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What Failure In Ukraine Reveals About European Weakness

Europe represents the freedom from political dictatorship. But at what cost?

Pro-EU protests continue in Kiev
Pro-EU protests continue in Kiev
Claire Gatinois

PARIS — Once again, Europe has disappointed. In the southern countries, the European Union is stirring up the anger and the disgust of its population. In the East, people are also protesting. With one massive difference though: The Ukrainians, who have been taking to the streets of Kiev since Sunday and in other cities, are marching to express their love — not their hate — of Europe. Such an event is rare.

Yet, these protests are also signs of a stinging defeat for Brussels. Thousands of excuses, most of which are valid, can explain the flop in the negotiations over the "Eastern Partnership," supposed to bring Ukraine and the European Union closer together. Some see it as an abhorrent economic blackmail on the part of Russia, the result of Vladimir Putin's crafty forces of persuasion.

One could also mention the calculations of the Ukrainian authorities: The country is in a very difficult economic situation and President Viktor Yanukovych, paralyzed by fear of not being reelected in 2015, desperately needs money. The financial benefits offered by Europe were dismissed as "pathetic" by Ukranian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. Finally, the government fears a comeback from Yulia Tymoshenko — a potential rival of the current administration — and wants to find a way to definitively disarm her.

Still, what the failure in the negotiations also shows is the patent impotence of Europe when it comes to bringing countries together. Jose Manuel Barroso, whose mandate as head of the European Commission comes to an end in 2014, will leave a very poor legacy behind him. During his 10-year tenure, Europe has failed on two fronts: with the crisis-ridden southern countries, and now on its eastern front.

Pro-European Ukrainians saw in this potential agreement with Brussels a way out of Russia's grip on the country, as well as a fast track toward better justice and toward the liberation of their braided muse, Tymoshenko.

Economic tyranny

Their opponents, the pro-Russian population, only had to say this: Along with Europe come economic efforts, austerity and other constraints, and on top of it a dishevelled liberalism for a more than hypothetical reward. Such criticisms of a future in the arms of Europe are hard to counter. At least in the short term, any rapprochement would imply its share of "structural reforms," efforts to reduce the debt as well as budgetary rigor. Angela Merkel made it very clear, and she was right in doing so.

In the end though, her message only strengthened the image of a "Europe of austerity" eclipsing that of the Europe of democracy. Ukrainian leaders and Putin have no doubt used this excuse, and Europe certainly showed some ingenuity. Seen from Kiev, the failure of the negotiations has more to do with diplomacy than with the economy.

But it's a fact: In Lisbon, Madrid or Athens, the image people have of Europe is that of an organization that replaced political dictatorship with economical dictatorship. Thousands of angry Ukrainians are reminding us that Europe is more than that.

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Climate Change Is Real, But It's Wrong To Blame It For Every Flood Or Fire

A closer look at the science shows there are many factors that contribute to weather-related emergencies. It is important to raise climate change awareness, but there's a risk in overstating its role in every natural disaster.

photo of a small red car buried in sand

A car is buried last week in the sand during severe flooding in Volos, Greece

© Imago via ZUMA
Axel Bojanowski

Updated on Oct. 4, 2023 at 4:05 p.m


BERLIN — In September, thousands of people lost their lives when dams collapsed during flooding in Libya. Engineers had warned that the dams were structurally unsound.

Two years ago, dozens died in floods in western Germany, a region that had experienced a number of similar floods in earlier centuries, where thousands of houses had been built on the natural floodplain.

Last year saw more than 1,000 people lose their lives during monsoon floods in Pakistan. Studies showed that the impact of flooding in the region was exacerbated by the proximity of human settlements, the outdated river management system, high poverty rates and political instability in Pakistan.

There are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters, but one dominates the headlines: climate change. That is because of so-called attribution studies, which are published very quickly after these disasters to highlight how human-caused climate change contributes to extreme weather events. After the flooding in Libya, German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described climate change as a “serial offender," while the Tageszeitung wrote that “the climate crisis has exacerbated the extreme rainfall."

The World Weather Attribution initiative (WWA) has once again achieved its aim of using “real-time analysis” to draw attention to the issue: on its website, the institute says its goal is to “analyse and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events." Frederike Otto, who works on attribution studies for the WWA, says these reports help to underscore the urgent need for climate action. They transform climate change from an “abstract threat into a concrete one."

In the immediate aftermath of a weather-related disaster, teams of researchers rush to put together attribution studies – “so that they are ready within the same news cycle," as the New York Times reported. However, these attribution studies do not meet normal scientific standards, as they are published without going through the peer-review process that would be undertaken before publication in a specialist scientific journal. And that creates problems.

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