Dutch, UK polls open, starting 4 days of European elections

Netherlands' voting polls for the EU Parliament opened on Thursday, half an hour before the UK. (AFP)
Updated 23 May 2019

Dutch, UK polls open, starting 4 days of European elections

  • Voters across Europe will elect 751 lawmakers in the elections
  • UK’s 73 lawmakers in the EU Parliament will lose their jobs if the country leaves the union

THE HAGUE: Dutch and UK polls opened Thursday in elections for the European Parliament, starting four days of voting across the 28-nation bloc that pits supporters of deeper integration against populist Euroskeptics who want more power for their national governments.
A half hour after voting started in the Netherlands, polls opened across the United Kingdom, the only other country voting Thursday, and a nation still wrestling with its plans to leave the European Union altogether and the leadership of embattled Prime Minister Theresa May.
The elections, which end Sunday night, come as support is surging for populists and nationalists who want to rein in the EU’s powers, while traditional powerhouses like France and Germany insist that unity is the best buffer against the shifting economic and security interests of an emerging new world order.
French President Emmanuel Macron says the challenge is “not to cede to a coalition of destruction and disintegration” that will seek to dismantle EU unity built up over the past six decades.
In a significant challenge to those centrist forces, populists appear largely united heading into the elections. On Saturday, Italy’s anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini was joined at a rally by 10 other nationalist leaders, including far-right leaders Marine Le Pen of France’s National Rally party and Joerg Meuthen of the Alternative for Germany party.
On Thursday morning, UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn released a message with a warning that “the far-right is on the rise” and adding that “the actions we take now will have huge consequences for our future.”
Voters across Europe elect a total of 751 lawmakers, although that number is set to drop to 705 when the UK leaves the EU. The Dutch make up just 26 currently and 29 after Brexit. The UK has 73 European lawmakers, who would lose their jobs when their country completes its messy divorce from the EU.
Results of the four days of voting will not be officially released until Sunday night, but Dutch national broadcaster NOS will publish an exit poll after ballot boxes close Thursday night.
The Netherlands could provide a snapshot of what is to come. Polls show the right-wing populist Forum for Democracy led by charismatic intellectual Thierry Baudet running neck-and-neck with the center-right VVD party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
While the country, an affluent trading nation, profits from the EU’s open borders and single market, it also is a major contributor to EU coffers. Skeptical Dutch voters in 2005 rejected a proposed EU constitution in a referendum.
Baudet, whose party emerged as a surprise winner of provincial elections in March, identifies more with hard-line Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban than with the nationalist populist movement led by Salvini, although in a debate Wednesday night he called Salvini a “hero of Europe” for his crackdown on migration.


France grapples with high domestic violence rate

Updated 22 November 2019

France grapples with high domestic violence rate

  • EU studies show France has a higher rate of domestic violence than most of its European peers
  • By the hundreds, women have walked silently through city streets after each new death

LES MUREAUX: Sylvia. Dalila. Aminata. Céline. Julie. Their names are plastered on buildings and headlines across France, calling attention to their shared fate: Each was killed, allegedly by a current or former partner this year.
More than 130 women have died from domestic violence this year alone in France, according to activists who track the deaths.
European Union studies show France has a higher rate of domestic violence than most of its European peers. And frustrated activists have drawn national attention to a problem President Emmanuel Macron has called “France’s shame.”
Under cover of night, activists have glued posters with the names of the dead and calls to action to French city walls. “Complaints ignored, women killed,” read the black block letters on one such sign.
By the hundreds, women have walked silently through city streets after each new death.
Two years after Macron made a campaign pledge to tackle the problem, the government has begun to act.
A Justice Ministry report released earlier this month acknowledged authorities’ systematic failure to intervene to prevent domestic violence murders. On Monday, the government will announce measures that are expected to include seizing firearms from people suspected of domestic violence, prioritizing police training and formally recognizing “psychological violence” as a form of domestic violence.
Women are not the only victims of domestic violence, but French officials say they make up the vast majority.
Lawyers and victims’ advocates say women are too often disbelieved or turned away by law enforcement. But they’re encouraged by the new national conversation, which they say marks a departure from decades of denial.
“In France, we always have the impression that we are perfect,” feminist activist Caroline de Haas told The Associated Press.
A 2014 EU survey of 42,000 women across all 28 member states found that 26% of French women respondents said they been abused by a partner since age 15, either physically or sexually.
That’s below the global average of 30%, according to UN Women. But it’s 4 percentage points above the EU average and the sixth highest among EU countries.
Half that number reported experiencing such abuse in Spain, which implemented a series of legal and educational measures in 2004 that slashed its domestic violence rates.
Conversations about domestic violence have also ratcheted up in neighboring Germany, where activists are demanding the term “femicide” be used to describe such killings.
In France, victims and advocates say government action is overdue — and that more training is needed for police who are often ill-prepared to protect women in danger.
Police inaction made national headlines in France after Macron visited a hotline call center in September and listened in on a call with a 57-year-old woman whose husband had threatened to kill her. He heard a police officer on the other end tell the woman he couldn’t help her.
The hotline operator told Macron that such responses weren’t unusual.
Police officers across Europe often dismiss domestic violence as a private matter and fail to intervene at crucial moments, an EU study found this year.
But France is particularly bad, said EU researcher Albin Dearing, who led a study this year that examined domestic violence in seven European countries, including France.
“When it comes to violence against women, it showed actually that police do very little to protect women who turn to them for protection,” he said.
It can take between three weeks and two months for authorities to act on a complaint, leaving the victim “in a very fragile situation,” according to Frederique Martz, who runs anti-domestic violence organization Women Safe.
The Justice Ministry report this month found that 41% of “conjugal homicide” victims studied had previously reported incidents of domestic violence, and 80% of complaints sent to prosecutors went uninvestigated.
“Our system doesn’t work to protect women,” Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet told French TV channel LCI after another French woman was allegedly killed by her husband in Alsace last week.
Many officers respond appropriately to reports of domestic violence, according to Maj. Fabienne Boulard of the national police.
Those who don’t — the ones who react “clumsily” or ask the wrong questions — usually don’t mean harm, she added; they just don’t recognize domestic violence or know how to intervene.
This is particularly true when women receive threats but not yet physical blows, victims say.
Officers “absorb this violence into the category of violence between a couple that is going through a difficult period,” said one woman whose ex-husband repeatedly threatened her and their children. She spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
The woman divorced him after years of what she describes as psychological abuse that left her “terrified to cross him.” His threats only grew worse from there, she said.
She filed multiple complaints, but she said police officers suggested she didn’t seem like a victim or and wasn’t able to prove she was in danger.
Earlier this month, Boulard, the police major, led the first supplementary training on domestic violence for police in the Paris suburb of Les Mureaux. She emphasized to the eight officers there that among victims, “shame is an extremely strong feeling.”
Participants traded stories of issues they had encountered: the surge in complaints on Sundays, the woman who retracts her complaint, the partner who insists everything is fine.
“We can’t do anything,” one female police officer complained.
Boulard told The AP that the three-hour session aimed to help officers understand the pressures victims face and “why the victim is not what they imagined, why sometimes they don’t correspond with the criteria they expect to see.”
Trainings like Boulard’s take place in some parts of France, but regional authorities can decide whether to hold them. Activists hope they’ll become routine.
“A year or two ago, no one used the word ‘femicide’ apart from feminist organizations,” Haas said. “There is very much a change in public consciousness.”