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Brussels, my love? Transparency over MEPs' side jobs



Brussels, my love? Transparency over MEPs' side jobs

In this edition, we look at what lawmakers’ extracurricular activities mean for their core role.


This week, we are joined by Sophia Russack, senior researcher from the Centre for European Policy Studies, Petros Fassoulas, secretary general of European Movement International and Anna Nalyvayko, senior project officer from the Wilfried Martens Center.

Panelists debate the ethical questions raised by MEPs who have side jobs. Those extra roles are legal, but the political earthquake caused by the Qatarargate scandal led to tighter rules and more transparency.

Is this enough to bridge the gulf between citizens and politicians, in today’s fractured political landscape?

“We see that they have improved rules when it comes to reporting requirements, to laying open your financial situation before and after the offers, and so on. But to be honest, none of these things will prevent another Qatargate,” said Sophia Russack, a think tanker who is an expert in EU institutional architecture, decision-making processes and institutional reform.

Despite these concerns, Petros Fassoulas said MEPs shouldn’t abandon contact with the real world altogether.


“It’s important for them to have the opportunity to bring expertise from outside and engage also with the world outside of the chamber,” Fassoulas said. “An MEP or any parliamentarian should be in contact with the people that they regulate, the businesses that they have an impact on.”

Guests also discussed the reasons for the crisis of public confidence in politicians, and gave some ideas for solutions.

Watch “Brussels, my love?” in the player above.

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Trump dwarfs Biden in latest fundraising numbers in show of political force after felony convictions



Trump dwarfs Biden in latest fundraising numbers in show of political force after felony convictions

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s campaign outraised President Joe Biden by more than $60 million last month, according to federal filings made public Thursday that detailed the Republican fundraising explosion sparked by Trump’s felony convictions.

Biden’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee together raised a robust $85 million in May and reported $212 million in the bank at the end of the month. The strong showing does not include roughly $40 million raised by Biden and his top surrogates in recent days — or a separate $20 million donation from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to pro-Biden groups.

Still, Trump’s fundraising for, for one month at least, seemed to dwarf Biden’s.

The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee said it raised a jaw-dropping $141 million in May, including tens of millions donated immediately after Trump was convicted of 34 felonies in the New York hush money case. At the same time, billionaire Timothy Mellon, donated a stunning $50 million to a pro-Trump super PAC the day after Trump’s guilty verdict, according to filings made public Thursday.

Trump’s campaign declined to report how much money it had in the bank at the end of May, prompting Biden’s campaign to question whether the groups were still spending heavily to cover Trump’s legal fees.


“Our strong and consistent fundraising program grew by millions of people in May, a clear sign of strong and growing enthusiasm for the president and vice president every single month,” said Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez. “The money we continue to raise matters, and it’s helping the campaign build out an operation that invests in reaching and winning the voters who will decide this election –- a stark contrast to Trump’s PR stunts and photo-ops that he’s pretending is a campaign.

What to know about the 2024 Election

Taken together, the numbers detailed in the campaigns’ latest Federal Election Commission filings suggest that Democrats may still maintain a cash advantage in the 2024 presidential contest. But almost four months before Election Day, Trump’s side is closing the gap — if it isn’t closed already.

The new fundraising figures also underscore the extent to which the rules of presidential politics are being re-written in the Trump era.

At almost any other time in U.S. history, a presidential candidate would have been forced to leave an election after being convicted of dozens of felonies. But in 2024, Trump’s guilty verdict has instead fueled a massive fundraising surge that puts his team in a position to ramp up advertising and swing state infrastructure just as voters begin paying closer attention to the election.


Backed by Mellon’s massive donation, the pro-Trump super PAC known as MAGA Inc. reserved $3.5 million in television advertising set to begin July 3 across Georgia and Pennsylvania on Thursday, according to the media tracking firm AdImpact. Overall, the group reported a $68.8 million haul for May, ending the month with $93.7 million in the bank.

Mellon has been among the biggest donors to Trump and independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., although his support for Kennedy may be fading.

Kennedy raised $2.6 million last month and finished May with $6.4 million in the bank. The vast majority of his fundraising total came from running mate Nicole Shanahan, a wealthy Silicon Valley lawyer. The Kennedy campaign spent more than it raised for the month.

The numbers reported on Thursday did not include anything raised in June, including roughly $40 million raised by Biden and his top surrogates in recent days. The vast majority came from a glitzy fundraiser last Saturday with movie stars and former President Barack Obama in Los Angeles that raised more than $30 million. First lady Jill Biden also has been on her own personal fundraising swing that has brought in $1.5 million.

