Sunday, 30 August 2009

Stop inventing the Lisbon Treaty!

No, I am not going into details about the Lisbon Treaty, because I don't want to ruin my Sunday.

Just the basics:
  1. The Lisbon Treaty is a huge messy document that no one really likes to read.
  2. Most of the people talking about the Lisbon Treaty have never read it.
  3. And even fewer have tried to compare it with how the EU works based on the Nice Treaty and based on over 50 years of non-treaty institutional developments.
The consequence:
  1. Most people talking about the Lisbon Treaty treat it as if the Union didn't exist, as if Lisbon created something new.
  2. Most critics don't discuss the changes introduced by Lisbon compared to Nice - that's why they never quote articles - but their vision of what the EU does.
  3. 90% of what is said about Lisbon is propaganda, totally covering the 10% of actually reasonable critique that is based on what the Treaty changes or doesn't change.
What I think:
  1. As a 27 nation compromise, Lisbon is far from perfect - but it's still better than the even more chaotic and complicated Nice Treaty!
  2. A debate based on selective, non-comparative reading of single provisions of the Treaty, or based on invented issues is even worse than a not perfect Treaty.
  3. I don't support the whole text, but I find 90% of the institutional changes made in comparison to Nice advantageous for me as a citizen, in particular the strengthening of the EU Parliament and the stricter subsidiarity provisions regarding national parliaments.
My conclusions:
  1. I support the Lisbon Treaty, hoping for further amelioration in the future.
  2. I hope that the Irish will vote YES, knowing that it is a "Compromise-YES".
  3. I hope that Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic will ratify the Treaty as soon as possible.
But in any case, even if you disagree:

Stop inventing the Lisbon Treaty - if you are criticising the Treaty, please quote the article you refer to and the changes it brings compared to Nice and current practices, so that we can discuss on real grounds, not based on rumours!

Saturday, 29 August 2009

The light bulb ban rage - just a symptom of the EU communication disaster [updated]

At the beginning, I just wanted to shortly comment on the latest blog post of EU Commissioner Andris Piebalgs where he defends the coming EU-wide EU light bulb ban - reacting to the rising "rage" all over the Union.

I wanted to ask why the Commissioner waited until now, three days before the directive starts entering into force until he writes a blog post about the topic. I wanted to ask why he doesn't link the the technical briefing on the topic that is available since December. I wanted to mock about the fact that Piebalgs announces that there will be a website explaining the ban - now, and not six months ago...!

I even wanted to link a EurActiv article from December, and a German language blog article from February where you learn that the Environment Committee of the European Parliament apparently rejected to discuss the issue of the light bulb ban in the plenary by 44 to 14 votes on 17 February 2009.

But then I tried to find this vote of the Environment Committee in original documents. I spent over 30 minutes on the EP's website to find the meeting, the respective documents, and the votes. I found the press release, some documents, even a draft agenda of the 17 February meeting, but not what I was looking for.

I cried out my anger on Twitter. Tayebot from the EP webeditors reacted on Twitter, giving me the link to all the meeting documents.

But even though Thibault from the EP webeditors worked on a Saturday to calm down a disappointed blogger - honestly, an impressive work ethic! - this blogger didn't find any hint to the votes in the documents, especially not the one in which the deputies decided not to decide the light bulb ban in the plenary.

And he finds that the presentation of the documents, the style of the documents, the search function regarding such documents on the EP's website are all quite catastrophic.

I imagine I was a journalist who gets the task from his editors to write a good story on the light bulb ban. He reads some other stories already written by his colleagues. He is a professional and wants to double check what his colleagues from other news sources wrote or said.

Opening the EP website, he tries to find an information on the process, he tries to get the original documents, the voting results, the MEPs involved etc. He is less experienced with EU documents than I am, and I am just a motivated beginner. He spends 20 minutes searching, without getting what he wants.

The consequences:
A) The story is not written.
B) The story is hearsay, it's negative, or biased at best.

It's the same with all EU institution sites. You don't find what is important when you look for it. Whether you are a citizen, a blogger, a journalist, a scientist or somebody else. Press releases don't link all the relevant documents, if they link them at all. The search functions are hidden, they are complicated, confusing, and they don't produce results that are helpful.

I spend hours searching for the right information, it's eating my time, just because I am interested in writing about the EU. I am a political European, and so I am ready to invest the time, but how many are as crazy as this?

The link between Piebalgs' late blog post and this conclusion is the general communication disaster of the European Union. The Union is strong and big in big communication efforts - and in defending them.

But why are millions spent on campaigns, if no individual looking for information on its own finds what it wants on the websites of the Parliament, the Commission, the Council?

Why are the institutions surprised if rumours spread in the Union, about the Union, its policies, its processes, if no one is able to check the stories, the rumours, etc. because you never find the original information?

Why all the the nerve-wrecking abbreviations, the COD 1774/77994 ENVI TYPO documents names that confuse everyone outside Brussels?

If there is a light bulb "rage" these days (and more and more articles are appearing in the news), this is not just because of the light bulb itself, but because it was impossible to follow the decision-making process that led to the decision outside Brussels - and it is still impossible without spending hours of research on poorly designed institutional websites!


PS.: And I don't want anyone to blame the EP webeditors, or any other webeditor of EU websites. I want that those deciding about money and other things to give these editors all the freedom and the time to make these sites better, not in a year, but now!

Update: Thanks to reader and commentator Daniel, the document proving the voting result has been found here (Word Document). The vote is documented under Agenda Item 19. But to get there, you have do really be an EU-expert!

Related articles:

Thursday, 27 August 2009

i2010, ICT, and more bullshit language from the Council of the European Union

Some two weeks ago, I discussed the i2010 assessment report on the development of ICT in the European Union, criticising the empty language of the Commission and the encryption of shortcomings through this means.

Now, I saw that the Council of the European Union is working on
"Council conclusions on the future of ICT research, innovation and infrastructures"
which appear to be in the drafting stage as you can see from the PDF document (dated 26 August 2009; previous version from July here) linked above.

Since the revised text mentions a "post i-2010 Strategy for promotion of information society", I dared to take a look at these conclusions, concluding myself that the Council seems to be even worse when it comes to bullshit bingo language.

Example 1:
"HIGHLIGHTS that ICT is one of the main drivers of economic growth and social change and, as such, plays a vital role in the economic recovery, enabling Europe to emerge from the current crisis faster and stronger than before;"
Such statements have no added value at all. They are empty, superficial, useless. They mix the obvious with speculation, but they yield no particular consequence. The only thing they do is distracting the reader from the overall emptiness of the text.

Example 2:
"NOTES that Europe has strong industrial and technology assets in ICT notably in telecommunication equipment and services, embedded ICT and business software and can build on its underpinning strengths including its scientific excellence, the exceptional standard of education of its graduates, world class high-quality infrastructures, and the world's largest ICT market"
If the Council members or the secretariat had read the i2010 report of the Commission, especially the accompanying staff working document (linked here), they would have known that this is as true as it is wrong, mixing the obvious with a bending of the truth that the EU is seriously lagging behind in crucial areas.

Example 3:
"STRESSES that better integration requires closer articulation between European, national and regional actions and implementation in variable configurations at different levels"
Why do you need to stress this in the context of ICT? "Closer articulation" is needed in ALL policy areas of the European Union, one could even say that this is the main goal of the EU. Or, if this is an important point, why not making it stronger:
"STRESSES that overcoming the uncoordinated approach of member states represented in the Council regarding ICT development would be the basic condition for any substantive progress in ICT-related matters"
Example 4:
"INVITES the Member States to amplify their support to ICT research and innovation"
Wow, the member states are "invited". This is diplomatic bullshit language. Why not "URGES", if this is in fact an important issue?

