Sunday, 28 December 2008

Explaining ALDE ads (discussion on Jon Worth's euroblog)

A short but interesting discussion has evolved on Jon Worth's blog around the financing of ALDE advertisements on the web and in the city of Brussels as well as on the editorial independence of of EUobserver and The Parliament.

If you can contribute, please join!

Saturday, 27 December 2008

The Czech EU-Council Presidency (3): The Eurosceptic President Václav Klaus is not the country

In a rather long article titled "The legend of the Eurosceptics" ("Die Legende von den Euroskeptikern"), the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), a major German quality newspaper, covers the alleged Euroscepticism of the Czech EU-Council Presidency that will take over the responsibilities from France in January 2009.

What the author Karl-Peter Schwarz is trying to prove is that Václav Klaus might be a Eurosceptic, as many report (e.g. here, here, here) but that this does not reflect the position of the Czech Republic as whole.

After citing opinion polls which confirm that Czech are even more positive towards the European Union, he remarks:
Indeed, quite frequently the declarations of Václav Klaus are distorted beyond recognition, just to be able to condemn them as populist and nationalist. But it remains without questions that he is an expressed opponent to a continued European integration. The debate on the goal and end of the European Union he wants to start is just an issue of minorities, also within the Czech Republic. And there is not much reason to conclude "pars pro toto" from the President to the "Czechs", their parliament or their government. However, it would also be wrong to neglect that the popularity of the Czech president consists in him being a trustworthy representative of the national interests [of the Czech Republic].
(own translation)
So if there is a divide between the popular opinion and the presidential declarations, a difference in the positions of the president and the government, we might face a situation in which unclear priorities within the Czech presidency might prevent the Union from moving on. This will not bring forward the Union, it will slow down politics and policy developments. In this sense, the Euroscepticism of Václav Klaus will be a problem for all of us, no matter how europhile "the Czechs" are.

I don't have a problem with debates on the future of the European Union, I am in favour of criticising undesirable developments (i.e. "eurocratism", "eurospeakism", "CAPism"), but I prefer to hear them from Europhiles than from hidden or even overt nationalists. But I am afraid we might get the latter rather than the first - and that the legend of the Eurosceptics will become a true story...

Friday, 26 December 2008

Decision on the legal value of the electronic version of the Official Journal of the European Union - updated

According to an EC document called "Future of the Official Journal", there will be, during the first quarter of 2009, a decision on the legal value of the electronic version of the Offical Journal of the European Union.

So far, only the printed version is official, and
for the medium term, ... the paper version [will be kept]
along with the electronic version as media having legal value.
The legality of the electronic version will be allowed by an official electronic signature that, according to the same EC document, will be available before mid-2009.

But maybe Ralf Grahn could also comment on this issue?!

(update) -> And indeed, here is Ralf's reaction. Thank you, Ralf!

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Europeana open - copyright closed

Please don't miss the opportunity to read Kosmopolit's quite negative account of the re-opened European digital library Europeana!

For him, thanks to very restrictive copyright regulations, a missed opportunity for more creativity and innovation - but luckily, only 2009 will be the "European Year of Creativity and Innovation"...

Water scarcity and droughts: The European Union fosters higher water prices

"Member States are committed to delivering by 2010, water pricing policies that provide adequate incentives to use water resources efficiently (Article 9 WFD). Some of them ([Cyprus], [Spain], [France], UK, [Portugal]) are taking actions to set tariffs that are consistent with the level of water scarcity at local level, the season and/or the level of consumption. Others (UK) are conducting reviews and assessing the effectiveness of different types of tariffs in water stress areas."
These measures are part of a European Union strategy to address water scarcity within the EU.

The European Commission has issued a follow-up report on water scarcity and doughts (including a timetable of measures in 2008-2010), based on a Commission Communication to the European Parliament (COM(2007)414) from July 2007 in which the Commission concluded:
"The challenge of water scarcity and droughts needs to be addressed both as an essential environmental issue and also as a precondition for sustainable economic growth in Europe. As the EU seeks to revitalise and reinvigorate its economy and to continue to lead on tackling climate change, the devising of an effective strategy towards water efficiency can make a substantial contribution."
One of the findings in the follow-up to the 2007 report is - according to a study (part 1, part 2) carried out for the Commission in September 2007 - that
"the water saving potential is close to 40% in Europe. This requires substantial changes on the way in which water is distributed and used in order to develop water savings to the largest extent possible."
However, and despite efforts within the member states, the follow-up report concludes that "a great deal still needs to be done" in order to achieve an efficient management of water resources.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The separatist agenda (2): Transnistria and Moldova

Have a look at the short article by Scraps of Moscow containing a number of interesting links to recent posts covering Transnistria, the eastern breakaway region of the Republic of Moldova!

Especially nice is the article by Thomas de Waal (who is also an expert in Nagorno Karabakh), qualifying the Transnistrian "conflict", which is often compared to the South Ossetian example, to be more like a "family quarral" than like a real conflict.

I have seen on the draft agenda for the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in the first half of 2009 that Moldova will probably be covered during several sessions, which always also includes the question of Transnistria. I should therefore cite de Waal saying that
"The EU must decide how much of a priority this small obscure dispute is. Arguably, it should see an opportunity here to pursue an agreement that would open up a path to Europe for both Moldova and Transdniestria and make a model of successful cooperation with the Russians. That would suit everyone, except the black-marketeers."
The European Union should try to help to solve a conflict that does not appear to be a real one, and any step towards resolution will be a step towards a less divided Europe, something not only of advantage for the East but also for the Centre and the West.

The Czech EU-Council Presidency (2): Council working programme

The working programme of the Council of the European Union under the Czech Presidency has been published in two Council documents.

