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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‘Massive’ Russian air attack hits Western Ukraine, Kyiv; Poland says its airspace violated

Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and the western region of Lviv came under a “massive” Russian air attack early Sunday, officials said, and Polish forces were also placed on heightened readiness.

Russia and Ukraine have been engaged in a series of deadly aerial attacks, with Sunday’s strikes also coming a day after the Russian military said it had seized the Ukrainian village of Ivanivske west of Bakhmut.

A militant attack on a Moscow concert hall on Friday that killed at least 133 people also became a new flashpoint between the two arch-rivals.

“Explosions in the capital. Air defence is working. Do not leave shelters,” Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko posted on Telegram on Sunday.

Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytskyi said Stryi district, south of the city of Lviv, near the Polish border, was also attacked.

© France 24

Ukraine was earlier placed under a nationwide air alert that warned of cruise missiles being launched from Russian Tu-95MS strategic bombers. The alert was lifted about two hours later.

Sergiy Popko, head of the Kyiv city military administration, said the missiles were fired at the capital “in groups” in the third pre-dawn attack in four days.

Preliminary reports suggested there were no casualties or damage, he said, and the city’s air defences had hit “about a dozen” missiles.

“The enemy continues massive missile terror against Ukraine,” Popko said on Telegram. “It does not give up its goal of destroying Kyiv at any cost.”

US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink also noted the increased frequency of recent attacks.

“Russia continues to indiscriminately launch drones and missiles with no regard for millions of civilians, violating international law,” Brink wrote on social media platform X.

In Lviv, Mayor Andriy Sadovy said about 20 missiles and seven Iranian-made Shahed drones were fired at the region.

“They targeted critical infrastructure facilities,” Sadovy said.

Poland to demand explanation from Moscow

Poland’s foreign ministry on Sunday said it would demand an explanation from Moscow over this “new violation of airspace” after one of the Russian cruise missiles fired at western Ukraine breached Polish airspace overnight.

“Above all, we ask the Russian Federation to end its terrorist airstrikes against the population and territory of Ukraine, to end the war and to focus on the country’s own internal problems,” ministry spokesman Pawel Wronski said in a statement.

Following a “massive attack” on Ukraine by Russia, Poland activated “all air defence systems, all air force systems”, the country’s Defence Minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz said.

He said that the missile would have been shot down “had there been any indication it was heading for a target on Polish territory”.

The army said the missile, which was travelling at almost 800 kilometres per hour (500 mph) around 400 metres (1,300 feet) above the ground, had crossed about two kilometres over the border into Poland.

“Polish airspace was breached by one of the cruise missiles fired in the night by the air forces… of the Russian Federation,” the army wrote on X.

“The object flew through Polish airspace above the village of Oserdow (Lublin province) and stayed for 39 seconds,” the statement said, adding that it was tracked by military radar throughout its flight.

 “The Polish army is constantly monitoring the situation on Ukrainian territory and remains on permanent alert to ensure the security of Polish airspace,” the army said.

Kyiv says it hit two Russian ships in Crimea strikes

Russia and Ukraine have increased their air attacks in recent weeks.

Kyiv, which has struggled to find weapons and soldiers after more than two years of war, has promised to retaliate by taking the fighting to Russian soil.

Multiple air attacks Saturday on the Russian border region of Belgorod adjoining Ukraine killed two people and injured at least seven, the regional governor said.

Further east, a drone attack on the Samara region caused a fire at a major oil refinery, the latest in a series of strikes against Russia’s energy industry. 

Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov wrote on Telegram that two districts in his region, as well as the regional capital, Belgorod, had been hit in drone and air attacks.

A man was killed when three balconies on an apartment building collapsed, Gladkov said. 

Russia said later Saturday that it had repulsed a barrage of more than 10 Ukrainian missiles fired at the city of Sevastopol in Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.

Sevastopol’s governor Mikhail Razvozhayev said rocket fragments had killed a 65-year-old resident and four other people had been wounded.

“It was the biggest attack in recent times,” he said.

Ukraine said early on Sunday that it had hit two large Russian landing ships, a communications centre and other infrastructure used by the Russian navy in the Black Sea during its strikes on the annexed Crimean peninsula.

Its statement did not say how it hit the targets. “The defence forces of Ukraine successfully hit the Azov and Yamal large landing ships, a communications centre and also several infrastructure facilities of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in temporarily occupied Crimea,” said Ukraine’s military.

Territorial gains by Russia

Moscow has escalated its own strikes, firing dozens of missiles on Friday and launching dozens of explosive drones to destroy Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

Russian forces have also taken control of a string of frontline settlements in recent weeks. 

The capture last month of Adviivka, near the Russian-held stronghold of Donetsk, was the first major territorial gain made by Russia since the devastated city of Bakhmut was seized 10 months ago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed that success as a sign that Russian forces are back on the offensive.

Putin has also sought to tie Kyiv to the Moscow concert hall attack, saying four “perpetrators” were detained while travelling towards Ukraine.

Kyiv has strongly denied any involvement, saying that Russia was looking for excuses to step up the war.

