New European Parliament Projected to Have More Far-Right Lawmakers

European leaders have joined voters in casting their ballots to elect a new 751-member European Union parliament. The polling began Thursday but 21 of the 28 member nations held elections on Sunday. About 400 million people were eligible to vote. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports the voter turnout was the highest in 20 years.


Smaller Pro-EU Parties Surge in European Elections; Centrists Lose Seats

Smaller European parties saw a surge of support in continent-wide elections for the European Parliament in what politicians and analysts agree will likely be seen as the most consequential since 1979, when European Union voters first began casting ballots for the bloc’s legislature.

Early results Sunday suggested the 751-seat parliament will be more fragmented than ever before. Smaller parties, both euroskeptic and pro-EU ones, fared well at the expense of their more established and bigger center-right and center-left rivals.

Pro-EU Liberals and Greens will hold the balance of power in the new parliament, which will sit for five years. Philippe Lamberts, leader of the Greens group, said: “To make a stable majority in this parliament, the Greens are now indispensable.”

The rise of new parties appears to have smashed the duopoly of control of the parliament traditionally enjoyed by the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D).

National populist parties

As the results came in, nationalist populists were on course to win just under a quarter of the seats in the parliament, but they had set their sights on snatching a third of them. In France, President Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique En Marche was defeated, coming in second to Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally. Le Pen welcomed the win, saying it had delivered a serious blow to the authority of the French president.

In Italy, too, nationalist populists led by Matteo Salvini, the deputy prime minister, made important gains. And eurosceptic hard-right parties topped the polls in Britain, Poland and Hungary.

But the bigger takeaway from the election was how well pro-EU Greens and Liberals did. In several countries Green parties saw their support jump from five years ago. In Germany, the Greens made major gains at the expense of country’s left-wing Social Democrats, making a historic breakthrough by securing more than 20% of the vote.

Carsten Schneider, a German Social Democrats lawmaker, acknowledged it was a “bitter result, a defeat for us.”

“I think the main issue was climate change and we didn’t succeed in putting that front and center, alongside the big social issues,” he added.

In Ireland, too, Greens were celebrating, clinching three of Ireland’s 13 seats. The sudden crest in support for the Greens comes amid rising anxiety across Europe over the impact of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Eric Varadkar tweeted: “I want to congratulate the Greens on a very good election. It’s a very clear message from the public that they want us to do more on climate action — and we’ve got that message.”

Voters in 21 countries went to the polls Sunday. In seven other nations, including Britain, voters cast their ballots last week with the results being held back until all countries had completed the balloting.

Bloc gaining power

The European Parliament has become more powerful in recent years — for much of its existence it was just a talking shop (an unproductive bureaucratic agency). Now it helps pick the president of the European Commission and contributes to the shaping of trade and digital regulations. Seats are allocated under a form of proportional representation.

For years, the center-right EPP and the center-left S&D, both pro-EU parties, have together commanded an absolute majority in the parliament and its leaders have more often than not been able to settle disagreements in behind-the-scenes meetings.

In Britain, in an election that wasn’t meant to have been — the country was due to have left the EU by now — the newly formed Brexit Party of Nigel Farage trounced both of Britain’s two main established parties, the Conservatives and Labour, signaling it will likely be a threat to the pair in a general election, which many observers think will have to be called this year.

Both the Conservatives and Labour had been braced for a backlash from voters over Brexit, with the Brexit Party and pro-EU Liberal Democrats expected to do well. The predictions turned out to be right, with the ruling Conservatives recording their worst election performance in their history. The turnout in Britain was higher than previous European polls — as it was across all of the bloc where it averaged 50%, the highest rate since 1994.

British Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan blamed British Prime Minister Theresa May’s reluctance to resign from office for the defeat. On Twitter, he said: “Had the PM announced her resignation even 24 hours earlier, something might have been salvaged.”

Still a strong pro-EU majority

The reduction in the power of establishment parties could potentially make it more difficult for the bloc to agree on collective action when it comes to economic, trade and foreign policies, but EU officials were breathing a sigh of relief Sunday night when it became clear there would still be a strong pro-EU majority in the parliament.

