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by Euro Reporter
2015-08-31 11:25:21
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France and Germany warn Vladimir Putin about Ukraine separatist elections

The leaders of France and Germany told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday that rebel-run elections conducted in the separatist-controlled regions of Ukraine would endanger the so-called Minsk peace process for the country, a German government spokesman said. Ukraine is obliged to hold local elections by the end of this year in the east under the cease-fire deal agreed between Kiev, Moscow, Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in Minsk, Belarus, on Feb. 12. The country will hold local elections on Oct. 25 but has said it won’t run elections in rebel-held areas in the east because of continued violence there.

The separatists have said they will hold their own ballots in mid-October and early November. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande and Mr Putin spoke by phone after the two western leaders met Monday with their Ukrainian counterpart in Berlin, urging all parties involved in the peace process to end the fighting that has recently flared up in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, who is reluctant to see the separatists legitimized, insisted at a meeting in Brussels on Thursday that his country’s Oct. 25 local elections can’t include areas where violence is still prevalent.

Mr Hollande’s office stressed the importance for Ukraine to go ahead with local elections. “The three heads of state and government also discussed the preparation of elections in Ukraine,” the French government said. “This election will be a major step in the implementation of Minsk measures.” In their phone call, Ms Merkel, Mr Hollande and Mr Putin also agreed that another Normandy summit between the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine “might be useful” in the coming weeks, the French government said.

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France cannot indulge the xenophobes on immigration

fr_400You thought the Eurozone crisis was bad. Today, Europe faces no greater challenge than the mass exodus of refugees seeking a haven from the carnage in Syria and the turmoil in North Africa and the Sahel. It is equally clear that both the EU’s response and its institutions have proved woefully inadequate. The question of immigration, a visceral issue in the way the single currency is not, is driving a wedge between EU populations and their governments, between member states and indeed between the EU itself and the values on which it was founded. France — a country at the same time Mediterranean, Atlantic and continental — is at the heart of this new storm. It has a xenophobic and illiberal force all too keen to take advantage of popular fears about the impact of migration in the shape of the National Front, Europe’s largest extreme right-wing party, with a base representing some 25 per cent of the electorate. But, until now, Paris has not indicated that it has any clue how to cope.

The current scale of Europe’s refugee problem is daunting. More than 100,000 boat-people arrived in the EU just in the month of July alone. The bloc’s leaders have agreed no coherent response. A recent meeting in Berlin between President François Hollande of France and Angela Merkel, German chancellor, proved particularly bereft of content. The divisions between member states are growing unsustainable, with Germany, taking on board some 40 per cent of the EU’s new asylum seekers, while Britain only takes 4 per cent and France a scarcely less dismal 8 per cent. Meanwhile pleas by Brussels and Berlin for the EU to share out asylum seekers equitably between member states have fallen on barren ground. Each country is preoccupied with its own story — as Britain is, for example, with the rise of net migration to all-time highs. Beggar-my-neighbour stances by established parties and outright xenophobia by their insurgent challengers are on the rise.

The recent attack aboard a Thalys high-speed train between the Netherlands and France has further stoked fears of cross-border terrorism and mutterings about the Schengen area of passport-free travel. The deliberate conflation by demagogues of immigration, the refugee exodus, the spread of Islam and jihadi terrorism is as emotionally powerful as it is factually spurious. This is a backdrop against which a noxious force such as the National Front can prosper. It is France’s good fortune that the far-right group has largely sabotaged itself through the spat between Marine Le Pen, its leader, and Jean-Marie Le Pen, her father and the party’s founder. But Ms Le Pen and her forces have time to retrieve their position before 2017’s presidential elections, and are already dragging French politics towards the anti-liberal, anti-European right. France needs a principled and more coherent alternative to the National Front; the EU needs a response to the immigration crisis that lives up to rather than falls short of its values. At present, most EU member states, France included, are not providing the systematic right of asylum to which war-refugees are entitled under international humanitarian law or by common decency.  This may not matter to the National Front’s core electorate, but it does mean that mainstream policy has largely conceded defeat when it comes to values. Europe is better than this; so is France. Europe’s leaders need to live up to our responsibilities as humans and as neighbours, assume part of the burden, and talk straight to the electorate. Continued European and French fecklessness will only improve the far-right’s prospects of success, and deepen what is already an unprecedented crisis.

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Marine Le Pen calls for end to legal immigration to France

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has called for an end to all immigration to France, legal and illegal. In a speech aimed at rallying her Front National (FN) ahead of regional elections, she failed to mention her father's expulsion from the party but did lay into immigrants, Islamists and President François Hollande. "They don't tell you this but the immigration situation in France is totally out of control," Le Pen said at a meeting to mark the start of France's new political season. "My aim is clear: to stop immigration both legal and illegal." The FN's programme officially calls for immigration to be limited to 10,000 people per year but Le Pen went further, declaring, "We need national borders for France."

Undocumented immigrants should not receive state-funded medical care and social security payments to asylum-seekers should end, she said. Repeating a demand she made after the 21 August failed attack on a high-speed train from Belgium to France, she called for "all foreigners on file for links with radical Islamist movements to be deported", adding that "radical mosques" should be closed and their imams be thrown out of the country if they are foreigners. Hollande was a "do-nothing president", she told her audience in the village of Brachay, where she 72 per cent of the votes in the last presidential election. The current farming crisis should be solved by scrapping the Common Agricultural Policy, Le Pen said. "No compromise is possible with the European Union."

The FN president did not mention this summer's bruising battle with her father that resulted in his expulsion. Jean-Marie Le Pen has announced his intention of turning up at the FN's summer school in Marseille on 5-6 September. The new party leadership is unlikely to give him a hearty welcome.

 


     
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