On 41 pages of a first document, you can find the schedule and possible agendas of the Council in the compositions:
  • General Affairs and External Relations (GAERC), meeting on 26-27 January, 23-24 February, 16-17 March, 27-28 April, 18-19 May, and 15-16 June
  • Economic and Financial Affairs (ECOFIN), meeting on 20 January, 10 February, 10 March, 05 May, and 09 June
  • Justice and Home Affairs (JHA), meeting on 26-27 February, 06-07 April, 04-05 June.
In the second document, on 35 pages, the schedule and possible agendas for the Council in the compositions:
  • Employment, Social policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (09 March, 08-09 June)
  • Competitiveness (Internal Market, Industry, and Research) (05-06 March, 28-29 May)
  • Transport, Telecommunications and Energy (19 February, 30-31 March, 11-12 June)
  • Agriculture and Fisheries (19 January, 23-24 February, 23-24 March, 23-24 April, 25-26 May, 22-23 June)
  • Environment (02 March, 25 June)
  • Education, Youth and Culture (16 Feburary, 11-12 May)
can be found.

In total, this would be 31 Council meetings for the first half of 2009, and a long, long list of possible and probable agenda items to be dealt with.

(Update): Read Ralf Grahn's article on the Czech EU-Council Presidency priorities

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

European Parliament elections 2009 (31): European parties and European journalism

The eToile blog has pointed to an interesting new website that takes a closer look at the European Parties:
The European elections of June 2009 advance with big steps, but nonetheless they don't seem to attract the masses! The estimations are announcing a quite low participation. There will thus be a double task for the political parties: make the citizens interested in the elections, and to profit from this interest, in order to politicise the Union.

The CUEJ (the "Centre universitaire d'enseignement du journalism" = "Centre for Higher Education in Journalism"), aware of these challenges, uses this opportunity to train the "cyberpens" of its upcoming journalists on a new website called "2009, le pari de l’Europe politique" ("2009, the bet of the political Europe"), devoted to the European political parties.

You can find there a lot of information about the 9 europarties, hardly known by the voters, thanks to info-graphics and other pedagogic animations.
(own translation)
It is a pitty that this page is only in French. For those of you able and willing to read in French, it is worth taking a look.

My personal favourite so far is the animation where you can see the distribution of power of the political parties throughout the European institutions and the member states. A beautiful little toy!

For the rest, we'll have to follow how much interesting journalistic activity (and quality) we will get from the next generation of (European?) journalists with regard to the 2009 EP elections - I will keep track, for sure!

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 a look at the overview article.

For the five newest post see also the sidebar.

The regulation of executive pay in the European Union: Latest developments

You might remember that in early October I pointed to draft Council conclusions on executive pay.

The Council did not stop to work on this matter and has now published a report summarising the actions of member states and the Commission with regard to the regulation of executive pay:
  • Following discussions earlier this year in the Eurogroup and ECOFIN of national frameworks regarding executive pay against the background of the Commission recommendation, a large number of Member States have strengthened legislative measures and/or codes of conducts, or plan to do so in the near future.
  • In the context of national rescue packages for the financial sector, many Member States have included in their schemes provisions regarding the remuneration of executives in the concerned institutions. They aim at limiting the compensation and/or adjusting the incentive structure to limit excessive risk-taking and to gear decision-making towards longer-term profitability.
  • Another focus of measures undertaken recently is on improving transparency of compensation components, in some countries disclosing up to the individual level, to give shareholders and responsible committees more information - and partly also introducing a shareholders' vote - on remuneration issues.
  • Some countries have also taken action with respect to severance pay, either limiting the compensation as such or linking it to specific performance requirements.
  • One country [Remark: this is Italy; JF] has revised the favourable tax regime in place for variable pay components, subjecting it to the personal income taxation.
The report lists measures of 20 EU member states, and if you are interested how you country is trying to interfere in private business for (mostly) symbolic reasons, have a look in the document.

The European Commission, as we learn, is also working on the topic and we can expect "initiatives on these issues to be part of the "financial markets for the future" package scheduled for early 2009".

Altogether, I am not a big fan of such kind of politics, since they are full of symbolic and populist measures that (luckily) mostly just scratch on the surface in order to satisfy popular demands without alienating businesses.

The Coulisses of Brussels: Three years and more than 250,000 readers per month

Those who think that a European blog cannot attract a decent readership might consider the latest article published by the Coulisses de Bruxelles:
This blog (and its famous road sweeper) is three years old now: I have posted my first two articles on 12 December 2005. On the counter, the "Coulisses de Bruxelles" now counts 1015 articles that have caused 60,700 comments. In total, 5 million page loads, and according to the counting of Libération, between 250,000 and 300,000 unique visitors every month. This makes this blog the third most read on the site of Libération, after "Secret Défense" by Jean-Dominique Merchet, also a journalist at Libération, and "Sex" (of cause...). To make a long story short: A nice success, which, as I hope, will get bigger with the European elections coming closer. But this only depends on you. Because I won't desist from this new media even though it is much more demanding than the written press. The future of journalism?
(own translation)
These figures are impressive, not least because the blog is about Europe and not less because it is written in French.

And although it possesses the important institutional background of a large and recognised newspaper, it is a substantial indicator that European topics are in the heart of interest of readers, and that with the right approach (i.e. European blogging as a journalistic activity) you can reach out to an audience that is not only passively consuming but intensively debating what is going on on this continent, and in particular within the European Union. Remarkable and enviable!

Therefore: Good luck, Coulisses de Bruxelles, for the years to come!

Monday, 22 December 2008

The Czech EU-Council Presidency (1): Reviewing enlargement

In a Council document published these days, the working programme of the Czech EU-Council presidency in the field of economy and finances for the first half of 2009 is presented.

Beside the obligatory "crisis rhetoric", one of the issues on the agenda will be an assessment of the impact of the past enlargement of the European Union:
On 1 May 2009, five years will have passed since the biggest enlargement of the EuropeanUnion. The Presidency will use this opportunity to reflect in the ECOFIN Council and other Council formations on the economic impact of this enlargement on the whole Union.
I hope that this will be an honest assessment of what enlargement has brought to the Union, to the member states, and to the citizens.

