5th Feb 2023


Editor's weekly digest: Pushback pushback

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The word sounds so harmless. Just a nudge, given to someone encroaching on your personal space. It sounds deserved, push-back, as if you were pushed and had to respond by applying your own pressure. Innocent, almost.

Read and decide

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The word has become the euphemism of choice to refer to actions taken by border authorities to actively deny people from entering a country — or even forcefully returning them to the country they came from.

It's a euphemism, one that like many terms used in politics — such as 'introducing slack into the labour market', which simply means 'causing unemployment' — hides the human cost on the other side of term.

'Pushback' hides unusual cruelty towards humans — aside from a flagrant violation of rules set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.

This week, German publication Der Spiegel, together with German transparency campaigners FragDenStaat published in full a report written by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), which shows how Frontex, the European border agency was involved in multiple violations of human rights.

The story of the violations had been covered earlier this year (including by us), but that doesn't make it less relevant. While the Greek coast guard's transgressions — picking up people who arrived on the Greek coast and dropping them out at sea — have been documented for a long time, the fact that Frontex knew about the illegal expulsions and did not intervene remains enraging.

The Olaf report also shows how Frontex used European taxpayer money — your money, if you live in the EU — to co-fund units doing pushbacks in "at least six instances." And then hid that fact from European Parliament investigations.

In reading the report, the callousness of border agencies stands out. In how they refer to "human rights oversight under their Fundamental Rights Officer to a Khmer Rouge dictatorship led by mass murderer Pol Pot," as Nielsen writes today.

But also in how the agency denies being aware of the Greek coast guard pulling a boat full of people out to sea — even though it's documented in the report a Frontex surveillance flight made note of it.

'Pushback' is the embodiment of this callousness, and one that has somehow found its place in how media covers human rights violations that see people stripped of their belongings and phones and towed out to sea on propulsionless boats. It's a disgrace.

I propose you think of the people rather than the euphemism next time you see the word used.

Onwards to the news you should not have missed this week.

1. Leaked report: Frontex compared rights officer to 'Khmer Rouge'

"The 123-page leaked report provides a sobering read into an agency whose leadership under the ousted Fabrice Leggeri appeared increasingly corrupted by power whilst having a private disdain for human rights oversight," reports Nikolaj Nielsen.

Read it here.

2. MEPs vote to include nuclear investments under RepowerEU

"MEPs from the industry committee voted to include nuclear and low-carbon hydrogen projects to the list eligible for finance under an EU green fund," Wester van Gaal writes.

Read it here.

3. Nato's options if Putin strikes Polish airfield on front line

Andrew Rettman spoke to multiple security and military experts to find out what Nato could or should do if Russia extends their war into Polish territory.

Read it here.

4. No Tories are now defending Brexit — and Truss is noticing

Truss is hoping she can win back some establishment support by toning down the anti-European hardline, Denis MacShane opines.

Read it here.

5. EU agrees to jointly buy gas — but divided on price caps

"'The debate on the cap is a confused one, because there are different caps different people talk about," said German minister for climate action Sven Giegold,' in Elena Sánchez Nicolás' story on gas price cap negotiations.

Read it here.

6. Borrell wants a bolder, faster EU — and scolds diplomats to get to it

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell gave a surprisingly frank speech on Monday, excoriating his diplomatic corps for not being more "reactive," Eszter Zalan reports.

Read it here.

Thank you to all new subscribers to this newsletter, and as always, my various inboxes are open for feedback, suggestions, tips, leaks, ideas and gossip.

See you next week,


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