Example 5:
"seek further incentives for the more rapid emergence of innovation-friendly markets, including an extended use of public procurement of innovation, support to pilot projects, and involvement of users at all stages of the innovation cycle"
The only true political statement in this sentence is the encouragement for "public" (!) procurement, and such a proposal is indeed interesting because it would mean that the Council considers public investment in ICT a way to foster its progress - but such an important statement is hidden in a bullshit bingo sentence, including "innovation", "pilot projects", "involvement of users", "innovation cycle", all more or less empty phrases.

Overall, the draft conclusions as they stand today have only limited added value, and the policy consequences that would follow their adoption would not bring about any substantive changes - in fact, the only interesting term in the whole paper is "Green ICT", so far unspecified and thus as empty as the rest of the text.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

EPSO heavily criticised by European Court of Auditors

The European Court of Auditors has just issued a very critical report on EPSO, the European Personnel Selection Office.

The report is based on "an in-depth examination of a sample of 16 competitions of different types (specialists and generalists, heads of unit and entry level grades, administrators and assistants); and an analysis of EPSO's database, comprising all data concerning 176 competitions launched from 2003 to 2006 and completed by early 2008" and led to the following observations:
  • increase in the number of competitions was managed effectively;
  • lack of timely and consistent information on the Institutions’ staffing needs;
  • the personnel selection process took too long;
  • delays during the competition phase;
  • the yield from competitions did not meet targeted numbers and did not achieve the broadest possible geographical balance;
  • specific language requirements may deter good candidates;
  • communication regarding competitions was suboptimal;
  • pre-selection tests eliminated more candidates than was necessary to meet targets;
  • shortcomings in management information;
  • cost incurred by EPSO was about 7 100 euro per laureate (successful candidates);
  • weaknesses in EPSO's databases.
This is an impressive, if not to say devastating list of shortcomings.

The recommendations that the Court of Auditors draws up following these observations are clear-cut and directly linked to the shortcomings addressed above. For those of you interested in more details it is also worth reading the annexes where the Court presents the comprehensive figures regarding the selection procedures of EPSO.

However, the main paragraph of the report for me is this one:
"27. Unduly long selection procedures result in the Institutions not being able to recruit candidates as and when required, and may deter good candidates, either at the outset or during the procedure. Furthermore, according to candidate satisfaction surveys carried out by EPSO in March/April 2008, the respondents were least satisfied with the overall duration of the competitions, which had a negative impact on candidates’ perception of the European Institutions as a potential employer."
It is exactly this time perspective that has never made me interested in applying for an EU job.

Not a single moment did I think about entering the competition, because I don't have the time and the interest to go through a process that takes this long and at the end of which I don't even have a job immediately.

So even if there might have been some interesting posts in EU institutions, the gatekeeping effect of the EPSO procedures made that I didn't even look for them. Not to speak of useless examinations forcing to learn masses of unnecessary details that have not much to do with the practical work one has to execute.

Apparently, EPSO will reform its procedures:
"The major change introduced [...] will be the organisation of general competitions on an annual cycle basis. Written and oral tests will be done in “assessment centres”, introduced in order to assess candidates by applying selection methods that focus on key competences required. It is foreseen that this new approach will be operational in the first quarter of 2010."
This reform (short: EDP) is also the main element of defence that EPSO uses in its reply to the CoA report.

But it'll have to be seen whether this will bring about the change needed - and the envisaged time perspective of 9 months for an application procedure still appears to be quite excessive in a world that is quickly moving and in which my generation does not have the time to wait for a huge organisation to decide whether we are "worth" entering its holy spheres.

Altogether, the report shows the weakness of the EPSO system, its inability to handle the selection procedure in an efficient manner - and thereby represents the image of the EU institutions that - right or wrong - are accused of bureaucratic procedures and closure to the outside world.

PS.: By the way: The longest ever discussion on the EPSO procedures can be found on Jon Worth's blog, with 820 comments since May 2006!

The discussions on the German Lisbon Treaty by-law: My Twitter coverage

Below you find my Twitter coverage of the first round(s) of the Bundestag discussions (first reading) around the the four German draft Lisbon by-laws and the adaptation of the constitution (find all five documents in PDF below):

(Discussion starts at the bottom)
  • Pirate Party (@tauss): The parliament actually didn't want to be stronger, it is just a by-result of the Court decision. #pirateparty
  • #CSU: #EU should not be free to negotiate on #WTO questions that affect #Germany without the participation of the #Bundestag
  • #CSU: Finally the #Bundestag gets the rights that the #Bundesrat has received ever since the Single European Act (1986)
  • #SPD: We want to send a positive signal to #Ireland and to the the presidents of #Poland and the #Czechrepublic
  • #SPD: Against new nationalism that says: Not "Germany in Europe", but "Europe has to follow Germany"
  • #SPD: The Lisbon Treaty is the result of 10 years open and public discussions and strengthens European democracy.
  • #SPD: As long as die #LINKE holds their positions on Europe as it does, there will be no coalition on the national level with the #SPD
  • #SPD: While the Constitutional Court has underlined "national sovereignty",while this term does not exist in the #Grundgesetz (constitution)
  • #Grüne: Against an imperative (=binding) mandate for the German government in #EU negotiations
  • #Grüne: We have to figth against new forms of "executive democracy", and the Constitutional Court has strengthened us parlamentarians.
  • #Grüne: It seems as if we cannot separate nation state and European level, so we have to strengthen national parliaments against governments
  • #Grüne: This is a sign of the working #democracy. But we should have done this much earlier.
  • #Grüne (#Greens): This is a good day for the German #Bundestag, because we have agreed on law during an election campaign. #eu
  • #LINKE: We want referenda for important treaty changes. #eu #lisbontreaty
  • #LINKE: Against giving the government the right to deviate from Bundestag decisions in #EU negotiations
  • #LINKE: All other four parliamentary factions want a Europe of the elites, which we reject.
  • #LINKE: Talks about topics of the election campaign, not about #Lisbon
  • #LINKE: This debate was fostered by our complaint before the German Constitutional Court. Thx to us,#Bundesrat & #Bundestag have more rights
  • #CDU: Like this, the German parliament can become the engine of European integration. We want a Europe of citizens, not of governments. #eu
  • #CDU: The new law will allow an early information of the German #Bundestag,so that the parliament can actively influence #EU policy-making
  • #CDU: Europe is not far away, but it is part of our internal (!) politics. #eu
  • #CDU: We don't discuss enough about European politics and law-making, which would be part of our national interest.
  • #CDU: nation states are basis for cultural identity and democratic legitimacy of the #EU.
  • #CDU: Europe and the national state are mutually dependent; neither can exist alone. #eu
  • #CDU: This is all about the basic question of the relation between the nation state and the European level which may not be ignored #eu
  • #FDP: We as parliament will not only get new rights, but also new duties;we will have to care more for European law-making in the committees
  • #FDP: Good cooperation between #SPD, #CDU, #Grüne, #FDP in the preparation of the new law.
  • #FDP: We want to make Europe better, not to harm it. Against a limited understanding of the German pro-European identity. #eu #lisbontreaty
  • #FDP: underlines that Court agreed that the Treaty is constitutional
  • SPD: Criticises CSU (Christian Social Union, Bavaria) for its anti-EU positions that would lead to a blockage of the #EU
  • SPD: Government may deviate from Bundestag position in EU decision, but needs to give full account of reasons
  • SPD: What was a simple agreement between Bundestag and government before (on cooperation in EU matters) becomes a full law now
  • SPD: If new competencies are given to EU,legislator needs to be involved
  • SPD: Success of EU is based on internal market, and German industry/economy profits from this market.
  • SPD: European integration is a basic reason of the German federal state. EU strongest force against war and nationalism.
  • Now (!) livestream on the discussions around the German Lisbon Treaty by-law in the #Bundestag: (German)

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The EU Council: Meetings. Meetings. Meetings. And how to find related documents.

