Taiwan’s new president: Five things you need to know about William Lai

TAIPEI — Forget Xi Jinping or Joe Biden for a second. Meet Taiwan’s next President William Lai, upon whom the fate of U.S.-China relations — and global security over the coming few years — is now thrust.

The 64-year-old, currently Taiwan’s vice president, has led the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to a historic third term in power, a first for any party since Taiwan became a democracy in 1996.

For now, the capital of Taipei feels as calm as ever. For Lai, though, the sense of victory will soon be overshadowed by a looming, extended period of uncertainty over Beijing’s next move. Taiwan’s Communist neighbor has laid bare its disapproval of Lai, whom Beijing considers the poster boy of the Taiwanese independence movement.

All eyes are now on how the Chinese leader — who less than two weeks ago warned Taiwan to face up to the “historical inevitability” of being absorbed into his Communist nation — will address the other inevitable conclusion: That the Taiwanese public have cast yet another “no” vote on Beijing.

1. Beijing doesn’t like him — at all

China has repeatedly lambasted Lai, suggesting that he will be the one bringing war to the island.

As recently as last Thursday, Beijing was trying to talk Taiwanese voters out of electing its nemesis-in-chief into the Baroque-style Presidential Office in Taipei.

“Cross-Strait relations have taken a turn for the worse in the past eight years, from peaceful development to tense confrontation,” China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Chen Binhua said, adding that Lai would now be trying to follow an “evil path” toward “military tension and war.”

While Beijing has never been a fan of the DPP, which views China as fundamentally against Taiwan’s interests , the personal disgust for Lai is also remarkable.

Part of that stems from a 2017 remark, in which Lai called himself a “worker for Taiwanese independence,” which has been repeatedly cited by Beijing as proof of his secessionist beliefs.

Without naming names, Chinese President Xi harshly criticized those promoting Taiwan independence in a speech in 2021.

“Secession aimed at Taiwan independence is the greatest obstacle to national reunification and a grave danger to national rejuvenation,” Xi said. “Those who forget their heritage, betray their motherland, and seek to split the country will come to no good end, and will be disdained by the people and sentenced by the court of history.”

2. All eyes are on the next 4 months

Instability is expected to be on the rise over the next four months, until Lai is formally inaugurated on May 20.

No one knows how bad this could get, but Taiwanese officials and foreign diplomats say they don’t expect the situation to be as tense as the aftermath of then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in 2022.

Already, days before the election, China sent several spy balloons to monitor Taiwan, according to the Taiwanese defense ministry. On the trade front, China was also stepping up the pressure, announcing a possible move to reintroduce tariffs on some Taiwanese products. Cases of disinformation and electoral manipulation have also been unveiled by Taiwanese authorities.

Those developments, combined, constitute what Taipei calls hybrid warfare — which now risks further escalation given Beijing’s displeasure with the new president.

3. Lai has to tame his independent instinct

In a way, he has already.

Speaking at the international press conference last week, Lai said he had no plan to declare independence if elected to the presidency.

DPP insiders say they expect Lai to stick to outgoing Tsai Ing-wen’s approach, without saying things that could be interpreted as unilaterally changing the status quo.

They also point to the fact that Lai chose as vice-presidential pick Bi-khim Hsiao, a close confidante with Tsai and former de facto ambassador to Washington. Hsiao has developed close links with the Biden administration, and will play a key role as a bridge between Lai and the U.S.

4. Taiwan will follow international approach

The U.S., Japan and Europe are expected to take precedence in Lai’s diplomatic outreach, while relations with China will continue to be negative.

Throughout election rallies across the island, the DPP candidate repeatedly highlighted the Tsai government’s efforts at diversifying away from the trade reliance on China, shifting the focus to the three like-minded allies.

Southeast Asia has been another top destination for these readjusted trade flows, DPP has said.

According to Taiwanese authorities, Taiwan’s exports to China and Hong Kong last year dropped 18.1 percent compared to 2022, the biggest decrease since they started recording this set of statistics in 1982.

In contrast, Taiwanese exports to the U.S. and Europe rose by 1.6 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively, with the trade volumes reaching all-time highs.

However, critics point out that China continues to be Taiwan’s biggest trading partner, with many Taiwanese businesspeople living and working in the mainland.

5. Lai might face an uncooperative parliament

While vote counting continues, there’s a high chance Lai will be dealing with a divided parliament, the Legislative Yuan.

Before the election, the Kuomintang (KMT) party vowed to form a majority with Taiwan People’s Party in the Yuan, thereby rendering Lai’s administration effectively a minority government.

While that could pose further difficulties for Lai to roll out policies provocative to Beijing, a parliament in opposition also might be a problem when it comes to Taiwan’s much-needed defense spending.

“A divided parliament is very bad news for defense. KMT has proven that they can block defense spending, and the TPP will also try to provide what they call oversight, and make things much more difficult,” said Syaru Shirley Lin, who chairs the Center for Asia-Pacific Resilience and Innovation, a Taipei-based policy think tank.

“Although all three parties said they wanted to boost defense, days leading up to the election … I don’t think that really tells you what’s going to happen in the legislature,” Lin added. “There’s going to be a lot of policy trading.”



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Spain election repeat more likely after expat vote count

Spain’s already complicated electoral landscape just got a lot more complex.

On Saturday, the count of the 233,688 ballots deposited by Spaniards living abroad — which are tallied five days after the in-person vote is held — led to the redistribution of seats in the Spanish parliament. As a result, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist Party lost one of the spots it was allocated in Madrid, which will now go to the center-right Popular Party.

The Popular Party is now set to have 137 MPs in the next legislature; together with the far-right Vox party’s 33 MPs and the single MP belonging to the affiliated Navarrese People’s Union (UPN), the right-wing bloc is set to control at least 171 seats the same number as Sánchez and his preferred partners. Should the Canarian Coalition revise its stated position, which is against backing any government that includes Vox, the conservative bloc could add another seat to its tally.

