Saturday, 18 July 2009

This blog will go off the air for 15 days

From tonight, Sunday 00:01 am, this blog will go off the air for 15 days, coming back to life on Monday, 3 August 2009.

I am not having holidays, but I will have to focus on both work and friends over the next two weeks, fully occupying my time.

It is also a test for me how it is living without the blog, without blogging, and without the blogosphere, since for more than a year now I have been blogging and following the euroblogosphere non-stop, with interruptions of 3-4 days at maximum.

It has become so regular and natural that I have to see how it is without.

So I won't read RSS feeds, blogs, comments. I won't follow Twitter. I will also turn off comments on this blog for that time, because I won't be able to follow them either (which is my responsibility).

After all, I hope there won't be too many withdrawal syndromes.

In the meantime, read other blogs like the ones you can find here or on my blogroll, write your own stuff, enjoy summer and life. See you soon...

Creating the European Public Sphere: Some remarks on the European Court of Justice Blog by Allard Knook

Allard Knook is writing a blog in which he summarises European Court of Justice rulings and on which I would like to briefly comment.

I intended to write these comments on his blog, but there the function is deactivated and a contact address is not to be found, either. So I'll comment here.

First, as a representative example, take a look at the latest post on the Court judgement Case C‑558/07, S.P.C.M. and others.

The first thing you will notice is that there is no link to the original judgement, so if you want to read the full text on your own, you have to go to the Court's website and research on your own. [Overlooked the link at the end of the posts; JF]

The second thing is that the introductory clause summarising the judgement is really short while the post is rather long and written in a very juridical style.

So while going through my RSS feeds, I usually go through Allard's posts just reading the first sentence, which always feels very unsatisfactory because I think it would be worth following the ECJ's decisions more closely.

But Allard is apparently writing for a distinct legally interested audience, focussing on "broadcasting" and passive consume of his texts with the comment function deactivated.

This is a pity, because he is doing an important work which could have a much broader effect outside the judicial world.

For comparison, look at this article on the European Court of Human Rights blog and the final paragraphs of the post:
" [...] Although again the Court does not formulate a general right to access to documents, what it does clarify is that once access on the national level is ordered (in this case by a court), such access should be effective and be given within a reasonable time. In this case, the authories had been so obstructive, that the European Court did not shy away from calling their behavior arbitrary.

A case for the history books - and for Court watchers too, of course!
This puts into understandable words how important/ relevant/ interesting this judgement is in a wider context, and the whole article is rather written with the intention to explain the ruling than to produce a judicial summary.

In fact, the ECJblog would not have to change much. There is no need to change in style if this is what the main audience needs and wants.

But with a slightly longer "citizens' summary" (2-3 sentences) at the beginning, shortly explaining the importance and range of a judgement for the Union as a whole or for a certain policy area (e.g. in comparison to previous judgements), Allard's blog could have enormous effects into the wider European public.

I hope Allard will read these comments - my interest is in raising public awareness for European policy-making and law-shaping, and we should combine sources and resources to come closer to this goal!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Iceland, do you want to marry me?

Somebody in my office and many people on Twitter told that the parliament of Iceland decided that the EFTA country will apply for EU membership - so it must be true.

What I think about this:

It will take some time until Iceland will actually become a member. Then the EU will be slightly larger, will have some more people, will need more translators and interpreters, will become a little more Nordic, discussions will be five minutes longer in the Council, and we will be able to pay EU funds towards Iceland.

They won't have to change much. We won't have to change much. It's like Malta joining the EU again, just colder and having the size of Portugal.

It's not like any of the Balkan states or Turkey, where a lot of reforms are still needed to be carried out and where our populations need to be convinced that it is good for all of us if these countries join as soon as ready.

Getting Iceland in the EU is like marrying your partner after you have lived with her/him for decades - it's not like adopting a grown-up child where you don't know how it will behave...

The question of the Quaestors in the European Parliament

For the list of new Quaestors, see the end of the post!

Until I started this blog, I haven't been an expert on small details of EU politics, and I am still learning. For example, until quite recently, I had never heard about the term "Quaestor".

So let's use the occasion of yesterday's election of the five Quaestors (in the last term there were six of them) to take a short look at this function whose role is defined by article 26 of the European Parliament Rules of Procedure.

This rule states that they:
"shall be responsible for administrative and financial matters directly concerning Members, pursuant to guidelines laid down by the Bureau."
Let me first point to Grahnlaw who in February wrote an article about their legal background and some questions in this context. There is also a European Parliament sub-page on the College of Quaestors with some more details.

But most interesting is this interview (French video, ca. 5:30 min) with the ex-Quaestor Jacques F. Poos in which he says (quote from the translated transcription; my highlights):
"[T]he Quaestors are responsible for administrative matters that concern the MPs: everything regarding the financial modus operandi, allowances, travel expenses, as well as things to do with the activities of the European Parliament concerning visitors, publicity and the internal organisation, the allocation of offices among the groups, the organisation of exhibitions, events and so forth, which take place within the European Parliament.

It is work that is not considered as a political activity, but it is clearly necessary since Quaestors have to take decisions on individual cases regarding disputes between MPs and the administration. This happens from time to time.

For example, they are currently playing a role preparing for the establishment of the new enlarged Parliament. Preparatory work is obviously needed in order that when our new colleagues arrive in early July, things are in order, they have their offices and everything is in place.