While traditional media - if at all - will only report on the Council of the European Union when it gets together on the ministerial level, there are hundreds of working level meetings between diplomats and national or international experts.

If you want to keep track of what is going on, you can use the Council Calendar that provides an overview over all (?) meetings. And if you need the agenda for a particular meeting, you can try to find it here.

It is more difficult to get the working documents for a particular meeting; and if you find them, they are quite often not public.

But you can still try: Open the agenda of a meeting you are interested in, copy the document number of a document you would like to see (you find them below the agenda items; just take the fist one in the format "11111/09") and go to the simple search. Search for the number under "Words in the text", and sometimes you'll be lucky to find it or at least get another related document.

If in the end you don't get what you want, try to contact the Public Information Service, which is inviting you to do so in a recently published article!

Still, the presentation of the meetings and agendas is very confusing for anyone who is not an expert in these issues - and as so often before I can only encourage the Council to restructure its website!

PS.: If anyone has better hints, I'd be glad to hear about your own strategies!

Read also my article on the search for Commission meeting agendas.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Yet another Agency: The Agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems in the area of freedom, security and justice [supplemented]

According to the German tech news (quoting Austrian sources), Estonia is the only country applying to host the future
Agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems in the area of freedom, security and justice.
The Agency, which is part of a larger legislative package around the Schengen Information System (SIS) infrastructure that will see its second generation (SIS II) implemented, is not yet created; the respective proposal has been forwarded by the Commission to the Council and the Parliament on 26 June 2009 (see PRELEX).

The Council Working Group Schengen Acquis – Mixed Committee (EU-Iceland/ Norway/ Switzerland/ Liechtenstein) will discuss the issue on 9 September 2009 (agenda), and
"[m]ember States are invited to compose their delegations with expertise on both the institutional aspect of establishing rules for EU-agencies and know-how on effective IT-management".
It is unclear when the Parliament will deal with the topic.

PS.: Let me also remind in this context that there will be a massive data collection exercise at the EU/Schengen borders starting in one week.


I would like to share the comment by Mariya to this post, which adds some more content to the debate around this new agency:
Indeed, yet another agency with yet another long name. Stay tuned for another fancy acronym. Though nothing beats my favorite 'SISone4all'.

What I find more interesting though is the legal basis for this agency. According to the Commission, "The present package of legal instruments combines two legal instruments: a Regulation governing the first-pillar aspects of SIS II and VIS as well as EURODAC and a Decision regarding third-pillar aspects of SIS II and VIS".

It should make for an interesting battle between the Council and the EP. The proposal is also intriguing from another perspective: it is presented in a way that suggests that it is a mere technical issue and is mainly (if at all) justified in terms of efficiency. Undoubtedly, this makes it easier to sell but there is no mention of the normative consequences of such decision for, among others, data protection. Also, I would have liked to see how this is a part of a bigger strategy for the development of JHA policy. As it stands, it smacks of an attempt to introduce e-borders in the same way as the US has done.

Welcome back, Brussels!

All over the European Union, citizens are celebrating with spontaneous fireworks and street festivals, people are hugging each other and little children laugh - Brussels is back from summer holidays!

Welcome back, city of our dreams, filled with open-minded officials, innovative institutions, self-conscious superiors, creative consultants, lively lobbyists, elusive experts!

We are looking for your guidance, for your inspiration, for your love, and your caring hands - don't disappoint us!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Why is the OSCE involved in Afghan matters?

I just saw this press release of the OSCE.

Why does the OSCE need to engage in the training of Afghan custom officers? Isn't there enough to do within the member states of the OSCE, ranging from the ever continuing Russian-Georgian conflict and other frozen conflicts like the one in Nagorno-Karabakh, close-to-fraud elections, and unclear definitions of the actual goals of the organisation?

I saw in the press release that these are extra-budgetary activities, but it still means that the OSCE administrative body is involved in these Afghanistan-related activities, that time will be spent on the diplomatic level to discuss these things, and that this will distract from more important intra-OSCE questions.

If you ask me, the OSCE should not involve in Afghan matters, not even the training of their custom officials!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Dispute between Hungary and Slovakia a disgrace

Watching the dispute(s) between Hungary and Slovakia these days, I feel ashamed being a citizen of the EU.

Both countries - and I have the feeling that Slovakia is pushing much harder for the conflict, e.g. through its recently introduced and disrespectful language law - should refrain from acting as if they were India and Pakistan and not members of the European Union.

Every time when you think this Union could advance a little, some stupid idiots - most frequently old male politicians - ruin everything...!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

The swine flu: Stop getting on my nerves!

No, I am not afraid of swine flu.

If there will be massive vaccinations, I will not use them. If the topic is in the news, I ignore it. If politicians talk about it, they move one rank lower in my sympathy scale.

This is just a flu, as there is a flu once or twice a year. And I don't want that millions are spent on a rather minor illness, while millions lack for other dangerous or wide-spread illnesses, including those like malaria that are affecting whole national economies in some southern countries.

So stop getting on my nerves - swine flu is just a media hype playing with some the fear factor... But I am not afraid!

Creating a European Public Sphere: A European blog discourse?

I was eating with a former study colleague of mine yesterday evening, someone deeply acquainted with modern technologies and social media, discussing about life and web.

This person has inspired my early blogging - before "Watching Europe". He is also the one who proved to me the political use of Twitter by reporting about a real-life discussion meeting (where we both participated) on the use of the web for politics live on Twitter and asking questions coming from Twitter followers to the speaker on the panel - this was 1 1/2 years ago. He also knows the German blogger and social media scene pretty well.

One of the things he raised in our discussion about what he would like to see in the Euroblogging scene is a transnational discourse on European topics. He proposed that a group of European bloggers from different European countries should pick a current EU-topic and report about the coverage and opinions in their respective countries, including a personal account.

The articles should be in English, but the summaries could be translated into other EU languages. By cross-linking these articles it might be possible to create bits of European discourses that could be a good read.

He also proposed that we use the BOBs, the Deutsche Welle Blog Awards at next years re:publica conference, to bring together a bunch of active European bloggers to get this thing bigger.

Reflecting on this idea, I was thinking about a possible technical/ organisational solution for this exercise:

It would be a wiki-like blog with a bunch of bloggers from different countries writing collectively. Someone puts up an article on a current EU topic summarising the press and blog discussions in her/his country, using hyperlinks to fill the story with life and to keep the article relatively short. Any other contributor can later edit the post by adding his own country's perspective. Step by step, the article would grow bigger, with every new contribution getting closer to a complete overview.

The advantage would be twofold:

First, this individual starting approach (compared to a collective agreement on which topic to choose) will ease the initiation of new posts. And second, the collective editing of a single post will keep together the discourse on the same topic in a single place, easing it for the reader to get an overview over the actual discourse.

And even if a post on one topic will just encompass the perspective(s) of two different countries on the same issue, this could be an inspiration for further debate or a way to see how different issues are perceived in different (or very similar) ways.

What do you think about it - regarding both the substance of the proposal, and the technical side on how to implement it?

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Reforming the EU - Impossible

The European Citizen has written an article on the need and possibility to reform the European Commission.

