Friday, 31 October 2008

Friday's thought: The role of experts of international organisations

The following sentence I heard during this week at a workshop with national participants and international experts:
"We [the international organisations] are not here to judge [over the countries] but to provide our advice and especially to learn - because if we would not want to learn, we would just send letters, not our experts."
This was one of the better sentences of the day.

Because: Quite often you get the impression that some experts just come to sell their standard knowledge to non-standard audiences, without proper adaptation, without proper awareness of local situations. And the money they receive for this (including travel costs) is quite huge.

Better not to break down the budgets of international organisations to see how much they spend on experts.

Kosmopolit is now:

Those of you who have followed Kosmopolit's blog until now should have a look at

- the new home of the cosmopolitan with a firm background in Esperanto (this is the language used by some people who still cannot accept that English has already become what Esperanto tried to reach, not taking into account the "simplifications").

But concering the new domain (and new concept?): It seems like moving to a new country changes perspectives...

Therefore: Good luck!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

By the way: Ashton is the new EU Commissioner for Trade

I almost forgot to mention:

For one week now, we have a new EU Commissioner for Trade: Catherine Ashton. The European Parliament voted 538 in favour, 40 against, and 63 abstentions.

Does anyone care?

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Boring: The European Ombudsman and his 2007 report - updated

Last week, the European Parliament has discussed the 2007 report (PDF, 3.35 MB) of the European Ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandouros and has voted upon a related resolution, inter alia calling :
"for all EU institutions and bodies to be given the necessary budgetary and human resources to ensure that citizens receive prompt and substantive responses to their enquiries, complaints and petitions"
The European Ombudsman receives complaints from European citizens and European organisations about EU institutions (the main addressee in 2007 was the Commission and the main issue was intransparency) and is supposed to support the solving of the underlying problems.

So in fact, his work should be interesting for all citizens.

But neither the 2007 report nor the Executive Summary are interesting to read. The summary really should be more concise, more directed towards the public, much more visual, much more obvious, not the kind of largely bureaucratic language that we encounter in the main report.

In general, there you find some boring details, very general presentations, some cute examples, and some basic statistics. But there is nothing that attracts much attention, especially not the text, and I doubt that any citizen will take the time to read more than two pages of the document(s).

I should also remark that the website of the Ombudsman is of quite low quality, and although this might be less important than his actual work, the presentation is not very inviting. An institution that is meant to be a link between citizens and the EU institutions should however be much interested in raising interest in its work; it should be inviting and display openness to the "outside world" (i.e. "outside" the self-referential institutional copse of the EU).

But apparently, either the budget or the imagination do not allow more.

In short: Not much from our Ombudsman. He is working, he is handling cases, but he is not interesting for me as a citizen - and does not seem to be interested in raising my attention.

Has anyone ever complained about the Ombudsman?


One commentator answers: Yes!

Read also:

Jon Worth in January 2009: "Let's complain like it's 1998"

The Great Juncker: Back to the nation state (updated)

Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister of Luxembourg and head of the informal group of EU countries that use the Euro as their currency, was the "star" in an interview at France 2 last week.

Cédric Puisney, the European who is never satisfield, was so kind to give access to the full report in his article, including discussions in the European Parliament, a short presentation of the functioning of money laundering, and from minute six of the video you can see the interview with Mr Juncker.

The interviewer starts with a reference to a statement made by EU Council President Nicolas Sarkozy, in which the latter addresses Juncker directly (in his function as Prime Minister), demanding that if the EU will ask from other countries to close tax havens, some of their own countries (which means, inter alia, Luxembourg) will need to implement better and more transparent rules themselves.

In the interview (in French), Juncker tries to defend his country against the comparison with "classical" tax havens like the Bahamas. However, he looks pretty much in a defence position, trying to discredit the report of France 2 and not really reacting to the argumentation of the news presentor David Pujadas.

Only in one of the last sentences he admits that the common position of other European countries regarding the bank secrecy is not in accordance with the position of Luxembourg (or, vice versa...), which is why the country did not participate in a reunion of finance ministers discussing these questions.

Altogether, a report and an interview well worth seeing, because they reflect the changements the European Union is going through in these days of crisis, and because they present Juncker not in his typical positive European light, but in a national defence position, something that does not suit him too well.


I just read in an article from Le Monde that the day after the interview had been aired, the Information Director of France 2 excused the report and the interview. Ridicule...

Monday, 27 October 2008

More transparency in the Council of the European Union!