The United States has said it has seen no sign of Ukrainian involvement in the Crocus City Hall attack.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, Reuters)

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Berlinale 2024: Lena Dunham Goes on a Trip to Poland in ‘Treasure’ | FirstShowing.net

Berlinale 2024: Lena Dunham Goes on a Trip to Poland in ‘Treasure’

by Alex Billington
February 18, 2024

There’s yet another interesting set of twin films in 2024 – two films that are remarkably similar in so many ways even though they’re entirely independent, unrelated productions. The first film premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival in January titled A Real Pain, written, directed by, and starring Jesse Eisenberg, and it won the Screenwriting Award at that festival (here’s my full review). The second film is premiering now at the 2024 Berlin Film Festival in February titled Treasure, directed by German filmmaker Julia von Heinz, and starring actors Stephen Fry & Lena Dunham as father & daughter. Both films involve Americans traveling to Poland, flying into Warsaw, from where they embark upon a “heritage” road trip tour around Poland to find an old home where someone they know once lived in many years ago before fleeing Poland. Both also feature annoying characters, jokes about tourists visiting Poland, and trips to a Jewish graveyard as well as a Nazi concentration camp. They’re both so similar it’s hard to not talk about both, even though this review is supposed to be about Treasure, I must compare them as stories about similar themes.

Treasure is based on a true story, based on an actual trip a woman and her dad took, and their experiences traveling to Poland just after the Iron Curtain came down. A Real Pain, however, is not based on a true story but it is inspired by Jesse Eisenberg’s own family and his experiences. His film is kind of the opposite – the making of his film became his real version of going back to Poland, as the house they go to and film at is the actual house his grandmother lived in years ago. In Treasure, the story’s core is about a man who actually went to and survived Auschwitz, and while he doesn’t want to dig up the past, his daughter does and so she takes him to Poland to see where his life was spent during that (harrowing) time. Both films have a more pensive, quiet, humble character trying to understand Poland’s past, next to a more annoying, loud, brash character who seems both interested in and uninterested in Poland’s past. It’s a complex dynamic – A Real Pain handles it better, especially because Kieran Culkin’s character is actually endearing, whereas Stephen Fry’s character is just plain annoying & grating, despite the attempt to make him a lovable old Polish chap.

While I’m not Jewish and do not have a Holocaust connection like the people in these films, I do have Polish roots and I do feel a connection to Poland. Nonetheless, my connection to these films is limited because I do not have a desire to explore Poland on a heritage tour or to find a connection to the Jewish Poland that existed pre-World War II. It is an important story to tell, of course, and it is an intriguing topic to consider regarding their grief and pain and connection to a horrible past, however it is something that I presumed to have already been addressed in the nearly 80 years since WWII ended and the camps were liberated. Why are there two new films about this exact same story appearing in 2024? Both were in production before the Palestine-Israel events in 2023. Eisenberg’s film, between them, attempts to address this heavier theme in a more intelligent way by connecting the pains of modern descendants of Jewish Poles, with the extreme pain and sadness of their past. There is an incredible speech that Eisenberg’s character David gives in that film at a dinner that delves right into this exact topic, whereas there is a never a coherent moment of reflection like this in Treasure. It never properly examines and contends with these compelling generational differences.

Perhaps one of the key reasons why Eisenberg’s film A Real Pain stands out is that it is much more personal story, authentically told as the filmmaker’s own real story with his own emotions and feelings and concerns expressed through the characters and the filmmaking choices. Treasure, on the other hand, is not Julia von Heinz’s own story, she is a director telling a story that comes from another person. And while she does her best to competently bring this story to the screen, capturing the emotions and feelings of her characters, the authenticity doesn’t shine through, it feels much more performative and obvious than Eisenberg’s creation. This is most evident in the four lead characters (two from each film), and how different they are to watch in each film, despite so many similarities. The biggest difference is, of course, Stephen Fry’s Edek, who is an actual Jewish Pole that survived the Holocaust, making his return to Poland that much more emotionally wrought. However, Fry is a British actor, who had to learn Polish and put on a heavy accent to perform this role. While his Polish is impressive, the performance feels slightly off, and not as wholesome as necessary.

As much as I must compare these two films for being so similar, they do each have different commentary to offer viewers. Treasure is much more about the pain of stepping into the past, and how hard it is for one to do that; all the while the next generation feels like the only way they can fully understand their family is to step into the past. Does she come to understand her father better after this trip? The film didn’t convince me of this, but perhaps in real life she did. A Real Pain is much more about how these modern generation 30-somethings feel about that past, and how they may have not survived the Holocaust but also have their own unique pains and struggles today as well. My biggest complaint with both films is how poorly they represent Polish people. In A Real Pain, they only ever interact with Polish people once or twice, for barely a minute or two. In Treasure, many of the Polish people they interact with come across as sketchy, sneaky, or oddly problematic people. While it may have been a nuanced observation in the true story it’s based on, it comes across as condescending in this film, as if no Poles post-WWII (except for a lobby boy who helps translate and their taxi driver) are good people. Having visited Poland multiple times, I can say this is just not true.

Alex’s Berlinale 2024 Rating: 6 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter – @firstshowing / Or Letterboxd – @firstshowing


Find more posts: Berlinale, Review

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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.


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Transforming HIV prevention in Europe

This article is part of POLITICO Telescope: The New AIDS Epidemic, an ongoing exploration of the disease today.

The world’s battle to end the HIV epidemic is being fought on two fronts. The first involves getting as many people as possible who are living with the virus diagnosed and rapidly onto antiretroviral medication. This reduces the virus inside their bodies to such a low level that it is undetectable and therefore cannot be passed to others. The approach is known as “undetectable = untransmittable” or “U=U*.”

The second front is focused on protecting people from contracting the virus in the first place, even if they have been exposed to it — an approach known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. Taken as prescribed, PrEP makes a person’s body almost entirely resistant to HIV infection.

