Over-reliance on gas delays G7 transition to net-zero power

Three years ago, G7, a group of major industrialized countries that includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, committed to decarbonizing their power systems by 2035. It was a historic and hopeful moment, in which the group demonstrated global leadership, and made a first step toward what needs to become an OECD-wide commitment, according to the recommendation made by the International Energy Agency in its 2050 Net Zero Emission Scenario, setting the world on a pathway to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees.

As we approach the 2024 G7 summit, the ability of G7 countries to deliver on their power systems decarbonization commitment, not least to address the still-lingering fossil fuel price and cost-of-living crisis, but also to retain their global energy transition leadership, is put under scrutiny. So far, the G7 countries’ actual progress toward this critical goal is a mixed picture of good, bad, and ugly, as new analysis shows.

via G7 Power Systems Scorecard, May 2024, E3G

Most G7 countries are making steps on policy and regulatory adjustments that will facilitate a managed transition.

Grid modernization and deployment is, for example, finally starting to receive the attention it deserves. Some countries, such as the U.S., are also starting to address the issue of long-duration energy storage, which is crucial for a renewables-based power sector.

Coal is firmly on its way out in all G7 countries, except Japan, which is lagging behind its peers. This is where the challenges begin, as things like Japan’s unhealthy relationship with coal risk undermining credibility of the whole group as world leaders on energy transition.

Despite these efforts, all G7 countries are delaying critical decisions to implement transition pathways delivering a resilient, affordable and secure fossil-free power system where renewables – mostly wind and solar – play the dominant role. A tracker by campaign groups shows that other European countries have already engaged firmly in that direction.

Progress made so far is neither uniform, nor sufficient.

Further gaps vary by country, but overall, more action is needed on energy efficiency, non-thermal flexibility solutions, and restructuring power markets to facilitate higher renewable electricity and storage uptake. The EU’s recently adopted power market reform provides a solid framework for changes in this direction, at least for the EU-based G7 countries, but it remains to be seen how the EU’s new rules are going to be implemented on the national level.

Overall: Progress made so far is neither uniform, nor sufficient. For one, translation of the G7-wide target into a legislated national commitment is lacking in most G7 countries, in Europe and beyond. Moreover, the chance of G7 countries reaching their 2035 target is at risk, along with their global image as leaders on the energy transition, due to the lack of a clear, time-bound and economically-sound national power sector decarbonization roadmaps. Whether 100 percent or overwhelmingly renewables-based by 2035, today’s power systems will need to undergo an unprecedented structural change to get there.

For this change to take off, clear vision on how to decarbonize the ‘last mile’ while providing for a secure, affordable and reliable clean electricity supply, is crucial. Regrettably, today’s G7 long-term vision is betting on one thing: Gas-fired back-up generation. While there are nascent attempts to address the development of long-term storage, grids, flexibility and other balancing solutions, the key focus in most G7 countries is on planning for a massive increase in gas capacity.

Whether 100 percent or overwhelmingly renewables-based by 2035, today’s power systems will need to undergo an unprecedented structural change to get there.

All G7 countries but France have new gas power plants in planning or construction, with the growth shares the biggest in three European countries: Italy’s planning to boost its gas power fleet by 12 percent, the U.K. by 23.5 percent, and Germany by a whopping 28 percent. The US, which consumes one quarter of global gas-in-power demand, has the largest project pipeline in absolute terms – 37.8GW, the fourth largest pipeline in the world.

This gas infrastructure build-out contradicts the real-economy trend: In all European G7 countries gas demand has been dropping at least since the 2021-2022 energy crisis, driven particularly by the power sector decarbonization. Japan’s gas demand peaked in 2007, and Canada’s in 1996 (see IEA gas consumption data). Even G7 governments’ own future energy demand projections show further drop in gas demand by 2030, by one-fifth to one-third of today’s levels in all European G7 countries and Japan, and at least by 6-10 percent in Canada and the U.S.

Maria Pastukhova | Programme Lead – Global Energy Transition, E3G

Most G7 countries argue that this new gas power fleet will be used at a much lower capacity factor as a back-up generation source to balance variable renewables. Some, for example Germany, incentivize new gas power capacity build-out under the label of ‘hydrogen readiness’, assuming that these facilities will run on low-carbon hydrogen starting in 2035. Others, for example Japan or the U.S., are betting on abating gas power generation with carbon capture and storage technologies in the long-term.

Keeping gas power infrastructure in an increasingly renewables-based, decentralized power system using technology that may or may not work in time is a very risky gamble to take given the time left.

G7 countries have got no more than a decade left to act on their commitment to reach net-zero emissions power systems. We have readily-available solutions to deliver the major bulk of the progress needed: Grids, renewables, battery, and other short and mid-duration storage, as well as efficiency improvements. These technologies need to be drastically scaled now, along with additional solutions we will need by 2035, such as long-duration energy storage, digitalization, and educating skilled workers to build and operate those new power systems.

While available and sustainable, these solutions must be deployed now to deliver in time for 2035. Going forward, G7 can’t afford to lose any more time focusing on gas-in-power, which is on the way out anyway and won’t bring the needed structural transformation of the power system.



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Fear, a decisive force in these European elections

As the European Parliament elections approach, a growing sense of fear stemming from multiple — yet mutually reinforcing — sources seems to be the decisive force shaping electoral behaviour. Citizens of the EU experience uncertainty in the face of broad economic and cultural changes occurring at an unprecedented pace, coupled by unforeseen crises, such as Covid and the climate crisis, and the re-emergence of war conflicts, on a continent accustomed to peace for over half a century.

The survey

Last month, more than 10,800 European voters took a stand on the pressing issues and running challenges of the EU, as part of a large-scale comparative survey conducted by Kapa Research across 10 member countries (Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, and Spain) between May 4 and 24, 2024.

This survey goes beyond domestic dilemmas or voting intentions. Taking a closer look at emerging and established trends within European societies between 2019 and 2024, it examines what shapes the bloc’s social agenda today, citizen concerns about European and international issues, leadership expectations, and opinions about leading global figures. On question after question, responses reveal a strong undercurrent of fear impacting voting behaviour just days before June’s European elections, emanating from four critical realities.

Rising cost of living is the foremost concern for Europeans heading to the polls.

Fear cause No.1: Economic uncertainty

Rising cost of living is the foremost concern for Europeans heading to the polls. Inflation shocks that have stunned European economies during the post-pandemic period established a deep-rooted unease about people’s ability to make ends meet. Asked about issues that worry them most when thinking of today’s Europe, respondents, at an average of 47 percent , place “rising cost of living” as their top concern. The issue has become remarkably salient in countries like France (58 percent), Greece (55 percent), Romania (54 percent), Spain (49 percent), and Bulgaria (44 percent), yet, still, in the rest of the surveyed member countries the cost of living ends up among the top three causes of concern. This wide sense of economic uncertainty is further spurred by a lingering feeling of unfairness when it comes to the distribution of wealth: M ore than eight out of 10 (81 percent overall) sense that “in Europe, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer”.

via Kapa Research

Anxiety transforms into fear when one realizes that the main political conflict has little to do with competing economic solutions to high living costs. Instead, it is more of a clash between systemic forces and extremists, primarily centred on the field of immigration and the perceived threat to the European way of life.