As a follow-up to the previous article, the comment by Grahnlaw, one of my earlier posts, and in reference to a recent article by Grahnlaw, I would recommend reading Professor Steve Peers' article containing:

"Proposals for greater openness, transparency and democracy in the EU".

Also the article is not limited to the Council, especially relevant as a follow-up on the intransparent work of the Council of the European Union that I discussed in the last article is the following paragraph from page 3 of the text:
"Since 2006, the Council has normally held public meetings when discussing acts pursuant to the ‘co-decision’ procedure. The Treaty of Lisbon would oblige the Council to hold public meetings as regards all legislative acts, regardless of the applicable procedure. There is no need or justification for the Council to wait for the Treaty of Lisbon to enter into force – if it ever does - to extend the openness of its proceedings, since it can regulate this issue in its rules of procedure."
This is exactly what needs to be done, no matter if the Lisbon Treaty will ever enter into force: The law- and decision-making of the Council needs to be as transparent as possible, especially in a situation where its decisions have direct effects to the European citizens.

And since, as Mr Peers states, the Council has the right to decide upon more transparency on its own, it would only be recommandable that it would do so - not in 10 years, but starting from tomorrow...!

Friday, 24 October 2008

EU member states fool European Court of Justice - updated

Some time ago, I have covered the European Union's practice of deciding upon its terror list. Here some follow up on that issue:

In fact, the European Court of Justice had issued a verdict saying that the Iranian opposition group mentioned in the previous article - the People's Mujahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI) - should no longer be listed on the European Union's terror list.

However, EUobserver reports that member states are fooling around with the Court's verdict by constantly taking "new" positions on that issue, saying that "new information" make it "impossible" to remove the PMOI from the list.

"Luckily", these "information" are secret, since
"The terrorist register [...] is managed by EU member state intelligence services meeting in a "clearing house" working group with no political or judicial oversight and with their decisions later rubber-stamped by EU ministers as EU "common positions."
Nice little secret information that are played against the rulings of the Court, and our member states' governments willingly join the decision of their behind-the-doors working group - probably most of them don't even know what they decide upon.

And so, in the end, the Court's verdict do not seem binding for the governments, just because they have installed a secret group that does decides that the PMOI is a terrorist group.

That the highest court of the Union does not share this view, apparently is no reason to have doubts. And it also doesn't seem to be necessary to give public explanations (and I do not mean empty phrases!) to justify their move. Nice!

How can the governments expect the citizens of the Union to respect the Court when they themselves do not show much respect...?

Update (27 January 2009):

Finally, the Council has removed the PMOI from its terror list.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

One sentence on: International governmental organisations

Sometimes I have the feeling that if more than one international governmental organisation works on the same or a very similar issue in the field, the effect of the work of these organisations is not multiplied but rather divided by their number.

(I will elaborate on this issue when I have some more time.)

EP back to Strasbourg

By the way:

The European Parliament is back to Strasbourg this week after the ceiling had collapsed in early August.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Baroness Ashton, the European Parliament, and some sweat for Europe

Yesterday, maybe-EU-Commissioner Ashton was roasted in the EU Parliament Committee on International Trade.

EUobserver reports and quotes from the meeting:
"Now it's not the time for a novice, we need a big hitter. Frankly, looking at your CV, you do not have any direct relevant experience to take on this job at what is a very very dangerous time," Mr Farage said.

Mrs Ashton, a former economist, defended her record as a negotiator while stressing that she has "hundreds of very experienced people" working on the trade portfolio at her disposal.

"I am a negotiator, this is what I do. I may not have had the profile of the now newly ennobled Lord Mandelson, but that does not mean I have got no experience. Quite the contrary," she said.
She does not sound very convincing, but instead more like someone in a strong defence rather than in an attack position. If she is like this when she is negotiating, the next WTO talks will be fun for the rest of the world.

Jon Worth called her appearance "dull", which fits the larger picture of EU politics these days.

And while Baroness Ashton had to sweat in the EP committee, I have lost quite some sweat today running around the city to work on international co-operation and European democracy. One major state institution in the morning (two times, actually), and six European and international organisations in the afternoon. Several kilometers, but hopefully with positive results.

In any case, I will go to bed today and feel Europe in my legs. I wish the same to Baroness Ashton...

Monday, 20 October 2008

Environmental Council discusses CAP health check [supplemented]

On today's and tomorrow's agenda of the EU Council of Environmental questions, there is one issue concerning the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the European Union.