But perhaps the most interesting prerogative of the Quaestors is that they are members of the Bureau of the European Parliament and thus participate in the meetings of the Bureau, where all the policy regarding staff and buildings and so on is discussed.
Taking into account that according to Grahnlaw they also issue the lobbyists' entry passes to the European Parliament, the Quaestors seem to have quite an interesting regulatory function that should get more attention by the outside world...

Names and voting results of yesterday's elections

First round (absolute majority needed):
Second round (absolute majority needed): None.

Third round (simple majority needed):
For the names of those not elected you can consult the EP press release.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The first deaf MEP - Dr. Ádám Kósa - addressed the European Parliament today

Dear readers,

I am honestly moved seeing the first deaf Member of the European Parliament, Dr. Ádám Kósa speaking in the plenary today.

I cannot even recall having seen this in a national context - and even if so, it is amazing to see that this is possible in the European Parliament with its already 23 official languages:

Dr. Ádám Kósa - European Union Parliament from Alison B on Vimeo.

I congratulate Dr. Kósa, and hope he gets the support he needs to be a good MEP!

(via: Grumpy Old Deafies)

[Updated] There will be no President of the European Union - not even with Tony Blair!

Sorry, Le Monde, but even if you write it in the title and again in the first paragraph:

Tony Blair has not been proposed for the post of President of the European Union but for the post of the President of the European Council, which under the Lisbon Treaty still is the gathering of the heads of states and governments meeting four times a year. [See update.]

So even if Tony Blair will be elected into this position, he will just be the president of one of the organs of the European Union, not the President of the Union itself!

PS: Thank you, old-school media, for trying to be correct when talking about the European Union - the effort is not that big...!

Update: In fact, if Charlemagne is right, the news that Blair has been nominated as candidate for the European Council presidency is a canard...

Will MEPs become more interactive? (in reaction to a EurActiv article)

Just a few day ago, I wrote an open letter to MEPs asking them to be more interactive, while short before I discussed communication strategies of PR companies (which caused some controversy).

Now, EurActiv published an article titled "New MEPs seen embracing social media in 'conversation age'" which starts like this:
"The dawn of the "Conversation Age" will see more interaction between MEPs and stakeholders in the new legislature, public affairs bosses told EurActiv, predicting that blogs and social media such as Facebook will become more influential in European politics."
In fact, I would be more than glad if this new age would actually come!

However, it is a pity that only PR companies have been interviewed for this article and no MEPs. I would like to hear from MEPs - especially the new ones - how they think they can and will change their communication in the course of the next five years.

I want to feel this new age, I want to see it live on stage, and I am looking forward to any positive change in this regard...

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The EU in German blogs (6): A slap in the face of Silvana Koch-Mehrin

Der Spiegelfechter wrote in his article "A slap in the face of the FDP showgirl" on the election result of Silvana Koch-Mehrin during the EP bureau elections (own translation):
"There is room for 14 vice presidents in the European Parliament - this year, there were 15 candidates for this rather unimportant honorary post. So one of the 15 candidates had to miss out.

Admittedly, this over-supply of candidates wasn't planned - in the last moment the British MEP McMillan-Scott used the opportunity to run as an additional candidate for the eurosceptic ECR. Thereby, he expressed his protest against the British Tories who were participating in this group for the first time.

In the first round, Silvana Koch-Mehrin received only 148 of 683 votes - by far the worst of all results and thus a resounding slap in the face of the blonde hope. In the second round, Koch-Mehrin also received the worst of all results. In the third and last round it was finally all about whether Koch-Mehrin or the eurosceptic, far-right Michał Kamiński would fail - and Koch-Mehrin, by the skin of her teeth, could capture penultimate place.

This result is a clear vote of the MEPs against the liberal showgirl.
Since major German news services like or are reporting on this catastrophic result for Ms Koch-Mehrin, I expect more German blogs to report about it tomorrow.

I will add their links to this post as soon as I see them.

Here we go: Robin Haseler, mediaclinique, Ruhrbarone.

Jerzy Buzek new European Parliament President - vice presidents' election a disaster

Not at all surprisingly - it had been predicted by a blogger three month ago -, Jerzy Buzek has been elected as new President of the European Parliament, with 555 votes against the 89 votes for Eva-Britt Svensson (GUE).

I have already voiced my opinion why I think Buzek is the wrong choice for the EP presidency. Still, I have to admit that he made a rather good impression today, and I like the determination in his eyes while he leads the session. He has they eyes of an experienced boy, lively but knowledgeable. Let's see what he makes out of this.

In contrast, the election of the 14 vice presidents was a disaster and a clear sign of collective distrust of MEPs against each other.

Only three candidates got elected in the first round:
None of the other candidates got elected in the second round (see the results here). So the voting had to go into a third round where a simple majority was enough to get elected.

These are the MEPs that got elected into the EP's bureau:Michał Tomasz KAMIŃSKI (European Conservatives and Reformists, Poland) did not get elected with only 174 votes.

The catastrophic results for most of the candidates - one has to remember that the European Parliament has 736 members by now - are no good sign, and to a certain extend it is sad that the last three bureau members could be elected with just around or less than one third of the votes of the whole Parliament.

This was no good day for the European Parliament, and it shows that the horse trades before today were not of help for the European democracy but rather counter-productive.

PS: In some ways, this is the continuation of the catastrophic European Parliament election process - the same MEPs that ran this process were sitting in the plenary today...

The new EU anti-discrimination directive: Arghh!