Those numbers do not improve conservative leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo’s chances of becoming prime minister. Even with an additional seat under Popular Party control, he still does not have enough support to overcome the crucial simple majority vote that a candidate must win in parliament in order to form a government.

But with the technical tie created by the reallocation of seats, Prime Minister Sánchez’s already narrow path to victory has become much more precarious, making the possibility of new elections in Spain more likely.

Prior to the loss of the seat in Madrid, Sánchez’s options for remaining Spain’s head of government involved persuading nationalist and separatist MPs to back a left-wing coalition government formed by his Socialist Party and the left-wing Sumar group. The combined forces of those parties and the 153 Socialist and Sumar MPs would have enabled Sánchez to count on 172 favorable votes, slightly more than the 170 the right-wing bloc was projected to control. As long as he convinced the Catalan separatist Junts party to abstain, Sánchez would have had more yeas than nays and been able to form a new government.

But now, with only 171 votes in its favor, the left-wing bloc will be facing at least an equal number of right-wing MPs capable of rejecting Sánchez’s bid to remain Spain’s prime minister. Getting Junts to abstain is no longer enough — Sánchez will need one or potentially two of the separatist party’s MPs to vote in his favor.

A hard circle to square

If getting Junts to abstain was already unlikely, getting the party to explicitly back the Socialist candidate seems virtually unthinkable right now.

Since 2017 the party’s founder, former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, has been pursued by the Spain’s judiciary for his role in the Catalan independence referendum. As a member of the European Parliament, Puigdemont has been able to sidestep Madrid’s efforts to extradite him from Belgium, where he lives in self-imposed exile. But in June a top EU court stripped him of his immunity and just days ago Spanish prosecutors called for a new warrant to be issued for his arrest.

Earlier this week Junts said that it would only negotiate with Sánchez if he agrees to declare a blanket amnesty for everyone involved in the 2017 referendum and commits to holding a Catalan independence vote.

“The party that needs our support will have to be the one to make the effort,” said incumbent Junts MP Míriam Nogueras. “These negotiations need to be held from one nation to another … Things are not going to be as they have always been.”

Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister María Jesús Montero was quick to reject both demands, saying on Tuesday that the Socialist Party could only negotiate “within the margins of legality set out within the Spanish constitution.”

SPAIN NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Holding new national elections would almost certainly hurt separatist parties. With the exception of Basque group EH Bildu, all of them lost seats in last Sunday’s vote, and they’re likely to lose even more support if they force electors to go back to the polls in December or January.

On Saturday, Raquel Sans, spokesperson for the Republican Left of Catalonia party, admitted that her group had begun to hold discreet talks with Junts with the goal of forging “strategic unity” among Catalan separatists and avoiding repeat elections that “are not in the interest of the public.”

The tie between the two blocs may allow conservative leader Feijóo to press Spain’s King Felipe VI to name him as his candidate to be the next prime minister when parliament is reconvened next month.

Although there is no chance that Feijóo will be able to win the required support from fellow MPs, a failed bid in parliament will allow him to momentarily quiet the dissenters in his ranks who have been calling for him to step down in the aftermath of last Sunday’s result, in which the Popular Party won the most votes in the election but failed to secure the seats needed to form a government.

There is still the possibility, however, that enough party leaders will tell the king that they back Sánchez’s bid and that he has a viable path to form a coalition government. While the now-caretaker prime minister is keeping a low-profile this week, Socialist Party representatives are said to be hard at work, holding informal chats with partners with the objective of stitching up that support in the coming weeks.

Regardless of whether the candidate is Feijóo or Sánchez, the moment one of them fails their first investiture vote, a two-month deadline will begin counting down, at the end of which the Spanish constitution dictates that the king must dissolve parliament and call new elections. That new vote must be held 54 days after the legislature concludes, so if no deal is struck in the coming months, Spaniards would go to the polls again at the end of this year or, more likely, at the beginning of 2024.



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Questions mount over latest migrant tragedy in Mediterranean

Anger is growing over the handling of a migrant boat disaster off Greece last week that has become one of the biggest tragedies in the Mediterranean in years. The calamity is dominating the country’s political agenda a week ahead of snap elections.

The Hellenic Coast Guard is facing increasing questions over its response to the fishing boat that sank off Greece’s southern peninsula on Wednesday, leading to the death of possibly hundreds of migrants. Nearly 80 people are known to have perished in the wreck and hundreds are still missing, according to the U.N.’s migration and refugee agencies.

Critics say that the Greek authorities should have acted faster to keep the vessel from capsizing. There are testimonies from survivors that the Coast Guard tied up to the vessel and attempted to pull it, causing the boat to sway, which the Greek authorities strongly deny.

The boat may have been carrying as many as 750 passengers, including women and children, according to reports. Many of them were trapped underneath the deck in the sinking, according to Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. “The ship was heavily overcrowded,” Frontex said.  

About 100 people are known to have survived the sinking. Authorities continued to search for victims and survivors over the weekend.

The disaster may be “the worst tragedy ever” in the Mediterranean Sea, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said on Friday. She said there has been a massive increase in the number of migrant boats heading from Libya to Europe since the start of the year.

Frontex said in a statement on Friday that no agency plane or boat was present at the time of the capsizing on Wednesday. The agency said it alerted the Greek and Italian authorities about the vessel after a Frontex plane spotted it, but the Greek officials waved off an offer of additional help.

Greece has been at the forefront of Europe’s migration crisis since 2015, when hundreds of thousands of people from the Middle East, Asia and Africa traveled thousands of miles across the Continent hoping to claim asylum.

Migration and border security have been key issues in the Greek political debate. Following Wednesday’s wreck, they have jumped to the top of the agenda, a week before national elections on June 25.

