Monday, 25 March 2013

Violence erupts at French anti-gay-marriage protests

Across Europe and the Americas, gay marriage has been enacted peacefully and with minimal protest. Meanwhile, in France...

Yesterday, an estimated one million people flooded the streets of Paris to protest plans to enact same-sex marriage in France. It was the second such massive demonstration, following one held in January against French President Francois Hollande’s effort to enact gay marriage - a fulfilment of a promise made during last year’s presidential campaign.

This time, the demonstration took a nasty turn. The protestors became violent. The police resorted to using tear gas, which allegedly injured some of the many children being used in the protest. The police counter that the anti-gay-marriage protestors were using children as human shields. The president of France's Christian Democrat party says she was injured by police during the protest. Today, the opposition UMP party of Nicolas Sarkozy is calling for the resignation of the Paris chief of police and French interior minister Manuel Valls in response to the tear gas 'used against children'.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

A Cyprus whodunit

Brussels is in full blame-game mode today following last night’s rejection by the Cypriot parliament of the bailout package offered to the country by the EU. It’s a veritable whodunit mystery, with the answer depending on whether you’re inclined to believe the President of Cyprus, or the rest of Europe.

All sides agree on one thing – the decision taken by European finance ministers in the early hours of Saturday morning to require a one-time levy on all Cypriot bank accounts in exchange for the bail-out was colossally stupid, plunging the Eurozone into a new crisis and risking a bank run in the country. What cannot be agreed upon is whose idea it was.

Raiding people’s savings accounts is an unprecedented move. Such conditions were not imposed on any other country receiving bailout money, and indeed no such idea was ever even discussed. But Cyprus is a special case. As the likelihood of an EU bailout for the small Mediterranean island increased, worry began growing that the move would actually be a bail-out for wealthy Russian oligarchs who use the island for money-laundering or tax-evading.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Frigide Barjot - a very French protest

On Tuesday of this week, I was sitting in the press room of the European Parliament in Strasbourg - waiting for a press conference on the 2014 EU elections - when suddenly a woman clad in hot pink burst into the room. Her leathery brown skin and wild hair stood in stark contrast to the suited conservative members of parliament who were ushering her in. By her side was a young man with bleach-blond hair, also clad in pink.

This, the journalists learned, was Frigide Barjot - the leader of France’s anti-gay-marriage movement. The Conservative MEPs had invited her to the European Parliament to speak about her desire to extend her anti-gay-marriage movement to all of Europe. While notorious in France, Ms Barjot is unknown outside the country, and the journalists were perplexed as to why she was there. But I knew of her already, if only from the many Facebook posts I see from my French friends decrying her antics.

Friday, 1 March 2013

A week of turmoil for Europe

Yesterday was a big news day for EU politics, with a series of high-profile speeches in reaction to the disastrous election result in Italy on Monday. But despite the many speeches, the message has been singular: there is “no alternative” to austerity, and hostility toward the EU in domestic politics is exascerbating the euro crisis.

The day started with a speech by humiliated ‘technocrat’ prime minister Mario Monti at the European Commission. Having been rejected by his home country, it is perhaps unsurprising that the former European Commissioner wanted to come to Brussels, where people understand him. It was Brussels after all, at the behest of Berlin, who installed Monti on the Italian throne after forcing out Silvio Berlusconi at the height of the Italian crisis in 2011.

And it is no coincidence that it was the ‘Italians abroad inEurope’ voting region in which Monti received his highest share of the vote – 30%. This compares to the 9% of the vote he received at home – less than half the vote chare received by anti-establishment comedian Beppe Grillo.