Fear cause No.2: Immigration

On the cultural front, since 2015, immigration in Europe has been a complex and multifaceted issue, with humanitarian and political implications. In our survey, immigration appears to be the second most important citizen concern with 37 percent (on average), while, at the same time, on the question of which areas should Europe focus on the next five years, calls for “stricter immigration control” are prevalent, with 36 percent of respondents across all surveyed countries ranking it as a top priority. This is notably evident in Germany (56 percent), in spite of its reputation as a welcoming country early in the migration crisis, and in Italy (40 percent), a hub-country into Europe for migrants and refugees. More importantly, the perception of immigration as a “threat to public order” is widespread, with 68 percent of respondents holding this view, compared to only 23 percent who see it as an “opportunity for a new workforce”.

via Kapa Research

Fear cause No.3: War on our doorstep

The return of war to Europe has reignited fears about security; conflicts in Ukraine and, more recently, in Gaza come into play as new factors impacting this year’s EU elections. In this survey, “the Russia-Ukraine war” is the third most pressing concern for 35 percent of respondents, only two percentage points below “immigration ”. Here geographical proximity is crucial as the issue is especially prominent in Estonia (52 percent), Hungary (50 percent), Poland (50 percent), and Romania (43 percent), all neighbouring countries to either Russia or Ukraine. Additionally, demand for immediate ceasefire on both fronts is prevalent: 65 percent believe that hostilities in Gaza “must stop immediately ”, while the same view is supported by 60 percent for the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

To this end, as the feeling of danger from wars and terrorism grows stronger, EU-UK relations become indirectly connected to the issue of security: 56% of respondents wish for a (re)alignment between Great Britain and the EU. At the same time, and compared to current leaders, former UK PM Tony Blair enjoys strong popularity ratings.

Fear cause No.4: The unknown reality of AI

Over time, technological advancement has been widely welcomed as a positive development for humanity, as a means of improving living conditions, and as a growth accelerator. The rapid rise of a rtificial i ntelligence in citizens’ day-to-day lives seems to be disrupting this tradition. Among the member countries surveyed, an average majority of 51 percent considers AI more as a “threat to humanity” rather than as an “opportunity” (31 percent ). Along the same vein, scepticism is reflected in the reluctance to embrace AI as a strategic goal for the EU in the next five years, with 54 percent opposing such a move.

via Kapa Research

Mixing all four of the above ingredients produces an explosive cocktail of fear within European societies.

Key takeaway

Mixing all four of the above ingredients produces an explosive cocktail of fear within European societies. While combined with the prevalent EU technocracy and the weak institutions-to-citizens communication, it is reasonable to expect mounted distrust and electoral consequences. Voters will use their ballot to send painful messages. However, our survey shows that the great majority still favo r strengthening the European acquis — security, freedom, democracy, growth, and social cohesion — and seek a competent leadership that can defend it.

via Kapa Research

See full survey report by Kapa Research here.



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Super Poll Q&A: Is EU-wide conservative coalition losing momentum?

The Euronews Super Polls foresee an election victory for the EPP, unprecedented growth for the ultraconservatives, and a slight increase for the socialists. Data suggest that crafting the future ruling coalition could turn out to be a political conundrum.

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According to the Euronews Super Polls, one thing looks certain: after the 6-9 June elections, the European Parliament will have a clear right-wing majority.

Furthermore, the forces of the conservative camp — from the centre-right to the far-right — will have to overcome deep rifts and contradictions among each other to craft a functional alliance.

Meanwhile, the conservative groups will hardly be able to join their forces in one strong coalition.

Socialist parties have been slightly and steadily growing for three months, while the liberal-democrats of Renew are on a fast-declining path.

Finally, here is a bit of trivia rather than political data: the only countries where the far right is expected to have a meaningless showing are Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta.

We asked Boyd Wagner, chief analyst of the Euronews Polls Centre, to help us better understand the results of our latest Super Poll in nine representative EU countries.

Euronews: In Germany, the union’s largest economy, the Christian Democrats (CDU) are steadily leading the opinion polls. How do you comment on this?

Wagner: The EPP (European People’s Party) will continue to get its biggest boost from the German coalition, the German group, the CDU, and the CSU (German and Bavarian Christian Democrats, respectively).

We project them to be at about 30%. They should break the 30% threshold in Germany next week. And that should be a big boom for the EPP group.

Euronews: The far-right party Alternative for Germany seems to be losing some of its appeal to the German electorate and could be outpaced by the Social Democrats (SPD) as the second party. Is this due to the recent scandals and accusations against some of its members of being Russian influence agents and the declarations of sympathy to the SS by the head of the party’s European Parliament electoral list, Maximilian Krah?

Wagner: We might see a greater impact when the people go to vote in a week or so, in Germany, that the SS scandal has a greater impact. it’s really going to be probably the SS scandal because of the fact that it keeps them out of the (far-right) Identity and Democracy group in the European Parliament. So, just the reverberation of that scandal is going to have an effect on everything that is going to play out in the long term.

Euronews: In France, the landslide victory of Jordan Bardella, from Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, is a foregone conclusion. The gripping race is for the second position between two staunch pro-EU candidates, the Renaissance’s Valérie Hayer and the Socialist Party’s Raphaël Glucksman. Isn’t it?

Wagner: You can see the Socialist party in France really making big-time gains on Rennaisance’s heels. I think that is going to become their bigger concern for Macron and the group. I think that the Renaissance cannot afford to be looking at trying to make sure that they’re getting closer to the National Rally at this time; they need to make sure that they stay in the strong second place and don’t let the socialists come at their heels”

Euronews: Is Glucksman’s Socialist Party a real threat to the so-called “presidential majority” both in France and Europe?

Wagner: Rennaisance shouldn’t let the socialists come at their heels, as they’re doing right now, just with a little bit more than a week ahead of the election, as we kind of track these last set of numbers on a two-week bit on the two-week basis before we had. The Macron list is at 16.6%, and the Socialists are at just under 14%. So we’re now inching very, very, very close between those two parties right now.

Euronews: Italy is the other important piece of the EU’s far-right ultra-conservative camp. Post-fascist Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni steadily occupies the first position. We have assisted in the past couple of weeks with a cautious rapprochement between Meloni (her party is an ECR member) and the number one of the French opposition, Le Pen (her party is affiliated with Identity and Democracy). Do you think that they could be tempted to join their forces, create a new group, and let go of the project of a “pro-von der Leyen” conservative coalition (without Le Pen)?

Wagner: I certainly don’t think that PM Meloni would think that it’s the death of that possibility. If we include everybody in there, and I’m going to exclude the AfD — now that they’ve been excluded from the Identity and Democracy group — you have 60 to 65 seats from the ID, and you’re looking at over 80 seats from the ECR. That together becomes a formidable number two, potentially number two; they could be bigger than the S&D in the European Parliament. And that would mean that there is a strong right-wing that then needs to be considered.

Now, can the EPP still work with this? This is something that they’re going to have to consider. And at the end of the day, just having that many seats to the right of them is not enough. Either the EPP decides to get in coalition with them or not, or they decide to form a government with them.