Personally, I am convinced that the advantages outweight the disadvantages - and I hope that this analysis will bring some optmistic light for the 2009 European Parliament elections and for a Council Presidency that is expected to be much less EU-enthusiastic than some of the previous.

In any case, I think that such an evaluation will help to foster discussions about the future of the European Union, and the Czech Presidency is well advised to encourage these, not least for the sake of its own reputation.

European Union member states ruining fish stocks

I am not getting it: The EU member states united in the Council of the European Union ignore all warnings that they are finally ruining the fish stocks of our seas by allowing massively high and unsustainable fish quotas.

I have limited my fish consumption for more than a year to almost zero, because I am convinced that every consumer has a responsibility for his or her actions, and us demanding to much fish is one of the reasons that our fishermen and fisherwomen are massively lobbying for quotas that are far beyond sustainable levels.

But since I know that my single contribution is not enough, I can just ask other consumers to join, and call upon member states to stop their contumelious actions and to follow their own decisions, the recommandations of the European Commisison, as well as scientists all over the continent.

Stop exploiting the sea in a way that will ruin the ecosystems and relevant fish stocks in a very near future!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

2009: The European Year of Creativity and Innovation - or: Yet another European Year of Something

2009 is not the year of the European Parliament Elections, but just the European Year of Creativity and Innovation, as the Council decided last month.

The importance of these European Years of Something is rather reduced. Or did you notice that this year was the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue...?

Friday, 19 December 2008

Uncertain ideas about Europe

At a perfect time, just half a year before the European Parliament elections 2009, the Economist's Certain Ideas about Europe blog will cease its activities (via Public Affairs 2.0).

There are things that I understand, and there are other things. Therefore, the questions raised by Public Affairs 2.0 are more than pertinent...

Thursday, 18 December 2008

The UK's negative approach to free movement in the European Union - and the Commission criticising member states

In a draft proposal for the European Union Council conclusions on the assessment of the state of free movement in the European Union, the main concern of the United Kingdom delegation is: Crime.

The proposed wording by the UK delegation can be summarised by the last paragraph of the document:
"The Council asks the Commission to bring forward an interpretative statement, providing guidelines on the operation of Directive 2004/38/EC and any appropriate proposals to combat abuse, misuse or crime. These guidelines would reflect the Council’s Conclusions and support Member States’ efforts to safeguard their fundamental interests and prevent abuses of free movement.
If this is the main isue with regard to free movement, then I feel sorry for the UK.

I would rather stick to the remarks made in an ALDE press release, stating that "Europe [is] still far off genuine guarantee for free movement of its citizens", related to an EU Commission report (see also an article by EUobserver) on the state of the implementation of the free movement directive. This report tells that most member states have failed to fully implement the directive, which makes the goal of free movement within the EU still more a vision than a reality.

It is nice that the United Kingdom cares for the "special needs" of criminal minority, but maybe it should work harder on the free movement of the majority of citizens - an appeal that actually all member states should take into due account.

The new Barroso: Jossein Manuel Baracko

You know that I support Anyone but Barroso!, but I think I might support Jossein Manuel Baracko (thank you, Berlaymonster!)...

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

The Czech EU-Council Presidency logo is ugly

Just a small comment: The logo of the 2009 EU-Council Presidency that will be held by the Czech Republic is ugly.

It looks like kindergarden, and although I think I understand the intention of these many colors, they just look ugly. They look as if there has been a lack of ideas (although the explanatory text tells the opposite). And I have not yet started to talk about politics...

The ugliness is especially visible when you compare it to the logos of the previous Council presidencies:
I know that this is matter of taste (update: although brusselsblogger also calls it "not very readable"), but I will repeat that, especially in comparison with the latest EU presidency logos, the Czech is rather ugly.

Sorry for that...!

Follow-up (2): EU working on a Passenger Name Record (PNR) - Scientific article by Javier Argomaniz

As a follow-up to the previous article on the Passenger Name Record, I would like to point to the recent publication of a scientific article in the Journal of European Integration.

The article written by Javier Argomaniz in Volume 31, Issue 1 (2009), of the journal, is titled:
When the EU is the 'Norm-taker': The Passenger Name Records Agreement and the EU's Internalization of US Border Security Norms
and is basically saying that the EU has imported the legal norms related to the creation of a Passanger Name Record (PNR) from the United States, which have been developed from November 2001 in the USA.

In the conclusions, Argomaniz summarises the process like this:
"[T]he process of internalization of border security norms present in the PNR agreement is constituted by three subsequent stages: first, an initial stage of US unilateral norm imposition, followed by rule compliance articulated as US–EU negotiations characterized by bargaining and cost–benefit calculations from both actors, and, finally, a parallel process of policy socialization by EU executive bodies, in particular the European Commission, contested by other European actors. Resistance to norm internalization within the Union has originated mainly from data protection officers and MEPs concerned about data protection and democratic accountability shortcomings"
For more, I recommend reading the whole article.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Follow-up: EU working on a Passenger Name Record (PNR)

In August, I have written an article on the planned Passenger Name Record (PNR), and now a follow-up document (including Corrigendum 1 and Corrigendum 2) summarising discussions from July to November has been published by the EU Council

