This month, diplomats and MPs struck a deal to end an internal EU dispute, which will result in the EU soon letting Ukrainians and Georgians visit the bloc without needed a visa. The dispute had been holding up the promised measures.
Agreement on a mechanism to suspend such visa waivers in emergencies has effectively ended mounting embarrassment for those EU leaders who felt that the bloc was reneging on pledges to former Soviet states that it has promised to help as they try to move out from Moscow’s shadow. The move came after the European Council President warned that the EU was risking its credibility by failing to reward Georgia and Ukraine for painful reforms. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has since hailed the move as “encouraging news from Brussels.”
The prospect of easier travel to Western European countries has been used by governments in Kiev and Tbilisi in order to win popular backing for painful, EU-sponsored reforms. However EU leaders got cold feet about opening doors to 45 million Ukrainians after the public backlash that followed last year’s refugee crisis in Europe. Furthermore, facing strong challenges from anti-immigration parties in elections next year, leading powers France and Germany demanded strong controls before any visa agreement was signed. Late-night talks have since resulted in the European Parliament conceding that governments can reimpose visa requirements quickly, with MPs’ approval.
Georgia, which has only 5 million citizens, has long been seen as being ready for visa liberalization. However many believe that its failure to achieve such as agreement has been due to the EU’s hesitation over Ukraine, which is bigger, closer and currently stuck in conflict with Russia. A similar plan to ease travel for Turkey’s 75 million citizens, which is part of a deal whereby Ankara has helped the EU shut out Syrians and other people seeking asylum, has added to political sensitivities in Brussels about the issue. The process with Turkey has been frozen because of Ankara’s failure to fulfil all the EU conditions, coupled with anger across Europe at Turkey’s crackdown on opponents following a coup attempt in July.
The bloc has disclosed that any new visa waivers can only come into force after the EU has increased an emergency brake to suspend any free-travel deals in emergencies. However talks on exactly how that “snap-back” mechanism would work have dragged on for months. It will now allow the executive European Commission or a majority of EU states to suspend swiftly a country’s visa exemption for nine months if there is a sharp rise in its citizens overstaying their permitted time in the EU making multiple asylum requests or other problem for th European. The EU would be able to extend the suspension period for a further eighteen months in some cases, however through amore complex procedure that would also give a say to the European Parliament.
France’s centre-right has rallied behind Francois Fillon as its candidate for president, with a snap opinion poll showing him the clear favourite to beat far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the presidential election in the spring.
On 27 November, Fillon, a former prime minister who vowed to change France’s “software” with an assault on public sector spending, moved one step closer to the Elysee by securing a resounding victory over Alain Juppe, another former prime minister, in the Les Republicains primary vote. Fillon secured two-thirds of the vote on Sunday, winning 66.5% to 33.5%. He however was not the favourite to win as at the start of the campaigning season, former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who was ousted in the first round of the conservative primary, and Juppe had both been given far better odds of winning the ticket than Fillon. Both men however have since rallied behind the 62-year-old in the wake of his triumph.
Meanwhile the ruling Socialist party has attempted to quell talk of a fallout between deeply unpopular President Francois Hollande and his prime minister Manuel Valls. Sources have indicated that tensions have increased between the two in recent weeks over which of them should seek the party ticket in their primary, which is set to take place in January 2017. The tensions come after Valls suggested on Sunday that he might stand against President Hollande in the party primaries. The president’s office however has disclosed that the two had lunch together on Monday in a “cordial” atmosphere and government spokesman Stephane Le Foll has stressed that Mr Valls would need to resign in order to stand. Opinion polls however have shown that whoever does run for the Left is likely to come in third behind Fillon and National Front (FN) leader Le Pen in the election’s first round next April. According to the Harris Interactive poll for French parliamentary TV, Mr Fillon would lead the National Front candidate by 26% to 24% in the first round of voting, then win the run-off against her by 67% to 33%. The same poll also indicates that Mr Hollande or Mr Valls would win just 9% for the Socialists.
The presidential election will be held over two weekends in April and May.
France disclosed on 21 November that it had foiled a terrorist plot and arrested seven people, a year after a state of emergency was imposed in a bid to counter a wave of Islamist attacks.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve disclosed in a statement “yesterday, a terrorist act on our soil that was being prepared for a long time was foiled thanks to the work of the DGSI,” referring to France’s internal intelligence service. He wen on to say that “the scale of the terrorist threat is enormous and it is not possible to ensure zero risk despite everything we are doing.” Mr Cazeneuve disclosed that seven people of French, Moroccan and Afghan origin, aged 29 to 37, were detained on 20 November, adding that one of the detentions followed a tip-off from a foreign government. According to the interior minister, two were arrested in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille and four in Strasbourg in the northeast of France. Mr Cazeneuve did not disclose where the seventh person was arrested. While the minister provided no information on the target of the planned attack, the mayor of Strasbourg disclose that it appeared that the plot had not concerned his city but rather “the Paris region.” A source close to the inquiry also disclosed that some of those detained had spent time in the Syria-Iraq region. Meanwhile Le Parisian newspaper has cited a source as having told it the suspects arrested were awaiting a consignment of weapons.
