Rising prices, social inequality could decide EP elections

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Sunday, 24th March 2024

The fight against rising prices and social inequalities are the most important issues for European voters ahead of the European Parliament elections in June, according to an exclusive poll by Ipsos for Euronews. Beating out topics like climate change and immigration, economic issues represent four out of the top five topics that Europeans think should be the highest priorities for incoming decision-makers. The first-of-its-kind survey, conducted in 18 countries representing 96% of the EU’s population, found that rising prices remain the leading electoral issue for Europeans, followed closely by social concerns such as preserving healthcare and pension systems.

“High inflation in the past two years has made everyone worse off, and it came on top of a pandemic economic contraction and follows decades of slow economic growth in Europe,” said Fredrik Erixon, director at the European Centre for International Political Economy. “If we continue to live in a low-growth region, we won’t have the resources to effect a rapid green transformation and improve our geopolitical protection, so voters are dead right to place the fight against inflation and economic stagnation at the top of the agenda.”

Responding to the results of the poll, which is the first of its kind pan-European survey, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit said that ensuring adequate wages afford a decent living is “one clear way” to meet the rising costs in Europe. “We have set the wheels in motion in the minimum wages directive. Looking ahead, all policy-makers must redouble their efforts to combat poverty and social exclusion. This means assessing the distributional impact of all policies and protecting those most at risk,” said Schmit, who is also the lead candidate to face off against Ursula von der Leyen to be European Commission president in June on behalf of the Party of European Socialists.

Almost 100 million people in the EU are at risk of poverty and social exclusion. The reduction of social inequalities and the preservation of social protection systems (such as health and pensions), is almost as important for voters as tackling high prices, according to Euronews’ poll. Some 64% of all respondents called it a priority, while in a country-by-country comparison, the highest rates of voters seeing it as such were in Portugal, Spain, and Romania.

Voting compulsory for 16 and 17-year-olds in Belgium

The Constitutional Court in Belgium has ruled that 16 and 17-year-olds must vote in European elections on  June 9. Voting in Belgium is obligatory for adults 18 and older, with failure to do so resulting in a fine. Adults who fail to turn up at polling stations at least four times in a 15-year period risk losing their right to vote. Those under 18 were previously exempt from this obligatory voting requirement, however. But now the country’s court has suspended the provision that only made voting mandatory for adults. The ruling means that youngsters can be sanctioned if they fail to turn out. Alain Hutchinson, Brussels Commissioner for Europe, called the decision “fresh”, but criticised that it came just 10 days before the deadline to register in voters’ lists.

UN chief, at Gaza crossing, urges end to ‘nightmare’ of war

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, on a visit to the doorstep of Gaza on Saturday, appealed for a ceasefire to allow in more aid, saying the world has “seen enough” horrors in the Israel-Hamas war. “Palestinians in Gaza – children, women, men – remain stuck in a non-stop nightmare,” Guterres said at the Egyptian side of Rafah border crossing with Gaza, the main entry point for aid. “I carry the voices of the vast majority of the world who have seen enough,” Guterres said, deploring “communities obliterated, homes demolished, entire families and generations wiped out”. He said “nothing justifies” the October 7 attack or the “collective punishment” of Palestinians, and asked Israel to commit to “total, unfettered access for humanitarian goods throughout Gaza”. “A long line of blocked relief trucks on one side of the gates – the long shadow of starvation on the other” were “a moral outrage”, Guterres said. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz responded on social media platform X, saying that the UN under Guterres had become an “anti-Israeli body” and that Hamas “plunder” was to blame for aid shortages.

As Israeli forces pressed on with a multi-day raid on the territory’s biggest hospital, Hamas officials reported at least 19 people were killed and dozens wounded by Israeli “tank fire and shells” as they were waiting for desperately needed supplies. The Israeli army denied it had fired on the crowd. Most of the territory’s 2.4 million people have sought refuge on the Gaza side of Rafah, where Israel has vowed to send in ground troops in its war against Hamas.