Let me quote the most important lines from the document:
  • [Air transport] operators are seeking the European Union's support to work towards the greatest possible harmonisation of the obligations imposed on them in order to limit the cost and the burden of legal responsibilities which they face to the minimum necessary.
  • Mr Gilles de Kerchove [the EU anti-terrorism co-ordinator] relayed the views of counter-terrorism services which he had consulted. These views are that in Europe, as elsewhere in the world, PNR data are undeniably useful in the field of counter-terrorism, partly on account of the specific vulnerability of terrorists when crossing international borders and partly on account of the significant and intrinsic potential afforded by the PNR tool.
  • [R]isks of discrimination, notably on ethnic or religious grounds, were eliminated by following the [Fundamental Rights] Agency's recommendations. 
  • A significant effort was made as regards the clarification and coherence of the data protection rules applicable, since specific rules have to be identified in the instrument, in particular to ensure that the limits imposed on the use of PNR data are strictly complied with. 
  • The approach of having a centralised PNR system at EU level has been rejected by a vast majority of delegations, and the Commission has refused it, particularly because of the technical complexity of such a tool which could have grave consequences for data security. 
  • A Passenger Information Unit (PIU) would be set up in each Member State to act as the public authority hosting the PNR database and ensuring compliance with the rules in force. 
  • The procedure for analysing the terrorist and criminal risk should be clearly delimited. 
  • The list of data to be transmitted can be reduced compared with the original proposal since it was not deemed necessary to maintain the information relating to unaccompanied minors which it contained. 
  • [R]igorous traceability of all access to the PNR database, all analyses and all transmissions made;
Still to be discussed are questions regarding sensitive data (i.e. special health needs of passangers), the retention period for data, as well as the possible exchange of bulk data.

In total, I am not really convinced that the effect of this PNR will outweight the reduction of privacy, and the risks of misuse of the data gathered by the authorities. Altogether, the progress report paints a rather positive and unproblematic picture, but I am not sure that the member states take due account of all critical matters connected to the database.

Montenegro wants to join EU

There we go: News services report that Montenegro wants to join the European Union.

"The commission says the country is still lagging behind in many fields and EU membership is not expected to occur in the very near future."
But since the Czech EU-Council presidency seems to be interested to speed up the accession process for the Western Balkan states, Montenegro could get the candidate status during next year.

Nevertheless, when you look at the georaphic position of Montenegro, it won't get into the Union before its main neighbours, no matter how quick it pursues its reforms. An EU peninsula Montenegra (assuming that Croatia joins the EU) will not be approved by the Council, and so Montenegro will most probably have to wait for Serbia and/or Bosnia to get ready anyway.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Yet another agency: The Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators - supplemented

While the Court of Auditors has criticised existing agencies for their financial abuses, the Council of the European Union proposes in a Common Position issued today to establish yet another EU agency.

This one is titled:
Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators
and, after long discussions its main function seems to be to co-ordinate the national gas and electricity regulators, advise the European Commission on market regulation for this sector, and develop "non-binding frameworks". The only really interesting part of the Draft Regulation establishing the agency is § 8:
For cross-border infrastructure, the Agency shall decide upon those regulatory issues that fall within the competence of national regulatory authorities, which may include the terms and conditions for access and operational security, only:
(a) where the competent national regulatory authorities have not been able to reach an agreement within a period of six months from when the case was referred to the last of those regulatory authorities; or
(b) upon a joint request from the competent national regulatory authorities.
This sounds for me as if the agency would get limited power to establish regulation on its own: If national regulators cannot agree on cross-border issues, the agency can take over responsibilities after six month, clearly a supranational element and not just an advisory function.

However, this will yet again be another agency which will cost a lot of taxpayers' money. We will witness yet another fight between the member states where to place the agency, and it risks to face the same financial criticism as others have been facing this year.

Merry Christmas, European Union!

European Elections 2009 (30): PES and ELDR manifesto - updated

For the thirtieth article in this series, I have invested some time to read the manifestos of the Party of European Socialist (PES) and or the European Liberal and Democratic Party (ELDR) - the other parties have not yet published theirs -, and well, how to say it, they are... interesting.

The first thing that is striking is the difference in length: the Liberals seem to have tried to keep their tradition of (fiscal) restraint and to limit themselves to three pages, while the Socialists and Social Democrats have written a small booklet of fifteen pages. In fact, something in between would have been much nicer, because the PES manifesto takes way to much time to read, while the manifesto of the ELDR seems to end as soon as you start reading.

So let's start with the ELDR manifesto. In general, I would prefer the shortness of the text to the length of the PES manifesto, but in this case the shortness is not an advantage. The manifesto is divided in an introduction and the four sub-categories
  • Civil liberties
  • EU Single Market, Growth and Employment 
  • Environment and energy policy
  • Enlargement, foreign, security and defence policy
with 15 policy statements in total which could be summarised as
  • Yes to civil liberties and co-operation in criminal matters
  • Yes to a single market and privatisation and No to nationalisation
  • Yes to a "measured" migration through "blue cards"
  • Yes to an environment policy if it doesn't burden business
  • Yes to a reduction of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)
  • Maybe to future enlargement
  • Yes to a single foreign policy and a stronger common defence policy
All these points are very technical, very general, not very ambitious. It looks more like a compromise text than a document that encourages voters to vote for the Liberals. Not one single emotional appeal, no vision, and despite the fact that the Liberals start with "Civil Liberties" almost without values. I have no idea whether the Liberals plan to use this document, or whether they will hide it behind national campaigns.

Quite different the PES manifesto (UPDATE: see the video of the adoption during the PES congress). Despite its excessive length, and despite the criticism I have expressed towards the manifesto slogan "People first - A new direction for Europe", the first page of the document would be enough to run a decent political campaign. It starts with an important message:

"The voters of Europe face a fundamental political choice in these European elections."

