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EU leaders meet to tackle disputes over Turkey, Belarus and budget

Issued on: 01/10/2020 – 04:50

European leaders meet on Thursday to tackle rifts that threaten thei..

Issued on: 01/10/2020 – 04:50

European leaders meet on Thursday to tackle rifts that threaten their huge coronavirus recovery package and weaken their ability to respond to crises on their borders with Turkey and Belarus.

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The first night of the extraordinary two-day European Union summit will be dominated by the bloc's tricky ties with Ankara, which is embroiled in a dangerous maritime stand-off with Greece and Cyprus.

But the leaders will reluctantly be forced to address an internal argument about tying access to EU funds to a member state's support for the rule of law — an idea fiercely opposed by Hungary.

At a turbulent four-day marathon summit in July the leaders agreed to borrow to build a 750-billion-euro corona stimulus fund, to be backed by a trillion-euro long-term EU budget.

But the speaker of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, will warn the national heads at the start of their meeting that MEPs oppose cuts to key EU programmes in the budget plan and want 100 billion euros more.

The parliament could yet withhold approval for the package, and Hungary and Poland could also block the deal if their access to funds is linked to their respect for EU legal and democratic values.

The so-called "frugal countries" — the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Denmark and Finland — oppose restoring the budget cuts and insist on the importance of the rule of law.

A German compromise proposal, which would see states only fined for rule of law breaches involving the spending of EU funds, narrowly won the support of EU ambassadors ahead of the summit on Wednesday.

But the frugals' envoys voted against it, as for them it does not go far enough, and so did Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban has accused the block of "blackmail" and demanded the resignation of the European Commission vice-president Vera Jourova.

In a report published by Jourova on Wednesday on the state of the rule of law in Europe, the commission said connections between Hungarian politicians and businesses are conducive to corruption.

– Maritime crisis –

But the European leaders will not want to get bogged down in more of the fighting about budgets and values that almost derailed July's prolonged summit.

Instead, diplomats say foreign affairs and Europe's strategic posture will dominate.

Over dinner on Thursday they will look at ties with Turkey, which is notionally still a candidate to join the EU but is in a stand-off with member states Greece and Cyprus over maritime borders and energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean.

Ankara has infuriated the EU by sending research ships with naval escorts to work in contested waters, and Athens has responded with war games backed by France, raising fears of full-blown conflict.

Tensions have eased slightly, with Turkey and Greece agreeing to resume long-stalled talks, but Ankara still has assets in Cypriot waters.

In his summit invitation the president of the European Council Charles Michel warned that "all options remain on the table" if Ankara does not engage constructively in talks.

This could include tough economic sanctions against Turkey, but officials stress that while the EU stands squarely with Greece and Cyprus, the focus for now is on trying to find a diplomatic solution.

"We've seen positive developments on Ankara's behalf towards Greece but not Cyprus," an EU official said, citing the start of a German-led mediation effort.

Meanwhile, Cyprus has been blocking long-trailed sanctions over the political crisis in Belarus, insisting more people must be listed over Turkish drilling in its waters at the same time.Read More – Source

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Pope expresses support for same-sex civil union laws in new documentary

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 17:54

Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals s..

Issued on:

Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals should be protected by civil union laws, in some of the clearest language he has used on the rights of gay people.

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"Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it," Pope Francis says in the documentary "Francesco" by Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky.

"What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that," he said.

The pope appeared to be referring to when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires and opposed legislation to approve same sex marriages but supported some kind of legal protection for the rights of gay couples.

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh told Reuters that the pope's comments in the film were some of the clearest language the pontiff has used on the subject since his election in 2013.

The pope, who early in his papacy made the now-famous "Who am I to judge?" remark about homosexuals trying to live a Christian life, spoke in a section of the film about Andrea Rubera, a gay man who with his partner adopted three children.

Rubera says in the film that he went to a morning Mass the pope said in his Vatican residence and gave him a letter explaining his situation.

He told the pope that he and his partner wanted to bring the children up as Catholics in the local parish but did not want to cause any trauma for the children. It was not clear in which country RuberaRead More – Source

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Popping the digital filter bubble

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 10:36

Ever wondered why 2 people can search for the same thing online and ..