On the sixth day of Israel’s operation in and around Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital complex, the army’s Southern Command chief Major General Yaron Finkelman vowed to keep on until “the last terrorist is in our hands, alive or dead”. The army has said more than 170 militants have been killed in and around the hospital, which was already raided by Israeli troops in November. In addition to the slain terrorists, a post to the Israel Defense Force’s X account Saturday said over 800 more suspects were taken into custody throughout the extended raid on Al-Shifa Hospital. Israeli fighters also “located many weapons and terrorist infrastructure” during the operation. The army said the current operation avoided harm to civilians or medical personnel, but the UN humanitarian office said “health workers have been among those reported arrested and detained”. The Israeli government is under growing international pressure to ease its bombardment and ground offensive, which the Gaza health ministry says have killed at least 32,142 people, most of them women and children. The unprecedented Hamas attack on October resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures. Israel has vowed to destroy the militants, who also seized about 250 hostages, of whom Israel believes around 130 remain in Gaza, including 33 presumed dead. Efforts by Egyptian, Qatari and US mediators to broker a ceasefire involving the exchange of some of the remaining hostages for Palestinians held in Israeli jails have made no headway. Deep gaps remain between the warring parties, a Hamas official with knowledge of the talks told AFP.

Despite warnings that a Rafah operation would cause mass civilian casualties, Israeli officials said the military would press ahead with a threatened assault on the city, arguing it was necessary to eliminate Hamas. “If we need to, we will do it alone”, without US support, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after a Friday meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was on a regional tour to push for a truce. Large parts of the territory have been reduced to rubble and the World Food Programme has said Gazans were already “starving to death”, with famine projected by May in northern Gaza without urgent intervention. Israel’s staunchest ally the United States, which provides it with Billions of dollars in military aid, has become increasingly vocal about the war’s impact on civilians. Defence Minister Yoav Gallant is to head to Washington to discuss the latest developments with his counterpart Lloyd Austin and other senior officials.

Putin vows retribution for deadly concert hall attack

Russia says it has arrested all four gunmen suspected of carrying out a shooting massacre in a concert hall near Moscow, and President Putin has pledged to track down and punish those behind the attack. The Islamic State (ISIS) group claimed responsibility for Friday’s rampage but there were indications that Russia was pursuing a Ukrainian link, despite emphatic denials from Ukrainian officials that they had anything to do with it. Russia’s state Investigative Committee said 133 people had been killed. State TV editor Margarita Simonyan, without citing a source, had earlier given a toll of 143.  He published a video showing one of the suspects, a young bearded man, being interrogated aggressively by a roadside, replying in heavily accented Russian to a series of questions. He said he had flown from Turkey on March 4 and had received instructions from unknown people via Telegram to carry out the attack in exchange for money. The man was trembling throughout the questioning. Another man with cuts and bruises to his face was shown being questioned via an interpreter while sitting on a bench with bound hands and feet. Baza, a news outlet with good contacts in Russian security and law enforcement, said 28 bodies were found in a toilet and 14 on a staircase. Russian MP Alexander Khinshtein said the attackers had fled in a Renault that was spotted by police in Bryansk region, about 340km southwest of Moscow on Friday night. Khinshtein said a pistol, a magazine for an assault rifle and passports from Tajikistan were found in the car.

In a televised address, Putin said 11 people had been detained, including the four gunmen. “They tried to hide and moved towards Ukraine, where, according to preliminary data, a window was prepared for them on the Ukrainian side to cross the state border,” he said. The FSB security service said the gunmen had contacts in Ukraine and were captured near the border, and being transferred to Moscow. Neither Putin nor the FSB publicly presented any proof of a link with Ukraine, with which Russia has been waging war for the past 25 months. The Kremlin said Putin had held conversations with the leaders of Belarus, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in which all sides affirmed their willingness to work together to fight terrorism.

Long lines formed in Moscow on Saturday for people to donate blood. Health officials said more than 120 people were wounded. ISIS – the group that once sought control over swathes of Iraq and Syria – claimed responsibility for the attack, the group’s Amaq agency said on Telegram. It said its fighters attacked on the outskirts of Moscow, “killing and wounding hundreds and causing great destruction to the place before they withdrew to their bases safely”. On Saturday it released a photograph of what it said were the four attackers. “The attack comes within the context of a raging war between the Islamic State and countries fighting Islam,” Amaq added in a statement citing security sources. ISIS has claimed deadly attacks across the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Europe, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

Ukrainian military intelligence spokesman Andriy Yusov told Reuters: “Ukraine was of course not involved in this terror attack. Ukraine is defending its sovereignty from Russian invaders, liberating its own territory and is fighting with the occupiers’ army and military targets not civilians.” He said the FSB version that the suspects were arrested en route to Ukraine was “of course another lie from the Russian special services”.