Under the title "CAP Health Check" - an initiative launched by the Commission in late 2007 (and which seems to have been discussed by many, including Martin at the EESC as well as a broader coalition outside the institutions) - the French EU Council Presidency has issued a document in which it describes further steps to be taken to reform the CAP. Under the initative, several new regulations will be developed, inter alia paving
"the way for increased consideration of environmental aspects in the CAP, in particular with respect to two points:

– the increase in the financial resources of the rural development policy to provide a better
response to the "new challenges" identified by the Commission;
– the inclusion of water management in the cross-compliance criteria for support under the first pillar.
The initiative includes also changes in payment schemes, favouring regional development, but since I am not an expert in CAP policies, I excuse for not trying to explain any details.

It seems as if some of the issues of the CAP reform have already advanced considerably, because in the Presidency document it is laid down that the next Agriculture and Fisheries Council (17-19 November 2008) is expected to bring an agreement between the member states on these issues.

The European Parliament is also expected to vote on the CAP health check on 19 November, the last day of the EU Council meeting. Some media report that the initial proposal by the Commission has been considerably watered down by the EP's agricultural committee.

However, when you read the document, it does not look like a full and comprehensive CAP reform that would be needed in order to change the course of the European Union considerably is on its way.

Everything laid out in the document rather look like adjustments, some technical and some political, but without much vision.

The banner - or: Nothing else to write about

What do you do when you are living in Brussels, being the editor of a European news magazine, and you write your editor's note:

You complain about... banners!

It seems as if there are no bigger problems in Brussels than the European Union putting up banners that inform about unimportant events. That's great.

It is not that I do not agree with the substance, but as an editor of an all-European magazine you can do much better than to find a topic that is 100% unimportant for anyone outside Brussels, a nice little city far away from reality.

But maybe this is also the reason why you write such irrelevant editor's notes...

Friday, 17 October 2008

Tracking: European elections 2009 (XXI) - supplemented

It is just a little remark, a little comment, not even real news, but the European Green Party (EGP) last weekend held its Council meeting in Paris. In the press release before the event they informed, inter alia, that:
The main focus for this Council Meeting will be the adoption of a number of key elements of next year's Common European Campaign for the European Parliament Elections, including the main points to be included in our manifesto.
Now, five days after the event has ended, the only information we get is a resolution (pdf) passed during the event. Nothing about the Campaign, nothing about the manifesto, nothing about the elections at all.

This is again a point of reference for the fact that the communication of the European parties in general but especially with regard to the next EP elections is deficient. All of them are working on the issues, but the amount of information brought to the public is minuscule. The only exception might be the Party of European Socialists (PES), but even their flow of information has ceased after the end of their manifesto consulations.

Most of the European parties demand more transparency from EU institutions, but I don't see much from their side, either...


If you want to read more about European communication problems and the role of the political parties ahead of next year's elections, I recommend reading a speech by EU Commissioner Margot Wallström published by EESC Secretary General Martin Westlake.

Under the category "Tracking: European parliament elections 2009" I am following up national and European activities on the path to the European Parliament elections 2009.

For an overview over all articles in this category have look at the overview article.

For the five newest post see also the sidebar.

Help without borders between Romania and Hungary

Dániel brings us pleasant news from the border regions of Hungary and Romania:
The two countries started a series of joint Cabinet meetings in 2003. One of the proposals on next week’s agenda to co-ordinate ambulance and firefighting units around the border, using the nearest facility regardless the national territory for 112 calls.
And I totally agree with Dániel's evaluation of the value of such an initiative:
It will be a historical step that Southeastern Hunary and Western Romania, which is a historically multi-ethnic region of Romanians, Hungarians, Serbs, Germans and other groups, will be served by a coordinated emergency service even before Romania joins the Schengen Zone. I think that this measure is not highly symbolic, but also very useful: Békés County, which has the longest border stretch with Romania, has no major cities, and it is one of the least densely populated and poorest part of Hungary. Access to Romanian facilities will certainly save lives. And as the border was not very elaborately designed after the WWI, there are parts on the Romanian side, especially further up North, that may be better served from Hungary.
There is much bullshit going on within the European Union and the wider Europe, but in fact these little things such as cross-border emergency assistance - little things that are not as little as they appear in first place - are changing the lives of European citizens considerably to the better.

In the end, most national borders are unnatural lines drawn by the hands of past powers, usually at the expense of mutual communication and co-operation of people who just live some few meters away from each other. The European Union has managed to start changes in the perception of unnatural borders, and it is changing things to the better in this regard.

But our national governments and administrations also have to take their own further initiatives in order to come to a Europe without dividing lines.

