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European Union Tag

Greece's wild ride through the wake of the Eurozone mega-bailout continued to bounce along today as far-left lawmakers split off from the (already far-left) Syriza party to form their own rebel faction. Former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis and his fellow malcontents now have three days to bolster the new Popular Unity party and cobble together a coalition government. (Previous efforts to seize control by Syriza's main opponent, the conservative New Democracy party, failed.) Lafazanis has no grand illusions about being able to do so, which means that Greek voters will head to the polls as early as September 20 to elect new representatives. The early election cycle snapped into place after embattled Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras resigned last week amid harsh criticism from his colleagues over the terms of the multibillion dollar bailout. More from the New York Times:
"Some people think they can hide the consequences of the (bailout agreements) from the Greek people," Lafazanis said, commenting on Tsipras' decision to trigger elections, as he met with President Prokopis Pavlopoulos to receive the mandate to form a government. "This is democratic backtracking, if not an undemocratic aberration."

Greece received the first chunk of its multibillion euro bailout package yesterday---to the tune of 13 billion euros---but all is not well in Athens. Political opposition to the harsh austerity terms laid out by Eurozone creditors has caused a revolt in the far-left Syriza party and prompted Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to tender his resignation and call for early elections. More from the BBC:
Alexis Tsipras made the announcement in a televised state address on Thursday. "The political mandate of the 25 January elections has exhausted its limits and now the Greek people have to have their say," he said. "I want to be honest with you. We did not achieve the agreement we expected before the January elections." Mr Tsipras said he would seek the Greek people's approval to continue his government's programme.
You can watch Tsipras' announcement here, via Reuters.

The migrant crisis in Europe has now reached historic proportions. Unwilling to secure EU’s borders and coastline, the European leaders have surrounded their foreign policy to human traffickers and people smugglers. Among all the EU member states, Greece has been worst hit by the influx of migrants on its shores. According to United Nation’s figures, the number of refugees entering into Greece has gone up a whopping 750 percent compared to last year. Margaret Wente explains the motivation of the refugees swarming the Greek islands in her column for The Globe and Mail:
The moment these people set foot on Greek soil, or are rescued by the coast guard, they’ve won the lottery. They can’t be deported unless they have applied for asylum and been rejected – and that can take years. Nor can they be returned to any place that is deemed unsafe. Because continental Europe has no internal border controls, they can go wherever they want. And if they don’t report for their asylum hearing, the system can easily lose track of them.
In July 2015 alone, more than 50,000 migrants landed on Greek beaches. That means, more migrants entered Greece last month than in the whole of 2014. The influx could not have come at a worse time for the Hellenic Republic, almost on the verge of a financial collapse. In the face of mounting crisis in Greece, EU bureaucrats and leaders are acting clueless and pleading helplessness.

Common sense is a rare commodity in Brussels (the seat of European Union's bureaucracy) when it comes to tackling the issue of mass immigration. The number of immigrants entering the European Union by land and sea has risen drastically in 2015. According to the UN, 153,000 migrants have crossed into Europe so far this year, marking a 150 percent spike compared to 2014. Considering the fact that many illegal immigrants prefer to stay undetected, the actual figures could be much higher. The European Union's response to the rising tide of immigrants is conspicuous inaction coupled with threats against individual EU member states who dare to undertake even the slightest of countermeasures. The EU bureaucracy is particularly irked by Hungary’s move to erect a 110 mile fence along its southern border. Wall Street Journal reports:

While American activists languished in the debris of their Cecil the Lion meltdown/manhunt, people in Calais have been dealing with a perfect storm of union strikes, stampeding migrants, and a resulting travel standstill. Much has been made of the inconvenience to Brits attempting to cross the English Channel for a summer holiday, but the French city of Calais is truly in a crisis. Over the past week, thousands of migrants have flooded secure areas surrounding the Eurotunnel terminal in an attempt to enter the United Kingdom. At least 9 people have died during the attempt since June, and the very crush of those attempting to get close to access points has caused a dangerous and volatile situation in the city. The migrants, coming mostly from Syria, Eritrea, Somalia and Afghanistan, are fighting to get across the channel and into the UK for a variety of reasons---many are seeking jobs, or asylum---but all who come do so because it is statistically easier to remain legally in the UK than it is in France. The BBC created a video explaining things in more detail. Watch:

The Security Subcommittee of The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on July 28, 2015, on The Impact of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement The Tower has a write up on the full scope of the hearing. In a prior post, we featured the testimony of Daniel Birnbaum, CEO of SodaStream International, about the threats, intimidation and violence of the BDS movement directed at SodaStream for 8 years, Epic House Testimony – BDS in business of “Manipulation, Violence and Destruction” In this post, we focus on the testimony of Northwestern Univ. Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich Prof. Kontorovich's full written presentation (embedded at bottom of this post) contains important background as to the role Congress can play in opposing BDS consistent with U.S. law, policy and history of involvement in the issue. The subjects covered include:
  1. Background on Economic Warfare Against Israel
  2. U.S. Policy on Boycotts of Israeli Entities
  3. The Scope of Anti-boycott laws
  4. The Argument that Boycotts of Israel are Justified or Required by International law
  5. Potential European Measures and their Implications for International Trade Law
Here is Prof. Kontorovich's appearance before Congress:

