Europe reviews security

January 12, 2015

French President Hollande welcomes Germany's Chancellor Merkel as she arrives at the Elysee Palace before the solidarity marchin the streets of Paris

After dozens of world leaders including Muslim and Jewish statesmen linked arms and led more than a million French citizens on a march through Paris, Europe has both security and social problems to face following last week’s Islamist attacks.

One of the top concerns of security services in Europe is that disaffected citizens return from places like Syria, Iraq or Yemen having been taught how to fight and kill.

Both brothers who carried out the attack against satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo travelled to Yemen via Oman in 2011 and had weapons training in an al Qaeda stronghold, Yemeni sources said.

Politically, this is huge for European governments as they try to balance freedom of movement and speech with security against a growing backdrop of disenchantment with immigration which could spill over into anti-Muslim sentiment.

A weekly protest of the anti-Islam PEGIDA movement in the east German city of Dresden will be closely watched. Last week, the rally drew a record 18,000 people though an anti-racism demonstration on Saturday in the same city attracted 35,000.  A Hamburg daily that reprinted Charlie Hebdo cartoons was hit by arsonists at the weekend.

After attending the Paris rally, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is expected in Berlin for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, likely to focus on Turkey’s concerns about rising Islamophobia in Europe and recent anti-immigrant protests in Germany as well as Ankara’s long-ailing EU accession process and Syria.

Other parts of the world, more often than not predominately Muslim, have long suffered from a much greater degree of extreme Islamist violence.

Lest anyone forget that, three suspected Boko Haram child suicide bombers killed more than 20 Nigerians in two attacks over the weekend. The grisly modus operandi appeared to be strapping explosives to young girls. With just over a month to nationwide elections, already precarious security in the northeast of the country is disintegrating.

It’s early days but President Francois Hollande, who faces record low popularity ratings, appears to have conducted himself in a way that could make the French think again about him.

One of the reason for Hollande’s unpopularity is his government’s drive to push through labour and pension reforms, even if others in Europe view them as timid. Today, French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron and Finance Minister Michel Sapin address a conference about reform as parliament begins reviewing a bill that aims to inject more competition into France’s struggling economy.

The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine will meet in Berlin to discuss eastern Ukraine and the implementation of the Minsk protocol which outlined steps needed for a durable ceasefire.

There have been mixed messages from Europe in recent days. EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said Ukraine had reported “limited but positive signs” from the east and that she had observed a more cooperative attitude from Moscow on other issues, including Iranian nuclear negotiations and Syria.

But Germany’s Angela Merkel said the EU could not consider lifting sanctions against Russia until the 12-point peace agreement between Ukraine and the rebels was fully implemented.

Ukraine will have to get international help soon or face bankruptcy. An IMF team is in Kiev. A $4 billion IMF tranche is due now the government has passed a budget and Kiev is hoping for rather more. The EU has offered another 1.8 billion euros in loans.

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said on Saturday Ukraine had violated the conditions of a $3 billion Russian loan but no decision on demanding early repayment had yet been taken.

Russia gets back to business following its new year holiday. With no prospect of a meaningful bounce in the price of oil, only a loosening of sanctions is likely to give the economy a fillip, and there’s no sign of that yet. The rouble has opened more than two percent down against the dollar.

Fitch Ratings cut its rating on Russia to ‘BBB minus’ from ‘BBB’ late on Friday, one notch above junk, citing significant deterioration in the economic outlook due to the oil slump and falling rouble.

A trio of opinion polls on Saturday, showed Syriza’s lead in the polls over the ruling conservatives remained stable ahead of snap Greek elections due in two weeks’ time.

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