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December 22, 2016

Round up the usual suspects

Germany was well equipped to deal with the RAF terrorism of the 1970s until the 1990s. But that was a different form of terrorism - the devil we know. Neither police, nor the intelligence services, let alone German society at large, are well equipped to deal with modern forms of terrorism, which require a different kind of approach - one that is at odds with German privacy laws and law enforcement procedures.

The absurdity of German privacy laws mean that, initially, the media were only allowed to show the suspected terrorist with his faced blurred, which is not really what you want when you start a Europe-wide manhunt. Yesterday the German government quickly tried to fix another problem, the lack of CCTV in places where large crowds gather such as shopping centres, football stadiums, and train stations. But this will still be a voluntary measure. If you run a Christmas market, you will be allowed but not required to do it under the new proposed legislative change. 

One of the problems investigators have faced is lack of information. There has been no public footage of the Berlin attack - and the police even asked any eyewitnesses who filmed during the attack to upload their footage to a special police website - which was temporarily crashed by hackers - rather than allowing this footage to be distributed publicly on the internet which would have helped the investigation. It is quite instructive to compare the reaction by the German police and media to the French one after the Nice attacks. The police made mistakes in Nice, but when the attack happened anti-terror police was quickly deployed and shot the terrorist. The German police was not present, and a citizen managed to chase what turned out to be the wrong man, which gave the real culprit 24 hours to flee. And it is not even clear that Amri, whose papers were found under the seat, is the culprit. The papers may just have been a decoy. 

Amri is a marginally more convenient terrorist for the German government because he did not arrive as part of last year’s stream of refugees. But this does not fundamentally change the political problem, which is a loss of control of the entire asylum process. What makes this case so shocking is that Amri was known to the police as a criminal and classified as a potential terrorist but efforts to deport him failed because he didn’t have valid papers on him.

The Daily Telegraph cites British intelligence officers as pointing out that one of the most important changes that were made in the UK after the attacks in the last decade had been efforts to get the police and the intelligence agencies to work more closely together, which is not the case in continental European countries.

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December 22, 2016

A populist goes to Moscow

There have been many rumours of Russian support for European right-wing parties, but to the extent that these relations are known, they have tended to be secret. That has now changed with Austria's FPÖ and Valdimir Putin’s United Russia reaching a co-operation agreement, with no secrecy, according to Der Standard. The agreement is relatively soft. Both parties will exchange experience in legislation processes. The agreement was signed on the Austrian side by Heinz Christian Strache, the FPÖ leader, during a visit to Moscow. The FPO’s short-term game is to host the first summit between Putin and Donald Trump, the paper reports in another article. Strache sees the FPÖ acting as a link between Russia and the US. It’s hard to relay this with a straight face, but it is indicative of the FPÖ's loss of touch with reality. The FPÖ is also lobbying for an end to sanctions against Russia.

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December 22, 2016

Macron ahead of Fillon?

Emmanuel Macron is a real threat to François Fillon, and the Republicans are starting to become aware of this. Macron appears attractive to the more moderate on the right, the young and the innovative. Fillon’s programme based on traditional values and radical reforms leaves a vast field on his left, and depending on who will become the Socialist presidential candidate Macron could well capture the centre, depleting votes for both main parties, writes Le Monde. Dominique de Villepin said on radio last week that Macron not only shakes up the game for the Socialists, but also for the two currently in the lead, François Fillon and Marine Le Pen. This is already reflected in the most recent poll. An Odoxa poll for the regional press and France Inter published Tuesday shows for the first time that Macron is more popular than Fillon. Of 995 respondents on December 14 and 15, 35% said they supported or had sympathy for Macron, compared with 31% for Fillon. Have any of the polls already tested a second round with Emmanuel Macron vs Marine Le Pen or François Fillon?

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December 22, 2016

Discombobulated

We learned a new word today - discombobulated - a word we will probably, and unfortunately, have to integrate into our active vocabulary. Judy Dempsey uses it in the context of her extremely downbeat assessment of 2016 - a year that in her view marks the beginning of the end of the European Union as we know it. We agree with her assessment in every detail. 

She writes that Donald Trump and Vladmir Putin will end up destroying the EU, leaving it as a “a motley of discombobulated nation-states”. The real threat to us is not the formal breakup of the EU, but its growing insignificance. The EU has allowed itself to become extremely vulnerable due to a number of unresolved crises - refugee and eurozone among them. Dempsey criticises European leaders for failing to draw the correct lessons from Brexit. Instead of pushing for integration, everybody is obsessed with intra-institutional power games. Most of her criticisms are directed at Germany, which could have made a difference but didn’t.

“Yet many European leaders and politicians, especially in Berlin, don’t want to recognize this changing geostrategic reality. They are not prepared to consider the possibility of what happens the day after the United States withdraws from Europe. In practice, that means they are unwilling to consider any alternative to the U.S. security umbrella, such as Europe having its own nuclear defense—which could exist through France.”

Germany especially has an interest in forging a stronger Europe, given the expectation that Russia will massively meddle in the German elections.

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