A French Call To Keep Germany In Europe

The "balance of imbalances' between France and Germany is gone, and each must see the new calculus in committing to Europe

Berlin Wall

PARIS - Until the fall of the Berlin wall and the reunification of Germany, France saw the building of Europe as a pursuit of its own politics by other means. More Europe meant more France. If Europe was a "weapon of continuity" for France, it was for Germany (up until Chancellor Kohl), a guaranteed break from its Nazi past. More Europe meant less nationalist temptations for Germany. Despite, or maybe because of this ambiguity, the Franco-German team was overall a success.

As time went by, generations that hadn't witnessed war or the consequences of Nazi Germany, came to power in a reunified country. Germany gradually became a "second France", a country that cared above all about its national interests. In the long term, could Europe survive with "two Frances'?

We are now in a new phase. The balance of imbalances that existed between Germany and France has disappeared. In a 27-member-Europe, weakened by the financial crisis, there is now more Germany and less France. There is also less Europe, at a time when the world has entered a multi-polar era.

As France takes the G20 leadership, it must remember that without a credible and strong Europe, it will quickly lose its voice on the world stage, no matter how good its reforms might be. Europe is the base on which all its members build their foreign policy.

France's problem is not whether it is still playing in the same league as Germany, a question the British media is only too happy to ask, pointing out the differences in the countries' results. France's priority must be to make Europe a credible actor of globalization. This means it must keep the European flame burning in Germany.

"We will have the Germany we deserve," said Joseph Rovan, one of the fathers of Franco-German reconciliation, when he left the death camps. For him, like for Europe's founding fathers it was about transcending the past to build the future. Today, it's about building on Europe's recent past to face today's challenges, "saving the euro to save Europe," most notably. "Keeping a European Germany" is as important for France as "keeping a nuclear Britain," the goal behind the recent security treaties signed by London and Paris.

But how can France convince Germany that it should stay in the euro zone and that its European responsibilities prevail over any other consideration? France can take part in Germany's heated debate in two ways: by showing a firm and clear European dedication, but also a serious and credible economic and social policy.

Trying to keep Germany in Europe is not only a priority in France's foreign policy, it is also necessary for our other international actions to be credible. It is possible to try to make a statement on a case-by-case basis; by selling sophisticated arms to Russia and taking the increasingly dubious bet of Medvedev against Putin. It is possible to play solo on the emerging countries front, India, Brazil, China. But these "policies' are not "a policy". They do not show a long-term strategic vision for Europe, a continent that will shortly represent only 6% of the world population.

Without Germany, there is no Europe; and without Europe, France starts looking very isolated.

Read the original article in French

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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