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May 01, 2020

Germany bans Hezbollah - a likely precedent for the EU

The German government formally banned Hezbollah as a political organisation yesterday. The German media suppressed the story, while foreign newspapers showed much greater interest. We assume this must be the consequences of the German media’s self-censorship in reporting criminal activities by foreigners on German soil. 

The decision followed a raid on four mosques and community centres that apparently served as the hub of Hezbollah’s network in Europe. Hezbollah’s paramilitary wing is already banned in the EU, but Germany has now become the second EU country, after the Netherlands, to ban the political organisation as well. A display of Hezbollah’s symbol, a clenched fist and a machine gun, now carries a prison sentence of up to one year. The concrete implications of the ban are that the German authorities will now have the means to ban the Shia Muslim organisation’s political activities and seize financial assets. The German interior ministry stated Hezbollah’s declared intent to eliminate Israel as the reason for the ban. The move was preceded by a non-binding vote in the Bundestag in December, but it was not clear then whether or when the government would implement the ban. 

The timing is believed to relate to the planned al-Quds day demonstration in Berlin, scheduled for May 16. This is an annual anti-Israel demonstration, organised among others by Hezbollah activists. It is not clear at this stage whether the mayor of Berlin will allow the demonstration to go ahead. 

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May 01, 2020

As we mourn lives lost, what about lives saved?

During lockdown countries counted their daily deaths linked to Covid-19, but what about the lives spared? Fewer traffic accidents saved lives, and less pollution saved or at least prolonged others. By staring at the certain numbers of death from the virus we miss out the unaccounted lives saved by the lockdown. 

The Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (Crea) had a go at estimating what improved air quality means for public health. Air pollution dramatically fell as hundreds of millions of people stayed home, and researchers extrapolated the effect of better air quality on diseases. The study, covering 21 European countries, found that the average European citizen was exposed to nitrogen dioxide levels 37% below what would normally have been expected in the 30 days to April 24. Exposure to particulate matter, generated by transport, industry and coal-fired heating, was 12% below normal levels. The study also argues that pollution prior to lockdown caused or exacerbated diabetes, lung disease, heart disease and cancer. All of these conditions increase the risk of death for Covid-19 patients.

Crea came up with the number of 11,300 deaths that have been spared in Europe through the lockdown over the last month. They estimated that the lockdown prevented 1500 premature deaths in each of Germany, the UK and Italy. These and other studies will buttress the argument for accelerating rather than suspending climate change policies in the aftermath of the lockdown. To be fair, this is still little compared with 31,000 excess deaths attributed to Covid-19, as recorded in just one week of April according to EuroMomo. It is also a small relief compared with the 400,000 premature deaths per year that the EU environmental agency attributes to pollution.

We would also like to add a note of caution. Statistics are tricky. We at Eurointelligence found the Covid-19 death counts not very helpful for our reporting, as the causal relationship and the case coverage in different countries were unclear. We are even more sceptical when it comes to model-based predictions of future deaths. But we find that it is important to balance arguments in a political discourse about how to move out of the lockdown. A too narrow focus would otherwise produce a biased conclusion.

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