Kyiv hit by multiple explosions in Russian air strikes

Multiple explosions have hit Kyiv and the whole of Ukraine has been placed on alert as Russia launched a wave of air strikes. Ukrainska Pravda quotes the Ukrainian military saying its air defence systems were engaged in repelling the attacks. Poland says it has activated its air force to ensure the safety of Polish airspace after strikes also targeted the Ukrainian border region of Lviv. The attacks started in the capital at 4.00 am Malta time. There have been no reports of casualties or major damage as a result of the attacks.

Funding Bill bars US embassies from flying LGBTQ Pride flags

Tucked in the massive funding Bill signed today by President Joe Biden is a provision banning the flying of LGBTQ Pride flags over US embassies, but the White House has vowed to work toward its repeal. The prohibition was one of many side issues included in the mammoth US$1.2 trillion package to fund the US government through September, which passed today shortly after a midnight deadline. As Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson, a conservative Christian, scrambled for votes to get the Bill passed in his chamber, he “boasted” of the Pride flag ban as a reason his party should support the Bill, the Daily Beast reported. The White House said today it would seek to find a way to repeal the ban on flying the rainbow flag, which celebrates the movement for LGBTQ equality. “Biden believes it was inappropriate to abuse the process that was essential to keep the government open by including this policy targeting LGBTQI+ Americans,” a White House statement said, adding that the president “is committed to fighting for LGBTQI+ equality at home and abroad.” The White House said it had defeated more than 50 other anti-LGBTQI+ riders.

Slovakia’s presidential election proceeds to runoff

Peter Pellegrini, a favorite of Prime Minister Robert Fico, will face off against liberal former foreign minister Ivan Korcok in a Slovak runoff vote on April 6. When polls closed on Saturday, Korcok seemed to be leading with over 40 per cent of the votes. Slovaks are electing a successor to Zuzana Caputova, the country’s first female president, after she decided not to seek a second term. The outgoing president, who has sued Prime Minister Fico for labelling her a traitor, says she does not have the energy to stay on for another five years, citing threats against her family amid a turbulent period in Slovakian politics. Caputova said she hoped her successor would “represent our country abroad well”. The presidential post is widely ceremonial, with executive power resting on the prime minister’s shoulders. Nine candidates are vying for the role of Slovakia’s sixth head of state since it became independent in 1993. The result could influence Slovakia’s policy towards Ukraine.

Biden, Trump easily win Louisiana primaries

Both US President Joe Biden and Republican contender Donald Trump have easily won the Louisana primaries. Biden passed the threshold to secure the party’s nomination earlier this month, paving the way for a rematch against former President Trump in November. The incumbent is expected to win all 47 delegates allocated to the Pelican State. Trump went into the Louisiana primary with 1,636 pledged delegates and won all 47 delegates available Saturday. The state awards its delegates in a “winner-take-all” manner. The former president has already crossed the threshold needed to clinch the party’s nomination, setting up a rematch between him and President Biden in November.

2.2 billion people have no access to clean water

Increasing water scarcity could fuel conflicts across the globe, the United Nations’ World Water Report 2023 says. The annual report, commissioned by UNESCO, was released on World Water Day and said, “Climate change, wars, conflicts, and other crises are exacerbating this already unequal access to water.” Globally, 2.2 billion people have no access to clean water while 3.5 billion people are forced to manage daily without hygienic sanitation, according to the report. One in two people around the world are suffering from water scarcity for several months of the year. “In some parts of the world, this water scarcity has become the rule, rather than the exception,” UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said. Although agriculture uses more than two-thirds of the water worldwide, the competition for water resources comes primarily from industry and urban households. Worldwide, official development assistance disbursements to the water sector suffered a 15 per cent decline between 2015 and 2021 – from €8.9 billion to €7.5 billion.

59 migrants saved off the coast of Lampedusa

A joint operation between the ‘Mare Jonio’, a vessel of the Mediterranean NGO, and a Coast Guard patrol boat made it possible to rescue 59 people, including two pregnant women, who were on a vessel in difficulty because it was overcrowded. The rescue, according to the NGO Mediterranea, took place 43 miles south of Lampedusa. The Mare Jonio Rescue Team stabilised the boat in danger, distributed life jackets and transferred the first castaways to the Italian Coast Guard patrol boat.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments