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    IRE Chairman Schausberger met with the first Special Envoy for the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief outside the European Union Ján Figeľ

    The Institute of the Regions of Europe offers its support to the new and first Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the European Union Ján Figel, said IRE Chairman Franz Schausberger at a meeting in Brussel on 14 June 2016.

    Ján Figeľ (2004-2009 European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth, and from 2010 – 2012 Slovak Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Transport) was appointed first Special Representative for the promotion appointed by religious and ideological freedom outside the European Union by the President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker in May this year. Figeľ will be in office for one year.

    According to Ján Figeľ, the promotion of mutual respect and understanding in a fast changing social environment are key elements for a more human world in the twenty-first century. Therefore, he decided to hold his inaugural speech to local and regional politicians, who are politically responsible for the subnational level and in direct contact with people. “The promotion of religious freedom or the freedom of beliefs, as well as the fight against radicalisation and violent extremism, are not primarily housed in the abstract world of ideas, but rooted in the daily realities of our towns and cities. Religion and belief is a fundamental right in the European Union. Even today, religious and ethnic minorities are being persecuted. This makes the protection and promotion of freedom inside and outside the EU even more important. This issue deserves more attention”, said Figel´.

    This initiative was called by the European Parliament in a resolution on 4 February 2016.

    Local elections in Italy 2016: Political earthquake at local level

    In the Italian local elections on 5 June and in the run-offs on 19 June 2016, the voters clearly rejected the politics of the PD party of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. In Rome the candidate of the protest movement “Five Star” Virginia Raggi, won the elections with almost two thirds of the votes. Turin has also elected a five-star candidate, which was regarded as a historic breakthrough by the new party.

    The 37-year-old Raggi wants more transparency and legality in daily politics. The five-star candidate Chiara Appendino in Turin, who won 54 percent of the votes, said that this is not only a protest vote but a vote for change and dignity.

    A narrow victory was achieved by the PD Party in the economic capital Milan, where former director of the World Expo Giuseppe Sala won the elections. Rienzi’s party has managed to defend its position in the left-stronghold Bologna. In Naples, the left Mayor Luigi de Magistris was re-elected, however, he is a critic of Renzis policy.

    The five-star party has not made it into the run-offs in Milan, Naples and Bologna. Yet the polls in Italy were considered an important test for Renzi. The five-Star-party was founded by star comedian Beppe Grillo as a protest movement seven years ago. Parliamentary elections will be held in Italy in June 2018 and Grillos hopes to benefit from the results of this year´s municipal elections.

    More than 13 million people in 1350 towns and cities were called to the polls. The turnout was at 50 percent according to the ministry of the interior.

     

    Source: dpa, N-TV, taz

    Photo: http://www.cataniavera.it/2013/03/beppe-grillo-leader-del-movimento-5-stelle-il-parlamento-e-sovrano/

    First IRE Alumni Meeting: Sharing common interests and memories

    The young professionals from all over Europe, who came to visit Salzburg on the 17 und 18 of June 2016, share two things: interest in European politics and memories of their internship at the IRE.

    The Alumni Meeting was organized by the IRE in order to stay in contact with the former interns and to give them the opportunity to get to know each other and exchange experiences with like-minded people. Since the IRE´s founding 12 years ago almost 250 interns have completed an internship at the headquarters in Salzburg.

     
    After a brief welcome at the IRE office by IRE Chairman Prof. Dr. Franz Schausberger, the group paid a visit to the Salzburg Regional Parliament, where they engaged in a discussion with President Dr. Brigitta Pallauf. Afterwards the IRE-Team invited the former interns to the Salzburg Museum for an exhibition on the 200th anniversary of Salzburg as part of Austria. Vivid talks and the exchange of experiences continued during the relaxing atmosphere at dinner.
     
    The group enjoyed the sunny weather on Saturday to take a walk along the city mountain Mönchsberg and enjoy the beautiful panoramic view of Salzburg. The Museum der Moderne is situated on top of the Mönchsberg, where a guided tour was offered through contemporary art exhibitions.  It was great to see many familiar faces and to learn more on the whereabouts and careers of our former interns. Many of the IRE-alumni now work at ministries in Vienna, consulting companies in Germany, at various universities in Europe, or at the European institutions in Strasbourg and Brussels.
     