There is a critical need to bring forward new PrEP options that are informed by and designed for the communities that could benefit from PrEP in Europe.

Jared Baeten MD, PhD, vice president for HIV clinical development at Gilead Sciences

PrEP comprises antiretroviral drugs that can be taken intermittently, around the time someone expects to be sexually active. They protect against the virus in two ways: by increasing the production of antibodies in the cells in the rectal or vaginal lining, making them less receptive to HIV in the first place, and by interfering with the ability of HIV to replicate in the body.

Nearly 5 million people around the world have taken PrEP at least once — including about 2.8 million in Europe — and it has been shown to reduce the incidence of HIV infection during sex by 99 percent. In the European Union, new HIV infections have fallen by about 45 percent since PrEP was licensed in 2016, although this decline is also partly due to U=U.

PrEP as part of combination prevention strategies

Missing doses or running out of PrEP can mean becoming susceptible to HIV again. I via Shutterstock

Today, PrEP comes primarily in the form of an oral tablet, which has the advantage of being cheap to produce and easy to store. But it is not a universal solution. Because it needs to be taken regularly while someone is sexually active, missing doses or running out can mean becoming susceptible to HIV again. What’s more, in the same way that some bacteria are developing resistance to antibiotics, the HIV that does enter the bodies of people who have paused or discontinued their use of PrEP has a greater chance of being resistant to subsequent antiretroviral medications they may then need.

PrEP taken in tablet form is also an issue for people who need to keep their use of PrEP private, perhaps from family members or partners. Having to take a pill once a day or two or three times a week is something that may be hard to hide from others. And some people, such as migrants, who may not be fully integrated with a country’s health care system, may find it hard to access regular supplies of daily medication. Limitations such as these have prompted the development of alternative, innovative ways for people to protect themselves that are more tailored to their needs and life situations. These include longer-acting drugs that can be injected.

Like existing oral medications, injectable PrEP works by preventing HIV from replicating in a person’s body, but its effect lasts much longer. In September, the EU approved the use of the first intramuscular injectable that can be given every two months. Gilead is, until 2027, running trials of another injectable option, which, once the required efficacy and safety have been demonstrated, could be administered subcutaneously just once every six months. This would be more convenient for many people and more adapted to the circumstances of certain populations, such as migrants, and may therefore lead to better adherence and health outcomes.

HIV continues to be a public health threat across Europe, where in 2022 more than 100,000 people were newly diagnosed with HIV.

Jared Baeten MD, PhD, vice president for HIV Clinical Development at Gilead Sciences

Further ahead — but still in the early stages of development and testing — are patches and implants, which would provide a continuous supply of antiretroviral drugs, and immunotherapies. Immunotherapies would comprise a broad spectrum of naturally produced or manufactured antibodies against HIV, which, in theory, would pre-arm their bodies to resist infection.

As more types of PrEP become available, we will see a greater awareness of its benefits, as more people are able to find the version of PrEP that best suits their living conditions and personal requirements. This is a fundamental principle of “combination prevention,” or innovative interventions that reflect the specific needs of the people they are trying to reach.

Preparing for the future

Despite clear scientific evidence of the benefits of PrEP, there are still some hurdles we need to overcome to make it a powerful tool to end HIV altogether. These include investments and funding in prevention and availability, and programs to combat stigma.

Although the EU licensed PrEP in 2016, availability varies across the bloc. In France, the U.K., Spain, Germany and, more recently, Italy, oral PrEP is available at no cost to those who would benefit from it. In Romania, although PrEP is included in the country’s new HIV National Strategy, it is not yet funded, and it is only available via non-governmental organizations that rely on external funding sources. And in Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria, PrEP is not state funded and there are no current plans to make it so. In many member states, even though PrEP is technically licensed, in practice it can be hard to get hold of, in particular for specific communities, such as women, migrants or trans people. Potential users may find it hard, for example, to access testing or even doctors who are willing to prescribe it.

Jared Baeten MD, PhD, vice president for HIV clinical development at Gilead Sciences

Another key challenge that health systems and providers face is communicating the importance of PrEP to those who would most benefit, and thereby increase uptake. Many respondents in multiple studies have indicated that they don’t feel HIV is something that affects them, or they have indicated that there is a general stigma in their communities associated with sexual health matters. And some groups that are already discriminated against, such as sex workers, people who inject drugs, and migrants, may be hesitant to engage with health care systems for fear of reprisals. Again, injectable PrEP could help reach such key populations as it will offer a more discreet way of accessing the preventive treatment.

“There is a critical need to bring forward new PrEP options that are informed by and designed for the communities that could benefit from PrEP in Europe,” says Jared Baeten MD, PhD, vice president for HIV clinical development at Gilead Sciences. “At Gilead, we are excited to engage with communities and broader stakeholders to inform our trials efforts and partner with them in our goal to develop person-centered innovations that can help end the HIV epidemic in Europe.”

Europe is leading the world’s efforts toward ending HIV, but, even in the bloc, PrEP usage and availability varies from country to country and demographic to demographic. If the region is to become the first to end the HIV epidemic entirely, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the governments of member states will need to lead the way in fighting stigma, promoting and prioritizing HIV prevention in all its aspects including innovation in therapeutics strengthening the financing and funding of healthcare systems, and establishing effective pathways to zero transmission to end HIV entirely.