In the ongoing procedure around the setting up of an EU Council directive on
"implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation"
the Swedish EU Council presidency has presented drafting suggestions that to me look like both, strengthening and weakening the text.

In some paragraphs, stronger formulations on what constitutes a case of anti-discriminations are proposed while in other paragraphs the independence of the member states is strengthened or certain cases are excluded from being considered as discrimination.

My "favourite" paragraph is 17h (new), which I would call the "Ireland-paragraph", especially since the Swedish presidency just proposed to include the words "and adoption":
"This Directive does not apply to matters covered by family law including marital status and adoption, and laws on reproductive rights. It is also without prejudice to the secular nature of the State, state institutions or bodies, or education. Moreover, this Directive is without prejudice to the powers of the Member States to organise their social security and health care schemes in such a way as to guarantee their sustainability."
After a short glance through these drafting proposals, I have the feeling that this directive will become a monster full of good intentions but with an infinite number of in-built misunderstandings and shortcomings that will haunt us for years as soon as it is adopted.

If I may say so: It will look like a typical legal document that went through the hands of the member states while letting too many lobbyists have their word to say.

Related articles:

Brussels Sunshine: More effort needed for the Commission's lobby register

From a freshly published article by Brussels Sunshine on the currently ongoing review of the Commission's lobby register:
"[T]he Commission’s job is to make whatever changes necessary to ensure the transparency register fulfils its goals: securing visibility around who lobbies EU decision-makers, on whose behalf and with what financial means. Aiming for "the middle ground" between the positions of different lobby groups will not result in a quality outcome. Instead it leads to a lowest common denominator approach that effectively gives the anti-transparency lobbyists victory."
I totally agree!

Monday, 13 July 2009

Who trades the horses in the European Parliament?

Tomorrow we can witness the opening session of the new European Parliament, with the very likely election of the not so good choice Jerzy Buzek.

EurActiv has an article (that is already dated for tomorrow although published today...) on the horse trading for the top posts in the European Parliament that has been going on over the last days, including a list of probable and possible committee chairs:
"The distribution of committee chairs has for the most part already been decided, on the basis of negotiations held last week and a distribution key which gives groups proportional representation according to their size."
What I ask myself is how much "ordinary" MEPs, in particular new ones, were involved in these "negotiations". How can completely new MEPs, after two weeks in office, know who will be the best committee chairs?

And I am not talking about the distribution of the chairs between the political groups which is basically a quite simple mathematical question. I even doubt that within the political group the selection of committee chairs can actually be based on the knowledge who would be the best, for the group, for the parliament, and for the respective policy field.

In this sense, the selection procedure cannot be truly inclusive but will favour a few political group elites, and probably those who are already longer in the parliament. Networks of established party politicians and proportional representation of countries/regions will thus dominate over collective trust and ability, power games over democratic selection procedures.

It think that, after the committee chairs have been agreed on, it will be really worth a look what background they have, also trying to understand why they have been chosen. For us "outsiders" - us citizens - it is pretty hard to intervene in this process before we have seen the results, but we should comment as soon as we know what we get.

Altogether, I am aware that this is not a particular feature of the European Parliament - but why should the EP copy all the bad aspects of traditional parliaments where it could be a beacon of light for a more transparent and more inclusive process...

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Europe in blogs (6)

Caution: This post may contain traces of self-referential humour, hidden bitterness, and peanuts. If you read it aloud, you might even think it is a podcast.

Before going through all the blogs for this Europe in blogs, I tried to remember what had happened in the blogosphere over the last week. And there was almost nothing coming to my mind.

What I remembered was that the eurosocialiste was happy (even in French!), which might be because Jon Worth, Boris Wandoren and I all had no idea what to write about, so we wrote about us. Our main conclusion was that we should rule the world.

But going through the blogs I realised that this was quite a happy week for others, too:

The Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, in charge of the EU-Council presidency, was happy about nice informal diplomacy while his colleague, EU minister Cecilia Malmström, was glad about climate deals (empty promises!), Barroso's re-nomination (wow, what a surprise) and the light of the Sony Ericson logo (constant hidden advertisement!).

Tony Barber was happy about the EU leadership changes, including Javier Solana, Jerzy Buzek and an infinite number of EU foreign policy chief candidates, while Grahnlaw switched to the "philosophy mode", asking big questions to European leaders, letting L'Europe de la Défense deal with the next Commission on its own.

From another window in Brussels, Jean Quatremer saw that Barroso was calling everyone to get re-elected. There are no witnesses how Jean reacted, but we know that Vihar Georgiev smiled back at Jean from Sofia.

Important to notice was that ex-MEP and now Finnish foreign Minister Alexander Stubb did a full Ironman triathlon last weekend. But this was nothing in comparison to Cédric Puisney who participates in conferences during his holidays. Alex went green with envy!

For the rest, Martin Teubner noticed that Iceland is on its way towards the European Union, while The Lobby remarked that the PR scene in Brussels still has to find its way to the 21st century.

Joseph Litobarski has changed his blog address and platform and can now be found here. And Stephen Spillane commented the decision for a second Irish Lisbon referendum.

And last but not least, a photo of a pirate in the European Parliament. Oh yes, and peanuts!

There was much more in European blogs over the last week, but that's it for now. Europe in blogs will be back soon.

PS.: I think this was not the best week of European blogging. But holidays are probably doing their best. Hopefully next week everyone will cover the first plenary session of the new European Parliament!