Greece is currently led by a caretaker government. Under the conservative New Democracy administration, in power until last month, the country adopted a tough migration policy. In late May, the EU urged Greece to launch a probe into alleged illegal deportations.

New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is expected to return to the prime minister’s office after the vote next Sunday, blasted criticism of the Greek authorities, saying it should instead be directed to the human traffickers, who he called “human scums.”

“It is very unfair for some so-called ‘people in solidarity’ [with refugees and migrants] to insinuate that the [Coast Guard] did not do its job. … These people are out there … battling the waves to rescue human lives and protect our borders,” Mitsotakis, who maintains a significant lead in the polls, said during a campaign event in Sparta on Saturday.

The Greek authorities claimed the people on board, some thought to be the smugglers who had arranged the boat from Libya, refused assistance and insisted on reaching Italy. So the Greek Coast Guard did not intervene, though it monitored the vessel for more than 15 hours before it eventually capsized.

“What orders did the authorities have, and they didn’t intervene because one of these ‘scums’ didn’t give them permission?” the left-wing Syriza party said in a statement. “Why was no order given to the lifeboat … to immediately assist in a rescue operation? … Why were life jackets not distributed … and why Frontex assistance was not requested?”

Alarm Phone, a network of activists that helps migrants in danger, said the Greek authorities had been alerted repeatedly many hours before the boat capsized and that there was insufficient rescue capacity.

According to a report by WDR citing migrants’ testimonies, attempts were made to tow the endangered vessel, but in the process the boat began to sway and sank. Similar testimonies by survivors appeared in Greek media.

A report on Greek website news247.gr said the vessel remained in the same spot off the town of Pylos for at least 11 hours before sinking. According to the report, the location on the chart suggests the vessel was not on a “steady course and speed” toward Italy, as the Greek Coast Guard said.

After initially saying that there was no effort to tow the boat, the Hellenic Coast Guard said on Friday that a patrol vessel approached and used a “small buoy” to engage the vessel in a procedure that lasted a few minutes and then was untied by the migrants themselves.

Coast Guard spokesman Nikos Alexiou defended the agency. “You cannot carry out a violent diversion on such a vessel with so many people on board, without them wanting to, without any sort of cooperation,” he said.

Alexiou said there is no video of the operation available.

Nine people, most of them from Egypt, were arrested over the capsizing, charged with forming a criminal organization with the purpose of illegal migrant trafficking, causing a shipwreck and endangering life. They will appear before a magistrate on Monday, according to Greek judicial authorities.

“Unfortunately, we have seen this coming because since the start of the year, there was a new modus operandi with these fishing boats leaving from the eastern part of Libya,” the EU’s Johansson told a press conference on Friday. “And we’ve seen an increase of 600 percent of these departures this year,” she added.

Greek Supreme Court Prosecutor Isidoros Dogiakos has urged absolute secrecy in the investigations being conducted in relation to the shipwreck.

Thousands of people took to the streets in different cities in Greece last week to protest the handling of the incident and the migration policies of Greece and the EU. More protests were planned for Sunday.



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Eva Kaili is back with a new story: There’s a conspiracy

ATHENS — Eva Kaili is spinning up a new, eyebrow-raising narrative: Authorities might have targeted her because she knew too much about government spying.

After months of silence during her detention and house arrest, the most high-profile suspect in the cash-for-influence Qatargate scandal was suddenly everywhere over the weekend. 

Across a trio of interviews in the European media, the Greek European Parliament member was keen to proclaim her innocence, saying she never took any of the alleged bribes that authorities say countries such as Qatar and Morocco used to sway the Brussels machinery. 

But she also had a story to tell even darker than Qatargate, one involving insinuations of nefarious government spying and suggestions that maybe, just maybe, her jailing was politically motivated. Her work investigating the illegal use of Pegasus spyware in Europe, she argued, put her in the crosshairs of Europe’s own governments. 

“From the court file, my lawyers have discovered that the Belgian secret services have allegedly been monitoring the activities of members of the Pegasus special committee,” she told the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera.

“The fact that elected members of Parliament are being spied on by the secret services should raise more concerns about the health of our European democracy,” she added. “I think this is the ‘real scandal.’”

As Kaili reemerges and starts pointing the finger back at the government, the Belgian prosecutor’s office has decided to remain mum. A spokesperson on Monday said the prosecutor’s office was “not going to respond” to Kaili’s allegations. 

“This would violate the confidentiality of the investigation and the presumption of innocence,” the spokesperson added. “The evidence will be presented in court in due course.”

But her PR blitz is nonetheless a likely preview of Qatargate’s next chapter: The battle to win the public narrative.

A European media tour

In addition to her interview with the Italian press, Kaili also appeared in the Spanish and French press, where she expanded on her spying theory. 

In a video interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, Kaili said her legal team has evidence the entire PEGA committee was being watched illegally, arguing she does not know how the police intercepted certain conversations between her and other politicians. 

“I was not spied on with Pegasus, but for Pegasus,” she said. “We believe Morocco, Spain, France and Belgium spied on the European Parliament’s committee,” she told El Mundo.

Kaili’s assertions have not been backed up by public evidence. But she didn’t equivocate as she pointed the finger.

“The fact that security services surveilled elected members of Parliament should raise enormous concerns over the state of European democracy,” Kaili said. “This goes beyond the personal: We have to defend the European Parliament and the work of its members.”

Kaili was jailed in December as part of a deep corruption probe Belgian authorities were conducting into whether foreign countries were illegally influencing the European Parliament’s work. Her arrest came after the Belgian police recovered €150,000 in cash from her apartment — where she lived with her partner, Francesco Giorgi, who was also arrested — and a money-stuffed bag her father had.

The Greek politician flatly dismissed the charges across her interviews.

“No country has ever offered me money and I have never been bribed. Not even Russia, as has been alleged,” she told El Mundo. “My lawyers and I believe this was a police operation based on false evidence.”

According to her arrest warrant, Kaili was suspected of being “the primary organizer or co-organizer” of public corruption and money laundering.

