Italy’s decision to introduce a COVID-19 vaccine passport sparked angry demonstrations across the country, like here on Rome’s touristic Spanish Steps

Welcome to Wednesday, where North-South Korea ties keep improving, the investigation on U.S. Capitol riots is off to an emotional start and a Fiji politician is delighting Twitter users. Meanwhile from Germany, Die Welt"s Marlen Hobrack helps us deconstruct the twisted logic behind the feminist defense of prostitution.

• North-South Korea rapprochement continues: A day after restoring hotlines South and North Korea, the two countries are discussing reopening a joint liaison office that was demolished by Pyongyang last year. According to South Korea government sources, a summit to restore relations is also being discussed.

• First day of Capitol riot inquiry: Four police officers gave their emotional, first-hand accounts of the Capitol riots, at the opening hearing of the congressional panel investigating the violent Jan. 6 insurrection. The committee also shared never-before-seen footage of protesters storming onto the Senate floor.

• Ecuador revokes Julian Assange citizenship: An Ecuadorian court ruled in favor of revoking the citizenship of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The decision nullifies Assange's status as a naturalized citizen of Ecuador, which was granted to him in 2017 by then President Lenín Moreno. Assange's lawyer said he would appeal the ruling.

• COVID-19 update: With the Delta variant surging, U.S. President Joe Biden said plans requiring all federal workers to get vaccinated are "under consideration." Meanwhile in the UK, plans to end the quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated arrivals coming from the U.S. or amber-listed EU countries are to be announced later. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has said it will impose a three-year travel ban on citizens who travel to countries listed as "red" by the Kingdom.

• At least 18 die in India bus crash: At least 18 migrant workers were killed after a truck crashed into their bus early Wednesday morning. The bus, which was "overloaded beyond its capacity," was being fixed after its engine broke down in the Barabanki district in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

• Simone Biles withdraws from Olympics: ​​U.S. gymnast Simone Biles has pulled out from the individual all-around final at the Tokyo Games. The four-time Olympic gold medallist said she wanted to focus on her mental wellbeing, a decision praised by fellow athletes. It is unclear whether Biles will participate in next week's gymnastics events.

• Fiji politician discovers Twitter: Pio Tikoduadua, a leading opposition MP from Fiji, is gaining online fame after his awkward start on Twitter. Among other things, he had to be told what "OG" means (he assumed it was short for "Old Girl").


German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung"s front page features yesterday's blast at an industrial park in Leverkusen, western Germany, which killed at least 2 people and injured 31. Several people are still missing and an investigation has been launched into the cause of the explosion.

Really? The feminist case against prostitution

Some feminists celebrate women who sell sex, claiming they are the pinnacle of self-determined empowerment. If that were true, millions of men would be queuing up for such a dream job, Marlen Hobrack writes in Die Welt. Those who defend sex work, she continues, are missing the point:

Criticizing the sex industry does not equate to disparaging or patronizing sex workers. Quite the opposite. It also doesn't mean painting all sex workers as victims of abuse and violence. It is possible for well-intentioned people to support sex work and mistake this stance for liberalism. But it's not possible as a feminist, without getting tangled up in a web of contradictions. Feminists who support sex work ignore the fact that this industry is indisputably gendered and exists within a patriarchal framework.

What are the feminist arguments in favor of sex work? There is only one: self-determination. Whatever a woman freely chooses must be good, according to popular feminism. It's clear, however, that this argument relies on a twisted logic, because women can of course make choices that are damaging. The suggestion of freedom is even more problematic. Doesn't feminism constantly remind us that we do not live in a vacuum? That there are forces, pressures, expectations and societal gender roles acting on us at all times?

If we are to take seriously the argument that sex work is simply another kind of work, then we must talk about what belongs to the world of work: safety regulations and employers' responsibility to check their workers' documentation, for example. Complaints about bureaucracy are a regular refrain among freelancers and businesspeople. If the "oldest profession in the world" wants to step out of the shadows, it must also be subject to this bureaucracy.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


66,665

According to a study from the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association, the Netherlands is the country in Europe that boasts the highest number of electric vehicle charging points, with 66,665 installations reported in 2020 — a surprising fact for the relatively small country. The study also found that 70% of public charging points are concentrated in just three countries in Europe (the Netherlands, France and Germany), highlighting the difficulty for some member countries to reach their electric mobility goals.


"Seditious' sheep: inside Hong Kong's crackdown on children's books

The Hong Kong National Security Police was on the move again recently, although this time the surprising target was a series of children's stories.

On July 22, authorities arrested five people over conspiring to publish seditious publications. The accused, all relatively young (between the ages of 25 and 28), are members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, as Hong Kong-based media The Initium reports. The operation against them marks the first time the National Security Law has been used to target stories directed at children.

The three books in question center around an imaginary village of sheep. The most recent, titled Dustman of the Sheep Village, was published in March and is accused of alluding to last year's Hong Kong medical workers' strike; the other two, Guardians of the Sheep Village and Twelve Warriors of the Sheep Village, was blamed for making direct links to the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill movement in 2019 and the detainment of 12 Hong Kong residents in 2020. Authorities say the books are "creating hatred and instilling anti-government ideas among children."

In a press conference, Steve Li, senior superintendent of the Police National Security Department, explained in detail why the books are considered "illegal": The characters in the story, wolves and sheep, respectively symbolize mainlanders and Hong Kongers, local news website Stand News quotes Li as saying. By portraying wolves as "dirty," he said, the book implies that mainlanders are responsible for introducing "viruses to Hong Kong."

Li also said that the images of sheep fighting wolves and of sheep being eaten up by wolves are an attempt to incite violence and hatred against the regime. "Sheep are gentle animals, but highlighting that they can attack is publicizing violence," he said.

Li urged bookstores to hand in remaining copies to the police, and encouraged owners of the books to destroy their copies. Teachers, he added, are forbidden from using books for educational purposes.

"This isn't about criticizing the government," Li explained. "It's that actions, books and so on, should never make people hate the government."

When asked whether political fables such as George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm would be illegal in Hong Kong, Li responded that he had read the latter and thinks it is different from the children's books in question.

This is how I'm going to die.

— Capitol Police Officer Aquilino Gonell told a Congressional committee at the opening hearing of the investigation into the Jan. 6 riots in Washington. Gonell and three other officers gave emotional testimonies of the insurrection and the trauma the violence led to.

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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