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Dear newly elected MEPs,

the coming week, with its first plenary session of this term, will be the visible start of a new life for many of you, and I applaud you for having taken this path into a European institution.

You are part of the tiny flame of European democracy that burns for 30 years now, ever stronger but still tiny. You carry the heavy load of being responsible for this little flame, and be sure that you will be held accountable for that over the next five years.

As a citizen, I expect that you bring in your local, regional, and national knowledge to shape European decisions in a way that respects the needs of your constituencies while having in mind the overall good of all EU citizens.

I expect that you are absolutely transparent about what you think, what you earn, and what you do in the name of your function as co-legislator and representative of European citizens.

I don't accept any excuses for intransparency: A modern representative democracy has to be built on the credo that elected officials are responsible to the public not only during elections but at any moment of their term.

I don't mind if you are absent in plenary sessions if you have more important work to do. I don't mind if you earn extra money if you make this extra income public, and if this doesn't negatively influence your work as an MEP. I don't mind if you don't know something, if you don't have an opinion on another thing, or if you let your assistants do a part of the work you would be supposed to do if you are ready to take the responsibility for the outcomes.

As a European citizen I expect that you fully devote your time and energy to the task of making the European democracy better.

I expect that you put aside prejudices, personal conflicts, and old habits and replace them with openness, geniality, and new ways of thinking. The Union needs change, because the way it has been working in the past is not satisfactory anymore, and you are responsible to push for this change.

As a blogger, that is a citizen who makes his voice heard through this blog, I hope that part of this change will be a new way of communicating.

You have to understand that more and more citizens are ready to interact among themselves but also with you as elected officials. You have to understand that in order to make the step towards us citizens, not just during visits to towns and meetings, but also in between and publicly visible for everyone on the continent, you cannot simply work as MEPs used to work in the past.

Use all the possibilities of modern communication - in a mix that suits you best - and open your door(s) for all European citizens who are interested to take a look.

We want to know who you are, what you think, what you do. We want to discuss with you, challenge you, see whether your opinion is grounded on conviction and facts or on false assumptions and back room deals. Using modern means of communications is a way to interact personally while remaining public.

Yes, writing and commenting online demands more attention than a quick press release that you send out in the widths of the European media landscape (where it gets lost in the hands of a journalist who thinks you are unimportant).

But the investment in time, if it includes a change in mindset, too, will bring about trust and public recognition for you while fostering European public debates, debates in which you can set positions and standards if you are willing to take the risk.

Dear MEPs,

in the end you have been elected to take your own, sovereign, and well-reflected decisions. You represent us citizens, you should be accountable to us, and you should take into account that we have justified interest in knowing what you do and why you do it. But you are free to decide!

Even this little letter is nothing but a hint about what is expected from you from an individual citizen who can do nothing but speak in his own name. I am not elected by anybody, so I also don't expect to be taken more seriously than as a single voice of a possible 500 million.

What you do with it, depends on you alone - and I am glad about that!

Respectfully yours,

Julien Frisch, an EU citizen

Friday, 10 July 2009

EuroparlTV: Interview with Luigi de Magistris, Italian ex-judge and new MEP

Italian politics is usually overshadowed by Berlusconi, so I would like to draw the attention to Luigi de Magistris, ex-prosecutor and new MEP now sitting alongside ALDE:

Getting lulled and distracted: PR strategies in the European Web 2.0

Yesterday, The Lobby, a blog run by the PR agency Grayling (Brussels), lobbied for better strategies of European PR and communications agencies:
"PR is not about ‘pushing’ news, rather it is about creating relationships “with the greater communities of influencers and users who can help extend a story, intentions, value, and sentiment as a means of driving awareness, building communities, and empowering advocates over time”. [...]

[...] Brussels agencies are keen and the tools are all around us, but it remains to be seen whether Brussels and its opaque institutions are ready for them.

I challenge you to name a single senior Brussels PR executive who has 6 influential bloggers and 4 prolific Twitter users on speed-dial rather than 10 members of the Brusssels press corps (and who is willing to take his or her story to them rather than to the press)?
This approach has to be seen in the wider context of the adaptation of public relations management that professional PR companies are going through these days. If I may summarise their tactics in two simple words: "Lull & Distract".

The first step is to become part of the community, if there is something like a "community":

PR companies establish blogs, like The Lobby (by Grayling), Public Affairs 2.0 (by Fleishman-Hillard) and Hyperthinker (by ZN) or at least react to blog posts written by others, like you could recently witness with the Hill & Knowlton CEO reaction to one of my blog posts.

More refined seems to be the strategic positioning of Burston-Marsteller:

Through the establishment of The New EP, a website informing about everything around the new European Parliament, including a blog-like front page that can be easily subscribed via RSS, as well as through the support of political debates, including the coverage on Twitter, they are apparently trying to build
  • public attention,
  • an image of competence in EP matters, and
  • trust and relationship through targeted interaction with the euroblogosphere and the eurotwittersphere.
As far as these activities are directed towards the Web 2.0, they are meant to lull "us", bloggers and twitterers. We are supposed to get used of their presence, their knowledge, their arguments. We are supposed to see their contributions as "equal", happy that more people participate in our discussions.

But what one has to remember is that these companies want sell their services to well-paying customers.

All their activities are part of a strategy, either to position themselves as established players to get clients or to use their position to influence political actors for their clients. They are in competition with each other, competing about attention, about money, about influence.