“HIV continues to be a public health threat across Europe, where in 2022 more than 100,000 people were newly diagnosed with HIV,” says Baeten. “HIV prevention is critical and has the potential to change the trajectory of the epidemic, but stigma and other barriers limit the impact that PrEP medications can have on reducing HIV infections in Europe. We all have a responsibility to collaboratively partner to make this work.”

*U=U is true on two premises: taking HIV medicines as prescribed and getting to and staying undetectable for at least six months prevents transmitting HIV to partners through sex. Undetectable means that the virus cannot be measured by a viral load test (viral load <200 copies/mL)

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What will Poland’s new government mean for the EU economy?

As President Andrzej Duda opens consultations with party leaders to form a new government, here’s how the opposition’s majority in the Polish parliament will affect the EU’s sixth-largest economy – as well as the bloc itself.


The Poles have said it loud and clear. After eight years of rule by the right-wing nationalist Law and Justice party, they have had enough.

With a record turnout of 74.4%, the elections in mid-October gave the three pro-EU parties – Civic Coalition (30.7%), Third Way (14.4%) and New Left (8.6%) – a parliamentary majority of 53.7% in total. Law and Justice got 35.4% of the votes.

The new government hasn’t been formed yet, but President Andrzej Duda is meeting with party leaders on Tuesday and Wednesday to start coalition talks.

As the Law and Justice party is unlikely to find a coalition partner, one man is in the pole position to become prime minister: Donald Tusk, who leads the Civic Coalition. He’s already asked Duda to let him form a government.

This political game change will have significant implications for the EU’s sixth biggest economy, as well as for the bloc itself. Here are some of the major economic impacts.

Unfreezing €112 billion in EU funds

Since 2015, Poland has been at loggerheads with the EU, after the ruling government brought in new laws that the bloc believed were undermining the independence of Polish courts and going against democratic standards.

The wrangling resulted in the EU blocking the country from accessing €35.4 billion in COVID-19 recovery funds in 2020 and €76.5 billion in EU cohesion funds in 2022.

With the Law and Justice party out of the way, some have speculated that Brussels might finally decide to reverse the decision and grant a significant boon for the Polish economy.

But the money won’t simply start flowing because there will be a different government.

First, Warsaw has to reverse the controversial judiciary rules, which will require the passage of new legislation. While it’s ultimately up to parliament to approve any such law, the speed of the process will depend on President Duda.

Duda, who is a long-time ally of Law and Justice, holds veto power over laws and is himself the author of some of these recent controversial changes.

Nevertheless, Rafał Trzaskowski, Warsaw’s mayor and a member of Donald Tusk’s party, has assured that unfreezing the bloc’s funds would be the most urgent task for the majority government.

“As soon as the president nominates the new government, the prime minister will travel [to Brussels] and will negotiate with the EU the unblocking of that money,” Trzaskowski said.

Poland joins hands with the EU… and perhaps the euro

The creation of a pro-EU government will pave the way for Poland to improve its ties with the bloc, facilitating collaboration and decision-making.

Paweł Tokarski, a Polish economist and senior researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, believes the new executive will be “a huge change for the EU because Poland will stop being a blocking member”.

“The shift in power also means that the risk of Poland leaving [the EU] is out, at least for a moment”, he added.

Indeed, Poland’s relationship with the EU is likely to come on in leaps and bounds if Donald Tusk truly is the country’s prime minister-in-waiting, not least thanks to his extensive experience in the Brussels bubble.

Tusk served as president of the European Council from 2014 to 2019 (taking a leading role in Brexit negotiations with outgoing member state, the UK) and of the European People’s Party from 2019 to last year.


“Tusk will be welcomed with open arms”, Tokarski said.

Improving the current state of Poland’s central bank is another avenue through which the country might wish to reconcile and forge stronger bonds with the EU.

Tokarski strongly criticised the bank’s president, Adam Glapiński, for not “fulfilling his role and fighting against inflation”.

Inflation is set to reach 11.4% in Poland this year, against the 5.6% projection for the euro area.

Poland still uses its own currency, the złoty, despite having previously pledged to adopt the euro. While the country’s outgoing administration has argued against integrating into the EU-wide currency any time soon, Tokarski pointed to the euro as “a way to repair the damaged reputation of the Polish central bank”.


Warsaw’s path to the common currency “would need to involve not only depoliticisation of the judicial system but also a stronger fiscal governance framework, especially concerning transparency and the legislative process, as well as the reigning in of populist financial policies”, he said in an article he co-authored.

Tokarski added that the new administration will re-evaluate the adoption of the euro, which will be “very positive” for the country.

Polish economy celebrates upcoming political shift

The election’s results generated a lot of economic optimism in Poland, which was reflected in the behaviour of stock and currency markets.

The country’s blue-chip index WIG20 hit a two-month high last week when the official vote count was released. The index has climbed almost 6% this month so far.

On the same day, the złoty jumped to 4.42 against the euro, its strongest rate since the beginning of August.


Tokarski said that private consumption is also expected to rise because the Poles now see a brighter future ahead of them.

Moreover, “the new government will pay more attention to small and medium-sized enterprises, which are responsible for more than 50% of GDP”, he added.

Concerning public finances, the opposition group will have to check its actual situation once in power. Tokarski explained that, since “the budgetary processes were to a large extent out of the control of the Parliament,” only the ruling government had access to all the exact data.

However, he doesn’t expect any drama here. In Poland, the debt-to-GDP ratio is lower than 60%, which is “relatively low in the context of the EU” (83.1% halfway through this year).