Meanwhile, Biden also got a big boost from Bloomberg.


The billionaire philanthropist, who briefly ran for president as a Democrat in 2020, sent $19 million to the pro-Biden group Future Forward in addition to sending the legal maximum of $929,600 to the Biden Victory Fund, according to a person familiar with the transfers.

Bloomberg also formally endorsed Biden on Thursday. “I stood with Joe Biden in 2020, and I am proud to do so again,” Bloomberg said in a statement.

The Biden campaign said that the vast majority of its latest fundraising came from grassroots donors such as nurses, teachers and retirees. Overall, the Biden campaign and Democratic National Committee attracted more than three million new donors last month, according to a statement from the campaign.

“While Trump is leaching off his billionaire sycophants, our campaign represents the voices of America, and we’re honored to have their support as we race toward November,” Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison said.


AP writer Seung Min Kim in Washington and Jill Colvin in New York contributed.


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Illegally brewed liquor kills at least 34 with dozens hospitalized in southern India



Illegally brewed liquor kills at least 34 with dozens hospitalized in southern India

At least 34 people have died and dozens hospitalized after drinking illegally brewed liquor in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, local media reported on Thursday.

The state’s chief minister M K Stalin said the 34 died after consuming liquor that was tainted with methanol, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.


The incident occurred in the state’s Kallakurichi district, where more than 100 people are being treated in various hospitals, top district official M S Prasanth said. He added that the number of those who are in critical condition keeps changing, suggesting that the death toll could rise.

Relatives of a man who died after drinking illegally brewed liquor walk in a funeral procession for his burial in Kallakurichi district of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, India, Thursday, June 20, 2024. The state’s chief minister M K Stalin said the 34 died after consuming liquor that was tainted with methanol, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.  (AP Photo/R. Parthibhan)


Ambulances, doctors and specialists from nearby areas were deployed to the district.

Government officials earlier said several people who were vomiting and had stomach pain were admitted to hospitals Wednesday, triggering a police investigation.

Later that day, Stalin, the chief minister, said in a post on social media platform X that those involved in the crime have been arrested, and action has also been taken against officials who failed to prevent it. “Such crimes that ruin the society will be suppressed with an iron fist,” he added.

Deaths from illegally brewed alcohol are common in India, where the poor cannot afford licensed brands from government-run shops. The illicit liquor, which is often spiked with chemicals such as pesticides to increase potency, has also become a hugely profitable industry as bootleggers pay no taxes and sell enormous quantities of their product to the poor at a cheap rate.


In 2022, more than 30 people died in eastern India’s Bihar state after allegedly drinking tainted liquor sold without authorization. Earlier that same year, at least 28 died from drinking altered liquor in Gujarat state. And in 2020, at least 120 people died after drinking tainted liquor in India’s northern Punjab state.

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Young men trapped between war and conscription in Myanmar’s Rakhine



Young men trapped between war and conscription in Myanmar’s Rakhine

Since war resumed in his native Rakhine State last November, Thura Maung has seen his options narrow.

The 18-year-old, from the state’s ethnic Rakhine majority, first fled his home in the coastal town of Myebon in December, when clashes between the military and autonomy-seeking Arakha Army – formerly known as the Arakan Army – seemed imminent.

He and his family escaped by boat, travelling along river inlets at night to avoid being seen by the military. They returned a few days later, but fled twice more over the following months as the fighting escalated.

By February, the military and AA were battling for control over Myebon, and Thura Maung could hear shelling from the village where he had taken shelter. The military had also blocked the movement of goods and shut down the internet in areas affected by the conflict, leaving his family struggling to make ends meet.

With his university effectively closed due to the fighting, he felt his dreams slipping away. “There were no opportunities for my life to develop, and I saw no future,” he said.


It’s a feeling shared by Zubair, an ethnic Rohingya from Rakhine State’s northern Maungdaw township. The 24-year-old was doing an internship with a civil society organisation focused on peacebuilding when the fighting broke out and his office closed.

Soon, he was running from the war as well as a military conscription drive targeting Rohingya men. “We weren’t able to stay at home, go to work or even sleep on time,” he said. “Time that we could’ve spent working on our futures was wasted.”