The center-right EPP will likely hold on to 173 seats in the EU parliament, down from 221 in 2014, while the Socialist group will fall from 191 to 147 seats. The Liberals were expected to rise from 67 seats to more than 100; the Greens increased from 50 to 71.

Socialists looked set to top the poll in Spain. And traditional left parties fared better than had been predicted in Italy and the Netherlands.



Virtual Reality Offers Glimpse of Rome’s Circus Maximus

The Circus Maximus Experience, opened in Rome this week and offers visitors the chance to relive the ancient splendors of chariot racing in the Imperial period of Rome through augmented and virtual reality. The innovative project implements interactive display technologies never before used in such a large outdoor area.

“Now you find yourself in front of the Arch of Titus, which was possibly built in the place of a more ancient arch and dedicated in the year 81 After Christ by the Roman Senate and people to Emperor Flavius”.

This is just an example of what modern-day visitors will be listening to in their headsets, while at the same time through special visors see a virtual rendering of the majestic 20-meter Arch of Titus in Rome’s Circus Maximus.

Thanks to a ground-breaking project using interactive display technology never before used in such an extended outdoor area, visitors are able to re-live the life in one of Rome’s undisputed landmarks.

Visitors immerse themselves in history for with overlapping images from the past and those of the reality of today. They are able to visualize architectural and landscape reconstructions of what life was like during all of the historical stages of the Circus Maximus.

They can see the ancient Murcia Valley enriched with buildings and walk around in the Circus among the shops of the time. They can visualize the Circus during Imperial times, the Middle Ages and in a more modern age.

The full itinerary involves eight stops including: the valley and the origins of the Circus, the Circus from Julius Caesar to Trajan, the Circus during the Imperial age, the cavea or tiered seating arena, the Arch of Titus, the tabernae or shops, the Circus during the Middle Ages and modern age, and lastly “A Day at the Circus” for an experience of the exciting chariot race of the quadrigas with the screams of incitement of the public and the overturning of wagons.

Visitors are able to enjoy similar experiences in Rome at the Baths of Caracalla, the Ara Pacis and the Domus Aurea.


Imprisoned PKK Leader Calls For End to Hunger Strikes

Thousands of prisoners in Turkey ended their hunger strikes Sunday that had been mounted to force Turkey to end jailed militant leader Abdullah Ocalan’s isolation at Imrali Island prison.

Earlier Sunday, Ocalan’s lawyers read a statement from their client calling for an end to the strikes.

“I expect the action to come to an end…” Ocalan said in a statement read by one of his lawyers at a press conference in Istanbul.

An estimated two to three thousand detainees throughout Turkey’s prison system had participated in the strikes.

Twice this month, Turkey allowed the 70-year-old imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to meet with his lawyers after an eight-year hiatus.

PKK had been designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

Ocalan’s call for an end to the strikes and the resumption of a lawyers’ visits comes ahead of an election in Istanbul.

Analysts say the moves could foreshadow a new peace process, four years after government talks with Ocalan collapsed.


Israeli President Shocked by German Skullcap Comment

Israel’s president said Sunday he is shocked by a German official’s comment that he wouldn’t advise Jews to wear skullcaps in parts of the country, which is drawing mixed reactions at home.

Felix Klein, the government’s anti-Semitism commissioner, was quoted Saturday as saying: “I cannot recommend to Jews that they wear the skullcap at all times everywhere in Germany.” He didn’t elaborate on what places and times might be risky.

“The statement of the German government’s anti-Semitism commissioner that it would be preferable for Jews not wear a kippa in Germany out of fear for their safety, shocked me deeply,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said in a statement.

He added that “we will never submit, will never lower our gaze and will never react to anti-Semitism with defeatism – and expect and demand our allies act in the same way.”

Government statistics released earlier this month showed that the number of anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner incidents rose in Germany last year, despite an overall drop in politically motivated crimes.