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Either way, they’re going to have to reckon with the power that is on right now because it’s much more inflated than it had been previously.

Euronews: Let’s move now to Spain. Looking at the Euronews Super Poll, the Partido Popular is slightly leading the polls, followed by the socialist party, PSOE. Is Spain the last bastion of the mainstream parties of the European political tradition?

Wagner: The Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) was the largest party. They are the party of government right now in Spain. We don’t project them to be the winning party. But it’s not like you’re seeing some more right-wing party kind of coming to the fore to take that place. You’re not seeing the rise of Vox as much as we might have thought.

Instead, it’s kind of ending up as a fight between those two establishment parties, the Partido Popular and the PSOE. And, as we track them right now, it looks like it’s going to be the Partido Popular that is going to take the lead, but it’s still close to call.

As we kind of project things out, we’re looking at 25 MEPs for the EPP, for the PP in Spain, and we’re looking at just 20 for the PSOE and the S&P. Again, that’s a very unique one.

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Euronews: So, let me conclude that the EPP group will be a German-Polish-Spanish affair. What is your analysis of this?

Wagner: It’s very clear that it’s going to be driven by the Germans, driven by the Spanish. And, I think in third place, you probably will see the Polish. I think you’re right about that. The EPP will stand to benefit from it’s the Eastern flank of Europe.

I think on the eastern flank of Europe, you’re seeing a lot of these more traditional parties accumulate more votes than they had before. So I think that the EPP will do better there. But at the end of the day, there are just not as many MEPs and seats in the European Parliament to be found in some of those countries. So they’re really going to have to be buoyed by the Spanish, by the Germans, by the Polish.

Euronews: Romania is another interesting exercise in the fine art of political coalition design. Could the next European Parliament be inspired by the structure of the current ruling coalition in Romania?

Wagner: It certainly looks that way. We project the EPP to be the leader with about 11 members in the next European Parliament. We project the S&D to be right behind them with nine members. There’s seven for the ECR. And then you have five for the Renew group.

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Again, the hardest thing to track with Romania is just exactly because they’re running for their own national parliament elections as well.

Euronews: I would move to the Netherlands. Are they going to confirm the results of the recent national elections?

Wagner: The Netherlands is an interesting track because they had their own internal battles that they have been waging for some time, and it looks like they’re coming to some conclusions there.

It does look like I think that they will be confirming their own government in due time very soon. So, as we put it right now, you’re looking at nine MEPs from the Netherlands for the ID, so that’s it’s certainly a strong position to take on the right

Euronews: How about Belgium? They will also hold their Federal elections on the same day as the European elections.

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Wagner: Belgium is always a very tough one to put the finger on. You’re thinking about where we track with where members of the European Parliament are going to be sitting from Belgium. You also see again, there’s a strong rise in the right, just like you see in the Netherlands next door, just like you’re seeing in France next door.

It’s going to be very well-proportioned. From Flanders (Dutch-speaking region), we are going to see most of the right-wing voters. Whereas in Wallonia (French-speaking region) you’re going to see a stronger proportion of left voters.

Euronews: Regarding right-wingers, in Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s ultra-conservative Fidesz party is leading the poll, yet, for the first time, a new opposition party seems to be on the rise. Could Péter Magyar’s movement become a political threat to Orbán?

Wagner: We track them right now at almost 20% in the polls. That’s a very strong number for a group that is not technically a united opposition. Two years ago, when Hungary had its last national parliamentary elections, they ran as a united opposition, and they were able to achieve upwards of 30% of the vote, if I recall correctly. It still didn’t come close to achieving a victory over Prime Minister Orban. So 20% is not going to get them close in terms of an overall movement. I don’t really see it.

I mean, we still project for (Fidesz) to get over 40% of the vote in Hungary. They will maintain their spot as a clear leader, and they should double up on anybody. When you’re looking at Magyar, I think most of his voters are actually coming from some of the other former opposition or the other opposition parties.

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Von der Leyen faces Socialist revolt over her far-right flirtation with Meloni

Europe’s Socialists have warned Ursula von der Leyen they won’t back her for a second term as European Commission president if she continues to suggest she could work with hard-right MEPs aligned with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

Perhaps most crucially — just as French President Emmanuel Macron visits Germany to try to forge Franco-German consensus on Europe’s political landscape after the June 6 to 9 election — even Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his Social Democratic Party are signaling that they are willing to torpedo a second term for von der Leyen.

Some even have a replacement in mind: former Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. And that’s a choice that will go down well in Paris.

In multiple comments over recent days, high-ranking Socialists including Scholz and the SPD lead candidate for next month’s EU election Katarina Barley threatened to scuttle von der Leyen’s candidacy if she accepts the backing of the hard right to secure a majority in the European Parliament.

“We will not work with the far right,” Barley said on the Berlin Playbook podcast, reiterating the pledge made by the Socialists and Democrats, Renew Europe, the Greens and the Left to “never cooperate nor form a coalition with the far right and radical parties at any level.”

The comment was the latest sign of the left-leaning parties’ alarm at von der Leyen’s stance on Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which belongs to the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European Parliament.

Von der Leyen, who hails from the center-right European People’s Party, has indicated that if she fails to secure a majority with the backing of center-left and liberal lawmakers after the EU election, she could work with the ECR

On Friday, Scholz warned von der Leyen against such a move, saying: “When the next Commission is formed, it must not be based on a majority that also needs the support of the far right.” He added that “the only way to establish a Commission presidency will be to base it on the traditional parties.”

Putting the boot in further, Nicolas Schmit, the Socialists’ lead candidate for the EU election, said in an interview published Sunday: “Von der Leyen wants us to believe that there are good right-wing extremists and bad ones.”

Meloni is “politically extremely right wing” and her vision is “certainly not a strong, integrated Europe,” Schmit said. “For Ms. von der Leyen, however, she is probably a conservative.”

The questions now are whether Scholz and his German Socialists would actually kibosh a second term for fellow German von der Leyen — and who they might have in mind to replace her.

One potential challenger to the incumbent is Draghi, the former European Central Bank chief.

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

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

Just last week, Draghi received the backing of one of Emmanuel Macron’s closest allies, Pascal Canfin, an MEP from the French president’s liberal Renaissance party who is known to have a direct line to the Élysée.

Asked by POLITICO whether France supports von der Leyen’s reelection bid, Canfin said: “France and everyone in the presidential ecosystem would like Draghi to play a role.”

Macron has long been rumored to be maneuvering to put Draghi at the head of the EU executive — and now he appears to have allies in Berlin.

Markus Töns, a German MP from the Social Democrats, told POLITICO’s Brussels Decoded: “Draghi has experience at the European level and knows the current challenges. I would have no problem seeing him in this position — he might even be better than Ursula von der Leyen.”

Ralf Stegner, an influential SPD member of the Bundestag, on Friday said: “If Emmanuel Macron is critical of another term for Ursula von der Leyen, who lacks sufficient clarity regarding alliances with the right-wing bloc, I have every sympathy for him.”

With both Paris and Berlin expressing dissatisfaction with her stance on working with the ECR, von der Leyen’s bid for a second term as Commission chief faces a serious challenge.

While von der Leyen is the EPP’s lead candidate going into the EU election, in theory making her a shoo-in for the post, she will require support from European leaders like Scholz, Macron and Meloni to secure it.