Zubair and Thura Maung are part of a new generation of young people across Myanmar whose lives have been turned upside down by the 2021 military coup. In Rakhine State, people had already lived through years of communal conflict and a brutal 2017 military crackdown on the mostly Muslim Rohingya. The escalating violence between the military and AA has only made matters worse, according to Karen Simbulan, a human rights lawyer specialising in conflict sensitivity in Rakhine.

“With the most recent renewed fighting and the looming threat of forced conscription, many who had persisted and stayed in Rakhine despite everything are seeing their futures taken away from them,” she said. “Many are taking significant risks to flee to safety, often putting themselves in highly vulnerable situations just to survive.”

Al Jazeera spoke with four young men from Rakhine State about the effects of the conflict on their lives. They have all been given pseudonyms to protect their safety.


‘Stirring up communal tensions’

The renewed fighting is the latest crisis to hit Rakhine State, home to Daingnet, Mro, Khami, Kaman, Maramagyi, Chin and Hindu minorities as well as the Rohingya, and the mostly Buddhist Rakhine majority. A category four cyclone hit the region last May, following successive waves of violence in the decade leading up to the coup.

In 2012, mobs of ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya people attacked each other with sticks and knives and burned each other’s homes, leaving dozens dead and some 140,000 forced from their homes. Afterwards, the military imposed tough restrictions on Rohingyas’ movement and access to services, while continuing to deny them citizenship under a discriminatory 1982 law.

The situation deteriorated dramatically in 2016 and 2017 when the military killed thousands of Rohingya civilians and committed widespread sexual violence and arson following attacks on military outposts by a Rohingya armed group. Its “clearance operations” in northern Rakhine State drove more than 750,000 people into neighbouring Bangladesh, and the crackdown is the subject of continuing genocide proceedings at the International Court of Justice.

The AA stepped up its fight for autonomy in late 2018; over the next two years, Rakhine State endured some of the most intense armed clashes seen in Myanmar in decades. The military also indiscriminately bombed and shelled civilian areas, committing what Amnesty International identified as war crimes.

The military and AA reached an informal ceasefire in November 2020, just three months before the generals seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. Weeks later, the military cracked down on peaceful protests across Myanmar with gunfire and arrests. An armed uprising soon followed; by mid-2021, all-out war had erupted across the country.


Existing ethnic armed organisations trained and fought alongside anti-coup People’s Defence Forces (PDF), but the AA mostly stayed out of the fray, instead focusing on establishing governance mechanisms in its territory through its administrative wing, the United League of Arakan.

That changed last October, when the AA joined ethnic armed groups fighting on Myanmar’s eastern border with China to launch Operation 1027 declaring their intent to eradicate “oppressive military dictatorship”.  Within weeks, they had seized strategic territory and undertaken other resistance offensives across the country, and on November 13, the AA brought the war to Rakhine soil with coordinated attacks on military positions.

Thousands have been forced from their homes in escalating violence since November [AFP]

The AA and its allies have since driven out the military from most of central and northern Rakhine State as well as Paletwa township in neighbouring Chin State. Following tactics it has long used to punish communities harbouring armed resistance, the military has retaliated with full-scale attacks on AA-controlled and contested areas by air, land and water while cutting off transit routes, communication channels and access to medical care for entire populations.

Hundreds of civilians have been injured or lost their lives and more than 185,000 people displaced across Rakhine State and Paletwa since November out of more than three million that the United Nations says have been displaced across the country, mostly as a result of the coup.

Through its forced conscription of Rohingya men as well as by demanding they protest against the AA, the military is also deliberately working to threaten years of fragile progress towards reconciliation between Rakhine and Rohingya communities, according to Simbulan, the conflict sensitivity specialist.


“The military is once again resorting to stirring up communal tensions because it is desperately losing ground in Rakhine,” she said. “As the expected de facto authority in Rakhine, the AA needs to heed its own words that this is a military tactic to divide communities, and not fall into the trap the military has set.”

Fear of conscription

Zubair, in Maungdaw, said that the conflict and military conscription drive left him feeling like the military was attempting to “destroy our Rohingya youth … from every angle”.

Since November, he has repeatedly been forced to flee his home due to the conflict. “Our village was attacked a lot, so we moved to another village which was less attacked,” he said. By February, he was also running from military conscription. Human Rights Watch reported in April that the military had used methods including false offers of citizenship, nighttime raids and abduction at gunpoint to conscript at least 1,000 Rohingya men, some of whom it sent to fight on the front lines against the AA.

