European Theater

UK mass surveillance bill becomes law

The UK's Investigatory Powers Bill (PDF) was given royal assent and became law on Nov. 29. The bill gives the UK's intelligence agencies a wide variety of tools to monitor the online activity of all UK citizens. The bill will require Internet providers and phone companies in the UK to retain logs of every citizen's communications and online activity in a massive database for one year. The bill makes it lawful for authorities to access communications data without judicial approval, except to uncover journalistic sources. The government defined communications data as "the context, but not the content of a communication." It also allows for targeted equipment interference (EI), accessing specific devices such as mobile phones and computers, with the approval of a law enforcement chief and judicial commissioner. Another section allows agencies to seek communications data or EI in bulk by applying for a warrant. The bill's supporters argue that it is necessary for enforcement agencies to keep up with rapid technological advances. Critics of the bill, however, have already began circulating a petition calling for it to be repealed. The petition is nearing 140,000 signatures, passing the 100,000 signature threshold required to compel a discussion on the matter by Parliament.

EU Parliament votes to freeze Turkey accession talks

The European Parliament on Nov. 24 voted to halt EU accession negotiations with Turkey due to the government's "disproportionate repressive measures" after a failed coup in July. This vote is non-binding, but represents a strong message to the EU ministers before their December meeting to discuss Turkey's 11-year bid for membership. The MEPs stated that the actions taken by the Turkish government "violate basic rights and freedoms protected by the Turkish Constitution," and that "In partnerships, the will to cooperate has to be two-sided... Turkey is not showing [the] political will [to cooperate] as the government's actions are further diverting Turkey from its European path." The freezing of negotiations on this basis is provided for in Article 5 of the Turkey-EU Negotiating Framework (PDF). However, the MEPs believe Turkey should still "remain anchored" to the EU.

Scotland and Wales to enter Brexit lawsuit

The UK Supreme Court confirmed on Nov. 18 that Scotland and Wales may intervene in an upcoming hearing that will determine whether Prime Minister Theresa May has the power to take the UK out of the EU without a parliamentary vote. Earlier this month the High Court ruled that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which allows for the UK's exit from the EU, can only be triggered by a vote of the British Parliament. The UK government immediately appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, with Scotland and Wales demanding intervention soon after. While the two countries had their lawyers attend the previous hearing, they will now be allowed to argue how triggering Article 50 without their parliaments' consent will infringe upon their governments' rights and powers. The UK government continues to argue that it has exclusive control over foreign affairs and legal treaties. The three parties will argue their stances at the hearing scheduled for early December.

'Russian nationalists' behind Montenegro coup plot

Montenegro's Chief Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime, Milivoje Katnic, on Nov. 6 accused "nationalists in Russia" of having organized a cell to overthrow the government during last month's elections in the Balkan country. Katnic told a press conference that the prosecution had evidence that the "criminal organization" was formed in Russia and Serbia to commit "a terrorist attack" during the Oct. 16 poll, and "violently to overthrow the legally elected government." He said the plan was to attack police outside of the parliament building, break into the chamber, kill Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, and declare a pro-Russian government. A group of 20 Serbian nationals were arrested in connection with the supposed plot on election day—including a former commander of Serbia's Gendarmerie, Bratislav Dikic. Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists went on to win the election.

Mediterranean migrant death toll soars

With two months still to go, deaths of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean so far this year have hit a record high, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Expressing alarm at the situation, UNHCR reported that 3,740 lives had been lost so far in 2016, just short of the 3,771 reported for the whole of 2015. "This is the worst we have ever seen," UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told a press briefing in Geneva. "From one death for every 269 arrivals last year, in 2016 the likelihood of dying has spiralled to one in 88." Spindler said the high loss of life takes place despite a large overall fall this year in the number of people seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Last year at least 1,015,078 people made the crossing. This year so far, crossings stand at 327,800.

France: court allows closure of migrant camp

An administrative court in Lille, France, on Oct. 18 rejected requests from almost a dozen aid groups and permitted the closure process of the "Jungle" migrant camp near Calais to continue. President François Hollande  has promised closure of the camp as pressure for such a result grows while the April election approaches, and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve stated that the demolition project is only days away. The groups were seeking postponement of the closure in order to better organize relocation of the migrants, but the court determined that the closure seeks to prevent inhuman treatment that migrants are currently subjected to at the camp. While another concern was the transport of unaccompanied minors, the transfers are to be done pursuant to the Dublin Regulations, which in part governs family reunification.

Hungary refugee referendum invalidated

Low voter turnout has invalidated the referendum of Oct. 2 in which Hungarian citizens voted overwhelmingly to oppose any EU mandatory placement of refugees. The proposed plan sought to share 160,000 asylum seekers throughout the 28-member bloc through imposition of mandatory quotas. The Hungarian government had opposed the imposition of the plan, along with other countries. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán nonetheless expressed his support for the referendum's results as "excellent" and praised the turnout of voters.

Swiss voters approve new surveillance law

Swiss voters on Sept. 25 approved a new surveillance law allowing their national intelligence services broad powers to spy on "terrorist" suspects and cyber criminals, as well as to cooperate with foreign intelligence agencies. While the right to privacy is traditionally considered very important in Switzerland, the new law will allow security agents to tap phones and computer networks. This marks a drastic change from previous surveillance capabilities, under which intelligence agencies relied solely on information from public sources and other authorities. Some left-wing groups have protested, saying the new legislation violates citizens' rights and will undermine Switzerland's neutrality. Amnesty International said the law would lead to "disproportionate" levels of surveillance and was harmful to "freedom of expression." Despite opposition, the new law garnered 65% of the vote.

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