The electoral arithmetic is difficult as she will need 361 votes in an approval vote in the European Parliament, and the EPP is on course only for some 176 seats. The Socialists and Democrats are expected to win 144 and von der Leyen’s prospects will be in severe trouble if the center-left MEPs do not support her.

If they do decide to forgo EPP lead candidate von der Leyen in favor of a curveball, it wouldn’t be the first time: That was precisely the way von der Leyen herself got the job after the 2019 EU election, installed after leaders shunned the EPP’s Manfred Weber.

Macron is currently in Germany for the first state visit with full ceremonial honors by a French president in 24 years. Macron will meet Scholz in Berlin on Tuesday.

It’s hard to believe there won’t be any mention of the electoral mathematics — and of Meloni and Draghi.

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Robert Habeck: ‘We have to be more pragmatic and less bureaucratic’

The Vice-Chancellor of Germany, Robert Habeck, discusses the upcoming European elections, economic decline, gaps in the job market and higher defence spending on the Global Conversation.

Germany aims to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2045, despite being one of Europe’s biggest polluters.

The powerhouse economy is also the third largest in the world after the US and China, however, Gross Domestic Profit shrank 0.3 per cent in 2023.

According to the German government, real GDP is forecast to increase just 0.2 per cent in 2024 and 1.2 per cent in 2025. 

Following a period of sluggish growth, the country fought to keep inflation down but can the Bundestag balance economic and climate policies? 

Euronews reporter, Olivia Stroud, spoke with Germany’s Vice-Chancellor and Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection, Robert Hack, to find out more.

To watch this episode of theGlobal Conversation, click on the video in the media player above or read the full interview below.

Euronews: What is at stake for Germany in the European elections in June?

Habeck: For Germany, it is important that Europe commits to being European, that we grow together. The internal market is extremely important for the German economy. The internal energy market, which has been created in recent years, is a part of this. This is the German perspective as an economic and energy-providing country in Europe.

As a European, I must say, that it is extremely important that Europe becomes a political, noticeable entity. At the moment, Russia, the US and China are at odds on the world stage. It remains to be seen if Europe has a role to play there.

If we divide, if we do not act united, then major geopolitical decisions will be made over our heads. Since Europe is fundamentally a continent of liberal democracy, decisions will be made against or at least without consideration of our values.

Therefore, our economic, energy policy and climate policy interests, are all valid and important. Ultimately, this is about keeping Europe – as a union of liberal democracies – strong within the global community.

The future of the world will not be decided by the competition that exists between Germany and France, Denmark and the Netherlands, or Sweden and Finland. The future of the world will be decided in the competition between the USA, China, and Europe – and potentially India and Russia.

EU member states must recognise that their role is in Europe and affirm it. The European rules, the subsidies, regulations for economic support, approval procedures, foreign policies, and the ability – as difficult as it is for me to say – to create a European arms industry.

We must face this realisation. If we understand Europe as a loose alliance of 27 states and do not equip it properly, saying that European integration must continue, then we will not be competitive globally.

Stuck in an economic rut

Euronews: Germany is facing an economic crisis, and people’s purchasing power has decreased. How do we get out of this?

Habeck: For Germany, it must be said that the country has been particularly hard hit for two reasons. We had this heavy dependence on Russian energy. Gas is over 50 per cent, 55 per cent, coal, but also oil, it comes from Russia.

And so it’s no wonder that the German economy has been hit particularly hard. All of our contracts had to be renegotiated. It was different in the likes of Spain, the UK or Denmark. And Germany is an export-oriented country.

So we rely on the global market, and the global economy is weak. China also has economic problems – which subsequently affect Germany much more than other countries.

But we’re fighting our way out of it. We have ensured energy security, we have now reduced energy prices, inflation is coming down, interest rates will soon fall again, and then investment will resume. And the global economy will pick up again. And then the country will have weathered this period of weakness.

Too many jobs, too few workers

Euronews: How can the labour shortage in Germany be addressed?

Habeck: Firstly, we need immigration. This is absolutely not a new insight. But for too long, conservative political parties have said, ‘No, no, we don’t need any of that.’ Secondly, we need to better integrate those with potential – the people who are already here – into the labour market.

This particularly concerns young people who do not have vocational qualifications or lack professional qualifications. This has to do with the education system, with the further education system.

To put it in numbers, there are 2.6 million Germans between the ages of 20 and 35 here, who do not have vocational qualifications. And that’s a political problem. It’s not an individual problem where you say, ‘You just have to try harder.’ Too many people fall through the cracks because they may have dyslexia or problems with math. But still, they might be good craftsmen, talented in nursing.

The same goes for female workforce participation. It’s worse in German-speaking countries – Switzerland, Austria, Germany – than the European average. Much worse than in Scandinavia. There is still a lack of childcare infrastructure so that one can balance family with work – also a political task.

And thirdly, I would say, in an ageing society, we need to work longer. Those who want to work longer should be allowed to do so.

Record high defence spending

Euronews: Military spending in Europe has increased significantly. What are the consequences for the economy?

Habeck: Either we didn’t see it or we didn’t want to see what Putin was doing, how he steadily built up his armies there.

I don’t like to spend money on armies and armaments. I can imagine it would be better for education, for research, for further education, and for climate protection and sustainability criteria. But we have to do it.

The time for not wanting to is over. Therefore, we have to increase military spending to be able to protect ourselves, for guaranteed European protection. We can’t rely on the Americans as the guarantors, but we have to become less dependent. Military spending has increased in the last two years because we have supported Ukraine so strongly.

In my opinion, however, it must be stabilised, also for… You almost have to say, the repair of the European and at least the German army in order to be able to do something.

Preparing for a carbon-neutral future

Euronews: According to a report by the European Environment Agency, the EU is not prepared for climate change and heatwaves. What do you plan to do to change this?

Habeck: Now, first and foremost, the aim is to limit global warming as much as possible. It’s solely about slowing down, containing the curve in a way that allows people to adapt, to withstand this significant change.

When you look at this from a biological and social perspective – relating to social cohesion and our communities, we must make our cities more resistant to heat and rain. We must make agriculture more sustainable. 

We need water reservoirs in arid regions. We must review water management. We need coastal protection measures along the coasts and significant investments.

Euronews: More speed in the energy transition in Europe: What needs to be done? And what does that mean for industry and people?

Habeck: In the next term of the European Commission, there needs to be less bureaucracy in the expansion of renewables. We are making our lives unnecessarily difficult in some ways when you read The Renewable Energy Directive, I don’t know if all of that needs to be so meticulously and extensively regulated.

So if we really want to make progress, we need to be more pragmatic and less bureaucratic.

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EU’s deposit refund scheme a ‘false solution’ for plastic pollution

The European Union in early March announced its goal of establishing deposit refund schemes for plastic bottles and aluminium cans across the bloc by 2029. While EU authorities boast of high recycling rates in member states that have already adopted the practice, environmental groups denounce it as a “false solution” that doesn’t “tackle the real problem”.