“Even if there are some problems, I don’t think it would cause a major crisis of confidence”, Tokarski said.

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Young voters’ turnout in Poland showed it’s ‘No country for Old Men’

By Tom Junes, Historian, Assistant Professor, Institute of Political Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences

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

Despite PiS winning the election, Sunday’s vote produced an electoral victory for the opposition spurred on by younger voters, Tom Junes writes.


It was a remarkable sight in Poland on Sunday: in the middle of the night, hours after the first exit polls in the country’s parliamentary election projected a Pyrrhic victory for Law and Justice (PiS), scores of young people were still queueing at polling stations waiting to vote.

Over the past eight years of PiS rule, Polish society has become increasingly polarised and divisions now run so deep making the idea of political reconciliation no longer seem possible at times.

This year’s election campaign was the ugliest and most vicious of Poland’s post-1989 era. Yet, the effect was such that ultimately a large part of the generally non-voting population got motivated enough to take to the polls.

In Jagodno, a district of Wrocław, the last voters cast their ballots just before 3 am. Indicatively, the results from that district echoed a trend among youth. 

In 2019, PiS came first among voters between 18 and 29 years of age with 26.3% of the vote share. Last Sunday, the ruling party of the past eight years finished last with a mere 14.9% — and, in Jagodno, PiS even failed to clear 6%.

The most astonishing aspect of these elections was the record voter turnout of 74% — ten percentage points higher than the elections in 1989 that brought an end to decades of communist rule. 

And although the total number of eligible voters this year amounted to more than one million less than in the previous elections in 2019, a million and a half more people ended up going out and casting ballots.

Against the backdrop of these elections that were perceived as “free but not fair”, the massive voter mobilisation was a clear win for democracy as such. 

This makes the youth vote, traditionally the least prominent voting group, perhaps even more extraordinary. Turnout among voters from 18 to 29 years reached 68.8%, compared to 46.4% in the previous elections of 2019.

An electoral youthquake

In the months before the elections, amidst an ever more polarising climate, media attention started focusing on the younger generation of voters. 

In particular, this was because surveys showed a stronger polarisation and gender divide factoring into their political preferences with a striking dominance of the far-right Konfederacja on the one hand and the Left on the other hand. 

The youth vote was heralding change to come as most young voters have never known any government beyond the Civic Platform (PO)-PiS duopoly fueled by the persisting Donald Tusk-Jarosław Kaczyński rivalry.

Konfederacja’s rise to double-digit numbers and third place in pre-election surveys propelled it to the status of potential “kingmaker” in what was perceived to herald a further swing to the right in Poland. 

The Lewica or Left’s prominence was in turn seen as a consequence of the PiS-led drive to further criminalise abortion and its assault on women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.

But on the day of the vote, the pre-election predictions concerning youth turned out to be far off the mark as neither the far right nor the Left came out on top. 

Voter outflow to the Third Way key?

Both parties arguably fared much better among youth than in older age groups, but it was the Tusk-led PO coalition that held a decisive advantage among younger voters, with the Trzecia Droga, or Third Way, coalition also producing a strong showing.

More so, while the Left is seen as part of the winning camp securing its own voter niche, it lost half a million votes compared to the last elections. 

And though Konfederacja appeared as the biggest flop of the night underperforming by even its least ambitious aims, the far right did increase its overall vote tally by some three hundred thousand votes.


In both cases, there was most likely a potential voter outflow to Trzecia Droga. Though frequently portrayed in the media in the weeks running up to the election as at risk of not crossing the threshold, the coalition managed to present itself as a credible alternative to the PO-PiS duopoly for voters who favoured a more moderate or centrist approach than the Lewica or far right were offering.

Perhaps the mass mobilisation in the Tusk-led “Million Hearts March” two weeks before the vote or the fact that Szymon Hołownia, one of the leaders of Trzecia Droga, managed to pull off the best performance in the only TV election debate that took place influenced the outcome. 

However, neither during the debate nor in the campaign as a whole did the political parties and their candidates pay much attention to youth.

Yet, the vote ultimately shows that the younger generation voted overwhelmingly against PiS. And young people did so for a variety of reasons provided in the first place by PiS who managed to antagonise the overall majority of young voters.

An opposition victory where caveats apply

Despite PiS winning the election, Sunday’s vote produced an electoral victory for the opposition spurred on by younger voters. 


Youth has managed to swing elections a few times in Poland’s democratic history. In 2007, young voters helped Tusk and PO beat Kaczyński’s PiS in a snap election, and in 2015, the youth vote came out against the out-of-touch PO establishment propelling PiS to power.

And although the country might now see a political moment reminiscent of 1989 leading to the end of PiS rule, Poland’s democratic history shows that the pendulum can swiftly swing the other way. One should not forget that PiS still has the single largest group of political supporters.

It will thus be important for the opposition to navigate carefully in the coming weeks and months facing probable obstruction and stiff opposition from PiS and the country’s PiS-backed president, Andrzej Duda, while having to keep together a disparate political alliance ranging from PiS-curious conservatives to radical left sympathisers.

Taking a page out of Italy’s book

Over the past eight years, Poland was often compared to Hungary for its illiberal tendencies and democratic backsliding under PiS. But last weekend’s election outcome also shows that Poland is not Hungary. 

Rather, today’s situation is reminiscent of Italy’s in 2006, when a broad but fragile coalition led by former European Commission President Romano Prodi managed to narrowly oust Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing populist government.