“Eva Kaili told the journalist of ‘El Mundo’ not to publish her interview, until she gave them the final OK; unfortunately, the agreement was not honored,” her lawyer Michalis Dimitrakopoulos said on Monday.

Flying in on a Pegasus (committee)

The allegations — Kaili’s first major push to spin her arrest — prompted plenty of incredulity, including from those who worked with her on the Pegasus, or PEGA, committee. It especially befuddled those who recalled that Kaili had faced accusations of undermining the committee’s work. 

“I have absolutely no reason to believe the Belgian intelligence services spied on PEGA,” said Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, who helped prepare the committee’s final report. “Everything we do is public anyway. And we have our phones checked regularly, it makes absolutely no sense.”

Kaili’s decision to invoke her PEGA Committee work is intriguing as it taps into a controversial period of her career. 

While the panel was deep into its work in 2022, Greece was weathering its own persistent espionage scandal, which erupted after the government acknowledged it had wiretapped the leader of Kaili’s own party, Pasok. 

Yet Kaili perplexed many when she started publicly arguing in response that surveillance was common and happens across Europe, echoing the talking points of the ruling conservative government instead of her own socialist party. She also encouraged the PEGA panel not to visit Greece as part of its investigation.

The arrest warrant for MEP Andrea Cozzolino also mentions the alleged influence ringleader, former Parliament member Pier Antonio Panzeri, discussed getting Kaili on the PEGA Committee to help advance Moroccan interests (Morocco has been accused of illegally using the spyware).

A war of words?

Kaili’s media tour raises questions about how the Qatargate probe will unfold in the coming months. 

Eventually, Kaili and the other suspects will likely face trial, where authorities will have a chance to present their evidence. But until then, the suspects will have a chance to shape and push their preferred narrative — depending on what limits the court places on their public statements.

In recent weeks, Kaili has moved from jail to house arrest to an increasingly unrestricted life, allowing her more chances to opine on the case. Her lawyers also claim she will soon be back at work at the Parliament, although she is banned from leaving Belgium for Parliament’s sessions in Strasbourg.

Pieter Haeck, Eddy Wax, Antoaneta Roussi and Barbara Moens contributed reporting.



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Rochester netballers come up with inventive way to keep 2023 season on track

The bitumen netball courts in Rochester — a Victorian town ravaged by flood waters late last year — are a metaphor for the women who run netball there: Bloody tough.

Located just a few hundred metres from the Campaspe River, the courts and surrounds sat under contaminated floodwater for days.

Fences, signage, seating and children’s play equipment were destroyed or damaged, and the small wooden netball club rooms — which sit more than 1 metre above ground level — were inundated, ruining the flooring, toilets, showers and netball gear inside.

Once the water subsided and the sludge, silt and debris had been cleaned away, the courts — which are home to the Tigers, the netball club attached to the local football club, and a junior association — were “spongy and soft”, like a gymnastic mat.

After floods inundated the Rochester netball courts, the surfaces turned spongy and soft.()

Rochester Football/Netball Club netball president Katie Rasmussen and her sister-in-law, Jac Rasmussen, the president of the Rochester Netball Association, feared the worst.

“Almost every single person in Rochester was in disaster mode in the immediate aftermath — because all but a handful of houses were flooded, along with every business — but, as soon as the water went down, we headed to the courts and it looked bad … really bad,” Katie explained.

“I didn’t think there was any chance we’d be able to play netball here in the 2023 season, it was such a mess. You couldn’t even tell they were netball courts really.”

Once “outsiders could get into town again”, representatives from Netball Victoria and Emergency Recovery Victoria started co-ordinating the heavy-duty clean-up, which included calling in local volunteer CFA brigades. Next, a call was put out to the community on social media.

Myla Whipp and Remi Rasmussen observe the flood damage.()

“Even though people had so much going on in their own lives, trying to find somewhere to live, people turned up to help,” Katie said.

“There were a couple of volunteers there that day who I didn’t even know. They just rocked up with shovels and gloves. It was incredible.”

A race against the clock

Once cleaned, the extent of the damage to the playing surface was evident.

“We knew we’d have to replace lots of infrastructure, but the courts were our main concern,” Katie said.

“When you walked on them, they were really spongy, soft and bouncy. It was very strange.

A lot of infrastructure needed to be replaced at the courts, after it was covered in debris.()

“It felt like a worst-case scenario. Not being able to play at home would have been so hard. Everyone had been through so much.”

However, amazingly, the courts dried out in the days and weeks following the disaster and a recent audit by Netball Victoria gave the courts the tick of approval, meaning the Tigers were able to train on them and start their season. 

Rochester then hosted Kyabram in round one of the Goulburn Valley Football/Netball League, winning in three of five netball grades.

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“It’s kind of amazing to think the courts survived like they did,” said Jac, who heads up the junior association that feeds into the Tigers.

“The fences have been replaced, lots of damage is still visible, but they build stuff tough around here.”

Road to recovery

What didn’t survive the flood was the huge, pre-season tournament Rochester’s junior and senior clubs usually host in early March.

Attracting teams from across Victoria, the two-day event usually raises more than $5,000.

With key tournament organisers such as Katie, Jac and committee member Meagan Keating either not living in town after being made homeless by the flood or in caravans, and the rooms not being usable, it just proved too difficult.

The football/netball committee came up with a new membership category, to help raise money and keep the club afloat.()

“We were all stretched really thinly with what was going on in our own lives. So, while we had lots of offers of support and even to host the event somewhere else, we just decided to call it,” Katie said.

That left a huge hole in the netball budget. To help fill it, the joint football/netball committee came up with a new membership category for 2023 called “My Shout”, a way for those living outside Rochester to help.



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US Supreme Court maintains abortion pill access for now as legal fight continues

Access to a widely used abortion pill will remain at current levels for the time being, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday in a decision staving off sweeping restrictions ordered by lower courts.

