Friday, 30 April 2010

Contradictory results in Court of Auditors report on the impact assessments of the Commission

A report by the EU Court of Auditors (that was so far confidential but now released by the Council) is generally positive about the way the EU Commission assesses the impact of its programmes. At the same time, the report leaves serious doubts about this conclusion.

For time reasons, I just took a look at the executive summary. But in there one can clearly see the contradiction between different conclusions drawn.

It starts very positive:
"On balance, particularly in recent years, the audit has shown that impact assessment has been effective in supporting decision-making within the EU institutions. In particular, it was found that the Commission had put in place a comprehensive impact assessment system since 2002.

Impact assessment has become an integral element of the Commission's policy development and has been used by the Commission to design its initiatives better. The Commission's impact assessments are systematically transmitted to the European Parliament and Council to support legislative decision-making and users in both institutions find them helpful when considering the Commission’s proposals.
So while this sounds good, the summary continues like this:
"Impact assessment reports do not easily reveal their key messages to the reader and comparing the impacts of the various policy options presented in an IA report is often impossible.

Also, due to a lack of appropriate data, the quantification and monetisation of the impacts of the different options assessed were weak and the analysis often did not provide an adequate basis for a comparison of policy options. In addition, comparing different options was made difficult because of the way in which they were presented in the impact assessment reports.
In other words, the Impact Assessments are a nice innovation but they are largely worthless because they are unclear and not based on good data.

So Impact Assessments have been introduced but they cannot be an effective tool because their results are blurry as much EU language in decisions and reports is blurry and indefinite. Great!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

War & Peace

(Best if enlarged to full screen and sound turned on loud enough.)

See also: more language versions

European Year of Something 2012

I propose that 2012 should be the European Year of Progressive Dying, which is pretty close to the proposal from the Spanish Presidency.

PS.: These (European) Years of Something are the most stupid things that national and European institutions have come up. Nobody should tell that these years ever had any effect but pleasing those organisations and institutions in active in the respective policy fields.

Lavrov's visions for the Greater Europe

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has been speaking in front of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe today, laying out Russia's visions for the European political and security architecture.

The speech is pretty long and loaded with history*, but there are a number of important political points that come up in the last third.

Lavrov repeats, directly and indirectly, what is the Russian position for years on what he calls "Greater Europe", a Europe that includes Russia and other non-EU member states of the Council of Europe as well as (some?) countries that are members of the OSCE.

A short summary on how I interpret the Russian position:

The Russian government wants that the Council of Europe takes on the "soft" issues into which he includes social and economic well-being, intercultural dialogue and a little bit of human rights. Like an intergovermental European Union light, just with Russia as a member state.

And the OSCE should become the organisation that deals with hard, military security, replacing NATO and getting rid of the OSCE's elements that promote democracy and human rights. Since the other OSCE members are not happy about this, they have directed these discussions into the so-called "Corfu Process".

In both organisations, Russia is trying to play down the roles of human rights and democratic freedoms. It is remarkable that in front of an organisation like the Council of Europe which has the European Convention on Human Rights as one its basic documents, Lavrov mentions the term "human rights" only three times (plus one time "rights") while stressing the issue of "security" 20 times throughout the speech.

And he doesn't even mention once the European Court of Human Rights, which belongs to the Council of Europe and has more than once ruled on severe human rights violations in Russia.

There are three particular quotes that caught my attention.

The first one:
"[W]hy do not we encourage in the context of the Corfu process all the OSCE members to adhere to the law of the Council of Europe?"
This is a very strange proposal given that the OSCE countries that are not members of the Council of Europe are either definitely non-European (like the USA) or they clearly do not respect the values of the Council of Europe - human rights, democracy, and the rule of law - (like Belarus, the Central Asian countries, the Vatican).

This proposal is thus pretty non-sense and seems to be a position that Russia just takes to counterbalance the rather hesitant position that the EU and the USA have on its proposals regarding the OSCE reform. Russia proposes to "outsource" the human issues away from the OSCE to strengthen its proposal to make the OSCE a pure hard security or defence organisation.

