French Exasperation: Germany Must Make Up Its Mind On European Debt

Op-Ed: Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel were able to hammer out a deal late last week over a new bailout for Greece. The agreement, however, is shaky – and will remain so until the German Chancellor is willing to take a clear stand on the issue.

Germany's Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy of France
Germany's Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy of France
Dominique Seux

A meeting between France and Germany over the Greek debt crisis has eased the panic that set in last week among political leaders and international markets. Last Friday in Berlin, French President Nicolas Sarkozy once again prevented his German counterpart, Angela Merkel, from withdrawing the help the European Union (EU) was about to offer the Greeks. The political wrestling match predicted by many did not take place: the two heads of state left each other all smiles.

The agreement reached adopts many of the French proposals. Greece will benefit from a new bailout. Banks will participate in the rescue but on a voluntary basis. And the European Central Bank's advice will be taken into account.

Once again, however, the process was confusing and overly complicated – thanks to Germany.

Our neighbors' coalition government and their system of power sharing, which differs a lot from ours, can partly explain this situation. Their concern about public spending is also legitimate. But disagreements among the German political leaders and their last minute reversals have been costly.

On Friday, Merkel told Sarkozy she was not entirely aware of the initiatives taken by her secretary of finance, Wolfgang Schäuble. This is even harder to believe knowing that on Saturday she took a tougher stand on the Greek issue, and gave the impression of backtracking.

Chancellor Merkel cannot keep blowing both hot and cold. She cannot keep defending one line to target her European partners, and another to appeal to her fellow citizens in Germany. Once again, Europe bought some time. But hard negotiations concerning the implementation of the plan are expected. Secretaries of finance of the Euro group began discussions on the subject Sunday, and meetings of the European Council, scheduled for this Thursday and Friday, might help settle the deal. Nevertheless, it is probable that EU countries will need even more time to finalize the agreement, meaning markets are likely to remain feverish.

Once again we can say, and righteously so, that the important thing is that Paris and Berlin manage to speak with one voice. But the two capitals are more than ever facing a terrible dilemma: either they run the risk of a generalized EU crisis, or take a new step toward European federalism. The second option, proposed by the current president of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, has long since been dismissed by the political leaders and by public opinion in both France and Germany. Both options are risky, but the second is certainly the more rational. Once again.

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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