The comparison to Italy should serve as a warning since Prodi’s coalition rapidly fell apart and paved the way for Berlusconi’s comeback. 

Tusk, who was the European Council president himself, and like Prodi, twice defeated his country’s inflated right-wing populist opponent, could learn something from his counterpart and seize the opportunity to address young people’s concerns to galvanise his support. 

Unless it wants to founder to the same flavour of infighting spurred on by a lack of vision for the future, Poland’s opposition has a distinct opportunity to listen to the youth’s desires and help transform Poland into a country not ruled by old men.

Tom Junes is a historian and Assistant Professor at the Institute of Political Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences. He is the author of “Student Politics in Communist Poland: Generations of Consent and Dissent”.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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It’s time to hang up on the old telecoms rulebook

Joakim Reiter | via Vodafone

Around 120 years ago, Guglielmo Marconi planted the seeds of a communications revolution, sending the first message via a wireless link over open water. “Are you ready? Can you hear me?”, he said. Now, the telecommunications industry in Europe needs policymakers to heed that call, to realize the vision set by its 19th-century pioneers.

Next-generation telecommunications are catalyzing a transformation on par with the industrial revolution. Mobile networks are becoming programmable platforms — supercomputers that will fundamentally underpin European industrial productivity, growth and competitiveness. Combined with cloud, AI and the internet of things, the era of industrial internet will transform our economy and way of life, bringing smarter cities, energy grids and health care, as well as autonomous transport systems, factories and more to the real world.

5G is already connecting smarter, autonomous factory technologies | via Vodafone

Europe should be at the center of this revolution, just as it was in the early days of modern communications.

Next-generation telecommunications are catalyzing a transformation on par with the industrial revolution.

Even without looking at future applications, the benefits of a healthy telecoms industry for society are clear to see. Mobile technologies and services generated 5 percent of global GDP, equivalent to €4.3 trillion, in 2021. More than five billion people around the world are connected to mobile services — more people today have access to mobile communications than they do to safely-managed sanitation services. And with the combination of satellite solutions, the prospect of ensuring every person on the planet is connected may soon be within reach.

Satellite solutions, combined with mobile communications, could eliminate coverage gaps | via Vodafone

In our recent past, when COVID-19 spread across the world and societies went into lockdown, connectivity became critical for people to work from home, and for enabling schools and hospitals to offer services online.  And with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, when millions were forced to flee the safety of their homes, European network operators provided heavily discounted roaming and calling to ensure refugees stayed connected with loved ones.

A perfect storm of rising investment costs, inflationary pressures, interest rate hikes and intensifying competition from adjacent industries is bearing down on telecoms businesses across Europe.

These are all outcomes and opportunities, depending on the continuous investment of telecoms’ private companies.

And yet, a perfect storm of rising investment costs, inflationary pressures, interest rate hikes and intensifying competition from adjacent industries is bearing down on telecoms businesses across Europe. The war on our continent triggered a 15-fold increase in wholesale energy prices and rapid inflation. EU telecoms operators have been under pressure ever since to keep consumer prices low during a cost-of-living crisis, while confronting rapidly growing operational costs as a result. At the same time, operators also face the threat of billions of euros of extra, unforeseen costs as governments change their operating requirements in light of growing geopolitical concerns.

Telecoms operators may be resilient. But they are not invincible.

The odds are dangerously stacked against the long-term sustainability of our industry and, as a result, Europe’s own digital ambitions. Telecoms operators may be resilient. But they are not invincible.

The signs of Europe’s decline are obvious for those willing to take a closer look. European countries are lagging behind in 5G mobile connectivity, while other parts of the world — including Thailand, India and the Philippines — race ahead. Independent research by OpenSignal shows that mobile users in South Korea have an active 5G connection three times more often than those in Germany, and more than 10 times their counterparts in Belgium.

Europe needs a joined-up regulatory, policy and investment approach that restores the failing investment climate and puts the telecoms sector back to stable footing.

Average 5G connectivity in Brazil is more than three times faster than in Czechia or Poland. A recent report from the European Commission — State of the Digital Decade (europa.eu) shows just how far Europe needs to go to reach the EU’s connectivity targets for 2030.

To arrest this decline, and successfully meet EU’s digital ambitions, something has got to give. Europe needs a joined-up regulatory, policy and investment approach that restores the failing investment climate and puts the telecoms sector back to stable footing.

Competition, innovation and efficient investment are the driving forces for the telecoms sector today. It’s time to unleash these powers — not blindly perpetuate old rules. We agree with Commissioner Breton’s recent assessment: Europe needs to redefine the DNA of its telecoms regulation. It needs a new rulebook that encourages innovation and investment, and embraces the logic of a true single market. It must reduce barriers to growth and scale in the sector and ensure spectrum — the lifeblood of our industry — is managed more efficiently. And it must find faster, futureproofed ways to level the playing field for all business operating in the wider digital sector.  

But Europe is already behind, and we are running out of time. It is critical that the EU finds a balance between urgent, short-term measures and longer-term reforms. It cannot wait until 2025 to implement change.

Europeans deserve better communications technology | via Vodafone

When Marconi sent that message back in 1897, the answer to his question was, “loud and clear”. As Europe’s telecoms ministers convene this month in León, Spain, their message must be loud and clear too. European citizens and businesses deserve better communications. They deserve a telecoms rulebook that ensures networks can deliver the next revolution in digital connectivity and services.

