TIME europe

Europe Considers Getting Tough on Russia After Plane Disaster

A man looks at the wreckage of passenger plane Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 18, 2014 in Grabovka, Ukraine.
A man looks at the wreckage of passenger plane Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 18, 2014 in Grabovka, Ukraine. Brendan Hoffman—Getty Images

European leaders have been reluctant to impose heavy sanctions on Russia. That may now change

Correction appended, July 18 2014

With Europeans reeling at the calamitous downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet on Thursday, European politicians have already begun debating whether they have fallen short in applying pressure on the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. European leaders have for months tiptoed around imposing muscular sanctions against Moscow for arming Ukraine’s separatists as they try to protect the continent’s deep economic ties with Russia. The Obama Administration has taken a harder line, this week introducing a tough new round of sanctions against Russian individuals and companies. European leaders have thus far tried to give diplomatic negotiations with Putin a chance to work, while approving some of the sanctions the U.S. has implemented.

President Barack Obama on Friday called the shootdown “an outrage of unspeakable proportions,” and said at least one American had died in the crash. And at the U.N., U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power outlined evidence pointing to Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine as having launched the missile, possibly from the arsenal recently supplied by Moscow. Like Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, she ruled out any possibility that Ukraine’s military had been responsible, as Putin has claimed. With Russia emerging as a likely culprit in the disaster, European leaders are now doing some soul-searching and discussing what their next steps should be.

It could take weeks or months for investigators to prove who exactly fired the missile that appears to have taken down MH17 over eastern Ukraine at an altitude of 30,000 feet, killing all 298 passengers and crew, most of them Dutch.. But the lack of firm answers hardly matters: The calls for tougher action against Russia have come swiftly, even before investigators have reached the wreckage strewn across a rural area of Ukraine near the border with Russia. “The time for illusions is over, the illusions that we can bring Russia over in a diplomatic way, that is finished,” Karl-Georg Wellmann, a German member of parliament from the ruling Christian Democrat party, told TIME on Friday. “Russia is leading a hot war in eastern Ukraine, delivering artillery, tanks, anti-aircraft missiles,” he said. “This is not a game, it is a reality.”

Since Putin sent the Russian military into Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula more than four months ago – then annexed it – the U.S. and Europe have differed over how to punish Moscow for violating international agreements that have held since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

So far, E.U. sanctions include freezing assets and banning travel of those officials deemed to have been directly involved in the Crimea operation and in backing armed militia in eastern Ukraine. The 28 E.U. countries have split over how tough the sanctions should be, with Scandinavian countries and former Soviet allies like Poland wanting stiff action, while southern European countries like Italy and Spain are balking at the hit on their own economies that action might bring.

But Europe has not — as yet — imposed sanctions that might cause real pain to Russia’s economy, or its own. Such sanctions might include blocking Russian companies from using E.U. banks or stopping European technology from being used in Russia’s critical oil and gas industries. French officials have resisted calls from Baltic states to cancel a €1.2-billion ($1.6 billion) deal to sell two Mistral-class amphibious warships to Russia. In fact, Russian seamen arrived in the French port of Saint-Nazaire just last month to begin training on the vessels, the first of which is due for delivery in October. With Thursday’s tragedy, E.U. leaders might now ratchet up the pressure on French President François Hollande to reconsider. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Berlin that by contrast to the French deal, Germany had scrapped a lucrative deal to build a shooting center in Russia.

On Wednesday — just one day before the airline disaster — Obama announced the new round of American sanctions against Russia, targeting a much broader network of government officials and business leaders and freezing the assets of key Russian companies, including the giant energy firm Rosneft, with which E.U. countries have billions of dollars worth of contracts. In Brussels, E.U. leaders voted to tighten European sanctions as well, but failed to name the companies, instead giving European technocrats until the end of July to draw up the list.

