Posts tagged ‘Italy’
Fears of a new wave of immigration are stalking western Europe. The row between France and Italy is symptomatic of the tensions. Today’s meeting between President Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi was intended to calm the situation, and an agreement was reached to modify Schengen to allow for “exceptional circumstances”, but France is the clear demandeur that the Schengen agreement must be modified to allow stricter cross-border controls.
France argues that it already faces a major crisis. It took tough measures when the train between Ventimiglia and Menton, carrying Tunisian refugees who had been granted residence permits by the Italian authorities, was held up at the French border for seven hours. French officials refused entry for around 1,500 would-be entrants.
It seems that up to 30,000 people from Tunisia and Libya have already been registered by Italian immigration, most of them having fled via Lampedusa, and there is widespread concern that these numbers could swell in the backwash of revolutions across the Arab world, and especially the conflict in Libya.
All the emphasis is currently on France and Italy. Sarkozy must contend with the surging popularity of the Front National, while Berlusconi requires the support of the fiercely anti-immigrant Northern League to sustain his government. But of course the refugee issue has a political impact right across Europe.
Belgian immigration minister Wathelet has taken a tough line. The True Finns party in Finland, which has won 19 per cent of the seats in the recent elections, is calling on Finland to quit Schengen, while the prospect of Bulgaria and Rumania joining the Schengen agreement has become more problematic.
There are also major implications for the UK, although outside the Schengen agreement. British governments need no reminder of the squatter camps in northern France which refugees used as launching pads for illegal immigration to Britain. Indeed, it was Sarkozy, when he was a minister, who closed the camps – an act for which London is eternally grateful. If Italy is in the front line of the refugee pressure, France is not far behind. It is reported that already 1,000 refugees have gathered near the Gare du Nord for the Eurostar to London.
The European Commission is reluctant to accept that there is a refugee crisis and has turned down Italy’s request for special help – so triggering the decision to grant residence permits to the Tunisian travellers and send them on to France. Commission policy is to press the Tunisian government to speed up the homeward return of its nationals. Indeed, President Barroso has scolded Tunis for not doing enough to control the flow. A further €140m from EU funds is being allocated to Tunisia over three years to assist repatriation in addition to €257m already committed to help the country’s reconstruction.
The nub of Europe’s problem is that nobody knows how each of the Arab revolutions will turn out, nor what the implications will be for neighbouring countries. Civil war, for instance in Libya or Syria, could drive many thousands to leave their home countries, while economic stagnation in say, Egypt or Tunisia could cause other migrants to join those already travelling from sub-Saharan Africa in search of work.
The European Union must get its act together, supporting EU countries which face the biggest immediate challenges, and providing help for Arab neighbours (once it has identified their differing needs) to stabilise their societies and stimulate their economies, which is the only long-term remedy for the refugee issue.
Shai and Batya Mesisenberg from Petah Tikva are the founders of one of the groups which support the city of Sderot, in the Gaza Strip. Sderot is daily bombed by Qassam rockets from Hamas and assists to the massive Israeli army’s raids. Weary by the non-intervention of their politicians, Shai and Batya decided to show on their group, with the involuntary help of the NASA, how to make rockets*. Instructions are available through a link to the Nasa Rocket Science 101.
We have recently seen how Facebook can become a parallel field for electoral campaigns – see post “Return to work (or Facebook as it’s now called”) – and in a democratic environment this is just an evidence of how politicians need to undertake new paths to communicate with their audience. No worries, if the message is, with the due variation, something common like “Vote for me and my party”. One may think that this new kind of communication could represent a new way for a closer relationship between politicians and common people. Especially in some areas where the political debate is polluted by a distorted information and a rough social environment.
What Shai and Batya Mesisenberg are indirectly saying is that there’s an extreme need for real and concrete responses from politicians and when they don’t give them, they create an empty space that people try to fulfill by themselves, which is something already happening also in some democratic and developped countries like Italy – see post “Italy’s comic turn”.
This sort of “Bombing for dummies” digital handbook** should not only alarm for its content itself (which could also be read as a self-defence attempt), but it should lead to a deeper consideration about what takes people to bypass politics and politicians. It would be insane if the bridge between reality and the political debate was built by strong but blind and angry forces.
*See The Jerusalem Post of 11th February.
**The group’s description says “It cannot be so difficult: if those retards from the Gaza Strip can do it then so can you”.
Another Prodi government falls, albeit with at least some grace. The FT joins the recent chorus of English language newspapers reveling in a beautiful country’s ugly decline. Italy looks on with resigned disdain at a distant political class seemingly incapable of action. Perhaps it takes a comic to believe that some form of pride can be restored to the country through a hard hitting blog and a web-based election list where anyone can put themselves forward as a candidate?
Comic come internet activist leader, Beppe Grillo, chose yesterday the day of Prodi’s demise to launch his Civic Lists on his popular blog (available in Italian, English and Japanese). The lists are the promised follow up to the first Vaffa Day and his push for a popular law to clean up Italian politics. Potential candidates should not be or have been members of political parties or hold a criminal record to put forward their candidacy on the website for standing on lists for local elections. Can Beppe and his lists make a difference? Hopefully, yes, in some small way. Another Vaffa Day is due in April.
It seems to be Facebook’s moment at present. Everywhere we look people are talking about it – whether its our own FH Digital London colleagues debating whether MySpace is better or the Economist profiling Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg this week, it can not be long before Facebook becomes a verb and pays out to its founder (and perhaps his friends). However, we keep asking ourselves whether any of this is of relevance to what we do (see What is Public Affairs).
Undoubtedly, the 30 million people on Facebook could be a powerful network of people if they actually did anything together other than share photos from last night, poke each other and set up groups such as “If I were an enzyme i would be DNA helicase so i could unzip your genes” (at time of writing current membership of 110,880 with 3680 posts).
Happily the applications function of Facebook seems to make using Facebook to do stuff interesting stuff a distinct possibility. There is a petitions application and the US sites such as www.change.org have jumped onboard.
As such, we thought we would test it out on our own little pet project – getting WiFi installed in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. It is not admittedly a noble aim, but a good trial of potential in any case. The Italian Parliament has recently announced it will install WiFi, we think the European Parliament should do the same; allowing assistants and others without offices the ability to work from the communal areas of the Strasbourg building, such as the infamous flower bar.
Taking our lead from the millions signed up by http://oneseat.eu, we have launched a petition. You can sign up here (though if you are not on Facebook you shall need to sign up to that first). While you are at it we have also created a Facebook group “We’ve been to Strasbourg once too often” to share comments, dinner recommendations, events and chat about the monthly decamp to the Alsatian capital. It is an open group, so please join and contribute your meanderings.
We would also be happy to hear from you about the best PA tools available on Facebook’s applications – or indeed the tool you’d most like to see.
“Unity in Diversity” is the EU’s motto, although not of course officially. As it is true that to understand the EU we must at least occasionally look at what’s going on outside our Brussels Bubble, we thought we’d venture out into the light and commence our virtual Grand Tour of what’s going on out there in Member State land. This being the summer, as a first stop we followed the rest of Brussels and headed south to warmer climes in Italy.