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Five critical issues shaping Poland’s upcoming election

With the mood growing increasingly tense, Euronews looks at the main issues – and flashpoints – ahead of the pivotal vote.


Poland’s politicians are making big promises, and opposition supporters have flooded the streets – it can mean only one thing: An election is just around the corner. 

The pivotal vote on 15 October will see the incumbent right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS) face off against Donald Tusk’s liberal Civic Coalition, alongside parties from the left and far right. 

Politicians are fighting tooth and claw, but what exactly have been the main issues – and flashpoints – shaping the election so far? 

1. Security

Even before campaigns got underway, security was one of the most important topics in Polish politics, with the country lying on the borders of Belarus and Ukraine. 

PiS leaders have promised to ramp up military spending and build one of the strongest armies in Europe, emphasising the risk of Russia’s war in Ukraine spiling into its territory.

The populist party is “naturally more sensitive” to this issue because its support base sits in the east and south of Poland on the frontier with Belarus and Ukraine, says Wojciech Przybylski, a political analyst at Visegrad Insight. 

But the opposition attaches the same significance to security concerns, he adds.

Other observers take things further, arguing PiS is deliberately over-exaggerating insecurity to influence the vote. 

“They are mostly trying to play on people’s fears,” explains Filip Pazderski, head of the democracy and civil society programme at the Polish Institute of Public Affairs. “The war is helping the ruling party because of this rally behind the flag effect.”

Part of this threat perception is the idea that Poland is being “invaded by strange others”, he continues, referring to the country’s long-running migration crisis with Belarus. 

“They are using pictures of refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea or taking clips from riots in France to claim they if Poles vote for the opposition this is what will happen.” 

Anti-migrant and refugee rhetoric has been aired across the political spectrum, with Tusk vowing in a clip posted on social media: “Poles must regain control over this country and its borders”. 

2. The EU (aka: relations with Berlin)

Central to debates in the run-up to elections has been Poland’s ties with the European Union (EU), especially its foremost power Berlin. 

Since taking office in 2015, PiS has veered towards authoritarianism and undermined the rule of law, bringing it into conflict with Brussels. 

Civic Coalition led by Tusk, a former president of the European Council, is firmly pro-European, seeing the EU as the best way of guaranteeing the country’s future security and prosperity. 

He has proposed reversing erosions to the rule of law to release billions in frozen EU funds, a welcome boost for Warsaw’s coffers. 

In contrast, PiS is whipping up anti-German sentiment and striking an isolationist stance, says analyst Przybylski. 

“They are capitalising on the older electorate’s distrust towards Germany… PiS is framing the opposition as agents of Berlin in its supposed big plan to recreate the Second World War in which Germany and Russia attack Poland.” 


“These are ridiculous claims,” he adds. 

Poland’s de facto leader, deputy PM Jarosław Kaczyński, has repeatedly accused Tusk of planning to sell state-owned companies to German investors, calling him a stooge of Berlin. 

3. Ukraine

Issues around Ukraine have played a prominent role in the election campaign.  

As a former satellite state of the Soviet Union, Poland was quick to rally behind Kyiv when Russian tanks steamed across the border in February 2022. 

The country welcomed hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees and provided much military and financial support. 


But relations have since soured, with Warsaw saying in September that it would stop sending weapons to Kyiv

Poland’s hard-right – growing in popularity – has tried to inflame hostility towards Ukrainian refugees, while Polish farmers have protested against cheap Ukrainian grain imports flooding the country, helping prompt the policy change.  

“PiS is trying to gain additional votes because they have no certainty of achieving a majority like in previous elections,” Przybylski. “They’re trying to play this [refugee] card that is consistent with their isolationism and nationalism.” 

However, supporters of both the main parties are overwhelmingly in favour of helping Ukraine, he continues. 

Refugees were listed as the least important issue out of 12 social problems in a September poll of Polish voters by IBRiS.


“I think the opposition maintains a good line. They see refugees as a challenge and say they know how to handle it. That this issue that can be sorted out, rather than played,” argues Przybylski.

4. Inflation

As in many European countries, worries about sky-high prices of essentials, like food and energy, have been hotly debated.  

“Inflation is very, very important,” says Pazderski. “It used to be even more important, but inflation has got a bit less recently.” 

“The opposition would use it to attack the current ruling majority, claiming that it’s their fault,” he continues.

PiS have blamed price hikes on external events such as the war in Ukraine and the EU’s green policies, attempting to imply the problem is out of their control, according to the expert. 


Rising prices were named the second most important problem facing Poles in the IBRiS’s September survey. 

Last month Poland’s headline inflation rate slowed to 8.2% year-on-year, below analysts’ expectations of 8.5%, according to a flash estimate by Poland’s state statistics agency GUS. 

It is the first time the figure has fallen below 10% since fighting broke out in Ukraine and is the lowest level since late 2021. 

5. Social policies

While perhaps less prominent than others, social issues have come up on the agenda. 

With an ageing population, pensions have been hotly debated, besides policies around “making babies”, such as state support for families with children, notes Przybylski. 


Poland faces a huge democratic challenge with population growth flatlining since the early 2000s, meanwhile, many PiS policies limiting abortion rights have drawn fierce criticism. 

The conservative party has also promised to expand its hugely popular “500+” child benefit programme, introduced in 2016, with Polish families set to receive a 60% increase in payments from next January. 

Przybylski says the Civic Coalition, a catch-all political alliance, has emphasised policies aimed at improving health. Another idea they have floated is offering direct subsidies to grandparents who want to stay at home and take care of infants. 