Their interest is not to contribute to political and social debates because they have convictions that they like to defend. They don't socialise, inform, and discuss because they have so much fun doing this. They need to do this as part of their job, a job where they are not the actors but the advisors or the executors of whatever they are asked by their clients.

As soon as everyone around is lulled, accepting their activities as natural intervention of well-informed and competent actors, they will start using their position.

They will be bought (if they aren't already) by clients who are happy to get trusted and already embedded players to distract the general attention and to steer it towards the topics that their clients want to see discussed, at best going into the political direction the client would like them to go.

One of the "best" examples are GPlus and Aspect Consulting, which got nominated for the Worst Lobbying Award, supporting the Russian war propaganda, even though the strategy was still rather classical.

Altogether, I am watching the activities of the European PR agencies with interest but with caution - because they know what they do, and they do it for money.

PS.: And by the way, PR agencies are one of the most frequent recognisable groups of visitors to my blog.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Why Jerzy Buzek is the wrong choice for the European Parliament presidency

After looking at Jerzy Buzek's Votewatch profile and seeing him win over Mario Mauro (EPP) and Graham Watson (ALDE), I still have to briefly say why he is the wrong choice for the European Parliament presidency.

As a big fan of Central and Eastern Europe I am happy that someone from Poland will become the next president of the European Parliament. I also don't mind that the EPP will get the presidency of the EP. And it is an asset that thanks to his Solidarity background he can claim to be part of the group of people who co-initiated the fall of the wall 20 years ago.

But Jerzy Buzek is still the wrong choice, for three simple reasons:
  • He is old.
  • He is male.
  • He has built his political career on national politics.
The European Parliament is not the big legislator it sometimes thinks it is, no matter whether its importance has been rising steadily over the last 30 years.

So one of the main political instruments the EP has are symbolic decisions, decisions that rise above the standard message of politics. The EP could have made a choice of such symbolic value, but it looks as if it won't.

Party politics and power positions are dominated by old males. With Barroso in place for a second term on top of the European Commission, and with no women in sight for the post of European Council president and High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy (if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified), the post of the European Parliament president could have been the only one where MEPs could have made a point for equal opportunities and equal share of power. But they have missed their chance.

How to engage the younger generation in (European) politics, if only worn-out old male politicians are the example of who can make it in our democracy?

And the third point is equally important:

Jerzy Buzek has no distinct European profile. His career is built on his Solidarity background, and when he left the national stage after his term as prime minister his reputation had been very low.

He has spent only four years in the European Parliament, and now he is chosen as EP president in a series of power deals between the Socialists, the People's Party and the Liberals, while he still says in the EuroparlTV interview (see also Anda's comment on Twitter) that his nomination is a matter of pride for Poland.

I don't want someone who makes one country proud, I want somebody who makes the European Union proud of itself!

This is the absolutely wrong sign for the European "democracy", especially for my generation, who is desperately looking for people like Alex Stubb or Cecilia Malmström who hold high national offices after having been an MEP, write blogs, and (in Alex's case) can still run an Ironman in their free time.

I want those for high European posts, not their fathers.

Politicians like Buzek - as nice as he may be - or his predecessor Pöttering, the elder statesman puppets, bore me to death - and with them, nobody should be surprised that young people don't go to vote and don't show interest in the EU.

Generation 2.0: Political individuals in the 21st century (hat tip to Jon Worth)

Jon Worth has written an article on political individuals in the 21st century that I can almost completely sign.

It is titled " It’s not a generational issue, it’s more important than that" and the main paragraph for me is the following:
"Blogs, Twitter and e-Communications more generally have given people like Eurosocialiste, Boris Wandoren, Kosmopolit, Julien Frisch and I the kind of public voice we would never otherwise have had.

We’re young(-ish) individuals, answerable almost uniquely to ourselves, people strong views. In times past we would have been the annoying, nagging people at party political meetings, trying to hold everyone else to account. The internet means we have a wider audience to rant air our concerns.

We’re fine to argue back and forth on Twitter, because we’re the sort of people who would be arguing about how to make the world a better place over a coffee or a beer anyway; doing it online is hence really natural.
I totally agree with Jon, although I think that it is still a generational issue as I have written in a comment to Jon's post:
"In our generation, people like us have the technical possibilities to remain active although classical party structures are not what attracts us.

This is why some of us – still a small elite – can express their position more freely than within the compromise-driven and promotion-oriented political environment the generations before us have to live with (if they don’t learn to creatively use the opportunities they would have).
The generation 2.0 of political individuals is using its freedom to freely express its views on politics and political ideals; we are using the means we dispose of to say what we wouldn't say in the standard political environment - not because we wouldn't be ready to defend our ideals but because time and circumstances would limit our focus and distract our attention from what we find important.

The problem with the EU is that it is even more 1.0 than national party politics - more compromises, more technocratic understanding, more self-limitation due to false diplomacy. In some ways, blogging and tweeting are the only real means to express true political positions on EU-related matters, the rest is bargaining and power plays.

And since we are bored with these, we are here, discussing openly in the widths of the internets, no matter whether the Generation 1.0 (beta version) listens or not.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Graham Watson loses and EuroparlTV interviews Jerzy Buzek

I have already written some words about Jerzy Buzek, but now that the Liberal Graham Watson has withdrawn from the race, it is sure that Buzek will be elected EP president next week.

