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In Greece, Merkel embraces former Eurosceptics | Greece News

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel left Greece on Friday after an unusual show of support for the left-wing government of Alexis Tsipras and disdain for her fellow conservative, opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

What caused this reverse-polarity was the agreement between his government – led by his Syriza coalition – and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) last year to change that country’s name to North Macedonia.

That agreement has led to a series of constitutional revisions by Greece’s neighbour, expected to be finalised this week. The onus will then be on Greece to ratify the agreement.

The country’s veto on North Macedonia joining NATO and the European Union would then be lifted.

“I am especially grateful to Alexis Tsipras for taking the initiative on a very difficult problem,” Merkel said on Thursday, praising his “great courage”.

Merkel had less kind words for Mitsotakis, leader of the New Democracy party, which vows to vote against the agreement.

New Democracy’s opposition has been compounded by the refusal of Syriza’s junior coalition partner, the right-wing Independent Greeks, to ratify the agreement.

That leaves Tsipras six votes short of the 151 he needs in the 300-seat legislature.

“On matters of great national importance, there must be an effort to find a common position. That is what I support. But I am under no illusion as far as [party] positions are concerned. I am sure a German chancellor’s visit won’t change them.”

Syriza insists that it will muster the votes by stealing sympathetic MPs from Independent Greeks and Potami, a centre-right reformist party. Merkel’s visit was a reminder to those MPs that Europe is watching what Greek lawmakers do.

Merkel’s three previous visits to Greece – in October 2012, November 2013 and April 2014 – were designed to support then-conservative economic reforms, which balanced the budget. Syriza controlled the streets, and helped orchestrate massive protests in which Tsipras called New Democracy “collaborators” and “Merkelists”. 

On Thursday, however, Tsipras warmed to Merkel’s presence remarkably well. Asked about his shift, Tsipras appeared to try to justify his about-turn from austerity opponent to austerity enforcer when he came to power in 2015.

“When you’re prime minister, you have to represent everybody… those who protest and those who fear protests… the unemployed and those who work and are afraid of losing their jobs… those who have nothing to lose and those who have life savings.”

Athens University history professor Thanos Veremis said: “Those who were protesting then are now in power.”

“They are running the country, and they have been on very good terms with Merkel since they took over in 2015. Tsipras has been like her long lost nephew from the Balkans,” said Veremis.

Tsipras’ great U-turn has become a politically useful image for Merkel, who is beset by a Eurosceptic far-right opposition at home and in her central European neighbourhood.

Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has announced a “new European spring” as he prepares a Eurosceptic alliance ahead of European Parliament elections in May. The alliance is to include France’s “gilets jaunes (yellow vests)”, Germany’s Alternativ fur Deutschland, and Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party, among others.

These anti-establishment forces arose as a result of post-2008 economic crises and the post-2015 immigration crisis in Europe. Greece arguably suffered the worst of both and produced the left-wing Syriza government, which ultimately compromised its anti-establishment principles to keep Greece in the Eurozone and the European Union.

Holding up this example of a once-rebellious party that was tamed by common sense, as Merkel would have it, is now a powerful political tool.

Although Greece was cleared to borrow from markets last August, officially graduating from eight years of Eurozone oversight, it still hasn’t sold any multi-year government bonds. Markets are evidently spooked by its still-high taxes and unemployment, low growth and high loan repayment costs.

“They haven’t really gotten out in the sense that the economy isn’t really doing that well yet, and we can’t go to the open markets,” says Veremis. “Nevertheless we are out of it, and [Merkel] might very well use that as a reason for rejoicing over the EU’s policy vis-a-vis Greece.”

The street is still angry

This realpolitik, however, remains far from sentiment on the Greek street, which feels the pain of spending 2.2 percent of GDP repaying emergency loans to European institutions for the next 40 years.

Germany was instrumental in enforcing austerity measures in return for those loans throughout Europe, but nowhere was more money spent and more austerity enforced than in Greece.





While Tsipras has warmed to Merkel, many Greeks protested her visit [Alkis Konstantinidi/Reuters]

“Germany wants this situation with all the austerity measures to continue. It doesn’t want any upheaval or complications,” said lawyer Paris Papadakis, explaining the reason behind Merkel’s visit.

“It wants to secure German interests. That means paying off our loans, it means promoting German industrial interests. Greece no longer depends on its own strengths, but on external powers.”

Restauranteur Ioannis Meraklidis agrees.

“[Merkel] hasn’t helped Greece… We’re under Germany right now. Our children and grandchildren cannot be condemned to paying off loans until 2060. Something has to happen. We need to free ourselves from the German establishment.”

Merkel’s visits have inevitably awoken memories of the last time Germany held direct power over Greece –  the Nazi occupation of WWII, which bankrupted the economy as taxes were raised, agricultural produce was siphoned off to Germany and a $230m loan (according to exchange rates in 1945) was forcibly extracted from the Bank of Greece.