Germany’s main Jewish leader, Josef Schuster, told news agency dpa “it has long been a fact that Jews are potentially exposed to danger in some big cities if they can be recognized as Jews.” He added that he pointed that out two years ago, “so it is to be welcomed if this situation gets more attention at the highest political level.”

Others were sharply critical of Klein’s comment. Michel Friedman, a former deputy leader of Germany’s main Jewish group, said it was an admission of failure and that “the state must ensure that Jews can show themselves everywhere without fear.”

Bavaria’s state interior minister, Joachim Herrmann, said that wearing a skullcap is part of religious freedom. “Everyone can and should wear his skullcap wherever and whenever he wants,” he said.

Klein himself told dpa that his statement had been “provocative” and he “wanted to initiate a debate about the safety of the Jewish community in our country.”

“Of course I believe that there must not be no-go areas anywhere in Germany for Jews or members of other minorities,” he said.


Anti-Semitic Attacks on the Rise in Germany

Germany’s anti-Semitism commissioner has advised Jews that it may be dangerous in certain parts of the country to wear the kippahs, also known as skullcaps, traditionally worn by Jewish men. He did not specify which areas of the country he was referring to.

“I cannot advise Jews to wear the kippah everywhere all the time in Germany,” Felix Klein told the Funke press group in an interview published Saturday.

Klein’s warning comes amid a rising number of anti-Semitic attacks in Germany.

The commissioner said “the lifting of inhibitions and the uncouthness which is on the rise in society” has contributed to the growing number of attacks. “The internet and social media have largely contributed to this, but so have constant attacks against our culture of remembrance.”

Anti-Semitism is “deeply rooted” in German society and “has always been here,” Claudia Vanoni, Germany’s top legal expert on anti-Semitism told AFP, the French news agency. “But I think that recently, it has again become louder, more aggressive and flagrant.”

In an interview with Handelsblatt newspaper, Justice Minister Katarina Barley said the attacks are “shameful for our country.”

Commissioner Klein has blamed the far right for the majority of anti-Semitic attacks. Another contributing factor, he said, is the arrival of a number of Muslim asylum seekers in Germany who may also be influenced by some television stations “which transmit a dreadful image of Israel and Jews.”


Russia Launches Nuclear Icebreaker 

Russia launched a nuclear-powered icebreaker on Saturday, part of an ambitious program to renew and expand its fleet of the vessels in order to improve its ability to tap the Arctic’s commercial potential.

The ship, dubbed the Ural, was floated out from a dockyard in St Petersburg. It’s one of a trio that when completed will be the largest and most powerful icebreakers in the world. 


Russia is building new infrastructure and overhauling its ports as, amid warmer climate cycles, it readies for more traffic via what it calls the Northern Sea Route (NSR), which it envisages being navigable year-round. 


The Ural is due to be handed over to Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy corporation Rosatom in 2022 after the two other icebreakers in the same series, Arktika (Arctic) and Sibir (Siberia), enter service. 


“The Ural together with its sisters are central to our strategic project of opening the NSR to all-year activity,” Alexey Likhachev, Rosatom’s chief executive, was quoted saying.

President Vladimir Putin said in April that Russia was stepping up construction of icebreakers with the aim of significantly boosting freight traffic along its Arctic coast. 

Vying for dominance


The drive is part of a push to strengthen Moscow’s hand in the High North as it vies for dominance with traditional rivals Canada, the United States and Norway, as well as newcomer China. 

By 2035, Putin said Russia’s Arctic fleet would operate at least 13 heavy-duty icebreakers, nine of which would be powered by nuclear reactors. 


The Arctic holds oil and gas reserves equivalent to 412 billion barrels of oil, about 22 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates.

Moscow hopes the route that runs from Murmansk to the Bering Strait near Alaska could take off as it cuts sea transport times from Asia to Europe. 


Designed to be crewed by 75 people, the Ural will be able to slice through ice up to around 3 meters thick.