If you read ELDR's press release, they are hiding their cowardice and strive for parliamentary power (see Jean Quatremer on the committee deals here and here) in the last line, but they cannot hide that Watson's campaign for the EP presidency has gloriously failed.

This is also a personal loss for Watson: Now with his group leadership passed to Guy Verhofstadt and, if I am not mistaken, without a committee chair, Watson will very likely disappear in the darkness of the European Parliament's day-to-day work. Maybe he'll get a smaller post in ALDE or the ELDR.

But another one can shine: Jerzy Buzek.

Once a Solidarność leader and a Polish prime minister, re-elected as MEP and prevailing over his internal EPP competitor Mario Mauro as well as over Watson, he will now become the next president of the European Parliament.

In the EuroparlTV interview he is still very reluctant to show his joy - he is politician enough to wait until he is elected - but you can witness a very relaxed person with a lot of life experience:

We will have to see what kind of president he wil be - in front of the European Greens he was asking for more lively debates in the European Parliament - but he cannot be more boring than his predecessor Hans-Gert Pöttering...

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Creating a European Public Sphere: The Hyperlink Story

Inspired by a must-read article on Ribbonfarm titled "The Rhetoric of the Hyperlink" and following my recent critique of Jean Quatremer's way of "zero-link blogging", I would like to share some thoughts on the active creation of a European public sphere through hyperlinks.

Let's start with the obvious: The creation of a genuine European public sphere would be the basis of a genuine European democracy, independent of the legal basis of the Union.

Yet, the lack of communicative links between national and European discussion threads and the lack of shared background knowledge, both across national borders and across groups on the European level, is impeding its emergence.

Because their method of story-telling is not based on links, traditional media cannot really contribute to a development that overcomes the divide of different national and policy-related public spheres. Their closed presentation of news usually does not foster cross-checking of facts and backgrounds, and they do not invite to participate in the debates around a particular topic.

The reason is that they miss the core element of virtual interaction: The hyperlink.

I think I had understood this before, but only after reading Venkatesh Rao's article on Ribbonfarm yesterday it really made sense.

So far, I thought of hyperlinks in EU-related articles more in the sense of a possibility to create connections between information, discussions, and people: They hold together what would be atomised thoughts, they tie in with what has been said before, and they are thus constructing the intertemporal and interpersonal reality of (still limited) European debates.

If their only function would be to be the glue between those who are writing, a system of reference and reverence, they would already fulfil an important function, one that I consider to be one of the main elements of blogging.

But in fact, the use of hyperlinks is not only a way to create connections to others. Hyperlinking allows completely new forms of writing about European politics, and those who understand this can actively contribute to the creation of a European public sphere, both within the institutions and in the wider public.

If hyperlinks become an active part of the language we speak when we write online, we can help to build bridges between those who are already inside the debate and those who want to join. And thanks to the inspiration from Venkatesh, I can give you a simple example.

Imagine the following sentence in a newspaper article (or anywhere else):
  • "After long discussions in COREPER that have been echoed in the European blogosphere, a compromise proposal has been made that satisfies even the strongest critics."
And now the same sentence with hyperlinks (exemplified!):
The first version of the sentence expects from the reader that she or he knows everything, from the abbreviation COREPER to past discussions, from the idea of a European blogosphere to a mysterious compromise proposal.

If you have the perfect reader, this sentence is read with delight.

But the same reader could also read the same sentence with hyperlinks, with the same delight. For her/him, there is no need to follow these hyperlinks.

However, anyone who has never heard about COREPER or who didn't know that there was a European blogosphere, someone who didn't follow the discussions in the past or who wasn't aware of positive reactions in the present, can read the sentence in combination with everything s/he finds through the hyperlinks, in accordance with her/his interests and knowledge.

In principal, this is very similar to what you know from Wikipedia, but there the links are more related to word-concept-relations while we can use them more actively, more creatively, mixing explanation and provocation, allusion and confusion, guiding the reader while interacting with other writers.

Hyperlinks in this sense are an interaction between the writer and other writers as well as an interaction between the writer and the reader(s), one that goes beyond the unidirectional sending of thoughts.

In the Euroblogosphere and in the overlapping Eurotwittersphere as well as in the European online news service EurActiv, the use of hyperlinks - although different in style and scope - is a widely accepted standard and a more or less natural practice in the creation of European discussions.

Links are used both as reverence mechanism between peers but also as cognitive bridges for those who would not understand the full extend of an article without this relational guidance by the author, without forcing the latter to (re)write what has already been written before.

Despite the many shortcomings one could list for the Euroblogosphere, and probably also for EurActiv, this is definitely a crucial plus one should not underestimate.

Ultimately, everyone who is writing about European politics has to understand that the audience we speak to is very diverse, in terms of nationality, involvement in EU-related matters, knowledge of technical details etc.

If we want to create a European public sphere, we have to be aware of this diversity, and address it with the possibilities digital writing offers. In particular, since usually people tend to blame the many official languages for the failure of the EU to create common debates and to become a common polity.

Yet, it is not so much the number of languages as it is the inability of newcomers to easily follow and join European debates, debates which are basically held between EU experts using the language of EU experts - not because they want to keep others out but because this language is the most efficient to discuss EU-related matters.

The conclusion is that we may write texts that are full of implicit references, EU-specific language and filled with technical details and abbreviations.

But if we have an interest in involving not only those already heavily involved, we have to be creative and effective in the use of meaningful, text-based hyperlinks, making the implicit explicit and the technical easily comprehensible for the wider audience we want to reach out to without losing our immediate target group(s).

