if at all possible," said Healy. "None of us campaigned to hold a referendum in the early days, referendums on the rights of a minority should never happen."

It is a conundrum for the gay rights movement as it moves on to a post-Ireland chapter.

Now the movement's most high-profile victory, perhaps the moment activists felt the most proud, was the result of a referendum in Ireland. But activists oppose such referendums on principle, because when the majority is allowed to decide on the rights of a minority it rarely works out well for the minority.

In the United States, almost all of the referendums held on the issue in the past 15 years have voted against gay marriage, including 'proposition 8' in California in 2008, which annulled the state's legislatively-enacted gay marriage.

Up next: Slovenia
Gay rights activists will again have to confront the referendum issue in December, when Slovenian voters will decide on whether to undo a gay marriage law passed by the government last year.

Before enacting the law, the Slovenian government had changed the constitution to expressly forbid referendums being called on issues of human rights, after a previous gay marriage law was undone by a referendum in 2012.

But the country's constitutional court ruled last week that gay rights cannot necessarily be considered human rights, at least not until the court has considered the question. A referendum will go ahead in December.

Slovenian gay rights activist and academic Roman Kuhar told the ILGA conference that although they will fight hard to convince voters, he is not optimistic.

"I guess we will have the same story again that happened in 2012 – a long painful period of lies, a situation where there's no dialogue possible," said Kuhar.

"They will recruit very disciplined and well-established networks of people who oppose this kind of legislation. They're very active on social media, and they have an even better network than Facebook – the church. The local priests are well organised and every Sunday they are telling people to go out for the referendum. And referendums in Slovenia are on Sunday mornings."

At the same time, the activists in the room had to acknowledge that the Irish gay marriage outcome felt a lot nicer than the French gay marriage law enacted in 2014, which was imposed by French President Francois Hollande from the top down with no public involvement. It left a question of legitimacy hanging over the decision, even though it had been passed by democratically-elected representatives of the people.

In Ireland, there is no doubt over whether gay marriage enjoys public support.

Lessons learned
Later in the day, gay rights activists from around Europe met in a workshop to discuss what lessons can be learned from the Irish example.

Healy told the attendants how her campaign convinced the public, and Gabi Calleja, an activist from Malta, described how her campaign convinced politicians. And while the activists appreciated the Irish example, they mostly felt that a referendum would not yield the same positive result in other countries such as Malta.

Sam Mueller, a campaigner with the Green Liberal party in Switzerland, noted that the Swiss referendum question in February will be couched in a question about tax reform, and many people probably won't even realise that their vote would have the effect of banning gay marriage.

"The fear is that people will think about the tax issue and not the marriage issue," he said. "So we will need to create videos like they did in Ireland to inform people about what their decision will mean to LGBTI people. We need to show them that it's about their neighbour or their friend."

Miha Lobnik, another activist from Slovenia, said there is not enough time between the court's decision last week and the referendum in December to conduct a campaign such as they had in Ireland.

"A referendum is not won like a football game, where two teams compete and the better one wins. It's about who brings more supporters to the stadium. That's why it’s very hard for us in countries with small LGBTI groups. It’s an excellent example that we have from Ireland, but we need more time for that", said Lobnik
European Commission comes out
The European Commission has been hesitant to get involved in the gay marriage debate because the EU has no power over civil marriage laws.

But next February the Commission is going to launch the first EU 'awareness campaign' to try to convince the European public that gay people should have equal rights.

The Commission is expected to soon release a new eurobarometer poll surveying Europeans' feeling about LGBTI people. The results, seen by this website, showed that a majority of Europeans support equal rights and gay marriage, but there is a big difference between member states. Gay activists still have a lot of work to do to change minds in Eastern Europe.

"For us it was a shock, we knew the situation was bad in some countries, but when suddenly you quantify the monster behind you, it becomes very scary," said Juan Gonzalez Mellizo, who works in the non-discrimination unit at the European Commission.

There is a stark East-West divide. For instance, while 91 percent of people in the Netherlands support gay marriage, only 17 percent in Bulgaria do.

The highest proportions of people who said they would be comfortable working with gay and lesbian colleagues were found at EU's Western extremes, with Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands and Sweden all responding around 90 percent positive.

It was the lowest in the EU's Eastern extremes, with only 21 percent in Slovakia saying they would be comfortable and 27 percent in Romania. Only 7 percent of people in Bulgaria said they would accept their child being gay.

Gonzalez Mellizo said the intention of the Commission’s awareness campaign is to turn the situation around by the time another survey is taken in two years. The campaign will target the countries where acceptance is the lowest, and it will focus in on the populations that are most likely to have their minds changed – youth and the 'movable middle'.

Just like the Ireland referendum marks a turning point in the LGBTI rights movement in Europe, the awareness campaign marks a turning point in EU involvement on this issue.

The previous Commission under Jose Manuel Barroso was more cautious on the issue of gay rights, saying it was a matter for member states. But the new Commission vice-president, Dutchman Frans Timmermans, says he feels passionately about gay rights, and while speaking at the ILGA annual gala in Brussels earlier this year, he hinted that the Commission could even pursue the issue of gay marriage and adoption rights based on EU guarantees of free movement.

The European courts could find that a gay couple married in one EU country who are unable to move to another member state because it wouldn't recognise their marriage is being presented with an unreasonable hurdle.