Without going too much into details, I would simply advocate a Commission that is completely detached from national considerations, because the tasks the Commissioners fulfil do not justify balance between member states but competence in their respective fields, as well as an ability to think in European dimensions and to lead a rather significant administration in a quite complex environment.

However, seeing the last eight years, I doubt that the EU is capable of substantive reform.

Its grown complexity with a perceived close-to-infinite number of veto points has become a heavy burden for this European tanker trying to navigate on the global sea.

Sure, we might see the Lisbon Treaty ratified soon, but this is not a revolutionary text, despite some obvious institutional and procedural changes. Under Lisbon, some dynamics will be changed, some equilibria will shift from one institution to another - largely depending on the practical interpretation and implementation of the Treaty's provisions.

Still, the true reform potential that would make the Union an effective and efficient democratic polity involving multi-level politics with a sensible mixture of representative democracy, administrative co-ordination, and involvement of citizens and socio-political interests concerned, is missing.

To make a long story short: Post-Lisbon, the EU won't see any substantial reform for a long time, no matter how urgent it would be. There are too many veto points built in the system, and these veto points mix the evils of individual high-handedness with the conservative force of big masses based upon non-rational logics that will always work against a reform that is felt and seen on the surface.

Only an external (or strong internal) shock might induce such a reform process, but in the end, its impact will hardly be sustainable long enough to put pressure on the Union for a sufficiently long time-period that would be needed to get a reform not only formulated but also ratified within 27 (or some more) member states.

Reforming the EU is impossible - and, yes, I know that prophecies can be self-fulfilling.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Massive data collection exercise at the EU/ Schengen external borders in August/ September

UPDATE: Find the results of the data collection exercise here.

According to a newly released Council document (dated 8 June; only partially public), the EU and Schengen member states will run a massive data collection exercise at the external borders from 31 August to 6 September 2009.

Initially planned for June and postponed to the dates indicated above (with the data being transferred to the Council Secretariat in mid-September), the goal of this exercise is
"comparable data on entries and exits of different categories of travelers at different types of external borders, currently not available in all Member States, that would be useful in preparatory work within the Commission with a view to submitting in the beginning of 2010 a legislative proposal on the creation of a system of electronic recording of entry and exit data."
In earlier discussions, member states had different opinions whether this data collection would include all border crossing points, and it is not clear whether this is the case or not. A Council document from May highlights that
"[t]he added value of the proposed exercise would be the gathering of comparable data on entries and exits of different categories of travelers at different types of external borders in the Member States"
while noting that
"the exercise is not aimed at establishing estimates on the total number of border crossings in Member States."
Since the documents are only partially public, it is not absolutely clear what kind of date will be assembled through which measures. It is also not clear whether this will be random sampling (e.g. every fifth/tenth/twentieth traveller) or a complete sampling of everyone crossing the border during this one week.

Since this will be a kind of test run for a standardised exit/entry database, it would be interesting to know what the European Data Protection Supervisor (or his national colleague) think about this exercise...

PS.: And also note that discussions on the Passenger Name Record (PNR) are continuing intransparently in the Council (see my previous coverage).

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Europe in blogs - Euroblogs (7)

For this seventh "Europe in blogs" you had to wait over a month. I blame the summer break. I blame the European Union. I blame my employer. And my friends. To make it short: I blame life.

The big question is: Did anything happen over the last month?

Well, the first thing you might have noticed is that I have extended the title of this category to "Europe in blogs - Euroblogs". This reflects the focus more accurately, since I concentrate on Euroblogs, thus those blogs that have an explicit focus on Europe and European politics.

In addition, I am now using the hashtag #euroblogs on Twitter whenever commentating on blogs of this category or when promoting related content. I invite you to do the same, helping to build a recognisable label for what we do in so many different ways.

But let's start with some content:

One of the the most interesting developments in the euroblogging scene over this summer is the kick-off of Ideas on Europe which is meant to be a blogging platform for academics. Developed by Nosemonkey and promoted by Kosmopolit, we already witnessed a German diplomat writing about the role of embassies, a post about the role of the new President of the European Council under the Lisbon Treaty or an analysis of the influence of think tanks on the European security strategy.

Leaving the academic world, you could see that for the old boys among the eurobloggers the summer seems to be the time for reflection about identity and blogging:
Another old boy, A Fistful of Euros, is slowly getting back on track with some interesting content after several months of rather uninteresting posts, e.g. with this one on the danger of voting at the Eurovision Song Contest in Azerbaijan.

The euroblogging ladies have had very diverse experiences over the last month:
  • Bente Kalsnes is returning to Norway after several years in Brussels;
  • eurosocialiste is on summer holidays in Spain;
  • and La Oreja de Europa was travelling to Brussels while being plagiarised by a public institution.
Altogether, the favourite topics over the last month were the summer break and holidays: Here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here - and also my opinion on the long summer break.

There was much more in European blogs over the last month (although not too much), but that's it for now. "Europe in blogs - Euroblogs" will be back soon.

PS.: The only one who does not take a break, neither politically nor as a blogger, is the Swedish foreign minster in charge of the EU Council Presidency: Carl Bildt.

With his activity level he embarrasses the whole euroblogging scene!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

The Journal of European Public Policy: Blatant mistake in the current issue

One might think that peer-reviewed political science publications should not contain blatant factual mistakes.

However, in the freshly published issue 6 (Volume 16/2009) of the Journal of European Public Policy - one of the most important political science journals on EU affairs - there is an article by Sabine Saurugger (pp. 935–949) titled "Sociological Approaches in EU Studies" where on page 941 you find the following sentence:
"[T]he hypothesis of a creeping depoliticization of the EU is questioned, not only since the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by the French and the Dutch but already between 1980 and 1990."
Since you readers are EU geeks, you will have immediately noticed that the French and the Dutch have rejected the Constitutional Treaty, not the Lisbon Treaty, which was rejected by the Irish.

This obvious mistake is the more remarkable if one considers that several notable scientists have read the article before it was published, including the peer reviewer:
"The author would like to thank F[.] Mérand, O[.] Rozenberg, A[.] Menon, the anonymous reviewer, and in particular Berthold Rittberger for their extremely perceptive comments on earlier versions of this article." (footnote 1)
I'd say that such a mistake is neither the best advertisement for a peer-reviewed journal nor for the scientist involved in and around the article.

I hope that this is not a general indication of the quality in peer-reviewed journals but just a mistake that happened in the current hype around the Lisbon Treaty ratification...

The German Lisbon Treaty by-law: Negotiations approaching an end

The ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in Germany is coming closer, with intensive negotiations between different federal levels and political parties coming to an end.

According to several press reports (e.g. here or here), the revised Lisbon by-law that had to be reformed after the decision of the German Constitutional Court will massively strengthen the German Länder (the federal regions).

The draft by-law is not yet published - at least I did not find it - but there seems to be the agreement that not only the Bundestag - the German parliament - but also the Länder through the Bundesrat - the second chamber where the Länder are represented to co-decide in all matters that concern their legal competencies - will receive substantial participation rights in EU affairs.

The extreme time pressure to finalise the Lisbon ratification before the end of the term of this Bundestag (before the elections on 27 September) and thus also before the Lisbon referendum in Ireland has fostered this compromise with many concessions towards the Länder and both legislative chambers.

After this compromise, the German government will not only have to inform both chambers well in advance but also take close-to-binding instructions from both chamber that are already called "emergency brake" because the legislature will be able to bring to a halt the German government when it speaks in the EU or European Council.

As a European I am glad that this will bring us closer to the Lisbon ratification.

As a democrat and citizen I am happy that the parliamentary institutions will be strengthened towards the government.