And the second quote is clearly a critique to the European Union countries (27 of the 47 Council of Europe members are EU countries) that want the Council of Europe to focus on its core tasks as defined by the last Summit in Warsaw in 2005:
"The proposals to diminish the mandate and competence of our Organization are inadmissible, as well as the attempts to limit its independence, transform the Council of Europe into a subsidiary body of the other European structures. The Strasburg Organization must be the leading European lawmaker in the proper sense of the word."
However, Lavrov finishes with a note that I could sign without problems, except for the doubt that the Council of Europe can actually deliver this vision:
"Owing to a more effective Council of Europe, our continent will have every chance to become truly integrated space with human rights promoted according to unified standards, where every citizen of the Greater Europe would benefit from real mobility realized in the free movement of ideas and people. It is quite hard to understand that the "visa iron curtain" is drawn, unlike during the Cold War, on the opposite side."
In summary, the speech is in clear continuity of the Russian position with just some refinement and adaptation in the argumentation that reflect discussions in other fora - a sign that we won't see much development in the political landscape of the "Greater Europe" in the near future.

* PS.: Lavrov was reading really quickly - the poor translator... (see the video of the speech).

Picture: © utenriksdept / CC BY-ND 2.0

Aurelie from Eurocontrol on video

Aurelie Valtat from Eurocontrol explains how they managed social media communications during the ashcloud crisis:

I've also blogged about this before. And Matilda, too.

My 1000th Euroblog post: Join the "My Europe" experience!

Next week, from May 3rd until May 9th, European bloggers are going to organise a blog carnival titled "This is My Europe" - and I thought it would be worth dedicating the 1000th post of my own euroblog to announce this here.

Whether you have a blog or not, you can join and write, either by sending us the link to your blog post or by posting your complete article directly on our #myeurope platform, both through this form. It doesn't matter whether you write in English or French, Estonian or Maltese, Russian or Turkish, just write about Your Europe, your thoughts, wishes, ideas, angers...

The team of editors of is looking forward to your contributions!

I myself have been "Watching Europe" since 1 July 2008 with 1000 blog posts. I found my way into the circle of people blogging about European issues - I call them eurobloggers - through the EU blog directory (not updated anymore) that Nosemonkey had set up and kept updated at the time - I was included around August 2008. Since then, I have stayed around the block.

And believe me: When I started the blog, I didn't think that I would ever reach 1000 posts, especially not in just 22 months.

In the first year of my euroblog, quite some posts have been devoted to my thoughts about Europe and about European blogging, besides my focus on the European Parliament elections. Just some examples:
More recently, I tried to explain how my mind became a "European Mind", why I am blogging in English, and I told a story about the strange notion of "Strangers". These are all different kind of reflections on how I perceive Europe, the European Union, and the blogging about both.

But these are just my thoughts on Europe, and I hope many of you will join to tell stories about your Europe, making #myeurope a shared experience of European bloggers and European blogging.

Let's shape the next week into our joint European week 2010 - be part of the experience!

Council live streaming & tender statistics

The EU Council needs a new video & audio streaming provider.

This news was spread by the great new voice of the EU Council administration on Twitter, @Dana_Council, and this news is connected to an official tender that runs until 24 May 2010.

The whole tender linked above is interesting to read because it tells a lot about the audiovisual needs of the Council of the European Union, both for external but also for internal communication.

One of details mentioned in the tender that I'd like to highlight are the unique visitors statistics of the Council's present streaming platform for the last three years:
in 2007, 3 000 for live streaming and 16 000 for on-demand;
in 2008, 5 000 for live streaming and 11 000 for on-demand;
in 2009, 13 000 for live streaming and 35 000 for on-demand.
I'm no expert in web statistics but I'd say that these are pretty bad figures for an institution that represents 500 million citizens and unites governments of 27 member states with tens of thousands of national officials.

There is a lot of room for improvement.

It is thus to hope that the new streaming provider will deliver high-quality and easy-to-use services, with good searchability and intelligent tagging, making it easy to find content and to use it for ex post reporting, but also that the Council will show more transparency and make more of its work visible to the citizens of the Union through audiovisual media.

The only questions I ask myself are: Why is this just a tender for the Council and not a joint tender for all EU institutions? Wouldn't it be intelligent to have a common audiovisual platform for all the institutions?

But it's probably business as usual - institutional ego before public service...

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Who will be in the External Action Service?

Thanks to MEP Martin Ehrenhauser (independent), we now have access to a list of Commission & Council units that will be placed under the External Action Service of the EU as soon as it is functional.

Note: In the online registry of the Council, this document is not public. Why?

Comitology 2.0 & meat glue: The first time - updated

Update: According to the comment by Anonymous, the present decision is was still based on the old comitology decision, not the new one as one can read in the ALDE press release linked below.

