News from Finland & Estonia, Czech Republic and France

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on December 2, 2014

estonia-finland-leaders

Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas, left, shakes hands with his Finnish counterpart Alexander Stubb as they meet at the Prime Minister’s official residence in Helsinki on Nov. 17. REUTERS

FINLAND and ESTONIA – Finland, Estonia Move to Reduce Reliance on Russian Gas

Finland and Estonia have agreed to build two liquefied natural gas [LNG] terminals connected through a pipeline in the Gulf of Finland, a move aimed at reducing both countries’ reliance on Russian natural gas.

Russia currently supplies all of Estonia and Finland’s natural gas imports. The two countries have been in talks over linking their gas markets for over three years, but Russia’s recently more aggressive foreign policy has amplified concerns, especially in the Baltics, that Moscow may use gas deliveries as a tool to reassert its influence over the region.

The new plan calls for the construction of a large-scale LNG terminal with a regional distribution in Finland, a smaller gas-distribution terminal in Estonia and a pipeline tying the countries’ gas markets together, the Finnish government said in a news release on Nov. 17. The project had been put on hold due to disagreements over the sizes of the terminals, with both countries wanting the bigger facility on their shores.

Estonia’s Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas said having the deal on the table would allow Estonia the opportunity to decrease its dependency on Russian gas significantly. He told Finnish broadcaster YLE that relying on a single source of energy is a big problem, and if this “dependency is on Russia, then it is doubly problematic.”

Gulf of FinlandIn Estonia, critics said a small gas-distribution terminal wouldn’t serve the Baltic country’s interests.

“It is in the interests of Estonia to build a regional LNG terminal, not set up a small terminal that would make the gas more expensive for consumers and be pointless to our economic environment,” Marko Mihkelson, a member of the opposition IRL party, wrote on his official Facebook account.

Gasum Oy, the Finnish gas company in charge of developing the project together with Estonia’s Võrguteenus, said the new agreement will help move the project forward but the final outcome still hinges on the availability of sufficient financial support.

The Finnish government said efforts are being made to secure substantial European Union funding for the projects. The total cost of the projects are estimated to be close to €500 million ($623 million) and the countries hope the EU will cover about 75% of the €200 million pipeline and a yet-to-be decided portion of the terminals’ cost, said Lauri Tierala, special adviser on EU Affairs for the Finnish government. Gasum said a final decision by the EU on the pipeline funding is expected this spring.

The Finnish government said that if the construction of the Finnish terminal hasn’t progressed enough by the end of 2016, it may be built in Estonia instead. The countries aim to have the gas pipeline in operation in 2019.

Finland’s Prime Minister Alexander Stubb said the deal would help improve the countries’ gas-based energy security.

russian-gas-pipelinesCZECH REPUBLIC – Czech president pelted with eggs on revolution anniversary

PRAGUE—Celebrations here for the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism in the former Czechoslovakia morphed into protests against the Czech president on Nov. 17.

At a public unveiling of the Velvet Revolution memorial, protesters booed, whistled and shouted “Resign, resign!” at President Milos Zeman. Some protesters even pelted Mr. Zeman with eggs, tomatoes and sandwiches at the event also attended by the presidents of Germany, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia. Most protesters raised symbolic red cards—a penalty sign in many sports—above their heads to show their anger with Mr. Zeman.

czechs-25anniv

Protesters show symbolic red cards to show their anger with Czech President Milos Zeman in Prague on Monday. EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Many are angry with Mr. Zeman, who they see as too sympathetic to Russia.

The anti-Zeman protesters cheered German President Joachim Gauck and other visiting presidents when they spoke at the event, but they made Mr. Zeman’s speech barely audible.  Several times the crowd applauded Poland’s Bronislaw Komorowski and Slovakia’s Andrej Kiska when they spoke in favor of Ukraine in its fight against Russian separatists. The protesters also heeded a request by Hungary’s leader Janos Ader to hold a minute of silence to remember all victims of communist repressions in the former Soviet bloc.