The EU aims to become a star performer in the fight against plastic pollution. The bloc’s 27 countries earlier this month announced measures to address packaging waste that aim to achieve 100 percent recycling rates by 2035 and a 15 percent reduction in waste volume by 2040. According to Eurostat, the average European citizen generated 188.7 kilograms of packaging waste in 2021, an increase of 32 kilograms over a decade. Only 64 percent of that amount is recycled today.

Among the various types of packaging filling trash bins in Europe, two make up the majority: plastic bottles and aluminium cans. In France alone, an estimated 340,000 tonnes of plastic bottles were produced for sale in 2022 and only 50 percent were recycled, according to France’s national agency for ecological transition.

To address this problem, the EU proposes to implement a bloc-wide deposit refund system by 2029. Plastic bottles and aluminium cans would be sold for a few cents more, around five to 10 percent of the product’s price, but the consumer could recoup the added cost by bringing the container to a collection point after use. The process is already well-established in 15 European countries including Germany, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian states.

The EU reports record recycling rates in each country where a deposit system already exists. In Germany, all supermarkets have had machines dedicated to “Pfand” (deposits) for returned plastic and glass bottles and aluminium cans since 2003. While consumers are not obligated to use them, the practice has become part of everyday life. “Pfandsammler” (deposit hunters) clear the streets of used containers to help make ends meet. Up to 98.5 percent of bottles and cans are recycled via the deposit system in Germany, according to the Centre for European Consumption.

A similar situation exists in the Nordic countries. In Sweden, aluminium cans have been returnable since 1984; plastic bottles since 1994. The country recycles more than two billion of these containers a year, according to the government. In Norway, the system is a little different: Beverage packaging is subject to an environmental tax, but its amount decreases as the waste collection rate increases. This measure encouraged producers and distributors to introduce a deposit system in 1999. The country’s recycling rate for glass and plastic bottles borders is close to 90 percent.


This graphic shows which European countries have already implemented deposit programmes for recycled materials. Dark blue = already implemented, blue = planned implementation, light blue = without a widespread programme, white = information unavailable. Red = glass, yellow = plastic, green = aluminium. © ENTR

A dangerous ‘rebound effect’

Deposit refund systems are not, however, “miracle solutions”, says Manon Richert, communications manager for the NGO Zero Waste France. “This system can certainly help improve recycling figures, but it doesn’t target the goal we need to have: drastically reducing our production of plastic.”

“By itself, it’s just another way to sort packaging … it won’t change anything that happens to plastic bottles,” says Richert. Once deposited, a bottle will have the same fate as one placed in a traditional recycling bin. It will be collected and sent to a waste treatment plant. Bottles made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate, a type of plastic) will be used to make new ones; other bottles will be transformed into flakes and resold to make polyester, especially in Asia. “These processes require a lot of water and energy and generate microplastics,” Richert says.

Read moreTackling plastic pollution: ‘We can’t recycle our way out of this’

According to the activist, a bloc-wide deposit system could above all produce a “rebound effect” that would encourage consumers to continue buying plastic bottles – the opposite of the EU’s goal. “For years, we have been fed a discourse that presents waste sorting and recycling as an easy green gesture, and we have spread the idea that buying plastic isn’t so bad if we recycle it. And now, we’re going to add a financial incentive,” she says. “This could have the perverse effect of boosting consumption of plastic bottles.”

This effect has already been seen in Germany. A law passed in 2003 aimed to reduce single-use containers to 20 percent of the market, but the opposite has happened: single-use plastic bottles now account for 71 percent of the market compared with 40 percent a decade ago, according to a 2021 University of Halle-Wittenberg study. “It seems that the introduction of a single-use deposit system promotes a narrow mode of thinking and a focus on recycling, which hinders the revitalisation of multi-use BC (beverage container) systems,” the authors found.

“Behind the recycling deposit, it’s more a battle of financial interests than an environmental issue that’s at stake,” says Richert. In recent years, politicians have done more to force manufacturers to use a growing proportion of recycled plastic in production. The demand for recycled plastic has thus grown, and the material has become more expensive.

Collecting and recycling more bottles would increase the quantity of recycled plastic available, therefore lowering its price – “not exactly what encourages manufacturers to reduce production,” says Richert. “In the end, this measure risks maintaining the plastic production cycle, when we need to break it.”

In France, where debate on a deposit system is lively, the collection and sorting of rubbish is currently managed by local and regional authorities, who sell the trash to recyclers. In moving to a deposit system, the management of used plastics would revert to manufacturers, who would recover a financial windfall.

“The manufacturers are not going to get rich” under such a system, retorts Hélène Courades, director general of beverage industry group Boissons rafraîchissantes de France, which includes Coca-Cola and Pepsi, told Le Figaro. “The resale of this material would make it possible to finance the system.”

Recycling vs reuse

Zero Waste France, like other environmental organisations, is actively campaigning for a different system: a deposit for reuse, mostly for glass. “This existed in France until the 1980s,” says Richert. “The idea is to collect the containers to wash them and reuse them as-is, in line with the principle of a circular economy.”

“If this were organised on a local scale with, for example, optimisation and pooling of transport, the environmental and social impact would be very beneficial,” she says. But while such local and voluntary initiatives have been increasing in recent years, the system has not yet been adopted by the political discourse. “It requires a real paradigm shift and a true effort on the part of the government,” says Richert. “But it’s this kind of measure that can really get us away from disposable packaging and our addiction to plastic.”

This article is a translation of the original in French.


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Russian leak of German military phone call explained: Details, fallout & effect on relations

The story so far: On March 5, German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius informed reporters in Berlin that Russian secret services had hacked into an unsecured phone line at a Singapore hotel to join a conference call between high-ranking German air force officers and leaked it to the public. A probe has been ordered into the incident.

Mr. Pistorius said that participants on the call had not “adhered to the secure dialing procedure as intended.” Calling the hacking a “chance hit as part of a scattered approach” by Russia, Germany has downplayed the leak as an “individual mistake by one of the officers.”

 What was discussed on leaked phone call?

A 38-minute audio clip from the call was first posted by Russian broadcaster RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan on March 1 on the messaging platform Telegram.

She claimed that a phone call between German Air Force chief Lieutenant-General Ingo Gerhartz and three other officers — Brigadier-General Frank Graefe and other staffers named Fenske and Frohstedte — was intercepted by Russian army officials. In the call they are allegedly heard discussing a potential strike by Ukraine on the Crimea bridge linking Russia and the Crimean peninsula, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014.

In the conversation, which allegedly took place on February 19 according to Moscow Times, the German officers were discussing the possible use of German-made Taurus missiles and if they could hit a key bridge over the Kerch Strait linking Russia and Crimea. Destruction of the bridge would result in disruption of a key supply route for Russia— a huge win for Ukraine.

The officers also discussed how German soldiers would be needed for early delivery and rapid deployment of Taurus missiles to Kyiv and that training Ukrainian soldiers to deploy the missiles would take months.

File photo: A Taurus cruise missile displayed during a visit by Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder to a production facility of MBDA Deutschland, on March 5, 2024 in Schrobenhausen, Germany. Chancellor Olaf Scholz is under strong domestic and international pressure to supply Ukraine with the Taurus cruise missile, though he has so far remained adamant in his refusal

Detailing how many missiles could be used, the officers also discussed long-range missiles supplied to Ukraine by France (Scalp missiles) and Britain (Storm Shadow). One of the officers also referred to “British soldiers on the ground in Ukraine,” and there were also mentions of “many people in civilian clothes that speak with an American accent,” alluding to the U.S. presence on the ground in Ukraine.

