This Week in Europe: Killer Robots, Article 7 and More

, by Pascal Letendre-Hanns, Radu Dumitrescu

This Week in Europe: Killer Robots, Article 7 and More
Credits for images to Samuel Mork Bednarz

Members of the TNF team recount big events from Europe from the past week, and point attention to news that may have passed notice. What did we miss? Comment on our Facebook page at http://facebook.com/thenewfederalist.eu !

Sweden rocked by elections

Last Sunday, Sweden went through some of the most highly anticipated parliamentary elections in the past decade, shedding its prolonged stability. The biggest political party, the Social Democrats, saw its worse election results since 1911, according to POLITICO. Meanwhile, the anti-immigration far-right Sweden Democrats got their best results ever, becoming the third party in the country. The polls, however, had the latter as clear winners, making the far-right lament its actual score.

How did the center-left and center-right maintain the lead in Sweden, each winning roughly 40% - 143-144 seats, with 175 needed for majority - in the face of the far-rights 17.5%, or 62 seats? By taking a new hard-line approach on immigration. Faced with the new situation, Swedish voters prefered backing the mainstream parties. For the center-right, governing together with the Sweden Democrats seems appealing, even though a grand coalition would be the “more responsible” way to go. The country is set for a long period of negotiations before a government is formed.

EU vs. Killer Robots

On Wednesday, the European Parliament passed a resolution issuing a call for the international ban of the development and use of autonomous weapons, which can kill without needing a human to pull the trigger. Such AI-controlled weapons are feared due to their vulnerability in the face of hacking.

At the moment, the closest thing to a killer robot is the armed drone, used in particular by the United States. Other countries, however, such as China, Israel and Russia, are moving closer to the developing of autonomous weapons, with Russian arms maker Kalashnikov already boasting such a weapon since 2017. While most members of the EP were reportedly in favor of the ban, others wondered whether or not the EU would face increased risks for banning such weapons while others did not.

EP triggers article 7 on Hungary

This week, the European Parliament passed a motion, with 448 votes in favor and 197 against, declaring that Hungary is at risk of breaching the core values of the Union - judicial independence, freedom of expression, academic freedom, rights of minorities and others. Last year, the same Article 7 process was triggered on Poland over breaches of the rule of law. At its end, Article 7 revokes a country’s vote in the Council of the European Union. However, that can only happen if all of the other members unanimously approve of the measure, which is unlikely.

The vote uncovered divisions in the European Union, with MEPs from Western countries populating the “in favor” camp, while representatives from Central and Eastern European member states dominated the “against” camp. The same divisions could be observed in the largest political group in the EP - the European People’s Party, of which Hungarian PM Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party is a member.

Before the vote, however, EPP leader and candidate for the Presidency of the Commission, Manfred Weber, said that he will support the motion. Earlier the week, Austrian leader Sebastian Kurz, a conservative, said that his party’s MEPs will also vote in favor of sanctions against Hungary as “there are no compromises on the rule of law.” One day before the vote, Viktor Orban himself addressed the Parliament, refusing to give in and standing by his “conservative Christian” values.

Russia holds largest military maneuvers in history

On Wednesday, Russia launched its largest military maneuvers in history, with almost 300,000 participants from all branches of the armed forces. They were also joined by Chinese soldiers in what the Kremlin is calling the “East 2018” maneuvers taking place in Eastern Siberia. In response, NATO criticized the event and called it a rehearsal for a “large-scale conflict”.

The current military exercises can only add to the tension between Russia and the West, all in the context of the ongoing Ukrainian crisis and the Syrian conflict. Officials from the Russian Defence Ministry went as far as comparing the maneuvers with the Soviet-era “Zapad 81” ones, which took place in Eastern Europe. Aside from the 300,000 soldiers, 36,000 tanks and armoured vehicles, 1,000 planes and 80 ships will also be part of the “East 2018” military exercises, with modern weaponry such as the Iskander missile warheads being tested as well. At the same time, Russian officials from the FOreign Ministry said that the maneuvers will take place well away from any NATO forces and will not threaten the security of any member state.

African swine fever reaches Belgium

Fears have been raised in the European pork market after the confirmation that African swine fever has arrived in Belgium. Cases of the disease have been on the rise since 2014 but had so far been confined to Eastern Europe. The confirmation of its arrival in Western Europe increases the risk of a spread to Germany, Europe’s top pork producer. The stakes are high as the disease is fatal and difficult to control, often requiring mass cullings of pigs from affected farms. If the spread cannot be kept under control then EU states will likely face bans from non-EU countries on exports of pork.

Germany’s head of domestic security under fire

The German Social Democrat (SPD) leadership has insisted that Angela Merkel fire Hans-Georg Maaßen, the head of Germany’s domestic security agency. The public broadcaster ARD discovered that Maaßen had handed over details of a report before it was published to the far-right party, Alternative for Germany (AfD).

This has led to accusations that he is not fit for the job and is unable to tackle the rise of right-wing extremism in Germany. Maaßen was already being criticised for comments he made around the far-right demonstrations in Chemnitz, when he said there was no evidence that protesters had attacked foreigners, in spite of widespread media reporting of such incidents.

European Parliament backs copyright reforms

The European Parliament voted to approve new changes to copyright rules aimed at modernising the system for the internet age. The debate over these reforms has been controversial at times and has created a fierce lobbying contest between internet giants on one side and publishers, media groups and record labels on the other. By putting more responsibility on tech giants for the spread of copyrighted material on their platforms, it is hoped that creators will see more revenue from the use of their material.

The reform has sparked alarm among some internet freedom campaigners, however, who are concerned that the implementation of the new rules will lead to unintended consequences. Tech companies often rely on automated systems in order to flag up copyrighted content. A more expansive definition of such content has created concerns that the filters will catch too many people and stifle free expression online.

Greek migrant camp faces closure

Greece’s biggest migrant camp, in Moria on the island of Lesbos, could be shut down over the massive amounts of waste, according to the regional governor. With more than 8,300 people staying in the area, UN officials and other human rights groups have repeatedly described the camp as unfit for human habitation.

The regional governor has declared that inspectors found Moria to be dangerous for public health and the environment, with broken sewage pipes, overflowing waste disposal and dirty living quarters. Officials are hoping to speed up the transfer of migrants from the islands to the Greek mainland in order to deal with the public health and humanitarian emergency.

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