    The IRE offers internships to students from all over Europe and has also a cooperation agreement with the Salzburg College, where students from the United States apply for an internship at the IRE. The internship gives interns an insight into the daily work of a NGO and furthermore, promotes research activities. 
     

     
    photos: IRE & Neumayr/Leo

    European crisis can only be overcome with the support of strong regions

    IRE Chairman Franz Schausberger at the European Forum Wachau, Austria:
     

    The crisis-shaken development in Europe can only be challenged successfully with the support of strong regions, said President of the Institute of the Regions of Europe (IRE) Franz Schausberger at the European Forum Wachau in Göttweig on 11 June 2016. The current government crisis in the Ukraine is essentially based on the fact that the country is highly centralized and has long failed to establish strong regions and guarantee a degree of autonomy. A solution to the conflict would be a new federal constitution.

    from left: Member of the Landtag of Lower Austria Lukas Mandl, IRE Chairman Franz Schausberger, Gerald Steiner, Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Globalization of the Danube University Krems, publicist and author Hubert Wachter and Oliver Paasch, Minister President of the German-speaking community in the Kingdom of Belgium.

    The increasing need for integration of many asylum seekers caused by the refugee influx to Europe can only be met successfully with the strong commitment of regions and municipalities. Sustainable integration is based on a decentralized integration policy, when refugees are not only settled in the metropolitan areas, but also in small cities and towns. The integration of smaller numbers of asylum seekers in many towns and cities will automatically increasing their acceptance in the host country.
     
    Globalization, the refugee influx and terror cause increasing nationalism, stated Schausberger. And nationalism promotes political centralism, the breakdown of democratic structures and authoritarian tendencies. Embedding people into their regional culture, strengthening their identity and guaranteeing reliable political institutions is the key counterweight to globalization, anonymity and lack of transparency.

    Based on this, the competences of the European institutions can be enhanced in the fields of refugee crisis, the fight against terrorism and international crime.
     
    The member of the Lower Austrian State Parliament and member of the IRE Board of Trustees Lukas Mandlpresented how initiatives and activities of regions can provide indispensable support to tackle the European crisis.
     
    In the course of the European Forum Franz Schausberger met the Bulgarian Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov. Since Bulgaria is still a very centralized country, Schausberger offered the Bulgarian Foreign Minister the expertise and the support of the IRE to reform the decentralization and regionalization of Bulgaria. The Minister confirmed that the decentralization discussion is being discussed for years now and especially the financial decentralization of municipalities and cities is a priority for Bulgaria.

    More funding for cities and regions in Slovakia

    Congress of the Union of Towns and Cities of Slovakia in Bratislava:

    The 27th Congress of the Union of Towns and Cities of Slovakia (UTCS) was held on 3 June 2016 in Slovakia’s capital Bratislava. The Congress was chaired by the President of the Association of Towns and Cities of Slovakia and Mayor of Bratislava Ivo Nesrovnal. Most participants were mayors of Slovakian cities.
     
    The UTCS set out priorities and objectives for the next time period such as a closer cooperation of regional governments with the private sector and an increasing energy efficiency for which a platform will be established. Representatives of several ministries discussed possible development chances for marginalized regions in the country.

    The Secretary General of UTCS Milan Galanda pointed out that due to newly implemented laws more funding for the cities and regions is possible, which also comes with more responsibility. Other priorities are the improvement of health services and waste management.
     
    Member of the IRE Board of Trustees Georg Krauchenberg took part in the meeting.

    Catalonia has positioned itself in Europe

    “Catalonia’s way in Europe” a discussion, 25.05.2016 in Salzburg:

    “The independence movements in Catalonia and Scotland are pro-European movements, even if independence means splitting-up from an EU member state,” said Jordi Solé, Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the European Union of the Regional Government of Catalonia. Politicians and scientists have discussed the current situation of Catalonia in Spain and in the EU at a panel discussion on ” Catalonia’ way in Europe “, which was organized by the IRE on 25 May 2016 in the International Salzburg Association in Salzburg.

