“LITHUANIA TO RE-INTRODUCE MILITARY CONSCRIPTION” (EuObserver)
In the wake of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Lithuania on Tuesday said it would take steps to reinstate basic military conscription for the next five years.
“We must reinforce the country’s defence capacities. Under new geopolitical circumstances, the army must be properly prepared for the country’s armed defence even in times of peace,” Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite said following a meeting of the state defence council.
The compulsory military service would apply to men aged 19-26 years, with the aim of drafting up to 3,500 a year.
The defence council’s decision has to be approved by the parliament, but there remains main uncertainties over how conscription will be implemented.
Linas Kojala, an analyst at the Eastern Europe Studies Centre, sees it as positive that Lithuanian politicians start paying attention to the country’s military capabilities.
Talking to EUobserver, he points out that there are currently only about 12,000 battle-ready soldiers in the country, when double would be needed to form a functioning army.
“Half-empty battalions will be filled with conscripts. This is the only possible viable solution in the short term”, he says.
But he notes the political decision is just the beginning.
“There is a lack of details about how to make the system transparent, how to avoid corruption by those who want to avoid military service, and, most importantly, how to maintain the military as a source of attraction for young people.”
With military conscription abolished only in 2008, the country has been discussing whether its re-introduction signals that there is a real danger from Russia which annexed Crimea last year and has soldiers in eastern Ukraine.
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GERMAN DOMESTIC SECURITY AGENCY FINDS RUSSIA REVERTING TO KGB MEASURES (Euractiv)
Russia has bolstered its espionage activities in European states during the course of the Ukraine crisis, according to findings of the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV).
The tactics of Russia’s former Soviet KGB intelligence agency have been employed again, said Hans-Georg Maaßen, President of the BfV, on Wednesday (25 February) at the European Police Conference in Berlin.
Aside from espionage, this included targeted misinformation, influencing decisions and supporting extremist groups with the goal of destabilising a state, Maaßen indicated. As Russia’s neighbours, Eastern European states were especially affected by this, he said.
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AUSTRIA PASSES ‘LAW ON ISLAM’ BANNING FOREIGN MONEY FOR MUSLIM GROUPS (Euractiv)
Austria’s parliament passed a law on Wednesday (25 February) that seeks to regulate how Islam is administered, singling out its large Muslim minority for treatment not applied to any other religious group.
The “Law on Islam” bans foreign funding for Islamic organisations and requires any group claiming to represent Austrian Muslims to submit and use a standardised German translation of the Koran.
The law was backed by Austria’s Catholic bishops, and was grudgingly accepted by the the country’s main Muslim organisation. But it upset Turkey’s religious establishment.
“We want an Islam of the Austrian kind, and not one that is dominated by other countries,” said Sebastian Kurz, the 28-year-old conservative Minister for Foreign Affairs and Integration – who is easily Austria’s most popular politician.
Austria’s half a million Muslims make up about 6% of the population and overwhelmingly hail from the families of Turkish migrant workers. Many of their imams are sent and financed by Turkey’s state religious affairs directorate, the Diyanet.
Mehmet Gormez, President of Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs , said before the law was passed that “with this draft legislation, religious freedoms in Austria will have fallen back a hundred years”.
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FRONTEX BUDGET: Frontex budget: €17 MILLION INCREASE PUTS AGENCY ON “CRUISING SPEED” (Statewatch)
The 2015 budget of EU border agency Frontex has been increased by 16%, from €97 million to €114 million, with the largest share of the extra funding going towards Joint Operations at Sea Borders.
According to the agency’s Work Programme for 2015, published in December 2014, the budget is on “cruising speed”.
‘Joint Operations and Pilot Projects at Sea Borders’ receives the largest share of the €114 million budget, with €31 million or 27% of the total. In 2014, Joint Operations at Sea Borders was allocated €25 million. According to the Work Programme: “Strengthening the Member States’ operational capacity to cover increased operational areas and implementation periods will enhance the tackling of irregular migration on routes identified by risk analysis.”
The budget for Risk Analysis has also been increased, from €1.7 million in 2014, to over €2 million in 2015.
According to the Frontex Risk Analysis Network report for the third quarter of 2014, “almost 90% of the irregular migrants were reported from the sea border of the EU.”
The agency said in February that “the number of detections of illegal border-crossing in 2014 as a whole totalled about 278 000,” nearly twice as many as the 141,000 detected in 2011.
Budgets for joint operations elsewhere have also increased. €9.2 million will go towards Joint Operations at Land Borders (an increase of €120,000). Joint Operations at the Air Borders will receive an extra €400,000, bringing the total to €2.5 million.
In an attempt to further strengthen Frontex-led Joint Operations, Member States can now apply for funding under the new €2.76 billion Internal Security Fund for borders and visas (ISF-Borders).  Malta recently received €12 million from the fund to purchase a helicopter to be used in Joint Operations.
Search and rescue
Following the tragedy in early February off the coast of Lampedusa in which nearly 300 people are estimated to have died, questions remain as to whether the increased budget for Joint Operations at Sea Borders will significantly assist in saving lives.
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