But with Europeans counting their dead, politicians predict more focused action against Russia, especially if investigators confirm the claims by U.S., E.U. and Ukrainian officials that the rebels are to blame. “The climate for further measures against the Russian leadership will be different after this,” says Joris Voorhoeve, an advisor to the Dutch Foreign Ministry on peace and security issues, and a former Defense Minister. “If it is proven that the missile is of Russian origin and if it was not just a serious and bad mistake by the Ukraine government, which is not very likely, I think the position of the Netherlands government will be for further sanctions against Russia,” he said by phone from the Dutch capital The Hague on Friday. “There is general distrust of Putin and the circle around him.”

Correction: The original version of this story misrepresented Ambassador Samantha Power’s comments about the origin of the missile that brought down Flight 17.

TIME Iran

Iranian Sanctions Have Cost U.S. Economy Up to $175 Billion, Study Says

From left: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during talks between the foreign ministers of the six powers negotiating with Tehran on its nuclear program, in Vienna, on July 13, 2014.
From left: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during talks between the foreign ministers of the six powers negotiating with Tehran on its nuclear program, in Vienna, on July 13, 2014. Jim Bourg—AFP/Getty Images

National Iranian-American Council (NIAC) report finds tens of billions of potential export revenue lost

U.S. sanctions against Iran don’t just hurt the Islamic Republic, they also have an impact on the U.S. economy—to the tune of as much as $175.3 billion since 1995, according to a new study.

Western powers have been sanctioning Iran since the mid-1990s over its sponsorship of terrorism and, lately, its pursuit of nuclear power and possibly weapons. The restrictions on trade and exports have had a “crippling” effect on the Iranian economy, according to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

But according to the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC) report, the impact has also been felt on those handing out the sanctions — particularly the U.S. The report found the U.S. had lost between $134.7 and 175 billion in potential export revenue since 1995, after examining decades of bilateral trade patterns between Iran and its 25 largest trading partners, plus Mexico, due to its high level of trade with the U.S.

The report also finds an average of between 51,000 and 66,000 lost job opportunities in the U.S. every year since 1995. Texas and California are likely the biggest losers in terms of lost employment, the study found. Among European nations, Germany was the biggest potential loser, with between $23.1 and $73 billion in missed economic opportunities.

The study comes as Western powers are working to reach a deal with Iran that could reduce sanctions in exchange for a scaling back of its nuclear program. Its authors said the Obama administration should consider the true cost of sanctions during talks in Vienna.

“The arguments in favor of sanctions, or against a deal that entails sanctions relief, are debatable. But any debate over whether to exchange sanctions relief for limitations to Iran’s nuclear program would be incomplete at best and misleading at worst if it does not address the cost of this policy,” the report reads.

The report’s authors said they didn’t wish to cast opinions on U.S. foreign policy, or evaluate whether the sanctions were “worth the cost or not.”

“[The study] only seeks to ensure that the cost of sanctions is recognized as America approaches the moment when it must decide whether to exchange the sanctions for nuclear concessions or continue the economic warfare,” the report reads.

TIME privacy

Google Begins Scrubbing Search Results in Europe

The tech giant is removing requested search results for the first time

Google has begun removing results from some searches in accordance with Europe’s landmark “right to be forgotten” ruling, the company told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday.

The European Union’s top court ruled in May that individuals had the right to request search engines remove certain results when their names are searched.

More than 41,000 requests were submitted to Google in the first four days after the ruling. Google said it would send out the first emails informing individuals that their requested links had been removed on Thursday.

“This is a new process for us. Each request has to be assessed individually, and we’re working as quickly as possible to get through the queue,” a Google spokesman told the Journal.

[WSJ]

TIME

Ukraine to Sign EU Deal That Sparked Revolution

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — On Friday, Ukraine will sign a sweeping economic and trade agreement with the European Union, a 1,200-page telephone book of a document crammed with rules on everything from turkeys to tulips, cheese to machinery.

Yet the agreement is far more than just fine print for experts — it was the catalyst of a revolution that killed scores of Ukrainians and toppled a president. The hope now is that it will spark another kind of revolution, this one in Ukraine’s corrupt, underperforming economy.