The high court’s decision keeps the drug, mifepristone, available for now, but the legal battle over the drug, which has become the most common method of abortion nationwide, could drag on for months if not years to come.

Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented from the Supreme Court’s action, which prevents earlier rulings from a Texas-based judge and a federal appeals court from taking effect.

Those rulings would have suspended several policies the FDA enacted since 2016 to make mifepristone more accessible — including telemedicine prescription, mail delivery, retail pharmacy dispensing and the approval of a generic version of the drug. The lower-court action also would have scaled back the federally approved use of the drug from 10 weeks of pregnancy to seven weeks — before many patients know they are pregnant.

The Supreme Court’s unsigned order on Friday keeps those rulings blocked while litigation continues — first at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and then, perhaps, back at the Supreme Court. As a result, the status quo for access to mifepristone will likely remain in place through the fall and perhaps well into next year.

The case could return to the justices for full briefing, oral arguments and a final decision in the summer of 2024, just as the presidential campaign gets into full swing.

President Joe Biden cheered the brief Friday ruling for “preventing a lower court decision from going into effect that would have undermined FDA’s medical judgment and put women’s health at risk.”

“As a result of the Supreme Court’s stay, mifepristone remains available and approved for safe and effective use while we continue this fight in the courts,” he said.

As is often the case when acting on requests for emergency relief, the court’s majority did not explain its reasons for granting the stay.

Thomas also offered no explanation for opposing the stay, but Alito wrote a four-page opinion detailing his reasons for rejecting it, often echoing arguments made by the anti-abortion challengers in the case.

Alito wrote the majority opinion last June in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which ended the federal constitutional right to abortion. But no other justice signed onto his dissent on Friday.

He argued that his colleagues should have allowed an April 12 preliminary ruling from the 5th Circuit to be implemented because the Biden administration and Danco Laboratories, the drug company that makes the brand-name version of mifepristone, didn’t show that they would “suffer irreparable harm” under that ruling.

The restrictions on the drug ordered by the appeals court, Alito wrote, “would not remove mifepristone from the market” but “would simply restore the circumstances that existed (and that the Government defended) from 2000 to 2016 under three Presidential administrations.”

Alito also speculated that, if the high court had allowed the 5th Circuit’s ruling to take effect, the Biden administration might have used “enforcement discretion” to avoid implementing the restrictions.

Danco and another drug company — GenBioPro, which makes the generic version of the drug — had told the Supreme Court that the restrictions ordered by the 5th Circuit could amount to a nationwide ban of the drug, at least temporarily. GenBioPro would lose its federal approval for the generic version, and Danco would have to revise its product labels, recertify providers, apply to the FDA for a new regulatory framework and jump through other time-consuming administrative hoops, potentially cutting off access to the pill for months.

Attorneys for anti-abortion groups dismissed these claims, urging the high court to “restore a modicum of safety for the women and girls who use the drug” by reimposing the FDA’s pre-2016 restrictions.

The fight over mifepristone now returns to the conservative-leaning 5th Circuit, which will review briefs from both sides beginning next week and is set to hear oral arguments on May 17.

Mifepristone has been used for decades as part of a two-drug medication regimen to induce an abortion early in pregnancy. These medication abortions have become increasingly popular, particularly as patients have availed themselves of the newer options for access, including drugs prescribed via telemedicine and sent through the mail. In the wake of the Dobbs decision, which allowed states to ban abortion within their borders, the pills have also become a key way patients have circumvented those laws.

Last year, anti-abortion medical groups sued to revoke the FDA’s original 2000 approval of mifepristone as well as the agency’s policies expanding access to the drug over the past seven years. A federal district judge appointed by former president Donald Trump, Matthew Kacsmaryk, issued a preliminary ruling earlier this month largely siding with the challengers. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals narrowed Kacmsaryk’s ruling, keeping the drug on the market but suspending the policies that broadened access.

Numerous studies have found mifepristone to be safe and effective — whether dispensed in-person by a doctor or sent by mail. The country’s leading medical groups, including the American Medical Association, have petitioned courts to uphold FDA approval of the pill, vouching for the agency’s rigor and warning that siding with the challengers would open the door to a wave of cases going after everything from vaccines to birth control. The pharmaceutical industry has also cautioned that companies will hesitate to seek approval for new cures if they fear FDA approval could someday be second-guessed and overturned by courts.

While the Supreme Court’s decision maintains access to mifepristone at the federal level for now, Democratic state officials and medical groups are bracing for the possibility that judges could implement restrictions in the months ahead. Legislatures in some red states are also moving to enact state restrictions on the drug, on top of existing laws restricting abortions more generally.

Several blue states have recently moved to stockpile doses of either mifepristone or misoprostol — the second pill commonly used with mifepristone for medication abortions. Misoprostol can also terminate a pregnancy on its own, but it carries a slightly higher rate of complication and more side effects than the two drugs together.

Clinics as well as online vendors are preparing their doctors and nurses to pivot to offering misoprostol-only abortions if necessary. The drug, which is also used to treat stomach ulcers, is subject to fewer FDA restrictions than mifepristone.

The Supreme Court’s order came one week after the case reached the justices on an emergency basis. Alito, who handles emergency requests emerging from the 5th Circuit, acted twice to place temporary holds on the 5th Circuit’s ruling so that the justices could have more time to consider the matter.



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The EU greenwashed fossil gas. Today, we are suing.

Last July, EU policymakers decided to greenwash fossil gas. Today, the WWF European Policy Office, Client Earth, BUND and Transport & Environment are taking them to the European Court of Justice.

We are doing it to reassert a basic truth: all fossil fuels are dangerous for the planet. Only last summer, European cities baked under fierce heatwaves, rivers across our continent ran dry, and whole swathes of France, Spain, and Portugal were burned by unprecedented wildfires. In the midst of this devastation, the EU approved a new chapter of its supposed green investment guidebook — the EU Taxonomy — which stated that fossil gas-fired electricity is ‘green’. In fact, fossil gas is a fossil fuel that can cause plumes of methane that harm the climate just as badly as coal.