I therefore appreciate any move in a direction that makes these unnatural lines disappear - congratulation to Hungary and Romania on this excellent move - I hope the final decision will be taken soon!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

European conservatives want Barroso to remain EU Commission president - updated

EUobserver tells us that the European conservative leaders want Mr Barroso to remain EU Commission president after the next European Parliament elections, when a new EU Commission will be elected.

How boring. How uninspiring for Europe. How... conservative.

I think that Jon Worth, although biased as a social-democrat, is completely right when he demands that Barroso should leave Brussels for a post that offers possibilities for a person without European charisma to work in decent tranquility.

And Jon remains right when he quotes a Café Babel interview that indicates that the lost Lisbon Treaty referendum in Ireland should have been the right time for "the leader of the EU" to resign.

But this is how the EU advances: By remaining boring, even for those of us who have a certain passion for European issues, and even for the project called "European Union".

In the end this means: The next European Parliament elections - the citizens of the European Union - will need to decide over Barroso's future!


I just read in an article in the German newspaper FAZ that Jean-Claude Juncker was the one to propose Barroso for a second term. I thought, Juncker would be more intelligent, but maybe he is just tired (as the article also suggests) after these demanding days of the financial crisis.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Tracking: European Parliament elections 2009 (XX)

Via European Avenue, who came via en.europa-eu-audience I found Rosie's article at the Public Policy 2.0 blog, where she informs:
Google is planning on launching an online election service to cover all aspects of the European Parliament elections in June. If it is anything like the Google service for the US elections then it should give viewers the chance to stay up to date on the latest campaign maps, news, videos and blog posts from the election trail.
The original info is from EUobserver, where we are also informed that
"[c]ontacts directly with the European Parliament will soon be established, but a launch date is yet to be decided."
This is quite interesting news - and maybe this will also change the way I will have to handle this category in my blog.

Google has changed our lives, and it seems as it continues to do so. It could well be that it even changes the next European Parliament elections...

Under the category "Tracking: European parliament elections 2009" I am following up national and European activities on the path to the European Parliament elections 2009.

For an overview over all articles in this category have look at the overview article.

For the five newest post see also the sidebar.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Welcome, dictator Lukashenko!

It seems to be enough to release a few prisioners for the European Union to welcome again the last dictator on the continent.

The travel ban on Belarussian dictator Lukashenko is only lifted until April 2009 when it will expire if the Council does not find a consensus on keeping doors open. However, it is a lift of restrictions, temporary or not.

What kind of decision is this?

Do they want to invite him to come to the European Union, see its pleasures, its beauties, its nice little corners, and then he returns to Belarus and changes his mind and his country - just because he is afraid of losing his freedoms after a few month? Make him "addicted" to wealth, wisdom, and wine?

Or do we say: Hey, for every political prisoner you free we offer you one more month of freedom? For slightly democratic elections (and not those with 100% Lukashenko) we would even offer one or two years.

What kind of message is this? Especially after the last elections?!

To be honest, I do not really get it. But maybe our leaders are just bored with themselves because they had to see each other to frequently these days because of the global crisis. They want a fresh new face, someone who is used to take decisions on his own and does not have to wait for lengthy democratic process. Maybe our leaders want to learn, to be even quicker in future crises.

So let's say together: Welcome, Mr. Lukashenko, to our beautiful European Union! Have fun! Enjoy life - and tell about it to your oppressed people!

Monday, 13 October 2008

One sentence on: Deference

Sometimes you are not sure if you are allowed not to be unhappy about someone's death.

(This is all I would like to say on this subject.)

Lithuanian elections: Chaos and Conservatism

When you look at the results of yesterday's vote in Lithuania (one that is quite likely to be forgotten), you will discover two obvious outcomes: Chaos and Conservatism.

While participation remaind almost the same as in 2004 (48% in 2008 compared to 47% in 2004), the ruling Social Democrats lost heavily and fell from 20.7% to 12.0%.

The Conservative Homeland Union "won" the elections with just 18.5%, about 4% more than four years ago.

This is pretty low, especially when you compare this figure with the 28.4% the winning Labour Party (which should not be confused with the Social Democrats) received in 2004.

And if you add the fact that the five highest ranking parties (from different political spectra) unite less than 60% of the vote, then it becomes clear that despite a 5%-threshold and despite a mixed proportional and majority voting system, the Lithuanian political system - or at least its parliamentary dimension - seems in a sort of crisis: No political movement has the trust of a larger share of the population.