The deal holds out the promise of sweeping change in a country rich in people and resources, but which has lagged behind many of its former Soviet peers.

Consider: When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, Ukraine and Poland — the first a part of the bloc, the second ruled for decades by Moscow-backed communists — were on par economically. Ukraine’s economy is still based largely on privatized Soviet enterprises in mining, steel and machinery. By contrast, Poland created better conditions for business and new industries arose. Poland joined the European Union in 2004 and is now roughly four times richer than Ukraine, measured in economic output per person.

The deal offers “potentially as great a transformation as in Poland,” said Nicholas Burge, head of the trade and economic section at the EU’s delegation in Kiev. “That is what is potentially on offer for Ukraine, if they can sustain the pace of reform.”

Former President Viktor Yanukovych had planned to sign the deal but reneged under pressure from Moscow, setting off months of protests that eventually forced him into exile and led to new elections. The new president, Petro Poroshenko, is due to sign the document Friday at a ceremony in Brussels.

Here’s a look at the deal and its potential benefits and risks.

___

TRADE

The heart of the agreement is a comprehensive trade deal that eliminates 98 percent of EU tariffs and 99 percent of Ukrainian ones — taxes that governments put on imports to protect their domestic producers.

Eliminating tariffs on goods and services should spur more trade, jobs and growth. The prime beneficiary would be Ukraine, which sends a quarter of its exports to Europe. Ukrainian exporters get more access to Europe now, while Ukraine will open its markets more slowly. In particular, it bargained for a 15-year transition period to protect its auto industry.

Still, the EU kept restrictive quotas in agriculture, a traditionally sensitive sector, to protect against low-cost competition from Ukraine. For instance, the deal allows only 36,000 tons of duty-free chicken imports a year from Ukraine. That’s not much; Ukraine produces more than 1 million tons.

The trade deal is already kicking in because Europe lowered tariffs unilaterally in April to help Ukraine. Food producer Nestle, whose Ukrainian business was originally aimed at the local market and which obtains 70 percent of its raw materials locally, has seen a twofold jump in export demand to Europe.

Opening trade further will depend on concrete, closely monitored progress in putting the agreement into effect.

___

MODERNIZING

Perhaps more important than the trade deal is an accompanying 10-year plan for Ukraine to adopt EU product regulations. Such rules — which determine, say, what food coloring is allowed in rum (only caramel) — are important because they ease the way for international trade beyond Europe.

The deal also demands that Ukraine change the way it does business. Adopting EU rules on government contracts, competition policy and the copyright for ideas and inventions should improve the economy by reducing corruption and making the economy more investor-friendly.

“The question is the modernization of the whole economy,” said economist Volodymyr Sidenko at the Razumkov Center research institute in Kiev. “Without institutional change, all the trade and investment will not be very efficient.”

But meeting the EU’s technical and health requirements will take time. For instance, Ukraine can’t sell dairy products in Europe because regulations aren’t up to scratch. Big milk producers have invested in up-to-date milking stations and meet international standards, but they can’t sell to Europe until laws are passed, inspectors are trained and EU officials certify companies are complying.

Agricultural officials say it will be 2015 at the earliest before Ukrainian milk and cheese have a chance to appear in Europe.

___

POLITICS

A key short-term risk for Ukraine is Russia’s reaction. Officials in Moscow say that if Ukraine signs, Russia will drop Ukraine’s current free-trade privileges and start imposing tariffs on goods.

It’s not an empty threat, since Russia is Ukraine’s largest export market, at 25.6 percent slightly larger than Europe. This year, Russia blocked imports of cheese from several Ukrainian producers, ostensibly on quality grounds, drawing accusations from Ukrainian and European officials that the move was political.

“We need markets without such surprises,” said Viktor Pynzenyk, a member of the Ukrainian parliament’s economy committee and a former finance minister. In fact, he says, trade with Russia isn’t really free: “At any moment the Russian side can introduce technical barriers to the entrance of Ukrainian goods. Any thinking politician would expand any trade, including with Russia, but we want to live by rules, not by decisions where it’s not clear what’s motivating them.”