Such a Commission challenge is unlikely any time soon, however. In the mean time, the EU executive hopes that just focusing attention on the issue will be enough to change minds enough to spark action at national level, as was seen in Ireland. In effect, they want to emulate the Irish 'yes' campaign on a European scale.

"This is the coming out of the Commission," said Gonzalez Mellizo. "In the past years we were doing a lot, but quietly. We are changing from being supporters to being activists."

But the Commission is stressing that it needs the help of other activists to make what happened in Ireland happen across Europe. The LGBTI rights movement across Europe is now strategizing on how to pivot their strategy in a post-Ireland world.

NB: ILGA sponsors EUobserver's Focus section on Equality and LGBTI rights, but has no editorial influence over this or other articles

April 30, 2015

EU Limits Laws Banning Gays from Giving Blood

Test tubes at a Paris blood-collection center; the European Court of Justice issued a ruling Wednesday on France's ban on blood donations by gay men.ENLARGE  

The case at the European Court of Justice concerned France’s lifetime ban on blood donations by men who have had sex with other men. Similar legislation also exists in other EU countries, albeit many states are moving to loosen their restrictions
The ECJ said that scientific evidence that gay men are at a higher risk of carrying serious infectious diseases, such as HIV, can justify a ban in national legislation. In its assessment of the case, it pointed to data submitted to the court showing that the rate of infection with HIV among gay men in France was 200 times greater than that of the heterosexual population between 2003 and 2008. It also added that France had the highest rate of HIV infections among gay men of any country in Europe and Central Asia.
However, the ECJ said the French court that will ultimately rule on the French legislation had to check whether there were better and “less onerous” ways of protecting the recipients of donated blood from infection “other than permanent deferral from blood donation.”
“The principle of proportionality might not be respected” under the current blanket ban, it said.
The ruling comes as many countries—including France—are loosening restrictions on blood donations from gay or bisexual men. French Health Minister Marisol Touraine on Wednesday reiterated plans to change the questionnaire given to potential blood donors to focus on identifying risky behaviors. 
“Discrimination of donors based on their sexual orientation is unacceptable and only the security of recipient can justify limitations on blood donation,” Ms. Touraine said. She said a meeting with experts to propose a new questionnaire is foreseen for early May.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration announced in December it would reverse its lifetime ban, saying that modern screening methods made it unnecessary. However, the FDA still plans to reject blood from men who have had sex with another man in the past 12 months. 
The U.K. made similar changes to its assessment of suitable blood donors in 2011.
ILGA-Europe—the Europe chapter of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association—said Wednesday’s judgment doesn’t go far enough. 
“Stigmatization does not equate to proper management of blood donations,” said Sophie Aujean, ILGA-Europe’s senior policy and programs officer. The organization called on the French government to focus exclusively on risky behaviors and not on potential donors’ sexual orientation. 
Write to Gabriele Steinhauser at

December 3, 2014

EU Court Rules No More “gay tests” for Gay for Asylum Seekers


The EU's top court has ruled that refugees who claim asylum on the grounds that they are homosexual should not have to undergo tests to prove it.
Three men, including a Ugandan and one from a Muslim country, failed in their bids for asylum when a Dutch court said they had not proved their sexuality.
EU states including the UK have been criticised for their handling of gay asylum requests.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) says they must respect human dignity.
Its rulings apply to all EU member states. 
The case is significant across the EU because of a surge in the numbers of sub-Saharan Africans seeking asylum in Europe this year. Most African countries treat homosexuality as a crime.
The Czech authorities were criticised by the UN, EU and human rights activists in 2011 for using an erection or "phallometric" test - a practice dating back to communist times - to determine whether certain asylum seekers were gay.
Respecting dignity
In its latest ruling, the Luxembourg-based court said that determining a refugee's sexuality had to be consistent with EU law and respect their private and family life.
In particular, it said that evidence of homosexual acts submitted from tests or on film infringed human dignity, even if it was proposed by the asylum applicant. Allowing such evidence could result in it becoming a requirement, the court said.
While authorities could interview an asylum seeker to find out about their sexual orientation, questions could not be asked about their sexual practices.

An asylum seeker's failure to answer questions about their personal circumstances was not sufficient reason to reject their credibility. Nor was an applicant's failure to declare his homosexuality from the start, the judges said.
Treatment of gay, lesbian or bisexual refugees has become a key issue in the UK in recent months, after revelations that one asylum seeker was asked what one lawyer described as "shockingly degrading" questions.
A report by the UK independent chief inspector of borders and immigration in October found that more than one in 10 interviews involved questions of an "unsatisfactory nature".
The ECJ ruled last year that gay asylum seekers who had a genuine fear of imprisonment in African countries could claim refugee status, in response to another Dutch case.

In 2005 26 year old gay Iranian Hussein Nasseri shot himself in his car at a children's playground in Eastbourne days after hearing his second appeal against a Home Office decision to refuse him asylum had failed and that he was to be removed.

Three years ago 27 year old gay Iranian Shahin Portofeh was reduced to sewing his lips and eyes together in desperation to avoid once more being deported. Previously returned to Tehran, he was jailed, lashed, tortured and ultimately faced execution. He somehow managed to escape from custody and return to the UK. Eventually Shahin was allowed to stay.

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