Not surprisingly, coalition talks are expected to be tough...

Saturday, 11 October 2008

EU: UK and Ireland can keep the mile, the pint, and the troy ounce

In a common possition regarding the measurements within the EU, the Council of the European Union agrees that the United Kingdom and Ireland may forever continue to use the "mile", the "pint", and the "troy ounce".

In the first paragraph of the text (dated 09 October 2008) we can read:
Directive 80/181/EEC1 requires the United Kingdom and Ireland to fix a date for ending the exemptions, where they are still being applied, in respect of the units of measurement known as "pint" for milk in returnable bottles and beer and cider on draught, "mile" for road signs and speed indications, and "troy ounce" for transactions in precious metals. However, experience has shown that, given the local character of those exemptions and the limited number of products concerned, maintaining the exemptions would not result in a non-tariff barrier to trade and, as a consequence, there is no longer a need to put an end to those exemptions.
So don't be afraid, British friends, you can remain as you are, you can measure life as you'd like it to be measured. You may remain an exeption and you may keep your exemptions!

Only the acre will disappear forever (para. 10):
Since the acre is no longer in use for land registration purposes in the United Kingdom and Ireland, there is no longer any need to provide for an exemption in that respect.
What a pitty!

Let's remember it by reminding everyone what it was worth: 1 ac = 4 047 m2.

One minute of silence...

For all the non-British and non-Irish within the Union, it is still worth to read the document, especially if you wanted to know how exactly to measure 1 Kelvin. You would like to have hint what you need to know for that...? Okay:
0,000 155 76 mole of 2H per mole of 1H, 0,000 379 9 mole of 17O per mole of 16O and 0,002 005 2 mole of 18O per mole of 16O
Interested? Then have a look at this precious document!

Friday, 10 October 2008

Martti Ahtisaari's Peace Nobel Prize: Maybe not for Kosovo

Several news sources report that the Finnish ex-president and diplomat Martti Ahtisaari wins this year's Peace Nobel Prize.

The Nobel Prize Jury writes:
"for his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts"
His last big project was to bring Serbia and Kosovo to an agreement - an effort that failed and led to today's situation of a partically recognised country in conditions that are "peacefull" only in the sense that there is no war.

This Nobel Price coincides with Wednesday's UN General Assembly decision to see whether Kosovo's status as an independent country is in conformity with international law and with the recognition of Kosovo by several former Yugoslav countries.

And without using Russian excuses for a wrong war, I would still point to the fact that the Kosovo situation has also eased the outbreak of the Russian-Georgian war by raising political and diplomatic confrontation in Europe and especially around other breakaway regions such as South Ossetia.

Therefore: Congratulations to Ahtisaari - but some doubts to the Jury.

Tracking: European parliament elections 2009 (XIX)

If you are looking for broader and up-to-date information on the 2009 EP elections, I recommend starting with my Overview article covering all my articles on the 2009 European parliamentary elections between July 2008 and the day you have come to this article.

The Czech Prime Minister has proposed to form a (eurosceptical) conservative faction within the European Parliament after the 2009 elections. It sounds like, for him, the European Peoples Party (EPP) is not critical enough towards the European Union - but I have doubts that his proposal (i.e. to merge with the British Conservatives in one faction) will be realised.

The Centre for the Advancement of Women in Politics argues that more female candidates for the European Parliament elections would raise the interest of women in the process.

Maybe more effecient will be the merger of elections dates. The United Kingdom, like Ireland, will probably have local and European elections on the same day. The only problem can be that this will lead to a mixture of European and local issues during the campaigns, which could lead to the effect that one of the sides will receive considerably less attention - by the media and thereby by the citizens.

In order to raise participation, British liberal democrat Andrew Duff is proposing to lower the voting age for the EP elections to 16 years for the next vote in 2014. However, looking at the recent Eurobarometer report, it seems to me that the effect could be marginal given the lower interest rate of youngsters in the election process. Duff also puts forward transnational party lists, an issue I don't see much agreement on in today's state of the European Union.

Under the category "Tracking: European parliament elections 2009" I am following up national and European activities on the path to the European Parliament elections 2009.

For an overview over all articles in this category have look at the overview article.

For the five newest post see also the sidebar.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Nobel Prize for Literature: Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio (updated)

Update (8 October 2009): German news report that Romanian-born German author Herta Müller wins the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature. Yet another European...

And to be honest: I am German, but I have never heard of her before.


This article is on the 2008 Nobel Prize for Literature. You can find the 2009 NP committee here.