The call, which took place on WebEx, a public platform for video meetings, got leaked when one of the officers joined the call from a Singapore hotel using either his mobile phone or the hotel’s Wi-Fi and not a secure line, which is mandatory for such calls. Without naming the officer, Mr. Pistorius said that the officer had participated in the Singapore Air Show, attended by many European military officers, and then dialled into the call.

Due to the unsecure nature of his connection, the call was intercepted by Russian operatives who were doing “targeted hacking of hotels across the board,” said Mr. Pistorius, adding that the call was a “real find for the Russian secret services.”

What is the aftermath of the leak?

Sharing the audio clip publicly on March 1, Russia declared that it was proof of the direct involvement of western nations in the Russia-Ukraine war. It also demanded an explanation of the discussion from Germany. On March 5, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova threatened Germany with ‘dire consequences,’ saying that “If nothing is done, and the German people do not stop this, then there will be dire consequences first and foremost for Germany itself.”

In response, the German government’s deputy spokesperson Wolfgang Buechner rejected the allegations of “preparing for war against Russia.” Terming the leak as part of Russia’s ‘information war’ aimed to create discord within Germany, he said that the allegations were “absurdly infamous Russian propaganda.” However, Germany did not question the authenticity of the leaked call and an investigation was ordered into the incident.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius gives a press statement on the status of an investigation into the German military audio that was leaked by Russia, in Berlin, on March 5, 2024.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius gives a press statement on the status of an investigation into the German military audio that was leaked by Russia, in Berlin, on March 5, 2024.
| Photo Credit:
AP

Later, when briefing reporters about the initial results of the probe, Mr. Pistorius downplayed the significance of the leaked call saying it was “merely an exchange of ideas” before a meeting with him. Terming the damage due to the leak as “manageable,” he said the real success was the agenda-setting by Moscow on what was being discussed in Berlin, calling it “exactly what Putin wants to achieve.”

He also stated that while the overall security of military intelligence was stepped up and preliminary disciplinary proceedings were being considered, severe personal consequences (for the offending officer) was highly unlikely. “I will not sacrifice any of my best officers to Putin’s games, to put it very clearly,” said Mr. Pistorius. He also claimed that he leak was a “hybrid attack aimed to divide us (Ukraine’s allies).”

 What is the global response?

Countering Russia’s allegations against Germany, Mr. Pistorius reportedly called Berlin’s allies and explained its position on the leak.

Backing Germany, U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby refused to comment on the content of leak, but called it Russia’s attempt to “sow discord to show that the West isn’t unified.” He also stated that all allies were working together to support Ukraine and that the “Germans have stepped up in meaningful ways.” The $60-billion bipartisan agreement on military aid to Ukraine passed by the U.S. Senate remains stuck in the Republican-ruled U.S. Congress, reportedly at the whim of the party’s presidential frontrunner Donald Trump.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock speak to the media following talks on March 07, 2024 in Berlin, Germany. The two diplomats discussed military support for Ukraine as well as the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, among other issues.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock speak to the media following talks on March 07, 2024 in Berlin, Germany. The two diplomats discussed military support for Ukraine as well as the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, among other issues.

In Britain, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson told reporters that the leak was a matter for Germany to investigate. Previously, Mr. Sunak’s office had stated that “a small number of personnel” were on the ground to provide security for diplomats and support Ukrainian troops. Britain has also termed the use of Storm Shadow missiles as the business of the armed forces of Ukraine.

However, former U.K. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace slammed Germany, terming it “neither secure nor reliable” as it was “pretty penetrated by Russian intelligence.” In reply, Miguel Berger, German ambassador to the U.K., called Mr. Wallace’s statement “extremely unhelpful,” while asserting that there was “no need to apologise” for the security breach. Meanwhile, U.K. Foreign secretary David Cameron is currently visiting Germany to conduct talks with his counterpart Annalena Baerbock on boosting support for Ukraine.

 Effect on Germany-Russia relations

Last week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz ruled out delivering Taurus missiles to Ukraine, indicating that Berlin did not want to be drawn into the war directly. The missiles, which have a range up to 500 km, are capable of striking targets deep inside Russian territory. However, despite Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy insisting that “the United States (acts first) and then Germany,” Mr. Scholz asserted that he would not support any German involvement in the military operation against Russia.

In the wake of the phone call leak, Mr. Scholz on March 5 reasserted his stance during a school visit in southwestern Germany. When asked about his refusal to deliver Taurus missiles, despite the U.K.’s nudge to do so, Mr. Scholz said, “I’m the chancellor, and that’s why it’s valid.” German Ambassador to Russia Alexander Graf Lambsdorff was reportedly summoned by Moscow on the same day.

Toning down its attack on Germany, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that a “fast, complete and effective investigation” was assured by Mr. Scholz, adding, “We hope that that we will be able to find out the outcome of that investigation.”

Relations between Germany and Russia have been stable in the post-Cold war era, with Berlin seeking better ties with Moscow focusing on bilateral energy projects such as the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which transports gas directly from Russia to Germany. The trade and energy links between the two nations grew despite Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008.

File photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin, France’s President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (L-R) attend a meeting on February 11, 2015 in Minsk, aimed at halting a 10-month war in Ukraine where dozens were killed in the latest fighting. 

File photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin, France’s President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (L-R) attend a meeting on February 11, 2015 in Minsk, aimed at halting a 10-month war in Ukraine where dozens were killed in the latest fighting. 
| Photo Credit:
MYKOLA LAZARENKO

However, diplomatic relations soured in 2014 as then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel termed Crimea’s annexation by Russia that year as illegal and supported the suspension of Moscow’s membership in the G7. She also backed economic sanctions on Russia targeting the financial, trade, energy, transport, technology and defence sectors. Relations further soured after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. While Berlin favoured diplomatic talks in the initial phase of the war, its stance hardened as Moscow’s military action increased.

Along with its European Union allies, Germany started supplying military aid to Ukraine and supporting harsh economic sanctions on Russia, leading to a fall in exports by £1.29 billion and imports by £2.36 billion. Germany also cut off its energy dependence on Russia by ending the Nord Stream 2 project and switching to liquid natural gas as an alternative to the Russian gas.

Flowers are seen placed around portraits of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian Arctic prison, at a makeshift memorial in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on February 23, 2024.

Flowers are seen placed around portraits of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian Arctic prison, at a makeshift memorial in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on February 23, 2024.
| Photo Credit:

Germany has also severely condemned the death of Putin-critic Alexei Navalny in an Arctic prison. Mr. Navalny had previously recuperated in Berlin after a poisoning attack. Incidentally, the leak of the military phone call took place on the same day Mr. Navalny was laid to rest at a church outside Moscow, with wishes pouring in from across the world.



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Germany’s Olaf Scholz has become a major problem for Ukraine

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Between leaked recordings, loose-lipped press conferences and confused policy, the German chancellor is in serious trouble.