There is no single reference to the voters in the ELDR manifesto, and for the PES to start with this sentence is very pertinent on the European level. The first page, after identifying challenges and problems of the European Union, ends with the six main policy commitments of the European Socialists:
  • Relaunching the economy and preventing new financial crises 
  • New social Europe – giving people a fairer deal 
  • Transforming Europe into the leading global force against climate change 
  • Championing gender equality in Europe 
  • Developing an effective European migration policy 
  • Enhancing Europe’s role as a partner for peace, security and development 
However, instead of directly getting into these issues, we have to read a general assessment of the situation in and around Europe and about the alleged shortcomings of the Conservatives (apparently the only opponent of the Socialists). Quite boring, and nothing for the general voter. And afterwards we get, along with the six main commitments, 71 single sub-issues and sub-proposals, which probably nobody but some journalists (i.e. bloggers) and lobby organisations will read. In line with the general subtitles heading these 71 proposals, I would summarise/quote the manifesto like this:
  • Yes to reforming the financial markets to serve the real economy, jobs and growth
  • Yes to a European strategy for Smart Green Growth and Jobs
  • Yes to ensuring workers and businesses benefit from economic transformation
  • Yes to a European framework legislation for social policies
  • Yes to the protection of citizens' rights including more transparency of EU lobbying
  • Yes to the EU leading international negotiations for a global climate deal, inter alia through more internal ambitions
  • Yes to more gender equality
  • Yes to European standards for legal migration and integration
  • Yes to a balance of peace and security issues, including a development of the European defence system in coordination with NATO
  • Yes to enlargement (including Turkey), as well as Yes to the Black Sea Union, the Union of a Mediterranean and the Eastern Partnership
  • Yes to active poverty reduction
I know that there is much more in the manifesto, but it would exceed the limits of a blog article to get into more details.

I don't share a number of the policies proposed, but at least the documents is quite clear on a number of very concrete issues (although some, including the position on nuclear energy, clearly are compromises [update: see also the comments]). I don't think that it was the best choice to have a document of this length, but the first and the last page are short and clear enough to present to European voters the choice they make when voting PES, without the need to read through all single issues.

As a conclusion, I might say that the ELDR does not present many controversial issues (which might make them electable), however it does also not present a vision or any concrete policy proposals. It is short to read, but when I finished reading it just thought: So what? The PES manifesto is ambitious, it is detailed, it is comprehensive, but it is too long. The many details offer much more room to find points of disagreement, and anyone who takes the time to read through the document will most probably find a number of positions that might not be shared. The political opponents and journalists will also find enough food for attack. Yet, this is the essence of a political document, so why not. 

Altogether, I prefer the PES manifesto. Would I vote for them because of this manifesto? Maybe. Maybe not.

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 a look at the overview article.

For the five newest post see also the sidebar.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Member states vs. EU Commission on transparency and access to documents - updated

According to EUobserver, member states, and especially Finland and Sweden, are fighting against an EU Commission proposal that aims at reforming the public access to EU documents.

The Finnish Minister for EU affairs, Astrid Thors, is quoted (update: full speech, via Wobbing Europe):
"Our interpretation is that the commission proposes to exclude certain documents, such as documents related to the commission's own inspections. [...] The justification for this exclusion is that it would ease the workload of the commission, releasing them from the duty of assessing the documents one by one. But on the contrary, we believe that considering documents one by one is a cornerstone of this legislation. What we may lose in the end with a little bit more work, we win by having a good and sound administration"
In the Green Paper "Public Access to Documents held by institutions of the European Community - A review" of the Commission this reads as follows:
"Experience has shown that the handling of requests can be burdensome. The purpose of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 being to disclose information in the public interest, the institutions have to balance the interest in disclosure against the workload entailed by the handling of a request. A situation where important resources are devoted to a limited number of voluminous, complex or otherwise burdensome requests would not be in the public interest. Therefore, it might be useful to define criteria with regard to the proportionality of access requests."
I hope that Finland and Sweden will not remain the only countries who will rally against any move to restrict access to EU documents.

It is amazing how a supra-state organisations that is already almost totally intransparent for the wider public is still trying to limit external access to its documents. We need to act, because if we keep quiet, we will lose more and more democratic elements of the European Union, and in the end, the only things remaining will be a number invisible Eurocrats and the priggish cries of pan-European eurosceptics...

I would like to see the European parties to give a very clear position on these issues. I won't vote for anyone who doesn't make access to EU documents and EU transparency a major goal!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Follow-up: New EU anti-discrimination directive

In August, I have reported about the proposed new EU anti-discrimination directive, and the Council has now published a follow-up progress report.

To make a long story short, it still looks as if this document (the new directive) will still have a long way to go:
"For the time being, all delegations have maintained general scrutiny reservations on the proposal. [...] The Commission has meanwhile affirmed its original proposal at this stage and has maintained scrutiny reservations on any changes thereto."
The European Parliament is expected to give its opinion on 29 March 2009, and within the Council a number of issues have been raised by member states that will have to be dealt with:
  • the potential financial and administrative burden imposed by the provisions, particularly regarding SMEs and the self-employed; 
  • the concept of discrimination by association; 
  • the issue of gender mainstreaming and the question of multiple discrimination; 
  • national legislation ensuring the secular nature of the state and measures concerning the wearing of religious symbols in schools; and 
  • the length of the implementation period(s). 
Altogether, there is not much movement in this matter; in contrary, even more questions and reservations seem to appear, which might well prolong the whole process.

Number of public debates of the Council of the European Union in 2006-2007... and travel costs for ministers

The Austrian Member of the European Parliament Hans-Peter Martin, who represents the Transparency Initiative in the EP has asked the Council of the European Union to report on the travel costs, the amount of agenda points, and the public and non-public voting of the Council.

From the draft reply (including the corrigendum) prepared by the Council secretariat, and the final answer presented to the parliamentarians on 24 November 2008 we can extract the following information:

Total number of Council meetings

2005: 69
2006: 76
2007: 67

Travel costs for Council meetings

2005: 29 162 000 Euros (= 422 638 per meeting)
2006: 30 779 000 Euros (= 404 987 per meeting)
2007: 34 637 000 Euros (= 516 970 per meeting)

Public debates on legislative acts under the co-decision procedure

2006: 174
2007: 148

Public debates under other legislative procedures

2006: 7
2007: 4

Public debates on specific issues, programmes, or priorities

2006: 56
2007: 36

Non-legislative acts adopted (generally not public)

2005: 292
2006: 327 (cf. total public debates: 237)
2007: 335 (cf. total public debates: 188)

It is quite hard to interpret these figures because the Council refused to give the total amount of agenda points to the parliamentarian, referring to the public documentation of Council meetings and saying that Mr Martin could do the counting himself.