The Velvet Revolution began on November 17, 1989 when communist government police attacked a student protest. A wave of demonstrations followed across the now Czech Republic, toppling the communist government and replacing it with one led by dissident* playwright Vaclav Havel. [*The term dissident was used in the Eastern bloc, particularly in the Soviet Union, in the period following Joseph Stalin’s death until the fall of communism. It was attached to citizens who criticized the practices or the authority of the Communist Party.]

europeSome Czechs feel that certain aims of the revolution, such as the promotion of human rights, have been sidelined by President Zeman. They also worry that the president, a former communist, is too close to both Russia and China.

On Monday (Nov. 17), during the 25th anniversary ceremony, demonstrators carried banners reading “down with Zeman” and “we do not want to be a Russian colony.”

As the president unveiled a plaque to the students involved in the 1989 protest, he was booed, jeered and pelted with eggs. …

The President told the crowd he was unafraid of them, and pointed out that he too had been there on November 17, 1989. But his claim that the riot police’s violent suppression of the peaceful student protest was “no bloodbath” and “one of many such events” has been roundly condemned. [Checz Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka responded by saying, “The Police intervention in [downtown Prague in 1989] was extremely brutal and it mustn’t be trivialized.”]

Mr. Zeman angered many Czech citizens when he defended Russia’s stance on Ukraine, declaring the conflict there “a civil war between two groups of Ukrainian citizens.”

Though Moscow has long denied any direct involvement in the Ukraine crisis, the EU, of which the Czech Republic is a member, has imposed sanctions on Russia, saying it has supplied separatist rebels there with weapons and Russian fighters. …

In October, President Zemen shocked some when he said he wished to learned how China “stabilized” its society.

In the run-up to Nov. 17’s celebrations, Mr. Zeman said the 1989 student protest had not triggered the Velvet Revolution. Despite his participation in it, Mr Zeman said the historic protest had been just one of “any number of rallies” and he played down police brutality.

Mr. Zeman still has the backing of many voters and his supporters were scheduled to hold a rally after the anniversary. Also on Nov. 17, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka travelled to the US to unveil a bust of Vaclav Havel in Congress. The former president died in 2011.

FRANCE – Calais illegal immigrants: Truck drivers told ‘don’t stop within 100 miles of port’

Truck drivers have been warned to drive more than 100 miles non-stop to Calais, France in a bid to avoid illegal immigrants stowing away in their vehicles.

Peter Cullum, of the Road Haulage Association (RHA), said many firms now instruct drivers not to pull over – however briefly – within 125 miles (200 kilometres) of the French port.

Stationary vehicles are far more likely to be targeted by illegal immigrants gathering in Calais and surrounding areas who are desperate to reach Britain.

calais-dover-mapThe Commons’ home affairs select committee [similar to a U.S. Congressional committee] heard the advice was being handed out by haulage contractors, who are liable for fines of £2,000 ($3,147) for each illegal immigrant discovered in their vehicles.

Mr. Cullum, the RHA’s head of international affairs, told the MPs [like U.S. Congressmen]: “…We have members [trucking companies] who will not let their drivers stop within 200 kilometres of Calais.

“We have other members who won’t let them stop within a 100 kilometres of Calais, we have others who do not refuel in Calais.”

More than 1,000 immigrants, mainly from African countries such as Eritrea, are camped around Calais attempting to illegally cross to Britain.

There has been increasing concern that the migrants are prepared to go to extreme lengths – by risking their own lives or using violence against others – to reach Great Britain.

calais-truck-driver

In July, British truck driver Tommy Harrison was ambushed by a gang of migrants in Calais. He said: “One of them pulled a knife on me while others climbed up on top of the cab and cut a hole in the curtain to get inside. It was very frightening. There was very little I could do. About 10 of them got in. It’s hopeless going to the French police because they don’t want to know, so I drove to a truck park where I knew there would be other drivers and we got them out.”

John Keefe, Eurotunnel’s director of public affairs, said additional fences at the French port were unlikely to make a difference.

“Fences are useless because fencing simply displaces the problem,” he said. “They are waiting for trucks to slow down near them. We think trucks should be kept going.” He added: “We agree that many of our haulier customers are telling their drivers not to stop within 200 kilometres. “

Tim Reardon, from the UK Chamber of Shipping, said: “It is our experience that a great number of those migrants that we see around Calais and occasionally on our ferries too are not looking to claim asylum either in France or Britain.