“But the main message of the opposition is that they will also cut down the negative emotions and energy that drive so much polarisation and hatred,” adds Pazderski.

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Migration ‘used to mobilise voters’ ahead of elections in Slovakia and Poland

Migration has become a hot-button issue in Slovakia and Poland ahead of upcoming elections on September 30 and October 15, with politicians evoking the hotly debated topic to galvanise voters and governments reintroducing border checks in the region.

A surge in illegal migration along the Balkan route into Slovakia has local politicians calling for increased border control in recent weeks. This comes ahead of knife-edge legislative elections on September 30 in which Slovakia’s two-time prime minister Robert Fico and his pro-Russian populist SMER-SD party are hoping to stage a comeback.

Poland has also seen the re-emergence of migration as a hot-button issue ahead of parliamentary elections on October 15. The ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, fighting a close election against the centre-right Civic Coalition (KO) party, has made migration a central campaign issue with the objective of shoring up votes.

“For some parties further on the right, migration was always a no-go,” says Alena Kudzko, Vice President for Policy and Programming at GLOBSEC think tank in Bratislava. Yet over the past few weeks, more centrist leaning parties have started campaigning on migration in the hope of a last-minute boost in votes, she adds.

The narratives were similar across the board, with “many politicians declaring ‘we should protect Slovakia; migration is not safe for Slovaks’”, says Kudzko. Hoping to ride the wave of anti-migration sentiment prevalent in Slovak society, even the pro-European social-democratic party HLAS-SD published billboards stating, “Stop illegal migration” just weeks before the election.

A reintroduction of border checks in the region

An uptick in illegal migration on the Balkan route to central Europe has also prompted some Slovak politicians to call for tighter border controls.

Slovakia has seen a surge of migrants, many from Afghanistan and Syria, in recent months. In the first eight months of 2023, the country registered approximately 24,500 migrants who had entered illegally – most of them from Serbia through Hungary.

The rising number of illegal migrants crossing its borders prompted neighbouring Poland to introduce checks on vehicles crossing the border from Slovakia on September 25. This came after the Czech Republic and Austria reintroduced border controls with Slovakia last year to stem the flow of immigrants.

Some politicians blame Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for the sudden influx as part of an effort to boost the chances of fellow anti-migrant politician Fico of returning to office on September 30. Many migrants now in Slovakia had no difficulty entering the country from Hungary, and Orban is believed to have released more than 1,400 people from prison who had been sentenced for human trafficking.

Fico has regularly highlighted the surge in illegal migration during the election campaign. “We want to remind the Slovak government that it has all options — legislative, technical and personnel — to revive border controls on the Slovak-Hungarian border,” he said during a press conference broadcasted on Facebook.

Slovakia’s caretaker government headed by Prime Minister Ludovít Odor has said it is impossible to seal the border with Hungary, which stretches over 650 km. It has sent up to 500 soldiers to help police patrolling border areas and taken measures to register migrants quickly.

Migration was ranked in a recent poll as the third item on a list of voter’s concerns, with 15% of voters saying they were worried about illegal migration. “Politicians are trying to appeal to this concerned segment of the population calling for a much harsher position on migration,” said Kudzko.

The parties that campaign on tightening migration policies know the issue is even higher on their supporters’ agenda. Between 20-30% of voters of SMER-SD and the far-right parties, SNS and Republika, said that migration is Slovakia’s biggest problem – a much greater percentage than across the entire population. 

But Kudzko believes that the illegal migration situation in Slovakia has been exaggerated in the runup to elections. “The truth is that most people don’t stay. Transit countries, like Slovakia, know that they just need to wave migrants through,” she says, while comparing the situation with that of Poland, where migrants who managed to cross the Polish-Belarusian border often continued on to Germany.

‘A fear of migration’ in Poland

In Poland, a battle is playing out between PiS and Civic Platform for the future control of parliament, with migration “being used to build up emotion and mobilise voters”, according to Andrzej Bobinski, a political analyst with Polityka Insight. 

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced on September 29 that Poland will uphold its veto on a European Union migration pact as the bloc seeks a deal for the sharing of the responsibility for asylum seekers who reach Europe outside of official border crossings.

Poland’s leaders, expressing their opposition to the European Union’s plan to relocate migrants and asylum seekers within the bloc, have frequently argued that they have already fulfilled their migrant quota by welcoming around one million Ukrainian refugees since the beginning of the war.

A sentiment of fatigue with the war in Ukraine is also setting in. The far-right party Confederacja (Confederation), says Poland is not getting the gratitude it deserves for arming Ukraine and accepting its refugees.

The emergence of Confederation has put pressure on the Polish political establishment as PiS may have to accept the latter as a coalition partner to stay in power.

Several factors could play into the ruling party’s hand on Election Day. “The migrant crisis on the border with Belarus in [2021]  … caused a big scare in Poland. Pis built a wall and they keep organising events like press conferences around the wall every day,” says Bobinski.

The ruling party led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski also frequently uses photos of recent events in Lampedusa. Earlier this month, some 8,500 migrants arrived on the tiny Italian fishing island in the space of a few days, overwhelming the tourist destination.

“People are not changing their views, they will either vote for PiS or KO. The only thing both parties can do is mobilise their voters which belong to highly polarised camps,” says Bobinski.

Yet, “whatever happens at the end of the day, for many people at the bottom of their soul, there is a fear of migration”, concludes Bobinski.

(With AFP) 

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