___

FOLLOWING THROUGH

Ukraine has flubbed several attempts at reform. Twice, in 2008 and 2010, Kiev signed up for International Monetary Fund assistance, pocketed loan money to pay urgent bills, and then refused to make reforms. Both programs were canceled; a third IMF program is just starting.

Economist Sidenko said the protest movement shows that many ordinary people are ready for change, even if politicians are not. And getting the EU involved will improve the chances for success: “After several failures to reform this country, an external anchor is needed. External discipline is needed.”

Deputy Pynzenyk said Ukrainians have to embrace change to benefit themselves — not for Europe, the IMF or anyone else.

“The problem isn’t in the prescriptions,” he said. “The key is the problem of will.”

TIME russia

Officials: Sanctions on Russia Could Be Delayed

Vladimir Putin
In this June 24, 2014, photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Swiss President and OSCE chairperson in office Didier Burkhalter during talks with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, in Vienna, Austria. Ronald Zak—AP

The U.S. and Europe have already sanctioned Russian individuals and entities, including some with close ties to Putin

(WASHINGTON) — Sanctions aimed at key economic sectors in Russia because of its threatening moves in Ukraine might be delayed because of positive signals from Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Obama administration officials.

The United States and its European allies were finalizing a package of sanctions with the goal of putting them in place as early as this week, the officials and others close to the process said Tuesday. Penalizing large swaths of the Russian economy, including its lucrative energy industry, would ratchet up the West’s punishments against Moscow.

The U.S. and Europe have already sanctioned Russian individuals and entities, including some with close ties to Putin, but have so far stayed away from the broader penalties, in part because of concern from European countries that have close economic ties with Russia.

But with the crisis in Ukraine stretching on, a senior U.S. official said the U.S. and Europe are moving forward on “common sanctions options” that would affect several areas of the Russian economy. A Western diplomat said those options included Russia’s energy industry, as well as Moscow’s access to world financial markets.

The U.S. and Europe have been eyeing a European Council meeting in Brussels later this week as an opportunity to announce the coordinated sanctions. However, the enthusiasm for new sanctions, particularly among European leaders, appears to have waned in recent days as countries evaluate whether Putin plans to follow through on a series of promises that could ease the crisis, officials said.

The Russian leader acted Tuesday to rescind a parliamentary resolution authorizing him to use the Russian military in Ukraine. He also urged the new Ukrainian government to extend a weeklong cease-fire and called for talks between Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels who are widely believed to be backed by the Kremlin.

Putin’s moves came one day after he talked by phone with President Barack Obama, their first known conversation in more than two weeks.

The threat of sector sanctions may be driving Putin to try to avoid penalties that could have a devastating impact on the already shaky Russian economy. However, there were no guarantees that Moscow would abide by the West’s requests to pull back its troops from the Ukrainian border, stop arming separatists and negotiate seriously with Kiev.

Indeed, there were signs Tuesday of just how fragile the situation on the ground remains. Hours after Putin called for the cease-fire to be extended, pro-Moscow separatists shot down a Ukrainian military helicopter, killing nine servicemen.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke to Ukraine’s new president, Petro Poroshenko, for the third time in as many days and offered his condolences for the deaths. The White House said Biden also underscored the importance of having monitors in place in Ukraine to verify violations of the cease-fire, as well as the need to stop the supply of weapons and militants from flowing across the Russian border.

At the State Department, spokeswoman Marie Harf said the situation entailed “two steps forward, one step back.”

“We do see some positive signs on the ground,” she told reporters. “The cease-fire, some separatists have accepted it, but the same day some other separatists shot down a helicopter. That President Putin says he’ll go to the Duma, that’s good, but then they continue the military buildup.”

At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest said that if Russia were to make positive changes, it would make additional sanctions “less likely.”

Even if the U.S. and European Union decide not to levy sector sanctions this week, they could outline clearer intentions to ultimately take that step. In Europe, the 28 nations that form the EU may at least agree on the details of a package of sanctions so the penalties could be levied quickly, according to the Western diplomat, who like other officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the internal deliberations by name.

