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Votes from an Island

Sweden - Festival

Perhaps the most discussed subject at Almedalsveckan – an annual event that brings together Sweden’s politicians, media scrum and lobbyists on the island of Gotland for a week of discussions – was whether or not the “democracy festival” has outlived its purpose.

Unofficially launched in 1968 by then-education minister Olof Palme, who pulled up a truck in Gotland’s capital Visby and held an impromptu speech on the back of it, the Almedalsveckan of today is an entirely more polished affair. Too polished, by the current prime minister’s standards. Stefan Löfven made a point of staying away from what he said has become an elitist gathering hijacked by spin-doctors and their clients from both the political and private spheres, deciding to tour the country and meet the “real people” instead.

What did he miss? In addition to the standard speeches held by party leaders each evening, hard talk on crime, drugs and integration as well as strategies for how to save the planet. Though there were 1,000 fewer seminars than the 4,700 held last year, Sweden has just come out of national election followed by a drawn-out government-formation process as well as European Parliament elections. The conclusion: not enough people peckish for second servings of politicking.

But, despite all that, Almedalsveckan is something special. Not only has it inspired similar events in other Nordic countries, it remains an open democratic space that anyone can attend for free. People can stop and chat to politicians roaming the streets (with a school of secret service in tow) of the cute medieval town that is Visby. It is anything but politics as usual. And that’s got to be something to get a little euphoric about.


Bumper crop

Canada — Agriculture

Canada is launching a three-year immigration pilot programme aimed at solving a persistent problem plaguing its agriculture sector: a lack of workers. In recent years, the shortage has cost Canadian farms CA$2.9bn (€2bn) in lost sales. In an effort to attract and retain labour the programme, which kicks off next year, will offer experienced non-seasonal workers from abroad an expedited path to residency. After completion, workers and their families can apply for permanent status. The government will be hoping its incentive will grow Canadian farmers’ profits.


Notes on a scandal

Austria — Government

Sebastian Kurz (pictured) is set on returning as chancellor when Austria holds snap elections in September. The wunderkind lost his job after it emerged his vice-chancellor, Heinz-Christian Strache, tried to fix public contracts; the scandal ended the coalition between Strache’s far-right Freedom party and Kurz’s conservative People’s Party. Kurz might yet be implicated; investigators allege that his team destroyed several hard disks containing undisclosed sensitive information just days after the scandal broke. The investigation, which is ongoing, could yet hamper Kurz’s chances of making a comeback.


Q&A - Katharina von Schnurbein

European co-ordinator on combatting anti-Semitism

Brussels

In December 2015 the European Commission appointed its first co-ordinator on combating anti-Semitism. Katharina von Schnurbein, a German national who previously co-ordinated the Commission’s dialogue with churches, religions, philosophical and non-confessional organisations, was named alongside a co-ordinator on combating anti-Muslim sentiments.

Are we seeing a rise in anti-Semitism in Europe?
I think we see an increase of anti-Semitic incidents and anti-Semitic speech. But not only from the right: we see it from the left, from within the Muslim community and even in mainstream society. There are also an increasing number of physical attacks.

Is there a difference between anti-Semitism in eastern and western Europe?
In western Europe the threat is felt more physically and the security aspects are stronger – the question of whether you can live or walk in certain quarters or not. In the east it’s more the old form of anti-Semitism: the conspiracy theories, racist – sometimes even Christian – anti-Semitism that is still there.

How do you manage Brussels and national approaches?
The issues we’re discussing – like security, education and law enforcement – are an EU member states’ competence. We try not to interfere. We offer the instruments, then member states take what they deem useful in their internal context. I believe in the end we will have 28 different strategies.

What are your main focuses over this next few years?
Education is obviously important. It’s a long-term process that needs to be instilled in future teachers. The issue is understanding holistically what anti-Semitism is and the forms it exists in. If we cannot unmask it we can’t fight it.

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