News Digest: Round-up of news stories from across the EU (20 items, 21.12.15)

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BELGIUM: Abdelslam not arrested despite rumours (New Europe, link): "Belgian authorities raided a home in connection with Paris attacks on Sunday evening, DW reports.

The raid was, once again, in the infamous Molenbeek quarter and makes part of an effort to stem out home grown terrorism.

Operations lasted for five hours until the early hours of Monday and there were five arrests, Salah Abdeslam was not one of them, the man believed to be the leader of the terrorist attack that claimed the lives of 130 people in Paris."

BELGIUM: VDAB to sanction claimants (Flanders News, link): "From next year the Flemish employment agency, the VDAB, will be able to check up on and sanction unemployment benefit claimants. Until now checks were only carried out by the federal authorities."

BULGARIA: War Gains: Bulgarian Arms Add Fuel to Middle East Conflicts (Balkan Insight, link): "Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the US have bought millions of dollars of Bulgarian weaponry, much of it likely destined for the war in Syria, a BIRN investigation reveals."

DENMARK: Denmark’s PET appoints new head (The Copenhagen Post, link): "The Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) has just appointed a new head.

Finn Borch Andersen, the former chief of police at North Zealand Police and Deputy Public Prosecutor for serious economic crime at Statsadvokaten, will assume the role from 1 January 2016."

EU: The New EU General Data Protection Regulation – A First Assessment (European Academy for Freedom of Information and Data Protection, link): "The results of the trilogue of the EU institutions (European Parliament, Commission and Council) on the data protection reform package is an important milestone on the way into the global information society. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will replace 28 different data protection laws of the Member States."

Fair Trials and REDRESS organise expert meeting of the UN Committee against Torture and INTERPOL (Fair Trials, link): "Countries rely increasingly on INTERPOL’s “wanted person” alerts system to fight serious cross-border crime by securing the arrest and extradition of fugitives. This important policing tool can, however, have serious implications for the human rights protected by the UN Convention Against Torture (the “Convention”). Despite INTERPOL’s constitutional commitment to respecting human rights, its “wanted person” alerts system can be used to seek a person’s extradition to countries where they face a real risk of torture or prosecutions based on torture evidence."

FRANCE: Ex-police officer 'held over Air France fake bomb' (The Guardian, link): "French police have detained a retired police officer over the discovery of a fake bomb on board an Air France flight which made an emergency landing in Kenya, a legal source has told Agence France-Presse."

FRANCE: Paris attacks suspect ‘got past three police checks’ (France 24, link): "Salah Abdeslam, the fugitive suspected of involvement in last month's terrorist attacks in Paris, got past three police checkpoints in France as he fled to Belgium, French media reported on Sunday."

GERMANY: After the gold rush: AfD loses state subsidies (Deutsche Welle, link): "The populist right-wing Alternative for Germany has lost an important revenue stream after the government closed a loophole it was exploiting to gain state subsidies. But few critics are shedding tears."

Montenegro Opposition Protest Calls for Free Elections (Balkan Insight, link): "Anti-government protesters gathered in the streets of the capital again on Sunday, calling for new elections and an interim government to replace Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic."

NETHERLANDS: Geert Wilders trial for inciting hatred to start on March 18 (Dutch News, link): "The trial of PVV leader Geert Wilders on charges of inciting racism and hatred will start on March 18 with a procedural hearing, The Hague’s district court said on Friday."

ROMANIA: NATO Set to Activate Missile Shield in Romania (Balkan Insight, link): "The new military base at Deveselu - set to form part of NATO's missile defence shield – is due to become active on Friday, despite continuing opposition from Russia."

SERBIA: Serbian Judge’s Removal ‘Threatens Judicial Independence’ (Balkan Insight, link): "The removal of judge Vladimir Vucinic from Belgrade’s Special Court was a political move aimed at curbing judicial independence and will set back an important case against interior ministry officers, experts alleged."

Slovenians vote against same-sex marriage in referendum (The Guardian, link): "Slovenians rejected same-sex marriage by a large margin in a referendum held on Sunday, a result that represents a victory for the conservatives backed by the Catholic Church."

UK immigration bill will play into hands of traffickers, anti-slavery experts warn (The Guardian, link): "The government’s proposed immigration bill, due to have its first reading in the House of Lords this week, will hand “unbelievable control to traffickers” and make it harder for people to escape slavery in the UK, campaigners have warned."

UK: ‘A major missed opportunity that will mean that many lives continue to be wasted’ (The Justice Gap, link): "You wait nearly nine months for the Government response to your review – then they issue 36 reports on the same day. The independent review I led into self-inflicted deaths of young people in prison was submitted to the Ministry of Justice on 2nd April 2015 and published as The Harris Review: Changing Prisons, Saving Lives on 1st July 2015. The Government’s response was finally issued on 17th December 2015.

So was the wait worth it?"

UK: Arun Kundnani on the Propaganda War Against British Muslims (Vice News, link): "The whole episode could have been a footnote from Kundnani's excellent book The Muslims Are Coming! (Verso) – a radical critique of the west's wilful misinterpretations of jihadist motivations and violence, and the different forms of anti-Muslim hysteria generated as a result.

Since the book was released in 2014, there's been an intensification of Islamophobic attacks in Britain and the United States, complicated and encouraged by changes in foreign and domestic policy and the attacks in Paris. Kundnani writes that this kind of Islamophobia is "sustained through a relationship with official thinking and the War on Terror" so now seemed like the perfect time to discuss that relationship, Britain's infamous "Prevent" anti-extremism programme, and the real meaning of multiculturalism with him."

UK: Channel 4’s Dispatches cleared over Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw sting (The Guardian, link): "Undercover investigation with the Daily Telegraph involving secret filming did not unfairly represent the MPs as ‘politicians for hire’, says Ofcom"

UK: Drone 'filled with drugs' crashes into prison yard in bid to smuggle contraband to inmates for Christmas (Mirror, link): "A drone carrying high-strength drugs crashed into a prison yard in a bid to smuggle contraband to inmates for Christmas, officials have confirmed."

UK: Triage scheme for mentally ill saves taxpayers £1.1m (Birmingham Post, link): "A mental health triage scheme has been praised for saving the taxpayer £1.1 million and halving the number of people detained by police under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act"

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