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After months of what appeared to be an effective stalemate, a new narrative of the Ukrainian conflict is setting in: unless the West both expands and speeds up its support for the Ukrainian military, Russia could soon have a major window of opportunity.

And with the US House of Representatives still yet to clear a new package of American military aid, European NATO allies are moving to ramp up their contributions to the war effort. But not all of them are on the same page – and the continent’s largest economy is suddenly looking like a major political and strategic problem for both Ukraine and NATO as a whole.

Germany has been on a long journey since the Russian invasion in February 2022. The then-relatively new government led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz oversaw a major change in German defence policy by announcing the country would provide Ukraine with military hardware, a move that helped prove how seriously the West as a whole was taking the conflict.

Since then, however, the Germans’ part in the war has been somewhat muddled. On the one hand, German Euros and materiel have been reaching Ukraine, albeit on a stop-start basis. The country’s defence ministry clearly acknowledges the seriousness of the conflict: it has increasingly urged Europe to anticipate a larger Russian threat to countries beyond Ukraine, and is deploying combat-ready battalions to Lithuania, meaning German troops will be stationed just 100km away from the Russian border.

But on the other hand, Scholz’s government has lately been resisting pressure to share one of its most powerful military assets with the Ukrainians just when they need it most. 

The item in question is the Taurus missile, a stealth missile with a 500km range – twice the range of the British Storm Shadow and French Scalp missiles, both of which have been used by Ukraine to hit major Russian military targets.

The Ukrainians have been asking for the Taurus system for months, but Scholz has so far refused. The chancellor has claimed that the missiles cannot be sent to Ukraine because it would entail putting German troops on the ground to programme them, a move that he claimed could threaten a dangerous escalation.

Scholz made a major diplomatic misstep at a recent summit when he implied that French and British forces are operating cruise missiles that are ostensibly under Ukrainian control – something neither country admits is happening. The head of the UK House of Commons’s Foreign Affairs Committee called the remarks “wrong, irresponsible and a slap in the face to allies”. 

But worse than Scholz’s refusal to send Tauruses to Ukraine was the recent leak of a recording in which German air force officers could be heard directly contradicting Scholz’s argument, instead confirming that the missile would not in fact require the deployment of German manpower inside Ukraine.

The recording was revealed in Russian media, with Moscow threatening “dire consequences” for Germany if Taurus is deployed in Ukraine.

Former president Dmitry Medvedev, who has voiced some of the Kremlin’s most extreme rhetoric since the invasion, responded with a pair of nationalistic tirades in response via the messaging app Telegram, sharing a Second World War-era poem entitled “Kill Him!” and writing, “The call of the Great Patriotic War has become relevant again: “DEATH TO THE GERMAN-NAZI OCCUPIERS!”

Caught out

That such a sensitive conversation could be recorded and leaked at all, not least by the Russians, has horrified many in Germany and NATO more widely. But the revelation that Scholz’s public pretext for withholding the Taurus is baseless has caused deep anger.

According to Benjamin Tallis, Senior Fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations, the recording shows that the chancellor is not truly committed to a Ukrainian victory.

“Holding back like this risks a Ukrainian defeat, which would put all of Europe at great risk” he told Euronews. “Scholz’s arguments have been dismantled one by one and revealed to be excuses. Allies have sent similar weapons and faced no retaliation. All Scholz is doing is projecting weakness and making Germany more of a target.

“Following the Taurus leak, it seems that what Scholz is really afraid of is the weapon’s effectiveness. This betrays his position of not wanting Ukraine to win – and it’s an approach that lets down all Europeans by making us less safe.”

The saga of the Taurus missile and the leaked recording comes at an extremely inopportune moment in the Ukrainian conflict.

Recent Russian advances in the east of the country have owed a lot to a shortage of ammunition on the Ukrainian side, which Kyiv and some of its allies have attributed to certain Western countries’ slowness to resupply the war effort.

Aside from continuing to inflict major casualties on the Russian military – which Kyiv claims has lost well over 400,000 troops since February 2022 – the Ukrainian Armed Forces are currently focusing on destroying high-value military assets that the Russians will struggle to replace, among them a high-tech Russian patrol ship that was hit by a sea drone on 4 March.

These strikes have multiple benefits: aside from costing nothing in Ukrainian lives, they both undermine Russia’s tactical abilities and challenge the idea that its enormous resources offer anything like a guarantee of victory. The same goes for missile and drone strikes within Russian territory, particularly in the border region of Belgorod, which Ukraine has targeted multiple times.

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But without enough Western hardware to continue these efforts, and with ever more reports of troops retreating from positions with depleted ammunition, Ukraine will struggle to keep its closest allies’ hopes alive.



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Germany wants pro-life activists to stay away from abortion clinics

As the number of pro-life vigils in front of Germany’s family planning centres and clinics grows, the country is trying to prevent these places from becoming the stage of a US-style war for abortion rights.

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It was March 2017 when Claudia Hohmann, director of the Pro Familia family planning centre in Frankfurt, saw anti-abortion demonstrators show up with signs and flyers outside the door of her workplace for the very first time.

“The pro-life movement calls them vigils, as their purpose is to prevent people from having abortions and ‘save’ children,” she told Euronews. “Since then, the vigils in front of our centre take place twice a year for forty days.”

The Pro Familia centre headed by for the past nine years Hohmann sits in a quiet, wealthy area of west Frankfurt, near the city’s botanical garden. Photos of the most recent vigil held in front of the centre in September shows a pro-life group holding pictures of foetuses and the Virgin Mary, an odd sight in the peaceful neighbourhood.

While anti-abortion demonstrations are common in the US, in recent years vigils like the one held by the Euro Pro Life association in Frankfurt for 40 days in October and November last year, have become more common across Europe and in Germany.

That’s why on 24 January, Germany’s family minister Lisa Paus announced a draft law that would prevent anti-abortion demonstrators from approaching or harassing visitors within a 100-miles radius of abortion clinics and family planning centres in the country.

Anti-abortion flyers and posters will also be forbidden within the same distance of these institutions. Anyone found in violation of this law, if passed, could be punished with a fine of up to €5,000.

Paus, a member of the Green Party, said that the legislation was necessary to avoid women being faced with “hatred and agitation” while seeking advice during a potentially delicate and difficult moment. She told German broadcaster ZDF that the draft struck a balance between freedom of expression and the right of assembly.

The growing influence of the pro-life movement in Europe

While a small group of demonstrators standing in front of a family planning centre for 40 days might seem like a small problem, especially for a country as big as Germany, Hohmann said that the influence of anti-abortion organisations is growing in the country.

“​​The anti-abortion scene is very active and connected with extreme right politics and the anti-queer and anti-sex-education movement,” Hohmann said. “[In recent years] we had vigils taking place in Wiesbaden, Pforzheim and Munich, 1000-Cross-Marches in Berlin and other cities, as well as demonstrations of so-called ‘worried parents’.”

The idea of holding a demonstration for 40 days, which is what Germany’s anti-abortion association Euro Pro-Life has been doing for years in Frankfurt now, is not really an original one. It’s coming, in fact, from the US

“40 Days For Life” is a grassroots movement that was started in 2004 in Texas and has since expanded to more than 60 countries across the world, many of which are in Europe, including Germany, Spain, Ireland, the UK, Italy, Croatia, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic.