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 10:36

Ever wondered why 2 people can search for the same thing online and get 2 totally different results? The answer is online echo chambers and digital filter bubbles – social media and search engines that skew our access to information and algorithms that artificially promote content they think should suit us. Those invisible chains shrink our freedom to learn and be confronted with new ideas. Want to break free? France 24 can help you pop the filter bubbles around you!

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Social networks have revolutionised how we access information. In France, over a quarter of people get their news from social networks – second only to television. And for young people, the change is even more drastic: 47% of the under-35s say their primary source of information is social media (Ifop, 2019). And we’re not just passive consumers of information online now – everyone can also generate content, leading to a vast quantity of news and views online.

Sifting through that ever-growing mountain of information forces search engines and social media to use algorithms – to sort the wheat they think will interest us, from the chaff they assume won’t. For Jérôme Duberry of the University of Geneva, it’s a simple calculation: “if a web-user has a given profile, then they will be fed information of a certain type”. Posts that seem to appear at random on our Twitter or Facebook timelines are in fact carefully chosen according to what the platform already knows about us – interests, friends, “likes”. Highlighting content that is tailored specifically to our interests filters out topics from outside our comfort zone – reinforcing our beliefs.

Online rights are human rights

But social networks are only one aspect of the digital echo chambers. Search engines are also key – once again due to their reliance on algorithms. Google’s search results are generated from our own online history, mixed with that of thousands of other users. The goal for the search engine is to maximise user engagement by finding results that are most likely to prompt interest (and sales) from the user – and so generate advertising revenue.

For Jérôme Duberry, those gatekeepers limit our access to knowledge: “it’s as if there was someone standing in front of the university library, who asks you a bunch of questions about who you are, and only then gives you access to a limited number of books. And you never get the chance to see all the books on offer, and you never know the criteria for those limits.”

The consequences of these so-called Filter Bubbles are far-reaching. For Tristan Mendès France, specialist in Digital Cultures at the University of Paris, “being informed via social networks means an internet user is in a closed-circuit of information”.

Blinkered online views, democratic bad news

For many academics, those echo chambers could threaten the health of our democracies, suggesting the algorithms could contribute to the polarisation of society. By limiting our access to views similar to our own and excluding contradictory opinions, our beliefs may be reinforced – but at the expense of a diversity of opinions.

And that could undermine the very basis of our democracies. For Jerôme Duberry, the Filter Bubbles “could lead to us questioning the value of a vote. Today, we lend a great deal of importance to the vote, which is the extension of a person’s opinion. But that individual’s opinion is targeted by interest groups using an impressive array of techniques.”

That isn’t the only distortion that algorithms have created. They have also allowed more radical views to predominate. Youtube’s algorithm is blind to the actual content of a video – its choice of what will be most visible is made according to which videos are viewed all the way to the end. But for Tristan Mendès France, “it is generally the most activist or militant internet users that view videos all the way through”. That provokes “extra-visibility” for otherwise marginal content – at the expense of more nuanced or balanced views, or indeed verified information.

Escaping the echo chamber

So what happens to the spirit of debate in a world where your online habits reinforce your beliefs? Is the echo chamber a philosophical prison? And how easy is it to get back out into the fresh air of contradictory views?

In the US, the movement opposing algRead More – Source

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‘Well, this is Iceland’: Earthquake interrupts Prime Minister’s interview

Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post wh..

Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post when her house started to shake, visibly startling the Icelandic leader."Oh my god, there's an earthquake," she said with a gasp. "Sorry, there was an earthquake right now. Wow."But Jakobsdottir quickly pivoted back to the matter at hand, laughing: "Well this is Iceland" and continuing her response to the question."Yes I'm perfectly fine, the house is still strong, so no worries," she later added.Jakobsdottir, 44, has been Iceland's Prime Minister since 2017.The 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck on Tuesday afternoon 10 kilometers southwest of Hafnarfjordur, a coastal town near the capital of Reykjavík, according to the United States Geological Survey, which measures quakes worldwide.The tremble led to reports of damage around the capital. Earthquakes are common in Iceland, which boats a sweeping landscape dotted with dozens of volcanoes. Jakobsdottir isn't the first world leader to be interrupted by a quake this year; in May, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was discussing lifting coronavirus restrictions

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