Creating a European public sphere is thus absolutely possible - we just need to use the right hyperlinks!

Monday, 6 July 2009

The Swedish EU-Council presidency (2): Am I dreaming?

Not one week in office, and this Swedish EU-Council presidency manages to impress me more than the previous presidency did in six month.

Or have you ever seen a video interview with the presidency's ambassador after a COREPER-meeting...?

I think I am dreaming - and I will have to dig for negative news around the Swedish presidency in order not to make this blog become a pro-institutional PR instrument.

But Sweden, please, continue in this transparency direction - and make sure that everyone after you will keep this alive!

(via Anda on Twitter)

Janez Potocnic: "A pan-European pension fund for researchers" [supplemented]

EU-Commissioner Janez Potocnik writes in his blog:
"I’m delighted to announce that we have now launched the feasibility study for a pan-European pension fund for researchers. The stage has now being set for a thorough legal and technical analysis which I hope will lead to the promotion of this ambitious initiative. [...]"
As a now-scientist I can only say that I support the initiative, not without adding that as a maybe-not-forever scientist I would be even more delighted if such a study wouldn't be limited to researchers but extended to more sectors.

"Hewitt Associates, based in Brussels, was awarded the €285,000 contract [for the feasibility study; JF] out of seven applicants on the basis of quality, legal requirements, management of the study and resources."

Will Jerzy Buzek be a good European Parliament president? - A look at his Votewatch profile [supplemented]

After yesterday's withdrawal of the candidacy of the Italian EPP member Mario Mauro (EPP press release), it looks like Jerzy Buzek (also EPP) could become the next president of the European Parliament.

There is an excellent article in the European Voice on his political career, so there is no need for me to go through this.

What I did in addition is to take a look at his Votewatch profile for the 2004-2009 period, where you can see, inter alia,
  • that his attendance record in the plenary is just 80.87% (rank 600 out of 777 MEPs listed)
  • but that during his presence in plenary he held 73 speeches (rank 242/765),
  • while drafting four reports (129-169/533)
  • and amending 75 (53/731), with 12 of the 75 being amendments to his own reports.
Since being a "rapporteur" is considered to be the most important activity for an MEP, because this is the work with most individual influence on a specific policy issue, let us take a closer look at Mr Buzek's reports:

The newest one was the non-legislative
European strategic energy technology plan
which involved him from 30 January 2008 until 7 July 2009. This procedure doesn't make the impression of having been overly demanding.

Far more important are the three other reports, which are related to the
7th Framework Programme on research, technological development and demonstration activities
worth over 50 billion Euro for the period 2007-2013.

In the main parliamentary procedure, over 300 amendments had to be dealt with and 8 committees had to be involved under Buzek's leadership. That is a lot of work and has quite likely demanded a lot of time consuming activities, including background talks, repelling lobby attacks, and leading endless discussions on the "do-s and don't-s"...

However, if you look at the Votewatch statistics, you can see that Buzek gets credit for four reports, but in fact two of the entries are referring to exactly the same procedure, while the third report is dealing with the 7th framework programme on nuclear research, which is also directly linked to the overall process. [Supplement: During the process, Buzek, who was a 2004-2009 member of the board of the European Energy Forum, showed that he is a clear supporter of nuclear energy.]

So one can say that beside a smaller non-legislative report in 2008, the main (visible) parliamentary achievement of Jerzy Buzek is his work for the 7th Framework Programme for which he became appointed as rapporteur on 31 March 2005, with the legislative act being finalised on 18 December 2006.

The importance and scope of this legislative procedure was most likely a good way to get known among his peers in the European Parliament, probably a basis for his candidature as next EP president.

The rest of his activities look rather average, but these are just superficial statistics. Whether he is capable and accepted enough to lead the European Parliament will have to be answered by his colleagues.

However, since 90% of the EU citizens will probably not know Jerzy Buzek, we will have to do much more research on him before his possible election in 9 days - by now it is hard to judge whether he would be a good president of the European Parliament or not.

Read also the follow-up:

"Why Jerzy Buzek is the wrong choice for the European Parliament presidency"

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Wolfgang Schäubler should not become the German EU-Commissioner!

I can fully join Kosmopolit who explained in his latest post why Wolfgang Schäuble should not become the German EU-Commissioner.

Kosmopolit wrote:
"It seems as if my predictions about who will become the new German EU Commissioner were wrong. Spiegel Online reports today that Chancellor Merkel wants to nominate Wolfgang Schäuble, the current German Interior Minister, for the post in Brussels. This is quite a bad choice especially if he aims to get the Justice and Home affairs portfolio [...].


So, I am rather skeptical about Wolgang Schäuble as the new German EU Commissioner especially if he wants to continue with his security policy; a policy field that is becoming more and more important at a EU level. The EU debate could turn rather nasty as he is likely to propose (but not necessarily implement!) controversial EU policies…

Of course he perfectly fits the traditional job description of a typical EU Commissioner: experienced national male politician (= old), end of the career posting to Brussels (= Merkel wants to get rid of him). Wolfgang Schäuble is unfortunately not a candidate to get excited about…
Read the full post to understand how we come to this conclusion.

For most German bloggers this conclusion would definitely be the same, although Duckhome recently wrote that he'd be glad if Schäuble went to the Commission - to get rid of him in Germany.

In fact, if I had the choice between Barroso becoming EU-Commission president and Wolfgang Schäuble becoming JHA Commissioner I would chose the first!