An industry expert and legislative aides with knowledge of the sanctions said the penalties being readied by the U.S. are expected to focus on energy and aim to hurt the Russian economy without causing undue harm for U.S. industry — a shared concern among administration officials, business lobbies and members of Congress.

Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron discussed Ukraine on Tuesday, including the possible implementation of “additional coordinated measures to impose costs on Russia” should Russia fail to make positive changes, the White House said.

Although American officials have examined the possibility of unilateral action, they are still trying to do everything in concert with European countries. Officials said implementing restrictions on American companies exporting oil and gas exploration technology to Russia, for example, without similar rules for European competitors risks harming major U.S. players in Russia’s burgeoning energy sector such as ExxonMobil and Halliburton.

Several U.S. businesses are worried about the prospect of imminent sector sanctions on Russia and have held meetings with senior administration officials over the past 10 days.

Given their reliance on Moscow for fuel supplies and far deeper economic integration with Russia, European countries are unlikely to go along with any far-reaching energy sector action. So if the U.S. moves ahead on its own, the Obama administration fears Russia would be able to escape punishment by shifting business from U.S. firms to European energy giants such as BP, Total or Royal Dutch Shell.

TIME Kosovo

Kosovo Police Disperse Protesters in Tense North

Kosovo Clashes
Ethnic Albanian protesters disperse as a tear gas canister thrown by Kosovo police during clashes with a crowd of hundreds of stone-throwing protestors demanded removal of a blockade of flower pots on a bridge linking ethnic Albanians and Serbs in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica on Sunday, June 22, 2014. Visar Kryeziu — AP

Police in Kosovo dispersed hundreds of ethnic Albanians on Sunday amid rising tension because of a barricade that was erected by minority Serbs in the center of Mitrovica

(MITROVICA, Kosovo) — Kosovo police fired tear gas and used batons Sunday to disperse hundreds of ethnic Albanians upset because minority Serbs had reinforced a barricade in the center of the city of Mitrovica.

At least seven police officers were injured and five cars set ablaze by protesters, police spokesman Avni Zahiti said.

Protesters had tried to break through police lines to reach the main bridge over the river that divides the city between the southern ethnic Albanian district and the predominantly Serb north.

“There was an attempt by the protesters to pass the police cordon placed here on the bridge,” Zahiti said. “The police were forced to use means at their disposal to manage a crowd that turned violent.” He said protesters were throwing bricks and rocks at the police.

The local police then called for assistance from the NATO-led peacekeeping force to contain the crowd, said Lt. Col. John Cogbill of Richmond, Virginia, and U.S. armored vehicles blocked access to the bridge. The alliance leads a 5,000-strong peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

U.S. soldiers supported by German police in riot gear from the European Union’s rule of law mission then cordoned off the bridge.

The violence comes just days after Serbs reinforced an earthen barrier set up to block ethnic Albanians from crossing the bridge. Kosovo leaders quickly condemned the Serbs for a move seen as an attempt to deepen the division of Kosovo along ethnic lines.

Minority Serbs in the region have often clashed with the NATO peacekeepers, accusing them of supportingKosovo’s 2008 secession from Serbia. But Sunday’s flare up was the first in more than four years in which ethnic Albanians rioted in Mitrovica.

Kosovo’s ethnic-Albanian government and Serbia are engaged in EU-led talks to overcome their differences. But despite some progress the two sides remain far apart.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. The U.S. and the majority of the 28 EU countries recognize the new state, but Serbia rejects Kosovo’s independence, as do many Serbs now living inKosovo.

The NATO peacekeeping force came to Kosovo in 1999 after a three-month alliance bombing campaign pushed out Serb forces from the predominantly ethnic Albanian province.

TIME europe

Ministers: Facebook, Google Must Meet Europe’s Privacy Standards

Tech giants like Facebook and Google must meet Europe's stricter standards

In a move that could complicate how American companies like Facebook and Google do business abroad, European justice ministers said Friday that companies based outside the European Union must meet Europe’s stricter privacy rules, Reuters reports.