For the fifth time in a row, the Nobel Prize for Literature has been received by a European.

After Austria, the UK, Turkey and again the UK, this year's prize goes to France. 1940-born Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio has received the award, and the jury remarks:
"author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization"
La Grande Nation, again the Great Nation, has proven itself and the rest of the world its qualities as a centre of culture...

You ask why I am writing about this? - Because I am surprised to see yet another European in the list.

Kind of boring, isn't it?


Actually, I was quite happy that several commentators in yesterday's news and culture programmes (merci, ARTE) were mentioning that Le Clézio despite receiving the Nobel Prize is not the most well known French author, and that the world was split in two parts - one larger that never heard about him before and a small one that "knew".

Until yesterday, I belonged to the larger group...


Had to spend two days in bed due to illness. Now work has piled up and blogging will have to wait until tomorrow.

Keep an eye on Europe!

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Le Monde: Jonathan Littell about Georgia

If you are able to read French, I would like to recommend to read Jonathan Littel's article for the French newspaper Le Monde about his recent visit to Georgia.

This is an impressive description of the local situation - open, direct. A quite different view on the reality from what we have gotten in the mass media so far. A much stronger view at the different stories and about the way they are constructed. Let me especially quote on paragraph (own translation):
"The [Georgian] government has therefore hired a Belgian communication agency, Aspect Consulting, to promote its version to the outside world. Its founder, Patrick Worms, whom the Russian media have baptised "the master of tshorny PR, of black communication", has place a network of teams in all European capitals, to send out information and "spin" that are supposed to support the reports of his employers.
Besides these more political observations, Littell also reports from different visits on to the South Ossetia and the bordering Georgian areas, he describes the suffering and the hate of the local population, ethnic cleansing, dead bodies on the streets, the problems to get credible reports, Georgian prisioners in court of the South Ossetian Ministry of the Interior, propaganda, a very professional Russian army, and the thoughts of different people - soldiers, press officers, locals.

Altogether, an impressive report, balanced, with insight, critical but fair. And as far as I have read somewhere, the longest article Le Monde has every printed.


Jonathan Littell has written the incredibly fascinating and extremely controversial novel "Les Bienveillantes" (engl.: "The Kindly Ones"), describing major events of the Holocaust and of World War II from the eyes of an SS administrator. Some of the events play in the region, and Littell hence has some more insight into the "field", more than some of the western journalists that have tried to understand what happend.

Concering the book: I have read it, and it is breathtaking. But if you read it, you should read it in French. I have seen some extracts in German, and they lack the strength of the original text.

Monday, 6 October 2008

A new EU Commissioner: Baroness Ashton of Upholland (updated)

For a newer post on Baroness Ashton please also read this follow-up article.

The peoples of Europe will have to learn a new name - Baroness Ashton of Upholland (first name: Catherine) - our new EU Commissioner, hopefully not for trade...

Sorry for making fun, but if you follow Nosemonkey, you will have seen in a recent article that it's quite unlikely that more than 5 people outside Brussels will learn her name.

New Europe informs that EU Commission president Barroso has confirmed her on Friday.

That she is absolutely not qualified for that task is easy to recognise: Nosemonkey rightly mocks her profile, while Jon Worth (who knows all EU commissioners by name and picture!!), admits that he does know almost nothing about her.

Jon supposes that she might not become trade commissioner but will receive a less relevant post, something highly recommandable considering the absence of any EU or WTO experience of the Baroness. I am very much in favour of promoting women, but I am very much against promoting lack of experience with European matters for European posts.

Therefore, please allow me to say:

Aaaahhhhh, why is the EU so damn unable to attract qualified people?


Read Jon's very interesting follow-up articles:

- Can Baroness Ashton even become a European Commissioner?
- Ken Livingstone to the European Commission!

Let's solve multilateral problems unilaterally

Sometimes I ask myself why we have created a political, economic, and monetary European Union.

As EUobserver titles in an article, a mini-summit in Paris yesterday failed "to stop unilateral action by EU states". Sarkozy, Merkel, Brown, Berlusconi, as well as the two financial Jean-Claudes, Juncker and Trichet, had met in order to find common solutions, but as so often in European Union politics, their only joint action is to say that unilateral actions are prefered.


Sarkozy is cited:
"We have taken a solemn vow as chiefs of state and government to support banks and financial entities to face the crisis. Every government will use its own system for that, but in co-ordination with other member states."
For me its sounds rather like a "sole vow" than a "solemn vow". But at least they could have a nice meeting in Paris. Many people do that on Sundays, so why not our political and financial leaders?!