Live Video and Twitter feeds at bottom of post. The initial results from the referendum on Greece whether to agree to an austerity plan are pointing to a huge "No" vote. The Wall Street Journal reports:
A first official projection of Greece’s referendum outcome, based on early counting, said that at least 61% of Greeks voted “no” to creditors’ demands on Sunday, an outcome that—if confirmed—would set the country on a collision course with the rest of the eurozone. The projection, announced by the company Singular Logic, the official partner of Greece’s interior ministry in carrying out the referendum, was announced after some 20% of the vote had been counted. “The estimate from Singular Logic is that the result in favor of ‘no’ will exceed 61%,” a spokesman for the organizing company said.
Official results are posted here. .

What was once considered unthinkable has now happened. Having missed the June 30th deadline for payment on its debt, the country of Greece has effectively defaulted. This is going to have a considerable effect on the economy of the European Union, which Greece might now leave. It's likely that this situation will get worse before it gets better. First, the basic facts. Michael Birnbaum of the Washington Post:
Greece fails to make key IMF debt payment Greece lost its financial lifelines Tuesday, as the country missed a crucial payment to the International Monetary Fund amid growing questions about whether it would be able to remain in the euro zone. Greek leaders had made a last-ditch attempt to come up with the necessary cash, asking European countries for a new bailout hours before its last ones were set to expire, but E.U. finance ministers rejected the request as unrealistic. The missed payment, confirmed by the IMF, was a landmark moment in Europe’s five-year battle to preserve its common currency. The E.U. finance chiefs were set to reconvene Wednesday as Greece’s cash dwindles and its banks remain closed. The ministers’ decision to hold firm was a sign that they believed they had successfully put in place the defenses­ against instability in Europe if a country left the euro zone. But as Greece became the first developed nation to miss a payment to the IMF, E.U. leaders were confronting the prospect of a European country plunging into intense financial misery as it was forced to abandon the currency.
In the coming days, you're going to hear some quibbling about whether or not this was a default.

There are financial crises, and then there are financial crises. Greece is smack in the middle of the latter. Today Greek officials instituted drastic controls over the country's financial institutions, making it difficult (if not impossible) for citizens to access money locked down in bank accounts. Officials have limited cash withdrawals to just 67 USD per day, a move that is causing panic amongst those who either live paycheck to paycheck, or who rely solely on the use of cash to make ends meet.
The sense of unease was evident in the number of pensioners lining up at bank branches hoping they might open. Many elderly Greeks don't have ATM cards and make cash withdrawals in person, and so found themselves completely cut off from their money. "I came here at 4 a.m. because I have to get my pension," said 74-year-old Anastasios Gevelidis, one of about 100 retirees waiting outside the main branch of the National Bank of Greece in the country's second-largest city of Thessaloniki. "I don't have a card. I don't know what's going on. We don't even have enough money to buy bread," he said.
And here I thought relying on cash instead of the almighty plastic was a safe bet.

Greece and the Eurozone have been unable to reach an agreement ahead of a bailout deadline which quickly approaches on June 30th. If negotiations fail, Greece could leave the European Union and ultimately face economic collapse. The situation is already causing a dash for cash in the debt strapped country. Bloomberg reports:
Greeks Line Up at Banks and Drain ATMs as Tsipras Calls Vote Some Greek banks were beginning to limit cash transactions as hundreds of people lined up outside branches and drained cash machines after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called a referendum that could decide his country’s fate in the euro. Two senior Greek retail bank executives said as many as 500 of the country’s more than 7,000 ATMs had run out of cash as of Saturday morning, and that some lenders may not be able to open on Monday unless there was an emergency liquidity injection from the Bank of Greece. A central bank spokesman said it was making efforts to supply money to the system.

On February 10, 2015, I wrote about legislation introduced in the House targeting the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, whose goal is the destruction of Israel through economic, cultural and academic boycotts. The legislation, called the United States-Israel Trade and Commercial Enhancement Act, focuses on the "economic" boycott of Israel, expanding upon prior legislation implemented several decades ago in response to the Arab League Boycott of Israel. The legislation reportedly was intended to force European countries and companies, where the BDS movement has some influence, into adopting anti-BDS policies and procedures as part of a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the U.S. The EU would be forced to choose between a massive free trade agreement which would bring enormous economic benefits to the floundering EU, or the anti-Israel BDS movement. You could have a boost to European economies and employment, or you could have BDS, but you couldn't have both. The sponsors of the legislation presumably expect Europe to choose prosperity over anti-Israel activism. In reviewing the legislation initially, however, it was unclear to me whether the provisions would have the intended effect:

Greece's new prime minister Alexis Tsipras is finding out that his country's massive debt won't go away just because he wants it to. Maybe that's why Germany has a strong economy and Greece doesn't. Jane Wharton of Express UK reported:
Merkel refuses to write off Greece's debt In her first interview since Syriza won the Greek election last weekend, Angela Merkel has made it clear the debt stands but she hopes they stay in the eurozone. The far-left party stormed to victory last weekend with 36 per cent of the vote, promising to ditch austerity and renegotiate the country's £180billion bailout from the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund - also known as the troika. Their finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has said this troika of global institutions is "rotten" and has refused to work with them to renegotiate bailout terms. Syriza is now beginning to roll back on the austerity measures imposed by the EU on the previous administration in exchange for the loans. However this morning the German Chancellor said that while Europe will continue to show solidarity with Greece and other nations hit by Europe's debt crisis, the debts must be repaid in full. Speaking to Hamburger Abendblatt, she said: "I do not envisage fresh debt cancellation. "There has already been voluntary debt forgiveness by private creditors, banks have already slashed billions from Greece's debt."
It's amazing what can happen when a politician is told he can't spend money he doesn't have. The Tsipras administration, which knows it doesn't have the negotiating power (or money) to defy reality has quickly adopted a new position.

The economy of Greece has been a disaster for years due to massive entitlement and pension programs. Decades of overspending finally caught up with the Greek government in 2010, when their financial system nearly collapsed. Other countries in the European Union, notably Germany, loaned Greece billions on the condition that Greece would impose austerity measures; those measures eventually produced small results at a slower rate than expected. Frustrated with austerity and cuts to benefits, the people of Greece recently elected a new prime minister from the far left Syriza party named Alexis Tsipras. Tsipras won by promising to end the pain of austerity and to renegotiate Greece's debt, which means that the people of Greece have forgotten what caused their problem in the first place. Nicholas Paphitis of the Associated Press via ABC News writes:
Greece's First Radical Left Prime Minister Sworn In Tieless and eschewing the traditional religious swearing-in ceremony, but with a surprise coalition deal in the bag and a sanguine international reception, radical left leader Alexis Tsipras took over Monday as austerity-wracked Greece's new prime minister. Hours earlier, the 40-year-old's Syriza party trounced the outgoing, conservative government in Sunday's national elections, on a platform of easing social pain and securing massive debt forgiveness. Although Syriza fell tantalizingly short of a governing majority in the 300-seat parliament, Tsipras moved quickly Monday to secure the support of 13 lawmakers from the small, right-wing populist Independent Greeks party, raising his total to 162. "''We have the required majority," Tsipras told Greek President Karolos Papoulias, shortly before being sworn in as prime minister, the youngest Greece has seen in 150 years and the first incumbent to take a secular oath rather than the religious one customarily administered by a Greek Orthodox official.
Fans of Tsipras are celebrating, but his victory presents a whole new set of problems.

For years many the feeling was that Europe had unquestioned leverage with Israel and therefore could take sides without losing its clout. But trade and tech have taken their toll on this assumption. Israel is building alliances in Asia, and European leverage is sure to suffer. Former Israeli foreign and defense minister, Moshe Arens, explains in Ha'aretz Why Israel is shifting eastward.
On reflection this is not totally unexpected. For many years the economic development of the countries in East Asia has been outpacing the economic development of Europe. Japan made giant strides in the years after World War II. South Korea followed suit. China has become the economic wonder of the twenty-first century. There are, as well, indications of accelerated economic development in India, the world’s largest democracy. It is natural that Israel’s economic relationship with these countries would begin to rival its relationships with the countries of Europe, a Europe which seems to be in permanent economic crisis and lagging behind the Asian tigers. ... Despite the centuries of anti-Semitism that marked most European nations and the guilt borne by them for their actions during the Holocaust, Europe, in recent years through the machinery of the European Union, has waged a constant campaign of criticism and condemnation of the policies pursued by Israeli governments, going so far as to impose economic sanction against Israel.
The second point was made in an op-ed in late February by Clemens Wergin in the New York Times, Why Israel no longer trusts Europe.
To Europe, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root of all problems facing the region — a view in no way altered by the Arab Human Development Reports published by the United Nations since 2002, which showed that Arab autocracies and cultural backwardness were the root of the region’s woes.

Northwestern University Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich has been doing wonderful work exposing the myth of the Israeli "illegal" occupation of Judea and Samaria (the "West Bank").  You really need to watch the videos we have posted here, The Legal Case for Israel and The historical fiction of Israel’s “occupation”. Given the war on Israel declared by the American Studies Association and two other smaller anti-Israel boycott groups, and the need to correct so much of the anti-Israel propaganda behind it, here is Prof. Kontorovich's explanation of the legal history of the region again: Now Prof. Kontorovich has come out with a challenge to the European Union to treat Israel's "occupation" the way it treats other "occupations" -- and the Europeans are none too happy. As reported by The Times of Israel, Why is this occupation different from all other occupations?:
Many Israelis have long felt that the European Union is biased against them. Two legal scholars – a former Israeli ambassador and an American Jewish international law professor — think they’ve found the perfect case to prove the claim: A new fishing deal, signed between the Europeans and Morocco, which applies beyond Morocco’s internationally recognized borders, taking in the territory of Western Sahara, even though Morocco invaded that area in 1975 and has occupied ever since.