“Data-protection law will apply to non-European companies if they do business on our territory,” EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding told Bloomberg. The ministers have not yet finalized any new related legislation, but discussions “have clearly moved from dormant to dynamic” and should be done later this year, she added.

The ministers’ statement marks another step in an ongoing intensive reform of the continent’s data-protection laws. It also backs up recent rulings by the EU’s Court of Justice, which said last month that Europeans have the “right to be forgotten” from search engines like Google. Tens of thousands of Europeans have already exercised that right.

American and European attitudes over personal privacy have long differed, with more Europeans than Americans believing that privacy should be more closely protected. Europeans’ views on privacy only became stronger after it was revealed last year that the U.S. National Security Agency had been spying on European citizens, including top leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Experts do not think that privacy standards like the “right to be forgotten” are likely to ever gain traction in the U.S., given the country’s general attitudes towards digital privacy, the First Amendment and the political influence of big tech companies like Google.

[Reuters]

TIME

5 Key Questions about the E.U. Election Results

Why so many Europeans voted for parties that are hostile to their own political and economic union

European voters have sent their politicians into a tailspin by voting in unexpectedly large numbers for anti-European Union parties in the weekend’s European Union parliamentary elections. Those parties want to dump the euro, pull their countries of the E.U., and some of them even want to destroy the institution itself. Since the E.U. governs 503 million people in 28 nations, the implications could be far-reaching. Not surprisingly, Europe’s leaders are reeling from the results. People in Europe and around the world are wondering what it all means and what comes next. Here are some of the questions they’re asking:

 

1. Why should we care about the E.U. anyway?

The E.U. covers a huge swath of territory, from Britain to Poland, and its combined economy, worth about 13 trillion euros, is the biggest in the world, outsizing even the U.S. economy. From their headquarters in Brussels, E.U. officials implement thousands of decisions that the E.U. parliament has voted in. Those laws and regulations range from the very important – like rescuing economies from collapse and imposing sanctions on Syria, Iran and Russia, to the truly mundane. Until a few years ago, the E.U. regulated the shape of bananas and cucumbers – a response to the retail industry’s argument that it needed to know how many fitted in a box. On weightier matters, the E.U. is important to the White House. Europe is America’s closest ally in facing down foes like Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Syria’s Bashar Assad, and like the U.S., France and Britain are among the only five countries with permanent veto powers on the United Nations Security Council. The E.U. is also the U.S.’s biggest trading partner, with a new, sweeping free-trade agreement currently being negotiated. One last thing: since its precursor organization was founded in 1951, Europe has enjoyed its most peaceful period in history.

 

2. But if it’s such an important and powerful force for good why did politicians who actually want to destroy the E.U. do so well in the vote?

To be fair, only 43% of registered voters went to the polls. Most appeared too indifferent, or perhaps confused (yes, Europeans find this confusing too): The E.U.’s gargantuan bureaucracy can feel impersonal and distant and voters often feel uninspired. In addition, millions of Europeans rank the E.U.’s performance very poorly. Years of recession and high unemployment, coupled with expensive bailouts of faltering economies, like those of Spain, Ireland, Cyprus and Greece, have left voters fed up, wondering why their leaders are so unable to solve Europe’s problems. Their deep alienation handed the fiercely right-wing, nationalist leaders, like Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front and Britain’s Nigel Farage of the U.K Independence Party, or UKIP, an election gift. Both of those leaders won shock victories. There were also big wins for anti-E.U. far-left parties, like Spain’s Podemos, which didn’t exist four months ago and now has five seats in the E.U. Parliament. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising: The E.U.’s own pollsters recently found voter trust at its lowest point ever. The one bright spark, according to the Brussels-based Center for European Policy Studies, or CEPS, an E.U.-funded think tank, is that Americans have even less faith in Congress than Europeans do in the E.U.