“They are looking to come here, be here and work here. When these individuals are encountered on board the ships they frequently ask to be taken back to Calais and returned to France rather than be brought to the UK and put into the asylum processing system.

“They would rather go back to France, and try and have another go at getting into the UK properly out of sight of officialdom so they can enter the labour market, which they cannot do once enter the asylum system.”

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at The Wall Street Journal on Nov. 18, Nov. 17 and BBC News on Nov. 17.)

Questions

1. For each of the 3 (4 this week) countries, give the following information:
a) capital
b) location/the countries that share its borders:
c) the religious breakdown of the population:
d) the type of government:
e) the chief of state (and head of government if different) [If monarch or dictator, since what date has he/she ruled? – include name of heir apparent for monarch]:
f) the population:

[Find the answers at the CIA World FactBook website. For each country, answers can be found under the “Geography” “People” and “Government” headings.  Go to worldatlas.com for a list of continents.]

NOTE: Before answering the questions below, read the info under “Background” and watch the videos under “Resources.”

2. For FINLAND & ESTONIA:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Why is this move necessary? Be specific.
c) Why did it take over 3 years to make a deal?
d) Why are critics in Estonia opposed to the deal?

3. For CZECH REPUBLIC:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) When/what was the Velvet Revolution?
c) For what reasons did protesters oppose President Milos Zeman during the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution?

4. For FRANCE:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) What is the biggest concern for residents and truck drivers about the illegal immigrants in Calais?
c) Watch the video under “Resources.” How would/should the authorities help?
d) Read the information under “Background.” What do you think of the French government’s handling of this crisis? Are they doing all they should do? Should they do anything differently?


Free Answers — Sign-up here to receive a weekly email with answers.

Background

FINLAND & ESTONIA:

  • Russian company Gazprom is the largest extractor of natural gas in the world and one of the world’s largest companies.
  • Gazprom has a monopoly for the natural gas pipelines and has exclusive right to export natural gas…
  • Gazprom also has control over all gas pipelines leading out of Central Asia, and thus controls their access to the European market.
  • Gazprom is partly privatized, although the Russian government currently holds a majority stake.
  • The main export markets of Russian natural gas are the European Union and the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States, a regional organization whose participating countries are former Soviet Republics).
  • Russia supplies a quarter of the EU gas consumption, mainly via transit trough Ukraine (Soyuz, Brotherhood) and Belarus (Yamal-Europe pipeline).
  • The main importers are Germany, Ukraine, Belarus, Italy, Turkey, France and Hungary. (from wikipedia)

In 2007, 38.7% of the European Union’s natural gas total imports and 24.3% of consumed natural gas originated from Russia.

  • As of 2009, Russian natural gas was delivered to Europe through 12 pipelines, of which three were direct pipelines (to Finland, Estonia and Latvia), four through Belarus (to Lithuania and Poland) and five through Ukraine (to Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and Poland).
  • In 2011, an additional pipeline, Nord Stream (directly to Germany through the Baltic Sea), opened.
  • The largest importers of Russian gas in the European Union are Germany and Italy, accounting together for almost half of the EU gas imports from Russia.
  • Other larger Russian gas importers (over 5 billion cubic meter per year) in the European Union are France, Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, Austria and Slovakia.
  • The largest non-EU importers of Russian natural gas are Ukraine, Turkey and Belarus.

According to the European Commission, the percent of natural gas purchased in 2007 from Russia by country:

100%: Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Lithuania: 100%
Over 90%: Slovakia and Bulgaria
76%:  Czech Republic and Greece
Hungary 60%
Approx. 50%: Slovenia, Austria and Poland
27-37%: Croatia, Germany, Italy and Romania
France 14%
Belgium 5%

[Russian gas dependence] has become a prominent issue in European politics toward Russia, with significant geopolitical implications for economic and political ties between the EU and Russia. These ties have occasionally led to calls for greater European energy diversity, although such efforts are complicated by the fact that many European customers have long term legal contracts for [Russian] gas deliveries despite the disputes, most of which stretch beyond 2025–2030. (from wikipedia)


CZEZH REPUBLIC

The Soviet Bloc:  The communist nations closely allied with the Soviet Union, including Bulgaria, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania, whose foreign policies depended on those of the former Soviet Union. It did not include communist nations with independent foreign policies, such as China, Yugoslavia, and Albania. The Soviet Union used its military force several times in the Soviet Bloc to ensure that the countries’ governments followed Soviet preferences: in East Germany in 1953, in Hungary and Poland in 1956, and in Czechoslovakia in 1968, for example.