But at least, we have some figures.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

ERASMUS for soldiers: The European young officers exchange scheme

As I have read in the Conclusions of the French EU-Council Presidency on the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), Europe will get ERASMUS for soldiers:
On 10 November 2008, the Council approved the launch of the European young officers exchange scheme, modelled on Erasmus. The aim is to develop exchanges between officers in their initial training phase, in order to reinforce the ability of the European armed forces to work together and the interoperability of forces. This initiative, which will facilitate exchanges between national training colleges, will be implemented on a national and voluntary basis, with assistance from the European Security and Defence College (ESDC).
I am looking forward to "L'auberge espanole II", with young European soldiers drinking and having fun in military bases all over the continent... :-D

Powerful Women: Follow-up on Rama Yade - update

Some time ago, in summer, I have written about the "Powerful woman" Rama Yade.

At the time I wrote:
If she does not make any severe mistakes, her future looks very promising to me, even if her political path might be interrupted by the typical changes in political constellations that are likely to occur one day or another.
Now, she seems to have made such a mistake, rejecting to run for office during the European Parliament Elections 2009. As a consequence, the French government will also not nominate her for the post of secretary of state for European affairs, recently freed by Jean-Pierre Jouyet.

The Jean Quatremer from the "Coulisses de Bruxelles" comments this matter:
At the castle [the Elysee-Palace; JF] they suppose that Yade has significantly underestimated the importance of the European Parliament, where this polyglot could have been "a star" and could have established a number of contacts that she lacks today. It is also remarked that she would not have needed to stay for a whole mandate, but that she just had to prove her capacity to stand for an elected position. However, and after all, Rama Yade might just simply remain true to herself: As reminds me one internet user, she has confirmed that she voted "No" for the Constitutional Treaty in May 2005... Not too serious for a secretary of state for European affairs.
(own translation)
It is quite hard to judge from the outside which reasons have led to the decision of Rama Yade, but she does not seem to have serious backing in the French government, with France's foreign minister Kouchner saying that it was a mistake to create the post of secretary of state for human rights (the position Yade occupies today).

In this sense, one could also interpret the proposal made to her to run for European Parliament as a smooth possibility to get her out of the way, to keep her somewhere where she could have become a star, but one with very limited influence, far away from the necessary political networks in Paris - something with great disadvantage for a woman who has made her way into influential circles so early in her life.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what happens to Rama Yade, and whether she will be able to continue her way, or whether the club of powerful women will again lose a promising member...

Read also:

- European Avenue: Quote of the Day
- Un européen jamais content on the decision of Ms Yade (update: link added)

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

European Parliament elections 2009 (29): PES, Obama, and the campaign

Apparently, the Party of European Socialists (PES) is, inter alia, discussing how to take elements of the Obama campaign onto the European level:
People wanted to know more about some aspects of the US campaign, how the Obama movement could be "exported" into Europe, some concrete ideas were presented and discussed, and the general mood was that this campaign will be an important opportunity for the PES family to present itself as the main political force in Europe.
This campaign of the European Socialists will, with or without Obama, run under the PES manifesto slogan:
People first: a New direction for Europe
which is nice but lacks some fire, some energy, because it sounds very impersonal. "People first" is a typical political slogan, but it is standard, it is dry, it is lame, because it does neither directly address the people nor does it include them.

Obama's "Yes, we can" was far more inclusive, and the success of his campaign - beside its professional organisation - was his ability to construct this message of inclusiveness. The PES slogan sounds again like top-down politics, like "We care for you, people", instead of "Let us jointly care for a new European Union". So it is typical EU, it is thought from the head, from the top of the pyramid. And that is the second thing: The PES slogan asks for a "new direction of Europe", but the elections are not about "Europe" but about the "European Union". This is a difference! The European Union's political scene has to realise that for 2009 we are not talking about this very vague concept of "Europe" but that we are entering into a campaign for a very precise polity which is called "European Union". Behind, there is the vision of Europe, and maybe the vision could be adapted, but its the Union that is mislead, not Europe.

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 a look at the overview article.

For the five newest post see also the sidebar.

I know that this might also sound very technical to replace "Europe" with "European Union", and it might not be very nice for a slogan, but the difference is importance: "Europe" is an idea, a concept, a project, maybe even a fiction, but the European Union is concrete. It exists, it influences our lives, it regulates our food, it guarantees our freedoms, it finances projects that affect all of us directly or indirectly. So this campaign is partly about Europe, but it is mainly about the European Union.

If national and European politicians will be able to explain this to possible voters, these voters might start to realise that they are actually affected by the results of the 2009 parliamentary elections. Many might not feel attached to the vagueness of "Europe", they might not care for the vision and they might even not share it, but they at least need to realise the concreteness of the European Union and the concrete importance of these elections which are parliamentary elections, not just a game.

So coming back to the PES slogan: It is mislead and misleading in a double sense: It addresses people from the outside instead of including them, and it addresses the vision (which cannot get a new direction) instead of the real project (that definitely needs a new direction).

The slogan bores me - me, who actually shares the vision that the Union should be for everyone (and, for example, not just for elites), and it might thus also bore possible voters.

But that is not on me to judge.

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 a look at the overview article.

For the five newest post see also the sidebar.

Monday, 8 December 2008

The fake strategy: European scientific co-operation

When the European Union member states agree on conclusions "concerning a European partnership for international scientific and technological cooperation", the result sounds as stupid as this:
The Council of the European Union (=the member states) "INVITES Member States, incorporating as appropriate the countries associated to the FP7, to encourage a dialogue at European level with a view to the coordination of their international S&T cooperation policies and activities, as well as to facilitate consultation between interested stakeholders, including industry, in order to identify opportunities for and, where appropriate, obstacles to the development of scientific and technological cooperation activities between the European Union and the rest of the world"
In other words, the member states invite themselves not to start but just to encourage a dialogue. They just facilitate consultations, they don't encourage them, and they do it just in order to identify, not to address opportunities in global scientific co-operation.