As a political scientist I know that this will the already complex German politics even more complex, with the 16 federal regions getting more influence in the federal decision making with regard to EU decisions.

I am afraid that this will make EU politics in Germany very complicated, foster multi-level compromises that might be even less democratic and transparent for the public - especially if there is the need for a common German position under time pressure, e.g. ahead of EU or especially European Council meetings - and might therefore slow down European-level compromises in important matters in the end.

But let's wait how the final draft of the by-law will look like - as soon as I get it I will try to make an analysis and to share it with you here on the blog.

The Union, Jack!

The Union and the Union Jack.

In unity. EU and Jack.

Jack in the Union...

- the UNION, Jack!

Europe, you don't listen!

Jack doesn't listen either.

You say: Are EU UK?

Jack says: Your rope is ripped.

And: God save the Queen!

You're both – truly – European!

Friday, 14 August 2009

The serious parliament: Only 8 light moments in 5 years

Dear EP web editors,

do you think that filling the boringness of the parliamentary summer break with a front-page article titled "Lighter moments" that contains a photo gallery of just 8 photos is shedding a good light on the parliament?

Were there just 8 lighter moments in 5 years? And did most of the "lighter" moments occur during meetings (which usually are far from light) or other work-related activities? In fact, the only photo I like is the hand kiss.

Yet, if there is some time these days to produce such kind of articles, why not finding some good photos that really show light moments?

Sincerely yours,


Thursday, 13 August 2009

Germany against reformed EU short-term visa procedures

In June, the EU Council has adopted a Community code on visas.

All details on the legislative proposal can be found in the Council press release (see also the full legislative procedure and the final document), but its
"provisions mainly concern transits through or intended stays not exceeding three months in any six-month period (short-term visas)"
and the idea was that
"[t]hird-country nationals will benefit from a more consistent and transparent application procedures."
- which sounds rather positive to me.

Yet, in the overview over the June legislative acts passed by the Council published yesterday I found on page 29 that the only state voting against this proposal was Germany.

In fact, this was the only negative vote of a member state on any major legislative proposal in June, so it looks quite important.

However, when you go to website of the German Ministry of the Interior, the only information you get on this legislation is:
"7. Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a Community Code on Visas – COM(2006) 403 final

It is envisaged to adopt a visa code to consolidate and to a certain extent reform the existing Community acquis governing the granting of Schengen visas. It is a fundamental reform intended to incorporate and replace a number of legal instruments such as the Common Consular Instructions (CCI) and Articles 9 to 17 of the Convention Implementing the Schengen Agreement. This will help clarify existing rules of the common visa policy.
No sign that Germany has rejected the proposal. And trying to find something in the press did also not bring about results.

Only in an addendum to the June Council minutes (which are just related to in the Council press release by the document number) you find the explanation:
"The German delegation generally welcomes the agreement on a Visa Code. It has not endorsed the current version owing to the fact that its request that visa applicants be interviewed has not been accommodated. The German delegation would therefore reiterate its proposal that visa applicants submitting a first application should, in principle, be interviewed by a consular officer since such applicants are, in any case, required to appear at the visa office in person to be fingerprinted (exceptions: bona fide applicants and applications filed with external service providers or commercial intermediaries). [...]"
This position is another example of the distrust of the German visa authorities to anyone applying for a visa to Germany.

"Our" officials - in these cases they are not "mine" - make a damn mess out of any visa application, which renders any international meeting with non-EU foreigners a problem if you don't get a nice administrators dealing with your issues.

And apparently our government has no problem to project this stubbornness even to its EU-level decisions, against all 26 other member states.

Thank you Germany, for being the most stubborn country in the Union, and thanks for keeping up the walls that we were hoping to tear down - I feel ashamed!

Tear down the walls

48 years ago the East German regime started to build the Wall.

This wall was the realisation of the largest prison that the world has ever seen. It materialised the walls in the heads and minds, and although this wall was torn down almost 20 years ago, it persists in too many of these heads and minds.

The Wall was the absolute example of a border. Borders are one of the evils that we have created in our history. They are constructions, meant to keep people apart.

Looking from the west, I was born behind the Wall. I would have been kept apart from many of the people I got to know during my life. But I am part of the lucky generation.

When I started to realise the world beyond the Soviet-style building block where I lived 20 years ago, the Wall had already gone.

What I saw was not a united Germany, I saw a united Europe. And I have been growing up with this view, thanks to parents who made use of these new opportunities and shared them with me.

Today, I live in a Union that opens its borders internally but is closed down to the world outside its own borders. 20 years after the Wall - the material representation of the division of Europe - was torn down, Europe is still divided. There are those who are in (i.e. in the EU). And those who are not.

As a former East German, I will continue to fight against these borders, because I want to share what I received, not least because I have plenty to share. I want everyone in. And I am ready to invest myself as much as I can to reach this goal.

48 years ago, the Wall was constructed. 20 years ago, its material representation removed. It is time to remove its immaterial leftovers!

On abandoning my blog

Okay, maybe I took my point a little too far yesterday announcing that I will abandon this blog - which I won't.

But just to clarify the issue: The idea of leaving the blog is not something that was born yesterday, the statement was just triggered by the small but quite important debate on the design of this blog, including the short discussion between Stephen and Nosemonkey that preceded Jon's statement on my design.

So I didn't have a bad day, or week, or whatever, I just felt it was right. Maybe it's not.

In fact, I don't like the idea of becoming more "important" (even in the most minor sense of the word) - more read, more recognised, more anything - by blogging, or better: By being a blogger. And I realise that in some ways this is the case. I don't like the idea that single persons, not elected by anyone, should be able to get too much influence.

The question is when you reach this point of too much. For me the point of "too much" is reached when people want more from me because they consider I either have the interest or the duty to do something else than what I do now.

You will have noticed that there is no photo or specific private information of me on my blog. Despite some privacy concerns and some other reasons, this has also been a possibility to limit the "importance" that this blogger has. The less people know of me, the more difficult it is to raise attention by creating a story that is not based on what I write. I don't blog out of interest for myself, I blog because I am interested in others.

And altogether, I am just a simple citizen, like almost 500 million others in the EU. You somehow get used to be part of a certain elite, but I have never liked this idea.

Thinking about pimping my blog means thinking about raising my importance beyond the mere text that I write as this citizen. Trying to get higher, shining brighter and nicer.

Yet, the text is the only thing I am really interested in. It is my only real contribution as a blogger, as a blogging citizen.

So every time I realise that my presence as a blogger raises demands or unshared expections - about my person, my style - I have doubts whether I should continue becoming something I am not aiming for, and yesterday was another of these moments that brought me until the statement I made.

You may understand this, or not.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

On the dull design of my blog

Jon Worth has said it, and I agree: My blog has the dullest ("most dull") design of all Euroblogs.

He is absolutely right. My design is dull. Overly simple. Minimalist. Or simply: Dull.

But let's face it: In my private life, I hate things that are fancy, because fancy things need attention just because they are there. I don't want to invest time in facades. I don't want to make things more complex just because they could look better. I don't like to care for details, and - sorry - design is detail.

In addition, I am neither a very talented designer nor a programmer, so by keeping my blog design simple and hosting it on Blogspot instead of asking somebody to produce something for me that I would host on my own, I don't pretend to be what I am not.

I probably could get more readers, receive more attention by pimping my design. I could look more important, more talented, more interesting. But I am a blogger because I have fun reading what others write, and I have fun writing. That is all.

Myself, I don't read any blog or website because of a specific design; most of what I read is pure text, usually in an RSS feed (if I go to a website then to comment there).