    “The roots of the current independence movements in Europe are extremely complex and difficult to compare to one another. There are diverse ethnic, geographical, religious, historical, economic and linguistic reasons,” explained IRE Chairman Prof. Dr. Franz Schausberger. “The formation of new states in Europe is certainly nothing new for the 21st century. But increasing globalization, internationalization and, thus, the anonymization of the labor markets and economic relations causes a greater and stronger identification with the home region. In the past states have separated and unified. Europe has seen disintegrated states and empires in the last 150 years; many new, small states have emerged.”

     

    The turning point for Catalonia was in 2006 when citizens have adopted the new Statute of Autonomy (with 74%) in a referendum. However, the decision of the Spanish Constitutional Court in Madrid on 28 June 2010 brought no progress for the Catalan government, and even put it one step back. This and the lack of alternative proposals from Madrid were the trigger for increased independence movements in the past 10 years. In a non-binding public consultation on 9 November 2014, a large majority of 80.1% has voted for independence of Catalonia from Spain.

    The refusal of negotiations of Madrid and the reinforced centralization pressure led to the belief that an independent state is the best for the citizens of Catalonia. An additional problem is the current absence of a full-functioning government in Spain. Since the last parliamentary elections in December 2015, no new government has been established, so that no calls can be made. New elections for the Spanish Parliament are scheduled for June 2016.

    But talks with Madrid would not only include fiscal reforms, said Solé. The Catalan government is planning elections in 2017 to legitimize independence by a parliamentary majority, and by then prepare a plan for their own state including a constitution. The goal is to transform the region with 7.5 million inhabitants into an independent state by mid-2017.

     

    Krystyna Schreiber is a German author and journalist and has been working on the independence movement in Catalonia for the past years. In her book “Die Übersetzung der Unabhängigkeit” she interviewed several personalities from Europe on this subject. In her research she found that independence movements are an European issue and not only a national or bilateral problem. Dr. Kai-Olaf Lang from the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, German Institute for International Politics and Security, supports this idea and noted that independence movements have become a question of European domestic policy, which the EU must begin to deal with. A creative concept must be worked out because chances are high that Catalonia´s efforts will lead to further independence movements throughout Europe.

    The region of Catalonia has already established contacts abroad and has opened an office in Vienna in June 2015. Austria is a very important location for Catalonia in order to have a representation in Central Europe and to build relationships with these countries, explained head of the office Adam Casals. The office functions as a Chamber of Commerce to expand business contacts with investors.

    photos: Neumayr/Leo

    Southeast Europe Economic Index: Economic climate improves slightly

    Bosnian and Serbian entrepreneurs are optimistic about the future. This is the result of a study by the credit insurer Prisma and the market research company GfK Austria.

    64 percent of the Bosnian and 68 percent of Serbian companies expect (very) positive outcomes in the year 2016. “Coperations are the forerunners.” says CEO of Prisma Ludwig Mertes. “This has to do with the fact that the countries are trying to attract foreign investors to the country. Serbia, for example, is positioning itself as an attractive investment location for larger international corporations, which benefit from the low cost structure in the country.”

    36 percent of Serbian companies rate the opportunities as “very good” or “good” and 62 percent believe in better business within the next twelve months. “The current government manages to ensure a positive business climate and to make good PR for their own good,” says Mertes.
     
    Serbia’s economic data reflects the good economic climate this year. In the first quarter of 2016 the economic output grew by 3.5 percent as compared to the same period last year. Last Wednesday, the central bank raised its forecast. The central bank expects an increase from 2.3 to 2.4 percent for 2016. Previously, 1.8 percent was expected. In addition, the budget deficit was amounted to € 110 million for the first four months this year, although originally € 590 million were expected.
     
    Croatia is in a low mood. The economic climate with 53 points is still better compared to a study in 2014, when Croatia only reached a total of 51 points. This leaves Croatia at the bottom: “The reason might be that the high hopes which were placed on the elections last year were disappointed,” says Mertes. Instead of setting new impetus the new coalition government is about to break apart.
     
    Croatia is in a low mood. The economic climate with 53 points is still better compared to a study in 2014, when Croatia only reached a total of 51 points. This leaves Croatia at the bottom: “The reason might be that the high hopes which were placed on the elections last year were disappointed,” says Mertes. Instead of setting new impetus the new coalition government is about to break apart.
     