So we still need to wait for the new powers of the EP to become effective...

According to a press release of ALDE, the European Parliament has, for the first time, used its new Comitology powers against the Commission.

I have covered comitology and its reform in a number of recent posts. And because the EP's Environment & Health Committee (ENVI) is clever, it used the very nice issue of meat glue to make everyone aware of the fact that this reform actually happened.

Meat glue is like the Comitology itself: It is an additive you don't notice but it keeps together pieces of stuff that would otherwise fall apart. It's details are very technical and can only be understood by very few experts.

Åsa Westlund (S&D group), the MEP responsible for the coordination of this decision as the rapporteur, showed positive surprise in her blog about the support and the majority she received in the Committee for her draft resolution which concerned this quite technical draft Commission directive.

While neither in the draft Directive nor in the EP resolution there is any hint to the Comitology procedure, the ALDE press release mentioned above gives an indication that this was still the case:
This is the first time since the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty that the European Parliament has opposed implementing a so-called technical measure under the comitology procedure (delegated act) of the European Commission and the Member States.
The term "delegated act" is a hint to Article 290 TFEU (Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union), where in paragraph 1 we can read that
"A legislative act may delegate to the Commission the power to adopt non-legislative acts of general application to supplement or amend certain non-essential elements of the legislative act."
This means that the Commission can be given powers to decide upon certain details of EU regulation, e.g. via Council Directives, on its own. However, in paragraph 2b of Article 290 it is specified that
"the delegated act may enter into force only if no objection has been expressed by the European Parliament or the Council within a period set by the legislative act"
which seems to be the case with the "Meat Glue Directive": The Commission wanted to regulate "technical aspects" of an existing act where it had been given delegated powers and the European Parliament expresses its objection.

This power was given to the European Parliament by the Lisbon Treaty.

However, it is still unclear to me how the procedure will look like after the formal objection in the plenary of the European Parliament because the detailed regulation on Article 290 TFEU is not yet in place.

But no matter how this procedure will be, we seem to have witnessed yet another "first time" moment in the use of new legislative powers by the European Parliament after the Lisbon reform.

(Thanks to an unnamed EU official for making me aware of this story.)

Picture: © roboppy / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Quote of the day: ACTA & transparency

"Regarding the applicant's argument that essential parts of the positions of all ACTA participants have already been disclosed on the internet, it should be recalled that the fact that the documents in question are accessible on the internet does not constitute a sufficient ground to conclude that these documents were officially released by the Council."
Source: EU Council document 8072/10 (worth reading in its entirety)

Where are all the promotional clips for the Euro? - updated

Below you see an example on why sometimes it is better to spend some more minutes on research before publishing a blog post. It's still worth a story, but it could have been much more consistent, precise and convincing.

Blogging at the speed of tweeting should be avoided - the results of thoughtful blogging look much better (but are much more work...).

It seems as if we are seeing a small EU communications disaster.

According to Raymond Frenken from EUX.TV, all promotional clips for the Euro have been removed from the EU's channel EUtube on Youtube (Update 1: One video - the one on "low inflation" - seems to be left on EUtube. Update 2: They are still on the Commission website... Update 4: However, the video on interest rates that is shown below is not available on the website.).

Frenken also reports on Twitter that he has been called by a (communications?) agency working for the Commission (Update 3: this one) telling him that he should remove the following video from the EUX.TV channel:

Why can't the Commission stand by (Update: all) its videos (Update 2: on Youtube), even while Greece is in trouble? Don't they believe anymore that the Euro is a good thing? What kind of message are they giving buy such actions? This is idiotic!*

* (even as idiotic as the videos look(ed) like)

Monday, 26 April 2010

A "European Code of conduct for lobbying"?

Just stumbled upon this press release informing that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted in favour of a recommendation to set up a European Code of Conduct for Lobbyists today.

The PACE is only a consultative body of the Council of Europe, uniting parliamentarians from the 47 member states of this international organisation, and so the Recommendation 1908 (2010) is not a directly binding document.

Nevertheless, it will force the governments of the CoE member states to position themselves whether they want to follow the demand of the Assembly to set up the code that would define a common understanding of what "lobbying" is and that would, inter alia, define common rules
"applicable to politicians, civil servants, members of pressure groups and business enterprises [...], including the principle of potential conflicts of interest and the period of time after leaving office during which carrying out lobbying activities should be banned"
It will be interesting to see whether the 47 states can agree to start the work on such a text or whether the final response to the Assembly will be that there is no consensus on such a project and that member states are expected to define and regulate lobbying independently.