Abortion Not the Answer, Even After Prenatal Diagnoses, Pope Says

Pope Francis on Saturday reiterated his unswerving opposition to abortion, saying he is against it even when an unborn child has been diagnosed with a serious illness.

At a Vatican-sponsored conference titled Yes to Life: Caring for the Precious Gift of Life in its Frailness, the pope said the use of abortion was equivalent to hiring a hitman to take another person’s life. 


It is not the first time Francis has used such language. At a general audience last year, he said, “Is it right to take someone’s life to solve a problem?” 


He added, “Is it right to hire a hitman to solve a problem? You cannot. It is not right.” 


Addressing medical professionals, ministry providers and families from 70 nations participating in the three-day conference, the pontiff said the Catholic Church’s teaching on terminating a pregnancy is clear. He said an abortion cannot happen, even in cases when the fetus is very sick and likely to die.

“No human being,” he said, “is ever incompatible with life.”

The pope also said, “Fear and hostility toward disability often lead to the choice of abortion, configuring it as a practice of prevention.” He urged doctors and priests to support parents in cases of difficult prenatal diagnoses so they do not feel abandoned or afraid in carrying difficult pregnancies to term. 


Francis concluded by saying, “Taking care of these children helps parents to grieve and not only think of it as a loss, but as a step on a path taken together.” 


Italy’s EU Parliament Vote Could Change Country’s Balance of Power

Italians cast ballots Sunday for European Parliament in what is seen as a test for Italy’s two parties and the leaders of the country’s ruling coalition government. The vote’s outcome is expected to have an impact on domestic politics and on Italy’s future role in the European Union.

The European Parliament election will be a test for Italy’s ruling coalition government, and in recent weeks the two campaigning deputy prime ministers, Matteo Salvini, leader of the League Party and Luigi Di Maio, leader of the 5-Star Movement, have been voicing differing positions to woo voters to their respective camps.

Political tension between the two leaders has increased and the outcome of Italy’s vote is expected to affect the dynamics within the government. Today’s Italian government is much different from 2014, when the last election for the European Parliament was held. At that time, the Italian government was led by Matteo Renzi, head of the Left Democrats party, a strong believer in Europe.

The scenario completely changed in Italy after the current government was formed following the March 2018 general elections with both deputy prime ministers calling for serious changes in EU policies and more independence for choices made by individual countries. League leader Salvini has said, “we are working for a new European dream.”

Salvini recently said, “Today for many citizens, for many people, the European Union represents a nightmare, not a dream. We are working to return employment, family, security, environment, the future of youth to the centerfold.”

Salvini added that his objective is to win and change the rules of Europe.

Observers will be watching carefully to see what changes will emerge from the vote, with the main question being how will it affect the balance of power between the two ruling parties in the coalition. The election’s outcome likely will determine whether or not stability in the current political landscape can be maintained.

While criticism of the EU has been voiced by the League, and the 5-Star Movement, Italy — one of the founding nations of the bloc — still supports membership and the single currency — a possible exit by Italy is not anticipated, despite strong calls for national sovereignty to come first.







Italy Anti-mafia Body Says Berlusconi ‘Unpresentable’ for EU Vote

The Italian parliament’s anti-mafia committee on Thursday declared five candidates for the European elections “unpresentable,” including billionaire and three-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The five include three candidates from Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia party and one from the far-right Casa Pound, and all are currently under investigation or being tried for alleged crimes, according to the committee’s president Nicola Morra.

The committee’s declaration will not stop the candidates from running in the European Parliament elections, which in Italy are to be held on Sunday.

Media magnate Berlusconi has faced a string of charges over the so-called Rubygate scandal linked to his dinner parties and then 17-year-old Moroccan nightclub dancer Karima El-Mahroug, also known as “Ruby the heart-stealer.”

The 82-year old is currently on trial accused of paying a witness to give false testimony about the notoriously hedonistic soirees.

Berlusconi is also being investigated or prosecuted for alleged witness tampering in Milan, Sienna, Rome and Turin, each time accused of paying people to keep quiet about his so-called “bunga-bunga” parties.