However, under the guise of climate action, the gas Taxonomy could divert tens of billions of euros from green projects into the very fossil fuels which are causing those heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires. This is while scientific experts at the International Energy Agency and the United Nations continue to stress that we must halt any expansion of fossil fuels and invest exclusively in developing clean energy sources. Even the EU’s own experts have said we must use much less gas by 2030. The gas Taxonomy is not just at odds with the science: it also flies in the face of market dynamics. Renewable investments across the world reached $500 billion last year, which shows that there is already a massive, readily available alternative to gas-fired power.

For all these reasons, having previously filed a request for the Commission to review the gas Taxonomy, we are filing a case at the CJEU today. We will argue that the gas Taxonomy, and the Commission’s refusal to review it, clash with the European Climate Law, the precautionary principle, and the Taxonomy Regulation — the law on which the Taxonomy is built. It also undermines the EU’s obligations under the Paris Agreement. We expect a judgment within the next two years.

Fossil gas at the heart of two European crises

Europe faces two interlocking crises: an inflation crisis and a climate crisis. Fossil gas is at the heart of both. Had we decided to invest with more determination in renewables and energy efficiency even just 10 years ago, our continent would not have been so dependent on energy imports. We would not have faced such great spikes in energy and food prices, which disproportionately hurt our poorest citizens. We would be closer to meeting our Paris Agreement goals.

Instead,  largely due to decades of industry pressure — the gas lobby spends up to €78 million a year in Brussels alone — our continent has remained extremely dependent on destructive fossil fuels. That dependency must end. It is high time to direct billions of euros into installing more renewables more quickly, with a focus on secure, cheap wind and solar power. It is time to expand the technologies to back them up, such as building insulation, energy storage, and strong grids. And above all, it is time to stop the lie that putting money into any fossil fuel will help the green transition. That is the purpose of our legal case.

Policymakers and financial institutions beware

EU policymakers are increasingly inserting references to the EU Taxonomy into other policies. If our case is successful, and the Taxonomy’s gas criteria are overturned, any legislation tying gas financing to the Taxonomy would become inapplicable.

Policymakers beware: the Taxonomy is on shaky ground, and you should not use it to justify new gas investments. Fossil fuel companies that get hooked on green funding will face a rude awakening if our legal case cuts that support off. They may even incur steep losses if they have made investments based on EU policies only to find that gas has been struck out of them.

Fossil fuel companies that get hooked on green funding will face a rude awakening if our legal case cuts that support off.

Financial institutions also face real reputational, financial and legal risks from the gas Taxonomy. Fossil gas is excluded from the global green bond market. Leading institutions such as the European Investment Bank or the Dutch pension federation have openly criticized the Taxonomy’s greenwashing. What is more, taxonomies in several other countries exclude fossil gas-fired power, so the European one lags behind. Any financial institution that uses the EU Taxonomy to justify investing in fossil gas assets therefore risks direct, robust and repeated attacks on its reputation.

The inexorable public policy shift towards energy efficiency and renewables, and the plummeting price of wind and solar power, have made fossil gas-fired power uncompetitive. Investments in more fossil gas, even if encouraged by the EU Taxonomy, would quickly result in stranded assets and could even cause billion-euro losses. Financial institutions must guard against these risks by stopping their support for gas expansion now.

Finally, if our case is successful, financial institutions could find they have purchased or sold products mislabeled as ‘green’. They must be careful to verify the legal consequences of such an event, particularly for its impact on any climate claims they have made.

Our message to the EU

Policymakers and financial institutions should note that the Taxonomy faces four further court cases: one from the governments of Austria and Luxembourg, one from Greenpeace, one from the Trinational Association for Nuclear Protection (ATPN) and another from MEP René Repasi. The EU’s greenwashing is now being discredited from all sides – amongst scientists, in financial markets, and soon, we expect, by the judiciary.

Our message to the EU is simple: do not help fossil lobbyists to block our continent’s move to clean, cheap and secure energy. If you do, we will meet you head-on.

Victor Hugo once said that nobody can stop an idea whose time has come. Today, despite much fossil fuel lobbying, denial and delay, it is the turn of the green transition. Our message to the EU is simple: do not help fossil lobbyists to block our continent’s move to clean, cheap and secure energy. If you do, we will meet you head-on.

See you in court.



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Biden’s rebuke of a bold, reform-minded crime law makes all Americans less safe

President Joe Biden’s support for a Republican-led effort to nullify the Washington D.C. City Council’s revision of its criminal code, signed into law on Monday, plays into the fear narrative that is being increasingly advanced across the U.S.

Biden could have used his platform and clout to clarify the actual substance of the carefully crafted District of Columbia proposal — and adhere to his campaign commitment to reduce the number of incarcerated Americans.

Instead, the president ignored the glaring problems in D.C.’s existing criminal code, which the 275-page long package of revisions was designed to address. This included reforming the draconian and inflexible sentencing requirements that have swelled the District’s incarceration rate and wasted countless resources imprisoning individuals who pose no danger to public safety. By rejecting this decade-plus effort, the president decided that D.C. residents have no right to determine for themselves how to fix these problems.

There are communities across the U.S. that see virtually no violent crime, and it isn’t because they’re the most policed.

Biden’s decision is the latest backlash to U.S. justice reform coming from both sides of the political aisle.

Instead of doubling down on failed tough-on-crime tactics, Americans need to come together to articulate and invest in a new vision of public safety. We already know what that looks like because there are communities across the country which see virtually no violent crime, and it isn’t because they’re the most policed.

Safe communities are places where people (even those facing economic distress) are housed, where schools have the resources to teach all children, where the water and air are clean, where families have access to good-paying jobs and comprehensive healthcare, and where those who are struggling are given a hand, not a handcuff.

