Questions over the rule of law and respect for democratic values marred the start of the Slovenian presidency of the EU Council, with a pubic rift between Brussels and Ljubljana as host prime minister Janez Janša declared that “smaller countries in the EU are treated as second class”.
And in a sign of behind-the-scenes tensions, the head of the Green Deal and former EU commissioner for the rule of law, Frans Timmermans, refused to join a group photograph with the right-wing premier, over Janša’s “unacceptable attack” on two Slovenian judges and two socialist MEPs.
After questions arose over the independence of the judiciary in Slovenia during the opening meeting between the Slovenian government and the European Commission, Janša showed a photo in which the two judges and two MEPs appeared and identified them as political enemies.
Speaking to the press on Friday (2 July), the conservative prime minister said that Timmermans got upset when the Slovenian government demonstrated “how members of the high court in Slovenia are making political campaigns on Sunday, and delivering independent rulings on Monday”.
“This is not independence,” Janša said, arguing that Timmermans’ questions over the rule of law were thereby answered.
“We did not start the discussion…If he was offended by our replies, we only try to explain it,” Janša added. “If you dislike the truth this is actually your problem, not a problem for the truth.”
Meanwhile, an off-the-cuff remark from Slovenia’s interior minister Aleš Hoj raised eyebrows in Ljubljana and beyond.
When asked about previous tweets in which he referred to anti-government protesters as pigs, Hoj said that he would call a certain individual a “swine” who is not on Prešeren Square – where the protests took place – but sitting “high in the EU bureaucracy”.
After many interpreted the comments as a reference to Timmermans, the interior minister clarified on social media that he was not referring to commission vice president when answering the journalists’ questions.
The tensions between Brussels and Slovenia come just a few days after a row broke out at an EU leaders’ summit over the new anti-LGBTIQ law approved in Hungary – with Janša and Poland’s premier Mateusz Morawieck backing Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán.
“If you judge someone on imaginary European values which everyone perceives differently and where dual standards are used, this is the fastest road to collapse,” Janša said, arguing that “an honest discussion” was necessary within the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe in order to clarify certain notions.
If the discussion about the future of Europe excludes some points of view, the EU “will continue to shrink,” he also said, pointing out that Orban has the right to express how he envisages the future of the EU.
“The EU without central Europe is not the EU,” he added.
For Janša, the EU is composed of 27 member states and it will not become a “melting pot” in which everyone thinks alike, saying that was “idealistic”.
When asked about the situation of media freedom in Slovenia, the prime minister showed a video produced by his government that questions the threats and obstacles journalists have reported.
He pointed out that some journalists in the country end up becoming politicians, arguing this was “wrong” if it only happens one on one side of the political spectrum.
“Freedom of the media enables people to exercise the freedom of expression,” he said, claiming that freedom of expression comes first. Janša himself is a former journalist.
Brexit: British Embassy launches survey on key issues affecting UK nationals in Spain | Brexit | International
The British Embassy in Madrid has launched a survey aimed at finding out how UK nationals in Spain have been affected by key issues, in particular, the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, a process commonly known as Brexit.
The poll is for Britons who are full-time residents in Spain (not those with second homes) and are covered by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, i.e. they were officially registered in the country before December 31, 2020, when the so-called Transition Period came to an end.
Questions in the survey address issues such as access to healthcare and the uptake of the TIE residency cards, which were introduced as a replacement for green residency cards (either the credit-card size or the A4 sheet version, officially known as the Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión).
The aim of the poll is to gather vital information on the experience of UK nationals living in Spain that will help the British Embassy provide feedback to Spanish authorities. The survey takes around 10 minutes to complete, and all answers are confidential.
Have you heard our Spanish news podcast ¿Qué? Each week we try to explain the curious, the under-reported and sometimes simply bizarre news stories that are often in the headlines in Spain.
‘The challenge for us now is drought, not war’: livelihoods of millions of Afghans at risk | Global development
The war in Afghanistan might be over but farmers in Kandahar’s Arghandab valley face a new enemy: drought.
It has hardly rained for two years, a drought so severe that some farmers are questioning how much longer they can live off the land.
Mohammed Rahim, 30, grew up working on a farm along with his father and grandfather in the Arghandab district of Afghanistan’s southern province. Famous for its fruit and vegetables, the area is known as the bread basket of Kandahar.
Like most in the valley, Rahim’s family relies solely on farming. “The fighting has just stopped. Peace has returned,” Rahim says. “But now we face another war: drought.
“Now we have to dig deep to pump water out of the land. It has been two years, there has been little rain and we have a drought here. I don’t know if our coming generations can rely on farming the way our ancestors used to do.”
Pir Mohammed, 60, has been a farmer for more than four decades. “Not long ago, there were water channels flowing into the farm and we were providing the remaining water to other farmers,” says Mohammed. “Before, the water was running after us, flowing everywhere – but now we are running after water.”
The water used to come free from the river but now the daily diesel cost for the water pump is at least 2,500 Afghani (£21).
“We don’t make any profit. We are in loss, rather. Instead, we are using our savings. But we don’t have any other option as we do it for survival,” says Mohammed. “However, the scarcity of water has affected the quality of crops as well.”
About 70% of Afghans live in rural areas and are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of drought.
Last week, Rein Paulsen, director of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Office of Emergencies and Resilience, said severe drought was affecting 7.3 million people in 25 of the country’s 34 provinces.
He warned: “If agriculture collapses further, it will drive up malnutrition, increase displacement and worsen the humanitarian situation.”
Arghandab has been a favourite destination for farming because of the abundance of water and fertile lands. Neikh Mohammed, 40, left the Dand district of Kandahar to work in Arghandab in 2005. When he arrived he was amazed to see the greenery and pomegranate farms.
“It used to rain a lot here and we could not cross the river and come into our farms. We had a life with abundant water. But the past is another country now,” he says.
According to a report by the UN mission in Afghanistan, many local farmers were caught in the crossfire between the Taliban and the Afghan security forces. The Taliban carried out attacks from thick foliage on the farms, which provided a hiding place, ideal for an ambush.
“For the past 20 years, we did not have peace and could not work after dark in our farms. But now we can stay as long as we want without any fear,” says Neikh Mohammed. “Now the challenge is not just restoring peace but the drought and escalating cost of essential commodities.”
Farmers say they want support from international aid agencies and assistance from the new government headed by the Taliban to help them survive.
Pir Mohammed says: “The real challenge for us now is drought, not war. We need food, water, dams and infrastructure in our country. The world should invest in us and save us.”
[Ticker] US to lift Covid travel-ban on EU tourists
Fully vaccinated travellers from the EU and the UK will be let back into the US from “early November” onward, the White House said on Monday, ending an 18-month ban and prompting airline firms’ shares to climb. “This new international travel system follows the science to keep Americans … safe,” a US spokesman said. The EU recently recommended increased restrictions on US visitors, amid anger at lack of US reciprocity.
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