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Europe in blogs (5)

Caution: Readers with an allergy to links should refrain from consuming this post. Readers with an allergy to Europe should join UKIP.

There we go. That's already the fifth Europe in blogs which somehow means that a month has passed since I did the first one. Could somebody prevent time from passing!

One year ago - when this blog started - the French under Sarkozy had already taken over the EU-Council Presidency and six month ago the Czechs had occupied some of the most relevant seats in the European Union.

Yesterday, finally, a nice little country - Sweden - headed into its presidency - and everyone wanted to welcome them or talk about it, either directly or by saying a more or less nice goodbye to the Czech Republic (no particular order):

Margot Wallström, Stephen Spillane, Jean Quatremer, L'Europe de la Défense, Charlemagne here and here and here, Tony Barber, La Oreja de Europa, Honor Mahony, Peter Berry, EUX.TV, Open Europe blog, the Eurotechnocrat, Europaeum, Cecilia Malmström, Errant European, Carl Bildt, Mats Engström. And me.

Another important topic this week was the decision of the German Constitutional Court saying that the Lisbon Treaty would be constitutional but may not be ratified before the German legislative would get the necessary participatory rights in the national decision-making processes:

Pierre-Jean Verrando, Grahnlaw, European Union Law Blog, Nosemonkey, The European Citizen, Michael Scharfschwerdt, Europaeum, Ironies Too, José M. de Areilza, Europe: my dream, Quo Vadis blog, Stephen, Corina Cretu. And me.

The rest of the pack kept an eye on Barroso, who was also interviewed by La Tribune these days: eToile sees a murderous autumn coming for him, while La Oreja de Europa takes into account the Spanish socialists' reaction. Charlemagne is finally unsure about whether Barroso should be re-elected, and for Europe & You nothing is done yet.

If you don't look for Barroso but for a job in EU communication, you should definitely check out The Tagsmanian Devil who offers a really nice position with the perfect time perspective. And if you don't want to work, do it like Cédric Puisney and leave for holidays!

And last but not least: If you read this, you are part of the Generation 2.0, at least for L'Europe En Blogs and the eurosocialiste.

There was much more in European blogs over the last week, but that's it for now. Europe in blogs will be back soon.

PS.: Almost nobody noticed that there were parliamentary elections in Albania last Sunday...

Broken links between European Parliament and Commission

Okay, I have to admit that it is not as bad as it might sound in the title - it's just another little detail in the quest to make EU information access easier.

This morning I read my (more or less daily) European Parliament Legislative Observer mail (chose the "Tracker" option to get one on the topics you would like to follow).

In there I found the link to a new Commission document on "Financial information on the European Development Funds EDF" which arrived at the EP.

The page that opens through the link has another link which is supposed to lead to the Commission document with the same name registered under COM/2009/0310 (which exists).

But the document doesn't open with the link provided on the EP site.

I checked the list of latest Commission document which have arrived at the parliament, and there were more examples of documents with broken links, although others were fully functional.

I suppose someone should check the accuracy of linking documents at the Parliament - or hope that anybody using the European Parliaments documentation is also able to work with the Pre-LEX search.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The Swedish EU-Council presidency (1): It's a little like with Obama

Today, the Swedish take over the EU-Council presidency and you can feel relief all over the place.

After the presumptuous French presidency under Sarkozy and the [insert friendly but critical adjective that I don't find] Czech presidency, the Swedish taking over the lead among the EU member state is a bit like the change to Obama:

As a realist, I know that the change they can bring in practice is limited. But knowing that the spirit behind their actions is different to the previous presidencies, I have the hope that they will make a positive difference.

Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister confirmed in his blog that he will continue blogging during the presidency because he thinks this is part of the transparency promise on which they run. I love to follow Mårten Wierup on Twitter because he gives insights into the diplomatic work at the Council in Brussels.

Can you imagine any other EU country's officials doing this?

I am also the glad that it will be the Swedish who will be responsible of the Council when it comes to the Copenhagen climate conference at the end of this year.

These were the three issues that marked the hopes connected to Obama:
  • A new spirit compared to the previous presidency,
  • a call for more transparency, and
  • a clear stand on climate change.
Very important: These three points come together in a country that is small but important enough to make them felt realistic.

There is neither fear that they will dominate the Union for their own interests nor that they are not prepared enough to lead the bloc of the 27. They are the perfect broker, and I hope that they will manage to realise some things that will make them remembered in this way.

Whether the hopes will come true has to be seen at the end of the chapter - but at least the book starts extremely promising!

One year

This blog celebrates its first birthday today.

I could try to extensively summarise and analyse this year and its 638 blog posts. But being self-referential for the sake of talking about myself is not worth the effort.

The only thing to say is that three issues marked this year:
  • The European Parliament elections were the topic of this blog; every fifth article was directly dedicated to them and the topic has captured me enormously over the year.
  • The war between Russia and Georgia cut through our lives last summer. Going back to July, I was kind of surprised that I felt the war was coming about one month before it actually started. I wish I would have been proven wrong...
The rest were details of the life of a European blogger, a European idealist trying to find his way.

Still, I have to admit that these details have changed me and the way I see Europe, its political projects, and to a certain extend the way I look at myself in this pan-European context. It is hard to describe, but I can feel it.

Right now, I have no idea where this thing will lead me to over the next year, but I had no idea one year ago, either - so why bothering this time!?