Number of solutions produced: ZERO.

Read also:

- the article by the Coulisses de Bruxelles
- Grahnlaw's related article on "EU: Excessive government deficits"

Saturday, 4 October 2008

New Europe: A European weekly

There is quite an interesting project out there: "New Europe" is an English-language European weekly newspaper with lots of articles and lots of photos.

It exists since 1993, but I didn't notice it until very recently. In the present issue, the editor notes about the European blogosphere:
The EU blogosphere is growing rapidly. There are many blogs going deeply into EU affairs, and even more which skim the surface. Some are serious carrying credibility; some acting as a venting mechanism or humorous outlet. Some support Europe, and others are more anti-Europe.

I find EU blogs a precious gem in the crown of the media.
We feel flattered! Blush!

The newspaper itself covers a variety of national and international European news, and it is especially nice to see quite many pictures decorating the articles. Through these, Europe could get more (known) faces and more visibility, and I applaud for this work.

If you want to read the present issue, you can download it as PDF (attention: 4.70 MB!). This issue even covers the discussion around the forbidden England Expects blog.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Commissioner Mandelson leaves Brussels towards London

See the follow-up: Baroness Ashton new EU commissioner.

Via Jon Worth I just got to know that EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson will leave the EU Commission to go back to the British government.

The British Prime Minister Gordon brwon is restructuring his government, and aparently, Mr Mandelson will strengthen his position if he returns to the UK.

However, quoting from a Times article:
"Mr Mandelson will leave Brussels unfulfilled in two of his main aims: the collapsed WTO talks for which he travelled the world trying to keep alive; and his championing of Russia’s case to join the WTO, which has also fallen on stony ground in recent months after a promising start. He was also the subject of a poster by the No campaign in the Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty, alleging that his free trade policies would ruin Irish farmers."
It is unclear who will follow Mandelson in Brussels, but Jon Worth speculates that it could be Patricia Hewitt. Let's sit and wait and see...

Read also:

- Reuters

"Don't vote!"

Don't vote! Please, don't vote!

  • Can you imagine this for the 2009 European Parliament Elections?
  • Which all-European actors/stars could - and would - do such a campaign?
  • Would we do it in 21 languages?
  • Would we have common topics?
  • Who would sponsor such a campaign?
So far, it looks like we wouldn't need a campaign to ask Europeans not to vote. But maybe we wouldn't even know how to do it if we needed...

Tracking: European parliament elections 2009 (XVIII)

The mastermind of the Swedish social democrats' anti-EU faction will run in the 2009 EP elections.

EU citizens living in Malta will need to register in order to be able to cast their European vote in 2009, which contradicts statements made earlier this year.

The Communist Party of Greece has published its anti-EU "Electoral Declaration". This party received almost 10% at the last EP elections in 2004 and is represented with three deputies in Brussels/Strasbourg.

The British Liberals have chosen "Security" as their major topic for the 2009 EP elections. However, the recently published Eurobarometer (I have discussed it here) makes some of them hesitate.

Under the category "Tracking: European parliament elections 2009" I am following up national and European activities on the path to the European Parliament elections 2009.

For an overview over all articles in this category have look at the overview article.

For the five newest post see also the sidebar.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

A coordinated EU response to the economic slowdown (supplemented and updated)

Aparently, the Council of the European Union is preparing "Conclusions on a coordinated EU response to the economic slowdown".

A draft forwarded by the EU Council Secretariat to COREPER has been issued on 30 September 2008.

The substance is close to zero. One of the few "programmatic" statements in the text is the following:
In order to ensure a prudent fiscal stance throughout the cycle, recent experience suggests that work is needed to better take into account the effects of economic cycles, and of the related cycles in asset prices, on tax revenues.
However, if this is what the Union plans to do, then one might ask what they have done so far? Ignored the fact that there are economic cycles?

But it becomes even worse when you read completely empty sentences like this:
[S]tructural reforms are key to all Member states. Recommendations made in this respect should be prioritized to fully take into account the economic situation. As structural reforms have an added value for the euro area as a whole, Ministers from the euro area also agree to devote specific attention to euro area recommendations.
I wonder why ministers and diplomats spend time with such phrases, without any added value to the political process neither of the European Union nor for the member states. If you ask me whether this glass is half-empty or half-full, I need to answer: "There is no glass!"