    After years of low mood for the business climate the neighboring country Slovenia has improved its situation. While the economic climate in 2014 was at its low with only 49 points, the value improved considerably with 54 points this year. After the severe economic crisis the entrepreneurs are looking into a more hopeful future.
     
    Bosnia and Herzegovina reached 57 points, which is the second best index value right after Serbia. However, the estimates differ: coperations (64) have a positive outlook on the future while small and medium-sized enterprises (50) are more pessimistic. “This is a surprising result for us given the political instability and the economic situation in the country. But perhaps the many investments from the Arab world have caused the positive mood,” said Mertes.
     
    Based on a survey of 150 companies per country, the study of Prisma and GfK Austria examined the economic climate in Austria and the countries of Southeast Europe. It estimates the overall current and future situation featuring the planned export and investment activities. The economic climate is measured on a scale from 0 to 100, the higher the value the more positive the economic climate. The study was conducted in January 2016. The target group were small and medium-sized enterprises and corporations that work on a business to business basis.

     source: APA, WirtschaftsBlatt, Print-Ausgabe, 2016-05-18

    Local elections in the UK: An Indicator for UK referendum on EU membership

    In the UK local and regional elections on 5 May 2016 the two major parties suffered losses. The election serves as an indicator for the UK referendum on EU membership next month.

    The Scottish National Party SNP has won most seats in the ScottishParliament, but has lost its overall majority. The nationalists succeeded 63 of 129 seats – six seats less than in the last election. The leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon had already hailed a “historic” victory since the SNP won the third election in a row. Previously, the nationalists governed with an absolute majority (69 seats) but will now need the support of a smaller party – most likely the Green Party. The Scottish Conservative Party came in second with 31 seats – a major achievement for a party that has long been unpopular in Scotland. The Scottish Labour Party lost many votes and became only third strongest force. In March, the SNP has announced plans for another referendum on Scotland’s membership in the UK after the referendum on UK´s EU membership on 23 June 2016.
     
    The Labour Party remains the strongest party in Wales but faces the significant rise of the UKIP party (UK Independence Party). The anti-EU party of Nigel Farage has won five seats in the Welsh regional parliament. The UKIP fights for a withdrawal from the EU, whereas the leader of the Labour Party Jeremey Corbyn is in favour of remaining in the EU.
     
    In Northern Ireland, the two major Irish Republican parties Sinn Fein and the SDLP suffered losses, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the largest party in Northern Ireland, won most of the votes. The Green Party of Northern Ireland won a second mandate and the left-wing Socialist People Before ProfitAlliance has gained two seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly for the first time. However, the distribution of seats remains broadly unchanged.

    First Muslim Mayor in London
    With approximately 44 percent of the votes Labour candidate Sadiq Khan was almost ten percent ahead of conservative rival Tory Zac Goldsmith in the mayoral election in London. The labour party takes over the British capital after eight years. Khan became thus the first Muslim mayor of a western capital.
    Khan, a former human rights lawyer and son of a bus driver from Pakistan, describes himself as “British Muslim who takes the fight against extremists.” Khan promised to be “a mayor for all Londoners”. “I ask the people urgently to vote for hope over fear,” he said. London has 8.6 million inhabitants of which more than a million are Muslims.
     
    “Super Thursday”, as the media named the Election Day, is considered the first test for the labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who took over the Labour presidency in late summer last year. Compared to the regional and local elections in the years 2011 and 2012 the labour party must accept losses. But compared to the disastrous outcome of the national election in 2015, the Labour Party has won back some votes. The Tories have also lost some votes compared to the national elections last year. In general, the Labour Party did better than expected. They even defended some of their few strongholds in the conservative dominated south of the UK. 40 million Britons were called on 5 May to elect their regional and local parliaments.