Dear Council of the European Union, dear member states,

I am aware of the problems to find a common position, but please just don't publish this kind of declarations or conclusions, because they are empty, they are worthless, and they are unreadable. If you cannot agree on joint ambitions, then just don't talk about them, let us not spend time on diplomatic nonsense which does not help anyone and costs nothing but valuable time.

Yours sincerely,


No new pan-European security strategy

Meeting last week in Helsinki, the foreign ministers of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have disagreed with the Russian proposal to create a new European security strategy (i.e. organisation).

In fact, I am not surprised about this decision, and not surprised that the Russian foreign minister Lavrov is described as "angry" during his closing remarks. In general, this proposal is not new, and has not come with Medvedev - I have heard about this already in 2006, and I suppose this Russian idea is even older.

In general, I agree with the Russian approach to discuss about a pan-European security, a non-divisive system that overcomes the cold-war NATO (although reformed) and the logic of East and West on a continent that should be united, not just for "historical" reasons but because of the need for a common future.

However, the Russian move can also be interpreted as a move to weaken the OSCE's (formerly CSCE) influence in the fields of democracy and human rights, namely through its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), together with the Council of Europe one of the two main pillars of pan-European human rights protection instruments.

It is also a move to slow down the European ability to react, because within a joint European security space, Moscow would have a lot of influence and, as in other organisations, the possibility to decelerate necessary moves whenever it deems appropriate. A joint European security space with a non-democratic Russia would thereby be not less conflictual, less insecure, or less inappropriate than the present system of security.

An undemocratic Russia remains a risk for European security in general, and even a basically correct move to discuss pan-European security cannot hide this fact. The OSCE is correct in including democracy and human rights into its human security concept, and any step towards a simple understanding of security as a military concept just reveals the militaristic thinking of Russian elites stuck in old-time great power ambitions instead of modern-times co-operative efforts.

Which still doesn't mean that NATO is good....

I therefore agree with the basic rhetoric of the Russian initiative, but I don't believe neither in the right motives nor in any positive outcomes. In this regard, the pan-European reactions have been correct.

Scrap the CAP

Although not a big fan of Mr. Hannan, it's worth throwing a glance at his one-minute speech on the uselessness of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).


EP elections 2009 (28): The Great Disaster

European Union Commission Vice-President Wallström in a letter to European Parliament President Pöttering:
"In next year's elections, the legitimacy of your parliament, and that of the Union as a whole, is at stake."
Any questions?

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 a look at the overview article.

For the five newest post see also the sidebar.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

World class cluster bombs from the European Union

During the EU Council meeting on Monday and Tuesday, the member states issued a document titled:
Conclusions on the Commission communication "Towards world-class clusters in the European Union: implementing the broad-based innovation strategy"
And on Wednesday, six EU member states failed to ratify the new UN convention against cluster bombs. Maybe there was some kind of misunderstanding, and the six countries are now going to develop world-class cluster bombs...?!

Friday, 5 December 2008

European Parliament Elections 2009 (XXVII): Close to zero visibility

It is not the first time, that I address this issue under this category, and I suppose it won't be the last time. But the visibility of the pre-electoral process for the European Parliament Elections 2009 is, let's face it, disastrous.

Peter Sainley Berry comments on EUobserver:
I even noticed a new blogging competition yesterday run by the European Journalism Centre and a photographic competition run by the European Parliament. The subject is being raised in schools and on information tours to Brussels, in fact it is mentioned all the time.

Even the now defunct - proposed as an online political forum to facilitate exchange and debate among national parliamentarians on the future of the EU - was intended to boost interest and participation in the European elections of 2009.

And yet such steps, when you think about them, are just background: the sort of atmospheric hiss that comes over a badly-tuned loudspeaker.

These initiatives are all right in themselves and as far as they go - but really they don't go very far. They cannot disguise the awful fact that the political foreground is largely empty and silent.
So despite nice little initiatives, the recognition of Facebook as an important mean for political communication, and several smaller communication activities in and around the web, everybody can see that there is not too much to see, maybe because nobody really offers alternatives or because the EU is simply too complicated and dull.

Still, we are just some seven month before the elections, and in a true political system we should be facing heavy debates, discussions, and movement all over the place. But not even the financial crisis offers room for political discussions, it's more about national leaders than European politics.

The nation state is the loudspeaker, and the European union is the whisper, and only if your ear is really close to the source, you can hear it coming, this thing that we call an important indicator for democracy - elections.

So isn't this exactly the indicator pointing to the fact that European democracy is just an illusion, just a game of the few, of those who take the effort of listing to the whispering voices rather than relying on the tranquillising noise of our nations...?!

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 a look at the overview article.

For the five newest post see also the sidebar.

German conservative Klaus Welle new Secretary General of European Parliament

The successor of the "shut-up" - Secretary General of the European Parliament, Harald Rømer, will be from 15 March 2009 the German conservative Klaus Welle (Photo), as European Voice reports.

The Secretary General of the European Parliament is responsible for the administration of the European legislature, and since Welle had been SG of the European Peoples Party (EPP) as well as of the EPP-ED group in the European Parliament, and has lately served as the head of office of European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering (EPP; German christian-democrat), he looks at least experienced in leading administrative bodies, especially in and around the European Parliament.

Politically, Welle seems to be a true European for whom the European Union is "the last utopia", bring a "balance of interests on a supranational level" and "the protection of peace on the continent" (source). He is also fighting for a more democratic European Union, which, I hope, he will be able to push for in his new post.

However, critics call him "Prince of Darkness", because he seems to be in favour of a less transparent policy-making within the EP. Already 1 1/2 years ago, he was expected to take over the post of SG, not least because he was seen as one of the most influential figures within the Parliament. Yet,
"Across the board those who have come into contact with him praise his intelli-gence, dedication and political skill. They pay tribute to his almost unrivalled know-ledge of the Parliament and his devotion to work. “You could ring his office at midnight and he would still be there, working on some deal,” said one senior British MEP.
Altogether, it looks as if we will get an ambitious European conservative with strong political networks and the ability to use them tactically. Which means, we will get a politician for a semi-administrative post, which can be good or bad, depending on how he uses his position.