And since this is what I look for elsewhere, I don't do it differently on my own blog.

But you may voice your opinion on my point of view - I am really interested what you think about this!

PS.: And if anyone thinks my content should be promoted or presented differently: Everything I write is free for re-use as long as it is clear that I was the original author - so feel free to pimp me if you think it's worth the effort.

PPS.: And also take a look at the article below that I wrote just an hour ago and that in some ways is a follow-up to "Becoming an EU-sceptic".

Momentum lost: Will the EU democracy exist after the 2009 elections?

The European Parliament elections 2009 were a massive communication event, involving the European Parliament, the Commission, the Europarties, national administrations, parties, and non-governmental actors - but after this summer break the democratic momentum will have been lost.

Now that the summer is slowly approaching its end, now that EU politicians and officials will start to think again about papers and positions, schedules and sessions, the routine will reconquer the Union.

If there has ever been a momentum - and the serious observer of these elections might hesitate to even use this word - I don't see any reasons why the Brussels bubble should be interested in keeping it alive.

All the communicative efforts that peaked during the 2-3 weeks before the elections were nothing but a flash in the pan. All the money was wasted to create the image of a lively democracy in which the parliament has an important role to play.

But even those in the European Parliament, new or old MEPs and their assistants, will go back to business as usual. Most of them will reduce their presence in social networks and on other public fora in favour of closed-down, self-referential work behind the doors of meeting rooms. They will talk to themselves, listen to themselves, decide about themselves.

The Europarties will forget that they could play a role in bringing European politics closer to European citizens. The best example: Does anyone remember the Party of European Socialists' (PES) election manifesto consulations? Could anyone image something like this happen for non-electoral purposes? Just go to the party websites of the PES, the EPP, ELDR, the Greens, the Left, and you won't find anything that raises the interest of any citizen.

Zero. Nada. Nothing.

And what "highlights" will there be over the rest of the year: The Lisbon Treaty referendum in Ireland, and the ratification of Lisbon by Germany and the Czech Republic. Afterwards, we might have a short but lively debate over the top posts.

That's all.

Apart from that, the EU democracy won't exist, because the post-election EU is nothing but a soufflé that has collapsed as soon as the heat was switched off. For now it looks as if this was just the summer break, but there is not much to come afterwards either. The soufflé never had the right ingredients, and the interest is low in changing this.

Or does anyone see any serious actor who could bring change to Brussels, to the bubble politics, the paper democracy, anyone who would have the courage and strength and ability to change the direction of this huge tanker?

I don't see anyone, and the pre-election facade is crumbling. Without this communicative facade - and the DG Communication will never have enough money to keep this facade without serious cracks - the EU remains what we Europhiles hate about her:

The ignorant self-referential and inward-looking network of administrators in different functions who need to take decisions for 500 million citizens to keep themselves and especially everyone else busy - not the EU that stands for the European values and hopes and ideals.

Only if the Union and its political actors had the courage to leave their Brussels reservation, if they took real risks, and if they put themselves in the frontlines of the European political game by exposing their opinions, their thoughts, their criticism, there would be a chance for the democratic Union to be more than a pre-electoral hope that becomes an invisible phantom afterwards.

I want MEPs and Commissioners, top-level diplomats and high-level officials to stand up, to criticise openly what is going wrong while making constructive proposals how to change the routine, how to break out of the cage, how to end the deadlocked system. This should be done in a way that hurts, that leaves others wounded or that risks a fight between institutions and responsible persons.

Democracy is the peaceful and public fight for the truth - but without actors ready to fight peacefully and in public, there is no democracy.

Yet, this is not going to happen because nobody in Brussels wants to take the risk to lose - and anyone telling the opposite knows that this is just part of the facade, part of the game they play and in which the only winners are those earning money and peer group prestige with the status quo.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Blogs translated (2): The Unreformed Commission

In a longer article on Le Taurillon titled "The Commission dies but does not reform itself", author Laurent Leylekian writes about the European Commission, which, despite the changes over the last 10 years, is still unable to adapt to the the necessities of our days.

I have only translated the last chapter of this article, because it contains the most pertinent questions:
Not the Commission?

You could multiply the examples, and go more into detail, but let us remain brief:

Europe has changed, the world has changed, and the Commission has kept a structure that is basically unchanged, looking as if it was totally unadapted until today.

The most naïve observer could be astonished that there is no Directorate General on Sustainable Development: Is it still serious to consider "Environment" separately, like a cosmetic DG separated from the "serious" subjects such as Transport or Energy? Sure, the DG Transport and Energy seem to care about climate change and renewable energies, but is it not quite expensive or even counter-productive seeing the rivalries it might cause to separate this DG from the DG Environment?

Do we also need a sizeable DG Enlargement given that the obvious and urgent need would rather be a deepening of the Union? Shouldn't a large part of this DG - the one that dealt with the great enlargement of the ten new member states - merge with the DG Regional Policy in order to foster a new ambitious momentum for the European cohesion policy, in particular supporting the Regional Development Fund and the Cohesion Fund?

In the same way, shouldn't we finally create a large DG Privileged Relations giving substance to the explicit political will to treat the countries in the eastern neighbourhood differently - by extracting them from DG External Relations and treating in parallel those states covered by the Eastern Partnership and some others negotiating with the Union?

Finally, do we need to artificially maintain - in accordance with the number of Commissioners - the unchanged DGs whose substance has been removed to a large extend by creating according external executive agencies such as those for Research, for Health, Consumers, or for Education, the Audiovisual and Culture?

It is clear that a serious audit of the Commission and its adequacy for the European project as of today is necessary before answering these difficult questions. But they need to be asked.
These are excellent questions, and despite the fact that most of us are still focussing on the changes the Lisbon Treaty might bring about, they will need an answer in the near future!

Do you think the Commission will be able to find the right answers?

Random MEPs: N° 661 - Claude Turmes

Under the category "Random MEPs" I will from time to time draw a random number from 1 to 736 and take a short a look at the MEP with this number according to an alphabetic list of all MEPs.

The first one on my list is the MEP N° 661*: Claude Turmes.

He is male. 48 years old. From Luxembourg. He is a Green.

This is his personal website. This is his voice (mp3, French). And that's him in an interview in April:

It is the third term in the European Parliament for this former sports teacher, and he is now one of the vice-chairpersons of the Greens in the EP, as well as a member of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy.

According to his declaration on financial liabilities, he is the vice-president of EUFORES (a network of MEPs for renewable energies), he has 10 shares of the Luxembourg electricity company Cegedel as well as 7,000 Euros invested in a Luxembourg energy park. He also participates in some alternative media projects in his home country.

Google finds 107,000 results for the search term "Claude Turmes" (with quotation marks), and the first 100 results are absolutely dominated by the terms "Greens", "energy" and "climate".

According to his Votewatch profile for the 2004-2009 term [If this link doesn't work, click on the 2004-09 term on the upper left of Votewatch, and re-use the link again.], he has drafted 4 reports and held 77 speeches in the plenary, which puts him into the upper third of MEPs in both categories, while his attendance rate with almost 91% puts him on the upper ranks of the second third of MEPs. He is also among the most loyal MEPs when it comes to voting with his political group, or, in other words, he shares most of the majority opinions within the Greens in the EP.

For a full list of activities in the European Parliament, see his parliamentary biography. But it is noteworthy that his last work as a rapporteur was on the
Proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources
which ended in a directive passed in June of this year, just before the end of the legislative term of the old parliament.

He thus looks like a rather influential MEP in the field of climate change and renewable energies, and could be a good subject for all those blogging in the second round of Th!nk About It!...

