Daily Briefs

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NIAS Europe Daily Brief #19, 23 October 2021, Saturday

EU’s farewell to Chancellor Angela Merkel

La Palma volcano intensifies triggering further evacuations; Turkey’s law on insulting president under scrutiny 

By Vaishnavi Iyer and Padmashree Anandhan 

EU’s farewell to Chancellor Angela Merkel
On 22 October, German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended her supposedly last European Council summit. At the summit, Council President Charles Michel termed her to be a "monument" and said summits without the long-time chancellor would be like “Rome without the Vatican or Paris without the Eiffel Tower.” She was complimented and praised by the leader of the EU for her extreme sobriety, simplicity and how she kept the European Project on course. According to The European federalist and former British MEP Andrew Duff: “She prioritised EU unity over reform - and she leaves the Union more disunited than ever, with one man overboard.” Merkel will be memorialized in European history as a beacon of light that kept the EU building blocks even during its tough times. (Jessica Parker, “EU leaders give Merkel an ovation at final summit,” BBC, 23 October 2021; “Angela Merkel receives fond farewell at final EU summit,” Deutsche Welle, 22 October 2021)

La Palma volcano intensifies triggering further evacuations
Volcanic activity in the Canary Islands triggered another series of evacuations. The Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted in September. Since then, 7,500 people have been evacuated. Seeping into Tazacorte, the lava flow has covered 866 hectares (2,100 acres) of the island, according to the EU's Copernicus Earth Observation Programme. Since the eruptions began, approximately 2,185 buildings have been destroyed. On 22 October, 500 people fled their homes overnight in Tazacorte. The volcano is expected to erupt further for the next three months with fears over more destruction of domestic life. The Spanish government has promised to provide for increased assistance to restore the damaged infrastructure. (“Spain: La Palma volcano triggers further evacuations,” Deutsche Welle, 22 October 2021)

Turkey’s law on insulting president under scrutiny 
A law regarding insulting the president of Turkey has come under scrutiny. Europe’s Human Rights Court called on Turkey to reverse its law allowing for prosecutions of individuals who insult the president. The Court ruled that the detention of the prosecuted violates their freedom of speech. Around 1,000 have been arrested over the crime prescribed under the law within seven years of Erdogan becoming president. The Justice Ministry data has evaluated around 31,000 charges and filed 3,325 convictions in 2020. The year marking Erdogan’s presidency saw 35,507 cases out of 160,169 investigations launched. According to the ECHR, Turkey's rule on insulting the president gives the president an exceptional standing when it comes to disseminating information and opinions about them. Referring to the popular criminal proceeding against Sorli, the court concluded the charges were “incompatible with freedom of expression”. A prominent sentencing of three-and-a-half years was charged to pro-Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas, which was the longest sentence for the crime. The ECHR added that the law should allow for citizens to convey their ideas without authorities interfering and violating their rights. (Ali Kucukgocmen, “Top European court says Turkey should change law on insulting president,” Reuters, 19 October 2021)

Luxembourg becomes first country in Europe to legalise Cannabis 
Luxembourg has become the first European country to legalize consumption and production of cannabis, allowing adults to grow up to four cannabis plants in their gardens or homes. Under the new laws, trade in the principal psychoactive constituent Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and seeds is permitted without limits on quantity or levels. Retail activities as well as import and export of seeds has also been legalized. The law provides for growing plants at homes for commercial purposes, however, the plans for the state-regulated and national chains got delayed due to the pandemic. Justice Minister Sam Tamson said: “We thought we had to act, we have an issue with drugs and cannabis is the drug that is most used and is a large part of the illegal market.” In addition to softening the law, the transport and consumption of up to three grams would be considered a misdemeanour. Fines have been reduced and there still remains “zero tolerance” for dealers in the same regard. Luxembourg is set to join Canada, Uruguay and 11 other US countries in breaching the UN convention on control of narcotic drugs that limits the distribution for exclusively medical and scientific purposes. (Daniel Boffey, “Luxembourg first in Europe to legalise growing and using cannabis,” The Guardian, 23 October 2021) 

The migrant issue gears tension amongst EU leaders
On 22 October, on the second day of the Brussels summit, 27 European Union leaders met to discuss the issue of refugees and migrants. The problem of migrants has become rather controversial since the inflow rate overtook the count of refugees from January to July especially through Belarus. The leaders of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have blamed the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for causing instability in the region and urged the EU to fence the borders of Belarus. In contrast, the European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen responded: "no one's life should be used to put political pressure on the European Union." So far, the EU has proposed to tighten visa restrictions on Belarus but no actual plan has materialized. (“EU leaders call for tougher migration controls amid border surge,” Deutsche Welle, 22 October 2021)

AI is set to change the functioning of religion
Recently, a study was carried out by the BBC Global Religion team on whether artificial intelligence (AI) could transform religion. The study found that the AI machines like the Kannon (made to represent the god of mercy) present in a 400-year-old Buddhist temple of Japan and SanTo (first ever catholic robot) in Poland are at its very early stages. For now, it could be used in reciting prayers and answering questions from the bible or help in Catholic education. When it comes to connecting with people or replacing an actual priest it still needs time and advancement. Another technology called the “Robo Rabbi”, is an algorithm that helps one to be their best version. This uses AI to understand the person, answer their question and also task them with a “personalised daily challenge.” Through this, one does not have to reach out to a Rabbi to sort their issues as the technology can integrate very easily into human lives. The report concludes by saying that AI is set to alter the way religion works. (“God and robots: Will AI transform religion?” BBC News, 22 October 2021; Linda Kinstler, “Can Silicon Valley find God,” The New York Times, 16 July 2021)

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