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Charlie Hebdo: Fourth Estate challenged

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B7BVxKtCEAIqPLQOpinion by Anna van Densky

The testimony of Jeannette Bougrab – Charlie Hebdo's slain editor Stephane Charbonnier's (Charb's) companion – has stirred a debate on security regarding journalists involved in challenging projects. Charbonnier was certain that he would be assassinated, but preferred "to die on his feet, than to live on his knees". However, his tragic departure, along with his devoted colleagues, raises concerns beyond the grief about the future of the high-risk journalistic profession. If society continues to fail to protect human beings exercising freedom of expression, the 'Fourth Estate' will face an imminent decline.

The massacre of Charlie Hebdo's editorial team in Paris is comparable with the assassination of Dutch documentary film director Theo van Gogh in the streets of Amsterdam in 2004, which came as a shock not only to the broader public, but to the journalistic community itself, which has since hoped to be backed by police and the secret services, unfortunately in vain. The murder of two Parisian policemen, who attempted to prevent the crime, has only added to the feeling of despair and fragility, discouraging those undertaking dangerous missions to confront the authorities.

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Next to these losses, what happened to the notorious Danish Muhammad cartoonist of Jyllands Posten, Kurt Westergaard, is less dramatic, although one can still wonder how he keeps going after a frenzied intruder managed to enter his house in spite of police 24/7 surveillance. Was this unwelcome visit possible to avoid? Reportedly, afterwards the police redressed the cartoonist's life protection, but are these shocks necessary to convince the guards of law and order of the gravity of the situation and the danger of the threats posed?

It seems that the principle of tragic humanism is still valid in the case of the preservation of press freedom, meaning in Terry Eagleton's terms that the flourishing of humanity is possible, but only if confronted with the worst.

However the worst, namely these sacrifices, were not necessary - as Jeannette Bougrab stated, they were the consequences of the inadequacy of security measures, or in other words an underestimation of the threats posed to the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists.

The whole of Europe, as much as French society, ardently supports the idea of freedom of the press – in the case of criticism of Islam, it reads as a modern version of heresy, where a challenger confronts a dogmatist, creating a competition of opinions that is so vital for the development of society as a whole. But how to function if a challenger, as much as his predecessors – the heretics in the Middle Ages - faces the ultimate penalty in a backlash from his opponent?

Remarkably, humanity has not changed a lot in this respect, as criticism has always been a perilous activity, as far as it can be traced: John the Baptist (a prophet both in Christianity and Islam) paid with his life for criticizing the mores of King Herod – authority did not appreciate his freedom of speech, but grateful humanity is still admiring the masterpieces of artistic genius that depict John the Baptist's head on a lamb's meat platter.

However, the times of sacrificing people has passed. How can professionals be attracted to mass media to challenge authorities – political, ideological or religious – without the proper backing of the state? The question is still awaiting an answer… #jesuischarlie.

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Economy

Issuance of green bonds will strengthen the international role of the euro

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Eurogroup ministers discussed the international role of the euro (15 February), following the publication of the European Commission's communication of (19 January), ‘The European economic and financial system: fostering strength and resilience’.

President of the Eurogroup, Paschal Donohoe said: “The aim is to reduce our dependence on other currencies, and to strengthen our autonomy in various situations. At the same time, increased international use of our currency also implies potential trade-offs, which we will continue to monitor. During the discussion, ministers emphasized the potential of green bond issuance to enhance the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate transition objective.”

The Eurogroup has discussed the issue several times in recent years since the December 2018 Euro Summit. Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism said that overreliance on the dollar contained risks, giving Latin America and the Asian crisis of the 90s as examples. He also referred obliquely to “more recent episodes” where the dollar’s dominance meant that EU companies could not continue to work with Iran in the face of US sanctions. Regling believes that the international monetary system is slowly moving towards a multi-polar system where three or four currencies will be important, including the dollar, euro and renminbi. 

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European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, agreed that the euro’s role could be strengthened through the issuance of green bonds enhancing the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate objectives of the Next Generation EU funds.

Ministers agreed that broad action to support the international role of the euro, encompassing progress on amongst other things, Economic and Monetary Union, Banking Union and Capital Markets Union were needed to secure the euros international role.

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EU

European human rights court backs Germany over Kunduz airstrike case

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An investigation by Germany into a deadly 2009 airstrike near the Afghan city of Kunduz that was ordered by a German commander complied with its right-to-life obligations, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday (16 February), writes .

The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court rejects a complaint by Afghan citizen Abdul Hanan, who lost two sons in the attack, that Germany did not fulfil its obligation to effectively investigate the incident.

In September 2009, the German commander of NATO troops in Kunduz called in a U.S. fighter jet to strike two fuel trucks near the city which NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.

The Afghan government said at the time 99 people, including 30 civilians, were killed. Independent rights groups estimated between 60 and 70 civilians were killed.

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The death toll shocked Germans and ultimately forced its defence minister to resign over accusations of covering up the number of civilian casualties in the run-up to Germany’s 2009 election.

Germany’s federal prosecutor general had found that the commander did not incur criminal liability, mainly because he was convinced when he ordered the airstrike that no civilians were present.

For him to be liable under international law, he would have had to be found to have acted with intent to cause excessive civilian casualties.

The European Court of Human Rights considered the effectiveness of Germany’s investigation, including whether it established a justification for lethal use of force. It did not consider the legality of the airstrike.

Of 9,600 NATO troops in Afghanistan, Germany has the second-largest contingent behind the United States.

A 2020 peace agreement between the Taliban and Washington calls for foreign troops to withdraw by May 1, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal after a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan.

Germany is preparing to extend the mandate for its military mission in Afghanistan from March 31 until the end of this year, with troop levels remaining at up to 1,300, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

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EU

Digitalization of EU justice systems: Commission launches public consultation on cross-border judicial co-operation

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On 16 February, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the modernization of EU justice systems. The EU aims to support member states in their efforts to adapt their justice systems to the digital age and improve EU cross-border judicial co-operation. Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders (pictured) said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of digitalization, including in the field of justice. Judges and lawyers need digital tools to be able to work together faster and more efficiently.

At the same time, citizens and businesses need online tools for an easier and more transparent access to justice at a lower cost. The Commission strives to push this process forward and support member states in their efforts, including as regards facilitating their cooperation in cross-border judicial procedures by using digital channels.” In December 2020, the Commission adopted a communication outlining the actions and initiatives intended to advance the digitalization of justice systems across the EU.

The public consultation will gather views on the digitalization of EU cross-border civil, commercial and criminal procedures. The results of the public consultation, in which a broad range of groups and individuals can participate and which is available here until 8 May 2021, will feed into an initiative on digitalisation of cross-border judicial cooperation expected at the end of this year as announced in the 2021 Commission's Work Programme.

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