* Since I could not find a full list of MEPs in one document, I counted through the alphabetic list on the EP's website after I draw the number 661. Although my counting could be wrong, it's still random.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

EU Commission documents and language: A citizen's perspective on the i2010 strategy report [updated]

Let's face it: Many bureaucracies have a problem with language, and the EU Commission is no exception.

But it is still stunning when you read - or try to read - official Commission documents and you can play bullshit bingo with words or phrases that have absolutely no meaning.

Try to read the "Europe’s Digital Competitiveness Report - Main achievements of the i2010 strategy 2005-2009" and, just by reading it, try to find out what has actually happened in the EU over the last years regarding ICT.

Try to understand, what clear goals have been set, which ones were achieved by which means and which are the obvious shortcomings as well as the responsible actors for this shortcoming.

What you get instead are sentences like this one: "The two Roaming Regulations aimed to create a European domestic market for consumers and businesses." But did they achieve anything? The sentence just states a goal, it says nothing about the real impact.

The other "successes" mentioned are "[a] new regulatory body" or the "eYou guide" which is needed to explain EU legislation, which means that it is so complicated no one can understand it. We learn that "[t]he EU is also a potential leader in the future internet", which means everything or nothing.

Or we hear about the incredible news that "[t]he use and the development of ICT are also increasingly embedded in production processes throughout the economy", as if this was the success of the i2010 strategy, although not stated in such a way, and not the simple result of global competition and the general change in technology.

I could continue, but the document is not worth it. This is not a clear analysis of what has been reached, what can be reached, and what will never be reached, but a seek-and-hide game for bureaucrats.

When you take a look at the accompanying Commission staff working document, you enter a different world. The Executive summary is able to say on a little more than two pages more or less the same nothingness as the nine pages of the Commission Communication - but in a language that is readable and understandable.

However, this is just a Commission staff working document, which probably means that it will not be translated, or only later if at all (Commission officials, is this correct?).

In any way, while the Communication might still be noticed by some people, a working document will be noticed by even fewer people, and who will even start to take a look at a document of 112 pages...?!

So what a larger public will not read are clear assessments like this one:
"The search engines, social networks and web mail services that are shaping the Internet are of US origin. The 2008 Scoreboard does not identify any single major EU firm providing Internet related utilities (email, search engines, social networks). Two firms, Google and Yahoo, account for 88% of R&D carried out by Internet companies. Their R&D spending is in line with revenue performance over the relevant period."
In other words: The EU is far away from being a leader in a number of areas, and all the money spent so far has not changed this. The i2010 strategy is a nice facade for some lighthouse projects, but it has no impact on the EU's ICT development that is lagging behind the world leaders.

And we are not only lagging behind, we also hide this in unreadable documents while keeping the readable Executive Summaries for the experts. Congratulations, European Commission!

Update (26 August): I have seen in the Legislative Observatory of the European Parliament that the Commission staff working document has also been transmitted to the Parliament.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

One year ago: Russia and Georgia at war (supplemented)

One year ago, Russia and Georgia were at war - yet another war on the European continent, Europeans killing Europeans, because big men with big balls needed to compare the lengths of their penises.

This conflict between two very different but in a sense still very similar nations - both are marked by a lack of democratic culture and their politics are built upon nationalism and false assumptions about the need for power - showed us Europeans that the phantom of war has not disappeared from our shores, that the shadow of distrust and hate has not been washed away from our lands, and that power of evil remains strong.

Putin and Medvedev as well as Saakashvilli deserve our full disrespect for what they did; they are a shame for the European continent and for the values that their countries have subscribed to as members of the Council of Europe and the OSCE!

We also shouldn't forget that this is not just about politics, it is about human beings who have been killed, it is about families disrupted, about injured souls, about lives filled with fear and anger. War is not about big man with big balls, it is about man-made weapons cutting human bodies into pieces and burning human lives into ashes.

Now, one year later, tensions are rising again in the region, although not looking as dangerous as a year ago. It makes me angry seeing this, and so I will let some else speak more calmly on the matter.

Alexander Stubb, former MEP and now Finnish foreign minister, has been the chairman of the OSCE last year and was blogging in English when he went to the region.

Yesterday, a year later, Stubb has published an article on his blog looking back and into the future:
[...] The war in Georgia shattered the European security policy configuration also at a more general level. It created tensions and persistent insecurity. [...]

What does the situation in Georgia look like now on 080809?

Firstly, domestic turmoil in the country is continuing. [...] Secondly, the security situation in the conflict regions is alarming. [...]

The most significant step forward to date is the joint incident prevention and response mechanism, which involves regular meetings at local level to discuss incidents and their prevention. However, there have been stumbling blocks in its implementation. [...]

What should the EU then do to preserve stability and help Georgia out of the woods at some phase?

I see that political intervention can take place on three tracks. 1) The cease-fire must be monitored effectively and reinforced by international presence in the entire territory of Georgia. 2) The peace process must be supported and preconditions must be sought for a gradual restoration of confidence and concrete steps forward. 3) The EU must strengthen its overall support for Georgia. This will take place in the framework of the policy of the Eastern Partnership. [...]
What Stubb writes doesn't look too encouraging, it doesn't seem that there has been much progress, and it shows the slow speed with which diplomacy moves in such cases, spending time on useless words and declarations, trying to avoid saying what needed to be said.

Still, I hope for the people in the region, as well as for the whole of Europe, that our European politicians and diplomats, but even more the responsible actors in the countries and the region will be able to secure peace on our continent - and that all of you remain aware that what we have managed to create with the EU is not self-evident, but has to be defended every day and minute in order to live in peace and relative prosperity as we do right now.

Any alternative is nothing but frightening...!

Supplement: Carl Bildt, Swedish foreign minister, now co-responsible for the Swedish EU Council Presidency, and one year ago chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe, has also written about the first "birthday" of the war.

PS.: One year ago, this blog was still very young, and so the Russian-Georgian crisis pretty much dominated its early times as you can see in a number of articles from last year:

Friday, 7 August 2009

10 months of democracy: On the summer break

After reading an article on a German euroblog that covered the Brussels summer break from a failed satirical perspective (sorry, Jochen), I feel like I should say something on this summer break thing.

I have never really understood why democracy has a summer break. Especially one that takes almost two months.

We are living in a world that is more and more complex, with more communication, more meetings, more everything. But every year, large parts of our democracies go on halt for about 15% of the year. In this time, things move slowly or not all. As if live would stop during this time.

Sure, many people go on holidays during this time, schools are out, universities rather empty, and it's usually warmer outside which is not always helpful to foster an atmosphere for work. But I don't see why our elected and non-elected officials should go on the leave for such a long time.

I don't say they are not working during that time, or that they have holidays during two months, but since everybody is out of office at different times during this break, interactive and collaborative work, not to speak of collective decisions, are not really possible meanwhile.

For the rest of the year, the schedules are tight, and decisions have to be taken under enormous time pressure, which you can see regularly by their low quality. All because there are these two month of vacation time.

What I want to say is that I am not sure that the long summer break is of advantage for the democratic process. It disrupts continuity, heightens pressure during the rest of the year, and gives the impression that you can put democracy on a break for quite a long time without problems.

Therefore, and although I am aware that this would mean an important change in routines all over the continent, I think the summer break should be shortened significantly, because I don't want democracy to "disappear" for more than two weeks in a row!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Twitter offline due to a denial of service attack

It looks like Twitter is attacked, which seriously interrupts the global communication process, as remarks correctly.

Creating a European Public Sphere: Blogs translated (1)

The creation of a European Public Sphere will need more efforts to bring different linguistic spheres together.