The news of a foiled attack comes as France prepares to elect a new president next year. Security is a major theme in campaigning ahead of the May 2017 election. Since January 2015, when Islamist militant killed seventeen people in Paris in an attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, more than 230 people have been killed in attacks on French soil. On 13 November 2015, gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people in coordinated strikes in Paris. The so-called Islamic State (IS) group, whose strongholds in Syria and Iraq are being bombed by airplanes from an international coalition that includes France, has urged followers to continue attacking the country.
On Sunday 20 November, the French conservative party held its first-round voting to select its candidate for next year’s presidential election. Francois Fillon will now head into a five-day runoff campaign for the presidential ticket. He is favoured over his opponent, Alain Juppe, after the first-round vote resulted in the ouster of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy from the race.
Fillon is up against another former prime minister, Alain Juppe, in a second round of the primaries, which will be held on 27 November. Juppe now has a week to turn around his momentum-sapped campaign and win over the supporters of the other candidates. However this may be a difficult task for Juppe, as Fillon was only six points short of the 50-percent threshold needed in the first round, and has Sarkozy on his side. Sounding downcast late on Sunday, Juppe told his supporters that he would “carry on fighting” and billed himself as the best option to defeat far-right party leader Marine Le Pen, whom polls predict will make it to the second round of the presidential election.
Any French voter can take part in the run-off election next Sunday. Furthermore the views of pollsters and commentators have been much confounded in popular votes worldwide this year, including Brexit in the UK and the US presidential election, not least Sunday’s vote in which Fillon did far better than expected.
What is at stake is an almost certain place in the second round of next May’s presidential election. It is likely that the conservative challenger will face National Front party leader Marine Le Pen. Market analysts have said that the outcome of Sunday’s vote opens up new uncertainty about the result of next year’s presidential election and may increase what is still a remote risk that far-right leader Marine Le Pen can win it. A BVA poll in September indicated that Fillon would beat Le Pen by a margin of 61 percent of votes to 39 percent however recent opinion polls scenarios have not pitted him against her – in what is further evidence of how unexpected his top spot on Sunday was. More recent polls have consistently shown that Juppe would easily beat Le Pen. Polls have also indicated that Fillon is much less popular than Juppe amidst left-wing voters, which could make it harder for him to get their vote versus Le Pen.
Whatever the out come will be of Sunday’s election, next year’s presidential and legislative elections are already shaping up to be another battle of strengths between mainstream parties and rising popularist forces. The ruling Socialist party and its allies will hold their own primaries in January 2017. French President Francois Hollande, whose popularity ratings are abysmal, has yet to announce whether he will stand again, however polls have already indicated that it is unlikely that he would win in the primaries.
A report released on 16 November indicated that deaths from terrorism in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries decreased last year by 650 percent despite a marked fall globally as Nigerian-based Boko Haram militants and the so-called Islamic State (IS) Group suffered military defeats at home but carried out more attacks abroad.
The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) has reported that worldwide, there were 29,376 deaths that were caused by terrorism in 2015. This figure represents a decline of 10 percent, adding that this is the first decrease in four years. GTI disclosed that his decline was due to action against IS in Iraq and Boko Haram in Nigeria, which cut the numbers killed there by a third. IS was the deadliest group in 2015, overtaking Boko Haram. Last year, IS carried out attacks in 252 cities that led to 6,141 deaths. The index however has noted that Boko Haram’s move into neighbouring countries – Cameroon, Chad and Niger – saw the number of fatalities in the se countries increase by 157 percent.
The report however notes that the groups have spread their actions to neighbouring states and regions, where they have caused a huge increase in fatalities amongst OECD members, most of which are wealthy countries, such as the United States and European countries. According to GTI, of the 34 OECD member countries, 21 had witnesses at least one attack with most deaths occurred in Turkey and France. Last year’s terror incidents included coordinated attacks carried out by IS gunmen and suicide bombers at the Bataclan music venue, a soccer stadium and several cafes in Paris in November, which killed 130 people. The index also noted that Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and Turkey all suffered their worst death tolls from terrorism in a single year since 2000, adding that in total twenty-three countries registered their highest ever number of terrorism deaths. Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria, which accounted for 72 percent of all deaths, were the top five ranked countries in the GTI. The United States ranked 36th, with France coming in 29th, Russia in 30th and the United Kingdom in 34th.
According to Steve Killelea, executive chairman at the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) think-tank, “while on the one hand the reduction in deaths is positive, the continued intensification of terrorism in some countries and its spread to new ones is a cause for serious concern and underscores the fluid nature of modern terrorist activity,” adding that “the attacks in the heartland of western democracies underscore the need for fast-paced and tailored responses to the evolution of these organizations.”