In Maungdaw, Zubair said he had been unable to sleep since military soldiers took his neighbours from their home one night in March because he was fearful he might be next. The military was also blocking the roads between villages, leaving him and other young people with few places to go. “We ran inside the village,” said Zubair. “When we heard that [soldiers] were coming from one direction, we ran in another.”

Then, the military ordered the Maungdaw hospital to close, leaving Zubair’s father, who needs to use an inhaler because of a respiratory disease, unable to access medical care.


By April, heavy fighting between the military and AA had reached Rakhine State’s northern townships, alongside a series of devastating arson attacks across neighbouring Buthidaung township whose perpetrator remains disputed.

With a fight for control over Maungdaw looming, Zubair and his parents sneaked across the Naf river into Bangladesh one night at the end of May.

Now staying in the world’s largest refugee camp, Zubair rarely leaves his shelter, fearing that he could be robbed by other camp residents or arrested by Bangladeshi police, who sent back more than 300 people between February and April, according to the research and advocacy group Fortify Rights.

“I need to be cautious every time I go outside,” he told Al Jazeera.

After escaping to nearby villages, Thura Maung, the Rakhine youth, also left the state due to the conflict. On February 9, he travelled by boat for two days to the state capital of Sittwe, and then boarded a plane bound for Myanmar’s largest city of Yangon.


He landed to find a city in chaos. While he was in transit, the military had announced plans to activate conscription from April, prompting a mass exodus from areas under its control. Thura Maung, who had planned to enrol in language classes in Yangon, could not find a course accepting new students and also feared conscription himself. So a week later, he began the trip back to Myebon, which had just been captured by the AA.

As soon as his flight touched down in Sittwe, however, he was arrested at the airport along with the other passengers on his flight. Held without charge at a Buddhist religious centre, military soldiers took his mugshot, interrogated him and searched through his phone.

He is among hundreds of people who have been detained by the military while travelling to or within Rakhine State since February. In March, the military also ordered travel agents and bus operators to stop issuing tickets to Rakhine State natives.

While these actions may have been intended to stop the flow of information and recruits to the AA, for Thura Maung, they had the opposite effect. Nearly a week after he was arrested, he sneaked away and headed towards an AA camp. “I felt lost,” he said. “I attempted to enter the AA without letting my parents know, because I thought it was the only certain thing I could do.”

A relative talked him out of it, however; now back in Myebon, where he is safe from military conscription because the AA controls the town, he still fears he could become the next victim of the military’s attacks. “I feel safer living in Myebon, but I still have to worry about air strikes,” he said.


‘Survival is my priority’

Tun Tun Win, a 24-year-old ethnic Rakhine, was also arrested at Sittwe airport. He had been attending language classes in Yangon when fighting broke out between the military and AA; although he had initially stayed in the city, he changed his plans in February. “Although there is ongoing conflict in Rakhine, I felt more secure living with my family than living alone in Yangon under the conscription law,” he said.

Fleeing one danger, however, he was soon caught up in another. Like Thura Maung, soldiers took him away at the airport and interrogated him for several days at a Buddhist religious centre before he managed to sneak away. Now back home in Myebon, he faces a new set of struggles. “Currently, survival has become my priority rather than pursuing my ambition and plans,” he said.

Arkar Htet, a 27-year-old ethnic Rakhine from a village on the outskirts of Sittwe, also saw his plans fall apart after the conflict broke out. He was running an online delivery service and working as a dance instructor but stopped both after the military imposed a nighttime curfew and stepped up its surveillance and arrests. “I feared going outside even in the afternoon,” he said.

But even at home, he did not feel safe. As the military and AA battled for control over the town of Pauktaw, 30 kilometres (19 miles) northeast, military shells whizzed over his roof, as well as jet fighters on their way to bomb the town.

By January, the AA controlled Pauktaw, but the military had burned most of it down. As the fighting shifted to areas around Sittwe, Arkar Htet and his family fled by boat on February 29. Stray fire injured a passenger on the way; back in the city, about a dozen people died when shelling hit a portside market.

Arkar Htet and his family managed to reach a village under the AA’s control in Ponnagyun township, and in early April, he told Al Jazeera that he felt “70 percent safe”.

Less than two months later, on May 29 and 30, the military raided Byaing Phyu village, just a few kilometres from the village from which Arkar Htet had fled. According to the AA, military forces killed 72 civilians and raped three women; the military has denied the claims.

Then on June 1, the military bombed a village in Ponnagyun township next to the one where Arkar Htet had taken shelter, killing two civilians. Al Jazeera has been unable to get in touch with him since.


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