The movement’s tactic is to stand outside abortion clinics and family planning centres for 40 days in an attempt to raise awareness of what it considers “the tragic reality of abortion” and to call for “repentance” for those who work at the facilities.

Thanks to the fact that the movement works like a franchise, getting funds from members across the world who pay for materials, support and training, 40 Days For Life has been able to reach as far as it has now, bringing the US culture wars to Europe.

Punishment, shame and guilt

In Germany, a pregnant person cannot get an abortion before visiting one of those centres. That’s because abortion is technically illegal in Germany, but it’s possible up to 12 weeks after conception if the pregnant person obtains a counselling certificate at least 3 days before the procedure.

Pro Familia, which has centres all across Germany, is certified to issue such certificates. That’s why it has become a target for anti-abortion activists.

Tomislav Čunović of 40 Days For Life told Euronews that the law proposed by the German government is “unconstitutional” should it be passed the way it is now. “It is anti-freedom and anti-democratic. It’s a shame for the German international reputation,” Čunović said.

The anti-abortion activist defended the vigils organised by his organisation saying they are “a prayer for the unborn children who are dying or threatened with death through abortion, and also for their relatives” and claiming their motivation is “peaceful and legitimate.”

But that’s not what those who work at the family planning centres say.

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“The demonstrators watch our clients, sing, pray and show pictures – for example of babies, pregnant bellies or with expressions like: ‘Thanks, Mum, for letting me live’ or ‘Abortion is no solution’,” Hohmann said, adding how this can deeply hurt people seeking to terminate their pregnancies.

“People with an unwanted pregnancy feel shame and guilt anyway, and need an understanding, trustful and comforting setting,” she explained.

“This is important to be able to listen carefully and to understand the information given by the counsellor. The feeling of anonymity is also important. The people in front of the centre disturb this setting by purpose and damage the trust in the legally prescripted counselling,” Hohmann said. “Research has made clear that the psychic problems in connection with an abortion go back to the punishment-shame-and guilt-context in society.”

“The regular presence of anti-abortion protesters outside the counselling centre is a psychological burden for our staff,” Beate Martin, head of the Pro Familia advice centre in Münster, said.

“The counselling itself is also disrupted,” added her colleague, pregnancy counsellor Barbara Wittel. “Unwanted pregnant women and others seeking help on the way to a counselling session perceive the presence as disturbing and unpleasant. They cannot avoid being influenced and confronted by anti-abortion activists. It is then no longer possible to speak of a neutral counselling situation, as women are legally entitled to.”

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For Hohmann and Pro Familia, it’s necessary to have a country-wide solution to forbid this sort of action.

“Local solutions have been overturned many times,” she told Euronews. “But the law has to be clear and strict and must interdict all actions that want to defame and unsettle pregnant people, doctors and counsellors and thereby improve the access to the best possible counselling and medical care.”

“It is the task of federal policy to protect the personal rights of those seeking counselling, and to do so nationwide,” said Pro Familia Federal Chairwoman Monika Börding.

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Nazi death camp survivors mark anniversary of Auschwitz liberation on Holocaust Remembrance Day

A group of survivors of Nazi death camps marked the 79th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp during World War II in a modest ceremony Saturday in southern Poland.

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About 20 survivors from various camps set up by Nazi Germany around Europe laid wreaths and flowers and lit candles at the Death Wall in Auschwitz.

Later, the group will hold prayers at the monument in Birkenau. They were memorializing around 1.1 million camp victims, mostly Jews. The memorial site and museum are located near the city of Oswiecim. 

Nearly 6 million European Jews were killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust — the mass murder of Jews and other groups before and during World War II


Marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the survivors will be accompanied by Polish Senate Speaker Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, Culture Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz and Israeli Ambassador Yacov Livne. 

The theme of the observances is the human being, symbolized in simple, hand-drawn portraits. They are meant to stress that the horror of Auschwitz-Birkenau lies in the suffering of people held and killed there.

Holocaust victims were commemorated across Europe.

In Germany, where people put down flowers and lit candles at memorials for the victims of the Nazi terror, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that his country would continue to carry the responsibility for this “crime against humanity.”

He called on all citizens to defend Germany’s democracy and fight antisemitism, as the country marked the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

“Never again’ is every day,” Scholz said in his weekly video podcast. “Jan. 27 calls out to us: Stay visible! Stay audible! Against antisemitism, against racism, against misanthropy — and for our democracy.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose country is fighting to repel Russia’s full-scale invasion, posted an image of a Jewish menorah on X, formerly known as Twitter, to mark the remembrance day.

“Every new generation must learn the truth about the Holocaust. Human life must remain the highest value for all nations in the world,” said Zelenskyy, who is Jewish and has lost relatives in the Holocaust. 

“Eternal memory to all Holocaust victims!” Zelenskyy tweeted.


In Italy, Holocaust commemorations included a torchlit procession alongside official statements from top political leaders. 

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni said that her conservative nationalist government was committed to eradicating antisemitism that she said had been “reinvigorated” amid the Israel-Hamas war. Meloni’s critics have long accused her and her Brothers of Italy party, which has neo-fascist roots, of failing to sufficiently atone for its past.

Later Saturday, leftist movements planned a torchlit procession to remember all victims of the Holocaust — Jews but also Roma, gays and political dissidents who were deported or exterminated in Nazi camps.

Police were also on alert after pro-Palestinian activists indicated that they would ignore a police order and go ahead with a rally planned to coincide with the Holocaust commemorations. Italy’s Jewish community has complained that such protests have become occasions for the memory of the Holocaust to be co-opted by anti-Israel forces and used against Jews.

In Poland, a memorial ceremony with prayers was held Friday in Warsaw at the foot of the Monument to the Heroes of the Ghetto, who fell fighting the Nazis in 1943.

Earlier in the week, the countries of the former Yugoslavia signed an agreement in Paris to jointly renovate Block 17 in the red-brick Auschwitz camp and install a permanent exhibition there in memory of around 20,000 people who were deported from their territories and brought to the block. Participating in the project will be Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia

The gate with “Arbeit macht frei” (Work sets you free) written across it is pictured at the Auschwitz-Birkenau former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp during events marking the 79th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in Oswiecim, Poland on January 27, 2024. © Bartosz Siedlik, AFP

Preserving the camp, a notorious symbol of the horrors of the Holocaust, with its cruelly misleading “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Makes One Free”) gate, requires constant effort by historians and experts, and substantial funds.

The Nazis, who occupied Poland from 1939-1945, at first used old Austrian military barracks at Auschwitz as a concentration and death camp for Poland’s resistance fighters. In 1942, the wooden barracks, gas chambers and crematoria of Birkenau were added for the extermination of Europe’s Jews, Roma and other nationals, as well as Russian prisoners of war. 

Soviet Red Army troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau on Jan. 27, 1945, with about 7,000 prisoners there, children and those who were too weak to walk. The Germans had evacuated tens of thousands of other inmates on foot days earlier in what is now called the Death March, because many inmates died of exhaustion and cold in the sub-freezing temperatures. 

Since 1979, the Auschwitz-Birkenau site has been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage.

(AP) 



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