The Velvet Revolution:  The Velvet Revolution was a non-violent transition of power in what was then Czechoslovakia. The period of upheaval and transition took place from November 16/17 to December 29, 1989. Popular demonstrations against the one-party government of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia combined students and older dissidents. The final result was the end of 41 years of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, and the subsequent conversion to a parliamentary republic.

On November 16, 1989, Slovak high school and university students organized a peaceful demonstration in the center of Bratislava. The next day, November 17, 1989 (International Students’ Day), riot police suppressed a big student demonstration in Prague. That event sparked a series of demonstrations from November 19 to late December. By November 20, the number of protesters assembled in Prague had grown from 200,000 the previous day to an estimated 500,000. A two-hour general strike involving all citizens of Czechoslovakia was held on November 24. On November 27, the entire top leadership of the Communist Party, including General Secretary Miloš Jakeš, resigned.

In response to the collapse of other Warsaw Pact governments and the increasing street protests, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia announced on November 28 that it would relinquish power and dismantle the single-party state. Two days later, the legislature formally deleted the sections of the Constitution giving the Communists a monopoly of power. Barbed wire and other obstructions were removed from the border with West Germany and Austria in early December. On December 10, President Gustáv Husák appointed the first largely non-communist government in Czechoslovakia since 1948, and resigned. Alexander Dubček was elected speaker of the federal parliament on December 28 and Václav Havel the President of Czechoslovakia on December 29, 1989.

In June 1990, Czechoslovakia held its first democratic elections since 1946. (from wikipedia)


FRANCE

  • Local authorities in Calais estimate that there are 2,200 to 2,300 migrants around the city now, mostly men who have fled from Afghanistan, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan or, most recently, Syria. They wait along the highway leading to the waterfront, hoping to hide in a ferry-bound truck and sneak into Britain. Many of them speak some English and believe they can assimilate better there than in France, even though the British government is adamant about not accepting them.
  • Britain has called on France to do more to stop the migrants, but “we can’t control them anymore,” said Gilles Debove, a local French police officer and a member of the main police union.
  • About 100 migrants forced their way into Calais’s port in October by tearing down barbed-wire fences. After violence flared in November, the French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said 100 more police officers would be sent to Calais.
  • Mr. Debove said migrants in the city took over vacant buildings, stole money and cellphones from residents, fought among themselves and sometimes sexually assaulted local women. He said 80 crimes had been reported in the city this summer involving migrants, up from six a year ago.
  • Many residents say the situation has left them feeling stressed. Some women say they avoid walking alone in Calais at night. Bar owners say they lost business from local residents after migrants began coming in to charge their phones and use the restrooms.
  • Sylvie Cambie, who owns a bar called Aux Deux Moineaux, said her sales had fallen by half since Sudanese migrants moved into a shelter nearby. “When my customers see them, they walk away,” Mrs. Cambie said. “I don’t want them, I can’t stand them, and that has nothing to do with racism.”
  • The situation has also angered many truck drivers, who can be fined $3,200 if they are found to have carried an illegal migrant into Britain, even unwittingly. Last month, some of them threatened to stop delivering goods to England unless the French authorities find a solution.
  • “If we continue on this path, the city will experience ruin,” said Mr. Agius, the deputy mayor.
  • The mayor has offered to turn an old community center into a shelter that would house more than 1,000 migrants, and France and Britain have announced plans to strengthen security at the port. But Mr. Dufeutrelle, the bar owner, said he did not think these steps would solve the real problem.
  • “We need to tell these poor souls that England is no longer an El Dorado [city of gold],” he said. (from nytimes.com)