 

3. These gains were just in the European Parliament. Do these Eurosceptic leaders want power in their own countries too?

Absolutely. Le Pen and Farage view their E.U. victories as a big step towards taking power at home. That’s a good reason why these elections have so shaken Europe’s presidents and prime ministers; their political futures are on the line. But some political observers argue that anti-E.U. politicians are sure to lose elections at home, and that the voters in these E.U. elections simply vented their anger and frustration at Brussels by casting protest votes, which might not translate, when they need to choose the next British Prime Minister or French President. “You have very deep economic wounds,” says Daniel Gros, director of CEPS. “Since few countries can accept they got themselves into this mess, the E.U. is the best scapegoat you can think of.” That might be so. But consider that in Germany, Europe’s strongest economy, the anti-E.U. party, Alternative for Germany, won 7% of the votes.

What’s more, the far-right politicians head to the E.U. Parliament with hugely increased credibility and visibility among voters at home, who might no longer see the parties as slightly nutty and largely irrelevant fringe organizations. The parties could also use their election victories to create a ground-force of organizers back home, ready to fight national elections. For Le Pen, however, France’s two-round presidential election system will almost inevitably filter out smaller parties like her National Front. Nonetheless, anti-E.U. leaders sound supremely confident when discussing their political futures. “The National Front will be in power within 10 years,” Le Pen told TIME in an interview last month. And Farage told the BBC after his victory on Sunday, “now anything is possible.”

 

4. Does that mean the E.U. is basically dead on its legs?

No. The E.U. is not about to die any time soon, despite the anti-E.U. politicians storming the barricades. The institution’s machinery is simply too complex and deeply entrenched to collapse that easily. And even though they made big gains the so-called Eurosceptics still won only an estimated 175 out of 751 seats in the E.U. Parliament. The old mainstream politicians still outnumber them. That said, these elections aren’t likely to leave the E.U. untouched. European leaders have holed up in emergency meetings in their capitals and Brussels since the shock results rolled in on Sunday night. Le Pen and her allies are vowing to block the new trade agreement with Washington, push to end the continent’s open borders, stop any attempts to add new E.U. members to the existing 28 countries and severely limit immigration to Europe. Even with a small minority, the anti-E.U. politicians will likely be much more vocal in the parliament. Le Pen envisions being able to nudge the debates in their direction, potentially allowing anti-E.U. groups to gain broader support for their causes. Their success at the polls could also persuade traditional politicians to sharpen some of their own criticisms of the E.U., and shift their own policies. Although Le Pen is unlikely to win on major issues that go against the E.U.’s constitution, like sealing borders, there are other possibilities for her to disrupt the E.U.’s agenda, or insert her own. If she succeeds in forming a trans-national, right-wing political group in the parliament, she will be entitled to attend meetings of political leaders. She would also be able to become one of the E.U. rapporteurs who report to parliament on specific policy issues, as they make their way through the committee procedure. A rapporteur’s “opinion carries a lot of weight,” according to the European Law Monitor, an independent information service.

 

5. These anti-immigration politicians – is that a polite way of saying they have racist policies?

Many Europeans, including some Muslims, would say so. No anti-E.U. politician will admit to racist policies, however, and most have worked hard to shed any lingering sense that their parties are racist. UKIP leader Farage has rejected joining a Le Pen-led political bloc in the E.U. Parliament, saying the National Front has a history of anti-Semitism; Le Pen has virulently disputed that. What unites both UKIP and the National Front is their belief that the growing number of immigrants to E.U. countries undermines Europe’s economy. Le Pen argues that French Muslims are imposing their beliefs on the Christian majority, and abhors any push to segregate girls and boys in public swimming pools, or exclude pork on school lunch menus. “Not all Muslims, but Islamists who, now permanently in France, are constantly asking for special treatment,” she told TIME last month, She told voters at a public meeting last month that France’s immigration policy was “a catastrophe,” and after the National Front won 11 municipalities in local elections last March, she said those towns would introduce pork on the menus of school canteens. Observant Jews and Muslims do not eat pork.

 

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