This is the kind of community every American deserves to live in, but that future is only possible if we shift resources from carceral responses to communities and shift our mindset from punishment to prevention. 

Too often it’s easier to advocate for locking people up than it is to innovate and advance a new vision for public safety. 

In the wake of particularly traumatic years, as well as growing divisiveness that has politicized criminal justice reform, it is not surprising that many people believe their communities are less safe. While public perceptions of crime have long been disconnected from actual crime rates and can be heavily influenced by media coverage, the data tells a mixed story. Homicide rates did increase in both urban and rural areas in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and record levels of gun sales.

While early available data suggests these numbers are trending down, it’s too soon to tell, especially given the nation’s poor crime data infrastructure. What is clear is that there is no evidence that criminal justice reform is to blame for rising crime, despite well-funded attempts by those resistant to change and who are intent on driving a political agenda to make such a claim stick. 

Yet fear often obscures facts; people are scared for their safety and want reassurance. Too often it’s easier to advocate for locking people up than it is to innovate and advance a new vision for public safety. 

We need leaders who can govern with both empathy and integrity – who can provide genuine compassion to those who feel scared while also following the data about how to create safer communities. And all the data points to the need for reform. 

Mass incarceration costs U.S. taxpayers an estimated $1 trillion annually.

Mass incarceration costs U.S. taxpayers an estimated $1 trillion annually, when you factor in not only the cost of confinement but also the crushing toll placed on incarcerated people and their families, children, and communities. Despite this staggering figure, there’s no real evidence that incarceration works, and in fact some evidence to suggest it actually makes people more likely to commit future crimes. Yet we keep pouring more and more taxpayer dollars into this short-sighted solution that, instead of preventing harm, only delays and compounds it. 

We have to stop pretending that reform is the real threat to public safety and recognize how our over-reliance on incarceration actually makes us less safe. 

Reform and public safety go hand in hand. Commonsense changes including reforming cash bail, revisiting extreme sentences and diverting people from the criminal legal system have all been shown to have positive effects on individuals and communities.

At a time of record-low clearance rates nationwide and staffing challenges in police departments and prosecutor’s offices, arresting and prosecuting people for low-level offenses that do not impact public safety can actually make us less safe by directing resources away from solving serious crimes and creating collateral consequences for people that make it harder to escape cycles of poverty and crime. 

Yet, tough-on-crime proponents repeatedly misrepresent justice reform by claiming that reformers are simply letting people who commit crimes off the hook. Nothing could be further from the truth. Reform does not mean a lack of accountability, but rather a more effective version of accountability for everyone involved. 

Our traditional criminal legal system has failed victims time and again. In a 2022 survey of crime survivors, just 8% said that the justice system was very helpful in navigating the legal process and being connected to services. Many said they didn’t even report the crime because of distrust of the system. 

When asked what they want, many crime survivors express a fundamental desire to ensure that the person who caused them harm doesn’t hurt them or anyone else ever again. But status quo approaches aren’t providing that. The best available data shows that 7 in 10 people released from prison in 2012 were rearrested within five years. Perhaps that’s why crime victims support alternatives to traditional prosecution and incarceration by large margins. 

For example, in New York City, Common Justice offered the first alternative-to-incarceration program in the country focused on violent felonies in adult courts. When given the option, 90% of eligible victims chose to participate in a restorative justice program through Common Justice over incarcerating the person who harmed them. Just 7% of participants have been terminated from the program for committing a new crime. 

A restorative justice program launched by former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón for youth facing serious felony charges was shown to reduce participants’ likelihood of rearrest by 44 percent within six months compared to youth who went through the traditional juvenile justice system, and the effects were still notable even four years after the initial offer to participate.

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt launched a groundbreaking program last year to allow people convicted of violent offenses to avoid prison time if they commit to behavioral health treatment. As of January, just one of 60 participants had been rearrested for a misdemeanor. 

While too many politicians give lip service to reform, those who really care about justice are doing the work, regardless of electoral consequences. We need more bold, innovative leaders willing to rethink how we achieve safety and accountability, not those who go where the wind blows and spread misinformation for political gain. 

Fear should not cause us to repeat the mistakes of the past. When politicians finally decide to care more about protecting people than protecting their own power, only then will we finally achieve the safety that all communities deserve. 

Miriam Aroni Krinsky is the executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, a former federal prosecutor, and the author of Change from Within: Reimagining the 21st-Century Prosecutor. Alyssa Kress is the communications director of Fair and Just Prosecution.  

More: Wrongful convictions cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Wrongdoing prosecutors must be held accountable.

Plus: Senate votes to block D.C. crime laws, with Biden’s support

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Heads roll in Ukraine graft purge, but defense chief Reznikov rejects rumors he’s out

KYIV — Heads are rolling in President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s expanding purge against corruption in Ukraine, but Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov is denying rumors that he’s destined for the exit — a move that would be viewed as a considerable setback for Kyiv in the middle of its war with Russia.

Two weeks ago, Ukraine was shaken by two major corruption scandals centered on government procurement of military catering services and electrical generators. Rather than sweeping the suspect deals under the carpet, Zelenskyy launched a major crackdown, in a bid to show allies in the U.S. and EU that Ukraine is making a clean break from the past.

Tetiana Shevchuk, a lawyer with the Anti-Corruption Action Center, a watchdog, said Zelenskyy needed to draw a line in the sand: “Because even when the war is going on, people saw that officials are conducting ‘business as usual’. They saw that corrupt schemes have not disappeared, and it made people really angry. Therefore, the president had to show he is on the side of fighting against corruption.”

Since the initial revelations, the graft investigations have snowballed, with enforcers uncovering further possible profiteering in the defense ministry. Two former deputy defense ministers have been placed in pre-trial detention.