When it comes to practical implications of the whole "coordinated EU response", I can almost only find that:
The EIB [the European Investment Bank] is proposing to raise its level of lending to SMEs to up to 15bn euros (+50%) in 2008/2009, including with a new product line allowing risk sharing with banks.
For the rest, it is a useless piece of paper. Not that this is the only one, but it reminds me of my assessment of European leadership in financial questions made in yesterday's article on European leaders looking to the US.

Meanwhile, in another draft conclusion (update: link to revised version), the Council is discussing a new framework for executive pay. The draft conclusions say on the objective of a new regulatory framework on that issue (quote):
  • The governance framework should be conducive to an effective control by shareholders
  • Performance should be properly and comprehensibly reflected in executives' pay
  • Performance criteria should provide the right incentives
  • Care should be taken to prevent potential conflicts of interest for executives conducting mergers and acquisitions
That is something that will solve our problems... (Maybe not.)

But again, ministers will be able to pat themselves on the back, providing some useless framework which will make the people happy. And this is much better than solving actual problems, because solved problems don't vote.

European Union to withdraw troops from Bosnia

At an informal EU Council meeting between the ministers of defense, all but two or three countries have agreed to start a gradual withdrawl of European Union military forces from Bosnia. According to the International Harald Tribune, these countries are Slovakia, Italy, and Greece.

Supposedly by chance, also yesterday, Bosnian President Haris Silajdžić, in a speech in front of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), has called for a reformed constitution in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to take full account of the Dayton agreement that ended the war in Bosnia in 1995.

EESC Secretary General Martin Westlake starts blogging

Jon Worth has informed that the new Secretary General of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), Martin Westlake, has started blogging from yesterday.

And since Jon is strongly recommending to read what Martin has to say, I think we can look forward for this expansion of the European blogosphere from inside the EU institutions.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

European leaders look to the United States (supplemented)

With ironic amusement and disbelief I am looking at our European leaders who themselves are looking with fear in their eyes to the United States of America, hoping for the US taxpayer to save the world.

When you hear the European Union's trade Commissioner say that everyone is waiting the US to react on the crisis, and when the Commission's spokesman Johannes Laitenberger is quoted that the crisis is US made and that therefore the US has a "special responsibility" to solve it, this does not sound like self-confidence.

It rather sounds like the little brother is looking up to his big brother, waiting for guidance although the whole family is in troubles.

It is a sign that our own leaders where relying on strength and stability of a global system de facto dominated by the United States without taking preventive measures for a scenario that was kind of foreseeable. Already during university my political economy professor told me that the US economy was based on massive debts and that sooner or later it would crumble.

And French International Monetary Fund managing director Strauss-Kahn says that his organisation had warned in April that the crisis would reach 1 trillion US-Dollar losses, but "people did not want to listen".

So please, nobody should tell that what happens today is totally unexpected, except for the fact that the mortgage gambling made thinks worse than expected.

Now individual countries like Ireland take their own measures to save their banks - with taxpayers money. The German, British, and Benelux governments step in with massive guarantees for major banks in their countries. And the European Central Banks opens its doors to provide the Euro area with money (which doesn't even work) - and asks other banks to so, too. Mhhh, money!

That is rationally handled panic.

And in this time, someone like Sarkozy is looking for Europe to "take a greater hand in global decision making".

Our stock exchanges are just waiting for the United States to take a decision on the "big bailout" (cf.: "Big Bang") - but Europe wants to lead the world. Our economies will decline because US consumption will drop significantly - but Europe wants to lead the world. British bankers cry on the streets because their US mother companies fell apart - but Europe wants to lead the world.

My interpretation of this situation is that this is not only an economic crisis. It is a crisis that shows that the political systems were not prepared for a foreseeable situation. They have to react with massive measures because they did not have any plan for more sound reactions. It is not a failure of the market economy, it is the failure of leadership.

And so everyone is looking to the United States of America. At home, we correct the cosmetics, pump in liquidity into our own markets, but the real fear factor is this funny little world power between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. Europe cannot solve the crisis on its own, it has to hope and wait for his big brother. And the US-taxpayer.

The European polity only is made to correct cosmetics. It is made to make things look nice and clean. But it is not made to solve huge problems that occur with a quicker speed than the speed of our institutions - it can only hope that through its cautious work some problems do not even arise. But the Georgian crisis and the world financial crisis show that we are quite far away from being optimistic even in that respect.

European leaders look to the United States. They lead the cosmetics, but they are led but an half-dead body below the make-up that will not be healed by paint. It needs some tougher pills... let's hope that the US will find some - our leaders won't!