One of the efforts I will undertake in this regard is to translate, from time to time, articles from other blogs into English.

This will mostly relate to blog posts in French, Spanish, or Romanian - the languages I can read well enough besides English (and German for which there is already the category "The EU in German blogs".)

If you are the one I am translating, don't hesitate to tell me if you don't like this or when you find any mistakes in my translation.

Let's start today with a post from the Spanish blog europe@as titled "La ciudadanía europea en un click" which covers one of my favourite topics, that is the creation of a European Public Sphere:
The European cititizenship in one click

On europe@as we like to ask questions, but we are not used that we are questioned. Hence, I was perplex when Robert Rode, from the Europe Direct & Luis Vives Foundation sent me a mail asking me to answer a questionnaire. This was the result:

The abstention at the ballot boxes at the last European elections has marked the disinterest of the citizens for the process of constructing Europe. The "democratic deficit" for which the European institutions are frequently blamed comes together with a "communication deficit". The key to escape from this one-way street would be a communication aiming at the creation of a European Public Sphere. In between the initiatives to get Europe closer to the citizens via communication, europe@as sticks out and has been awarded by the European Commission representation in Spain as the blog with the best European news article (for "The United States of Europe").

Question: Your blog has been recently awarded by the Representation of the European Commission in Spain. What importance do such awards have for a blog like yours?

Answer: In my opinion, there is a double importance. On the one side, this has objectively given more visibility to a European blog which was operating at the margins of visibility and that has seen the number of visits multiplied. If this competition will continue, we will see very interesting things. On the other side, from a more personal, subjective point of view, I thought that the articles published were not followed by anyone who wasn't among the regular visitors coming to this blog. However, I realised that people working in and around the Commission were following the comments with interest, including those critical to the functioning of different aspects of the EU.

Question: Today, the European Union consists of 27 member states, it has 23 official and many regional languages. Is it possible to create a common public space?

Answer: I am sure that it is not only possible but that it is necessary. There were some previous attempts in the written press and in audiovisual media. But it is in the internet where this utopia - a European Public Sphere - is going to be a reality. Here are some examples: Presseurop, Café Babel, etc.

Question: Do you think that without the internet one can reach 500 million Europeans?

Answer: If in Europe at this time there was an effort in the audiovisual field to reach out to all Europeans, we now would have the field covered by the internet. But I don't think that the internet alone can reach out to the 500 million Europeans. Among other reasons, it is necessary not to lose sight of the fact that there is also illiteracy for new technologies in certain parts of the population. Under the present circumstances, there is a need to combine audiovisual media and the internet to reach the majority of the population.

Question: In which way the European institutions will have to engage more and better in order to overcome this so-called "communication deficit"?

Answer: This is the One-Million-Question, and to a large extend this is the question which at that time (2003) I tried to answer with my doctoral thesis titled "The press and education in the process of European integration".

Regarding the top EU posts under the Lisbon Treaty

For all those writing about speculations on the allocation of the top EU jobs under a possibly ratified Lisbon Treaty, I would like to point to the following declaration annexed to the Lisbon Treaty (i.e. to the final act of the Lisbon Intergovernmental Conference):
"6. Declaration on Article 15(5) and (6), Article 17(6) and (7) and Article 18 of the Treaty on European Union

In choosing the persons called upon to hold the offices of President of the European Council, President of the Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, due account is to be taken of the need to respect the geographical and demographic diversity of the Union and its Member States.
This pretty much rules out two persons of the same country/geographic region being among these three top posts - and also three males getting all the three jobs!

In my point of view, this also speaks against the re-election of Barroso before the Lisbon Treaty has been ratified, because member states would clearly limit their options for the other two top jobs by taking an early decision on Mr. B.

Now the speculations may continue...!

Norway's parliamentary elections and EU discussions

Finn Myrstad, a Norwegian living and working in Brussels, has written an excellent blog post titled "Will Norway join the EU after Iceland?" in which takes a detailed look at the (rather non-existent) EU-debate ahead of Norway's parliamentary elections on 14 September 2009.

At the end of his article he concludes:
"So, what is the conclusion? I personally hope that the EU will be a prominent issue in the elections, as our relation with Europe is of crucial importance in how we conduct domestic politics and on a whole range of international issues such as climate change and energy security where the EU plays a key role.

Is this likely? Probably not, as Norwegian politicians prefer to stick their head in the sand and pretend that the world (or at least the EU) around them does not exist.
Despite this negative outlook - or positive for those who don't want Norway in the EU - the article gives a perfect summary of national party position and more pan-European issues.

I can only recommend reading!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Digital co-operation of administrations in the EU: New developments [supplemented]

Since nothing happens in the EU, I took a look at some EU Council documents - and I could discover quite interesting details.

Earlier this year, the Czech EU Council presidency proposed the setting up of an "informal virtual discussion forum" for member states' officials as well as Council and Commission staff dealing with the execution of EU-sanctions.

The idea of this mail-based virtual forum is to informally exchange views between the different officials on how they implement EU sanctions. Officials using the forum can ask questions to their colleagues and are free to answer the questions of others when necessary.

(Very interesting to note is that journalist Bruno Waterfield had requested access to the document linked above [there: the 2nd revised version from April] in its 1st revised version from March.)

According to a new, partially public Council document from the end of June, there are one general list and three specialised (but non-operational) fora set up by now, and until the end of the Czech presidency, 72 officials from 18 member states had registered.

In the same Council document, I also discovered CIRCA (Communication & Information Resource Centre Administrator), apparently a virtual tool the Commission has set up a long time ago (which you can see from its design) to allow geographically spread administrators to work together on a wide range of issues.

Yet, it doesn't seem to be that known if the Commission still needs to present it to the member states and if it raises discussions (see Council document) because certain delegations complaine that CIRCA only exists in English.

Both initiatives show that the EU tries to foster inter-administrative co-operation through means of the 21st century (although an email-forum is still quite 20th century style) - it would be interesting to hear how these things are used in practice.

Dr. Nikolas Busse, the FAZ, and quality journalism on EU affairs

For years now, I am a regular and very satisfied reader of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) (in the e-paper version), one of the two major German national daily quality newspapers (the other one is the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ)).

Even during the times when I lived outside Germany I continued reading this newspaper, especially because of its international news which cover even minor events that other newspapers wouldn't even notice.

However, I've always thought that the FAZ wasn't covering EU affairs to the extend it should have been doing, in particular compared to its international and economic news.

A recent scientific publication on the Europeanisation of the national press (which included the FAZ over the years 1982, 1989, 1996 and 2003) supported this personal point of view. And when the newspaper suppressed their weekly page especially dedicated to EU matters some months ago, I was quite disappointed.

But now, in connection with a number of articles by its Brussels correspondent Dr. Nikolas Busse (starting from the one mentioned on Twitter some weeks ago), I have the feeling that there is an upwards trend in the reporting on European and in particular EU affairs.

The articles Busse writes are written from a Brussels perspective, covering EU-related news in the most natural way, quoting new German MEPs like Jan Philipp Albrecht without creating big personality stories, mentioning little details that go beyond the standard reporting on large summits, and discussing issues that are of current relevance both from a national and an EU perspective.

I also have the impression that Busse gets more space for his articles, and I hope this is not just because of the summer break (although seeing the German parliamentary elections approach, he might have harder times very soon), but that this will continue in the future.

To make a long story short: I wanted to write my first article after returning from blogging holidays about the fact that I didn't notice anything EU relevant over the last two weeks - but this wouldn't be true thanks to Dr. Busse.

Read also: Kosmopolit on EU news in regional newspapers