Given the focus on his ministry in the scandal, speculation by journalists and politicians has swirled that Reznikov — one of the best-known faces of Ukraine’s war against the Russian invaders — is set to be fired or at least transferred to another ministry.

But losing such a top name would be a big blow. At a press conference on Sunday, Reznikov dismissed the claims about his imminent departure as rumors and said that only Zelenskyy was in a position to remove him. Although Reznikov admits the anti-corruption department at his ministry failed and needs reform, he said he was still focused on ensuring that Ukraine’s soldiers were properly equipped.

“Our key priority now is the stable supply of Ukrainian soldiers with all they need,” Reznikov said during the press conference.

Despite his insistence that any decision on his removal could only come from Zelenskyy, Reznikov did still caution that he was ready to depart — and that no officials would serve in their posts forever.

The speculation about Reznikov’s fate picked up on Sunday when David Arakhamia, head of Zelenskyy’s affiliated Servant of the People party faction in the parliament, published a statement saying Reznikov would soon be transferred to the position of minister for strategic industries to strengthen military-industrial cooperation. Major General Kyrylo Budanov, current head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, would head the Ministry of Defense, Arakhamia said.

However, on Monday, Arakhamia seemed to row back somewhat, and claimed no reshuffle in the defense ministry was planned for this week. Mariana Bezuhla, deputy head of the national security and defense committee in the Ukrainian parliament, also said that the parliament had decided to postpone any staff decisions in the defense ministry as they consider the broader risks for national defense ahead of another meeting of defense officials at the U.S. Ramstein air base in Germany and before an expected upcoming Russian offensive.  

Zelenskyy steps in

The defense ministry is not the only department to be swept up in the investigations. Over the first days of February, the Security Service of Ukraine, State Investigation Bureau, and Economic Security Bureau conducted dozens of searches at the customs service, the tax service and in local administrations. Officials of several different levels were dismissed en masse for sabotaging their service during war and hurting the state.     

“Unfortunately, in some areas, the only way to guarantee legitimacy is by changing leaders along with the implementation of institutional changes,” Zelenskyy said in a video address on February 1. “I see from the reaction in society that people support the actions of law enforcement officers. So, the movement towards justice can be felt. And justice will be ensured.” 

Yuriy Nikolov, founder of the Nashi Groshi (Our Money) investigative website, who broke the story about the defense ministry’s alleged profiteering on food and catering services for soldiers in January, said the dismissals and continued searches were first steps in the right direction.

“Now let’s wait for the court sentences. It all looked like a well-coordinated show,” Nikolov told POLITICO.  “At the same time, it is good that the government prefers this kind of demonstrative fight against corruption, instead of covering up corrupt officials.”

Still, even though Reznikov declared zero tolerance for corruption and admitted that defense procurement during war needs reform, he has still refused to publish army price contract data on food and non-secret equipment, Nikolov said.

During his press conference, Reznikov insisted he could not reveal sensitive military information during a period of martial law as it could be used by the enemy. “We have to maintain the balance of public control and keep certain procurement procedures secret,” he said.

Two deputies down

Alleged corruption in secret procurement deals has, however, already cost him two of his deputies.  

Deputy Defense Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov, who oversaw logistical support for the army, tendered his resignation in January following a scandal involving the purchase of military rations at inflated prices. In his resignation letter, Shapovalov asked to be dismissed in order “not to pose a threat to the stable supply of the Armed Forces of Ukraine as a result of a campaign of accusations related to the purchase of food services.”

Another of Reznikov’s former deputies, Bohdan Khmelnytsky, who managed defense procurement in the ministry until December, was also arrested over accusations he lobbied for a purchase of 3,000 poor-quality bulletproof vests for the army worth more than 100 million hryvnias (€2.5 million), the Security Service of Ukraine reported.  If found guilty he faces up to eight years in prison. The director of the company that supplied the bulletproof vests under the illicit contract has been identified as a suspect by the authorities and now faces up to 12 years in prison if found guilty.

Both ex-officials can be released on bail.  

Another unnamed defense ministry official, a non-staff adviser to the deputy defense minister of Ukraine, was also identified as a suspect in relation to the alleged embezzlement of 1.7 billion hryvnias (€43 million) from the defense budget, the General Prosecutors Office of Ukraine reported.  

When asked about corruption cases against former staffers, Reznikov stressed people had to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

Reputational risk

At the press conference on Sunday, Reznikov claimed that during his time in the defense ministry, he managed to reorganize it, introduced competition into food supplies and filled empty stocks.

However, the anti-corruption department of the ministry completely failed, he admitted. He argued the situation in the department was so unsatisfactory that the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption gave him an order to conduct an official audit of employees. And it showed the department had to be reorganized.

“At a closed meeting with the watchdogs and investigative journalists I offered them to delegate people to the reloaded anti-corruption department. We also agreed to create a public anti-corruption council within the defense ministry,” Reznikov said.

Nikolov was one of the watchdogs attending the closed meeting. He said the minister did not bring any invoices or receipts for food products for the army, or any corrected contract prices to the meeting. Moreover, the minister called the demand to reveal the price of an egg or a potato “an idiocy” and said prices should not be published at all, Nikolov said in a statement. Overpriced eggs were one of the features of the inflated catering contracts that received particular public attention.

Reznikov instead suggested creating an advisory body with the public. He would also hold meetings, and working groups, and promised to provide invoices upon request, the journalist added.

“So far, it looks like the head of state, Zelenskyy, has lost patience with the antics of his staff, but some of his staff do not want to leave their comfort zone and are trying to leave some corruption options for themselves for the future,” Nikolov said.

Reznikov was not personally accused of any wrongdoing by law enforcement agencies.

But the minister acknowledged that there was reputational damage in relation to his team and communications. “This is a loss of reputation today, it must be recognized and learned from,” he said. At the same time, he believed he had nothing to be ashamed of: “My conscience is absolutely clear,” he said.



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