If he uses his skills for the good of the Union, we might be able to applaud him quite soon. If he remains the Prince of Darkness, a new "shut-up"-SG, then we might have to come back to the matter with a more negative note!

So let's wait and see...

Read also: Restructuring of the European Parliament Secretariat (07 May 2009)

Results of the Romanian elections

Without making it to lengthy: Please see the report by Romanian News Watch for a comprehensive overview over the results and the possible consequences of the Romanian parliamentary elections that have brought the following results:

Total number of seats in the lower house: 334

  • Liberal Democrats: 115 seats (popular vote 33.6%)
  • Social Democrats: 114 seats (34.2%)
  • National Liberals: 65 seats (18.6%)
  • Democratic Union of Hungarians: 22 seats (6.2%)

Total number of seats in the upper house: 137
  • Liberal Democrats: 51 seats
  • Social Democrats: 49 seats
  • National Liberals: 28 seats
  • Democratic Union of Hungarians: 9 seats

Thursday, 4 December 2008

How Brussels exploits Europe's high potentials

I would like to draw your attention to a beautiful article by the "EU for US"-blog titled "Finding a job in Brussels":
When there are 20 equally impressive CVs applying for one position, what’s a poor HR manager to do? Now multiply that 20 by 200, and you begin to see how the job market works in Brussels.
That is the food for the machine that exploits Europe's high potentials. And Linda digs through the mud of networks, internships, and the black market, and when you finished reading, you might unpack your bags and stay where you are.

Or, you start digging yourself...

Eastern Partnership - ENP upgraded

Yesterday, the European Commission announced the launching of the "Eastern Partnership".

This upgraded European Neighbourhood Policy towards Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia - some have called it "new European Economic Area - means an expansion of the Unions involvement with its Eastern neighbours.

And it is a move towards more free trade as Nosemonkey remarks:
For those who dream of a future of global free trade agreements, these moves - with their suggestions of trade partnerships and opening up of markets - are surely a promising sign that the EU is beginning to head in the right direction? Such partnerships could never have been negotiated (arguably imposed) by just one nation acting alone - but the collective bargaining power that the EU’s vast market has brought has given the organisation a genuinely powerful ability to broker such deals that should, in the long term, benefit everybody concerned.
With 600 Million Euros, this initiative is not just a meaningless diplomatic commitment, it looks like a serious effort for an economic enlargement, like a more serious inclusion of those countries who have so far waited at the outskirts of the continent.

I have said before that I am heavily in favour of this move, of the investment in a Europe without dividing lines. I hope that the six countries addressed will be able to live up to the expectations put into them!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

The EU job caroussel is starting to turn

It is impossible to summarise the EUobserver article discussing more and less probable changes in the filling of top EU-jobs after the next European Parliament elections.

This is why I would just like to present you the list of names and short remarks for each of them:

I suppose that this list will change over the next months, but at least this is a sign that things start to move and to roll and to turn over there in Brussels and in the European capitals.

It is also the sign that EU posts are becoming a bit more relevant, a bit more interesting, a bit more debated than in the past. I hope the political actors will be able to transport this into their campaigns, making citizens aware about what and about whom they are actually deciding.

Oh yes, and before I forget it:

Anyone but Barroso for EU Commission President!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Anyone but Barroso!

YES, I want anyone but Barroso as next European Commission President!
I wanted to write this for weeks, but somehow I did not make it. So now, let's repeat it, let's cry it out, let's make it heard all over the place:
You may ask: Why?
  • Because he is without any inspiration for Europe, he is without any spirit that would be needed to make the goal of the European Union of truly uniting Europe a reality.
  • Because he looks so grey next to shining national leaders that it is no wonder that the nation state appears more attractive than the European Union.
  • Because he is the personification of bureaucracy, the personification of boredom, of everything that made the EU gain its notority .
But thanks to the initiative of Jon Worth, there is light at the end of tunnel.

The project
Anyone but Barroso!
is uniting those of us (e.g. me, Kosmopolit, Nosemonkey) who think that Europe and the European Union deserve more than just a Barroso. Maybe we do not yet deserve EUropean Obama, but we deserve definitely more than what we have today. And although we still don't know who could and should replace Barroso, we still know one thing: We don't want Barroso!

Yet, in this context, it is almost shocking that the Party of Euopean Socialists has decided not even to nominate a candidate running against Barroso (via Jon). It is shocking because it shows that there is no interest in European politics, no vision for a European future, no courage for real European debates.

So if the political parties do not have the courage to change Europe, then maybe we have to do it on our own!

No, I am not megalomaniac! I am just a democrat, a European democrat who has a European dream and for whom this dream is still worth fighting.

And Mr Barroso is not part of my dream - because this would be nothing but a nightmare!

Read also:
- Qui aura la peau de Jose Manuel Barroso? (Who will get the skin of Jose Manuel Barroso?)

Thank you, Kosmopolit, ...

... for sharing a friend with me!

Some time ago, I was calling Europe a village, and these days this is confirmed again:

Kosmopolit and I, we have never seen each other, we haven't met, and we haven't lived even close to each other in recent years. Yet, as we now know, we share a friend, a person that we have met on one of our various stays on this beautiful continent. We have met him not even in the same country, the same city, at the same time, but with a difference of time and space that makes this coincidence even more surprising.

Europe is a village - in fact, a small village - and this is why I am convinced that we need a political project that tears down all walls and borders on this continent, our common village. Some will call this project "European Union", but I don't care how it is called. I care about what it offers to us, which opportunity it provides, which spirit it promotes.

What is important is that we can move freely, meet freely, and realise as free persons that we belong together, that our lives are interrelated and that there is nothing better than to discover that we share a friend - or two, or three...