    Sources:
    faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/kommunalwahl-in-grossbritannien-rechtspopulisten-erzielen-wahlerfolg-in-wales-14218188.html
    zeit.de/politik/ausland/2016-05/grossbritannien-kommunalwahl-labour-partei-jeremy-corbyn-verluste

    zuerst.de/2016/05/08/kommunalwahlen-in-grossbritannien-ukip-und-schottische-nationalpartei-gewinnen/
    photos: 
    salzburg.com/
    arynews.tv/en/britain-awaits-results-of-super-thursday-votes/

    Local elections in Serbia: Serbian ruling party wins majority

    Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) have achieved the majority of votes in the local elections and even in the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, which traditionally is a stronghold of the opposition Democratic Party.
     
    The right-wing SNS won 44.5 percent of votes in the elections for the Regional Assembly of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina on 24 April 2016. The Democratic Party (DS), which was in charge previously, only got 7.24 percent. The socialist PLC JS coalition won 8.85 percent, while the Nationalist Party SRS got 7.66 percent of the votes. The League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina (LSV) won 6.43 percent and the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians (SVM) achieved 4.87 percent. At the same time early parliamentary elections were held in Serbia. The overall turnout was 56.40 percent.
    With 63 of 120 seats the SNS won 50 seats more than in the last elections 2012 and outrun the Democratic Party, which traditionally is the strongest party in the Vojvodina. The Democratic Party lost 48 seats. The SNS is planning a coalition with the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians (SVM). The SVM represents the largest ethnic minority in the Vojvodina.
     
    The remarkable victory of the SNS is due to the successful economic reforms and the accession negotiations with the EU. Furthermore, renaming the party’s list played a role. Vučić had his own name put on all electoral lists (list “Aleksandar Vučić – Serbia wins”) instead of the name of his party SNS and have thus reached the preference of Serbs to vote for leaders, instead of parties.
    The Autonomous Province of Vojvodina is an autonomous province in Serbia, a northern part of the country in the Pannonian Plain. Novi Sad is the administrative center of the Vojvodina and the second largest city in Serbia. The AP Vojvodina has a population of around 2 million people with more than 26 ethnic groups and six official languages.
     
    The SNS has also reached the majority of votes in the remaining municipalities and cities, like Smederevska Palanka (central Serbia), Indjija and Apatin in Vojvodina, previously ruled by the Democrats. The SNS also won 14 of 17 municipalities in Belgrade, except Vracar, Stari Grad and New Belgrade, which go to the Democratic Party. Despite a strong campaign the SNS did not succeed a majority in Jagodina (central Serbia), Surdulica and Bosilegrad (in the southeast of Serbia) or Cajetina (southwest Serbia), where the local politicians of other parties have gained the majority again.
     
    In Vranje (Southern Serbia), the elections will be repeated in two polling stations after bribes have been reported. In Nis, in southern central Serbia, elections will be repeated in 20 polling stations as more ballots were casted than voters registered.
     
    Source: www.balkaninsight.com
    Karte:http://www.uni-regensburg.de/Fakultaeten/PKGG/Geschichte/geschichte-suedost-osteuropa/studium/exkursionen/vojvodina/projekt.html

    New member of the IRE network: The Regional Association Pongau joins the IRE

     
    The Regional Association Pongau has joined the IRE network and is represented by its Chairman Dr. Peter Brandauer, the Mayor of Werfenweng.
    The Regional Association Pongau is an amalgamation of all 25 Pongau communities, cities and a service facility with a broad field of functions for its member communities, the tourism organizations, business people and its citizens. The Regional Association Pongau owns the mobility center Pongau GmbH (“mobilito”) and supports the Europe Direct Information Centre “EDIC Southern Salzburg – Pongau”.
    The focus lies on promotion consulting, regional planning and regional development, the mobilization and development of commercial sites and the organization and development of public transportation. Furthermore, an information and cooperation center for regional projects and regional diversity handles regional concerns.
     
    About 80,000 people make their living in the 25 municipalities of the district “St. Johann im Pongau”. Pongau is also a region with enormous high recreational value. With around 8.5 million overnight stays and 71,000 guest beds it is the most important tourist destination in Austria. During winter the region of Pongau has already positioned itself as one of the top destinations in Europe.
    Pongau is Austria’s only region that has a nationwide active mobility center (service center for tourist mobility management).
     
    We look forward to the cooperation with the regional association Pongau and hope for a good and close collaboration.
     
    More information about the Regional Association:
    http://www.pongau.org/home.html