Austria And Italy, Mixed Message

Many observers feared that yesterday would be the day that could rock the European Union to its core, six months after the Brexit referendum. Austria looked ready to elect Europe's first far-right president since the end of World War II. Meanwhile, Italy, a founding member of the EU, was expected to reject a proposed constitutional reform, paving the way for new elections and possibly an anti-EU government.

This morning, the best Brussels can do is a one-handed clap: The far-right candidate Norbert Hofer lost the Austrian presidency to his left-backed opponent Alexander Van der Bellen; but in Italy, where the vote actually mattered more, it was a "Triumph for the ‘No"," as La Repubblica puts it on its front page. Making good on his pre-vote pledge, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned, opening a period of uncertainty for Italy and, for many reasons, the EU itself.

The aftermath of the referendum could prove dramatic for Italy's third-largest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which is saddled with bad loans and needs to raise more than $5 billion by the end of the month. Failure to raise that capital would likely trigger a banking crisis in what is Europe's second most indebted country after Greece.

That, added to what La Stampa"s editor-in-chief Maurizio Molinari describes as a "middle-class protest" behind the referendum result, provides a perfect stage for anti-establishment parties, especially the increasingly popular Five Star Movement led by former standup comic Beppe Grillo. "Italy needs a new welfare for families facing hardships, it needs a recipe to reignite economic growth and a formula for integrating migrants," Molinari warns in his post-referendum editorial. "The longer these questions are left unanswered, the wider the protest movement will grow, which could trigger a domino effect of unpredictable consequences. To relaunch Italy, a new government is simply not enough: The popular rebellion must be respected, and its demands must be met."

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!