These sentiments are aggravated by the fact that Germany refuses to discuss reparations or repayment of the wartime loan.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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Canada: Significant Changes To Canada’s Federal Environmental Protection Regime Proposed

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On April 13, 2021, the government of Canada proposed significant changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (“CEPA”)1 through the introduction of Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act (the “Amendments“).2

With these Amendments, the government hopes to modernize Canada’s environmental regime which has not undergone significant change in over 20 years. CEPA is the primary statute through which the federal government regulates and protects the environment. CEPA and its accompanying regulations regulate among other things the treatment and disposal of chemicals and hazardous waste, vehicle and engine emissions, equipment and other sources of pollution, and the prevention and impact of environmental emergencies such as oil and chemical spills.

This bulletin provides an overview of the major changes to CEPA that have been proposed.

The Right to a Healthy Environment and Certain Soft Rights

Significantly, the Preamble under the Amendments will officially recognize Canadians’ right to a healthy environment. Section 2 of CEPA will require the government to protect that right when making decisions relating to the environment.3

The Amendments set out specific obligations the government must undertake to safeguard this right, including developing an implementation framework to set out how this right will be considered in the administration of CEPA as well as conducting research, studies and monitoring activities to support this goal.

In addition, the Preamble will recognize some additional considerations, including confirming the government’s commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as well as recognizing the importance of considering vulnerable persons, reducing or replacing the use of animal testing, and the right of Canadians to have access to information on product labels.

Project Impact Assessment

With respect to risk assessments under CEPA, under the new provisions the federal government must consider impacts on vulnerable populations and possible cumulative effects of the proposed conduct. Vulnerable populations will include groups of people with elevated biological susceptibility, such as children, and groups with elevated exposure risks, such an indigenous communities. Consideration of cumulative effects of proposed conduct takes a holistic approach to substance management by considering the compounding risks of exposure to various chemicals during daily life rather than looking at substances on their own.

Chemicals Management

The federal government has identified the management of chemicals as a key target area under the new CEPA.

The Amendments thus propose to overhaul this regime in order to better protect Canadians from the evolving risks of harmful chemicals and pollution. To accomplish this, the government has proposed wide ranging changes relating to risk assessment, public accountability, management of toxic substances and new substances, which are discussed in turn below.

Risk Assessment

The government must consult, develop and publish a Plan of Chemicals Management Priorities which will set out an integrated plan for the risk assessment of various chemical substances currently being used in Canada. The Plan will establish priorities for the management of substances, taking into account a number of factors including among others the views of stakeholders and partners, public comments, the effects on vulnerable populations, the toxicity of the substance, the ability to disrupt biological reproduction or endocrine systems, and whether there are safer and more sustainable alternatives.4 The government will also be empowered to make geographically targeted regulations to address pollution “hot spots”.

Additionally, the Amendments will establish a mechanism through which any person can submit a request to the Minister to assess a substance to determine its toxicity and risk to the environment. The Minister must provide a response within 90 days, indicating whether they intend to assess the substances and their reasons for their decision.

Public Accountability Framework

The Amendments intend to increase transparency and public participation in risk assessments by the government for the categorization and management of potentially toxic chemicals. Currently, CEPA contains a public accountability framework under section 77 and provides time limits for the government to assess substances under sections 91 and 92. However, these provisions only apply to certain risk assessments being conducted by the government such as substances placed on the Domestic Substances List that in the opinion of the Minister present the greatest potential for exposure to Canadians or are persistent or bio-accumulative. The proposed Amendments plan to amend section 77 to expand these transparency and accountability measures to all substance risk assessments for toxic or capable of being toxic substances, with the exception of assessments for new substances.5

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Scientists, Homalco First Nation team up to probe massive B.C. landslide — and its impact on salmon

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When the side of a B.C. mountain gave way on Nov. 28, 2020, crashing into a glacier fed lake and creating a 100-metre high tsunami, no one was around to see the destruction or hear the sound of rocks and trees tearing through the valley below. 

But scientists say the force, which was picked up by seismographs across North America, was the equivalent of a 4.9-magnitude earthquake. 

Fortunately, no one was in the slide’s path, but experts believe that a melting glacier likely contributed by making the slope less stable — and climate change means it is a growing risk. 

As more of Canada’s glaciers recede, scientists say there is great interest in finding out what exactly triggered this slide, and how the rocks and sediment have impacted the salmon population of nearby Elliot Creek and Southgate River. 

The mountain, which is located about 220 km north west of Vancouver, is on the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation. 

It’s an area of remote wilderness, only accessible by air or by boating 80 km up Bute Inlet.

When the slide hit last year, more than 18 million cubic meters of rock barrelled down the slope hitting the lake within 30 seconds. 

“That is the equivalent of all of the cars in Canada coming down the hill at once,” said Marten Geertsema, a geomorphologist who works with the B.C. government studying landslides. 

He is one of several scientists, along with members from the Homalco First Nation, who have been studying the landslide and its cascading environmental impact on the watershed and salmon habitat. 

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