In any case: A matter that could be worth following.

PS.: Of 79 parliamentarians present at the time of voting, only 1 voted against the recommendation: Alejandro MUÑOZ ALONSO (Spain, Partido Popular) (cf. voting records).

Visualising EU decision-making: Council Regulation 1224/2009

Blogging about EU affairs has to move forward, and what I have realised is that one path to make it more attractive could be visualisation.

I have tried to start this yesterday in the overly long blog post on the decision-making process on Council Regulation 1224/2009 regarding the supervision of the Common Fisheries Policy of the EU.

If you have made your way until the end of that post you have discovered the following map:

On this map I have geo-located the amendments filed by different member states in the course of the decision-making process together with a link to the fish subsidies each country receives.

But I wasn't satisfied with the length and the visual appearance of the blog post, and so I continued searching for a tool to help me out.

Today I found what I was looking for: Xtimeline, a free tool to create timelines that you can embed in blog posts.

So look how the decision-making process on regulation 1224/2009 looks on a timeline (Remark: doesn't seem to be very stable, so if you don't see anything below it is because of their server. Try this link to see the timeline on their webpage.):

You can click on every event where I have linked the relevant document(s) connected to that event. It doesn't tell you the whole story, but it is an easy way to navigate in time and to find certain documents. But you can add a description to each event and thereby give more details to the story you are telling.

The good thing is - and I haven't experimented with this tool so far - that you can upload timelines via RSS feeds or CSV files, which could make it easy to quickly create timelines and to visualise data that wasn't easy to visualise before.

And with this kind of visualisation we could get to a new level of EU story-telling, maybe attracting new attentions to complex processes that were hard to follow in the past.

New blog on the European Court of Human Rights

There is a new euroblog out there: Strasbourg Observers.

It is written by legal academics from the faculty of law in Ghent who want to cover the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

The Strasbourg court adjudicates for (almost) all European citizens - not just citizens of EU member states - and will be responsible to watch EU legislation as soon as the EU has joined the European Convention on Human Rights (see my coverage on the EU's ECHR accession process).

Welcome to the Strasbourg Observers!

(via ECHR Blog)

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Follow-up: Common Fisheries Policy & open data

This morning I published an excessively long article on the decision-making process leading to a Council Regulation regarding the supervision of the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy - and I want to show with the follow-up how one can use the documentation for further research.

You may still wonder what kind of value this research may have, especially if you are not into fisheries (which I am neither). Let me thus share just some insights that you can get just by comparing "dry" data such as Council documents.

In the initial draft of regulation 1224/2009, there was Article 9 para 5 on open access to fisheries data. The article reads:
Member States shall make detailed and aggregated data available to end-users as referred to in Article 2 (i) of Council Regulation (EC) No 199/2008 in order to support scientific analysis under the conditions laid down in Article 18 of that Regulation.
The regulation referenced in this article is on "the collection, management and use of data in the fisheries sector and support for scientific advice", and it was passed while the consultation on Regulation 1224/2009 was ongoing. Article 18 of Regulation 199/2008 states that open data is not only good for scientific advice but also for the public debate (see for example projects like which uses public data to support public supervision of EU fisheries).

However, Article 9(5) from the initial draft has disappeared in the final regulation, and so we wonder why.

Going back to the initial blog post I have written, we find document 10152/09 (20 May 2009) where on page 19 we read the following comments on Article 9(5) by three member states:
[Portugal]: why is reference to Data Collection needed?
[Spain]: this requirement already exists under Reg. 199/2008 and does not need to be repeated here.
[Greece]: not agree with transmitting detailed and aggregated data to end-users as under Reg. 199/08, since there is no connection with control of CFP rules.
In the case of Greece and Spain this reflects their written contributions filed before May (see links); in the Portuguese case I couldn't find it (but the secretariat noted it so it seemed to be an obvious position).

When you look into the internal negotiation document published the very same day as document 10152/09, on 20 May, you will notice that already in this version Article 9(5) has been erased.

This shows that three member states - Portugal, Spain, and Greece - were able to make an important paragraph in this regulation obsolete and apparently no other member state was ready to fight for open data in a Regulation that is meant to strengthen the supervision and control of EU fisheries.

This is just a quick example that I found by using a simple text comparison software and without the need for any technical knowledge on fisheries - so if you have such knowledge you can do much more!

Picture: © jfchenier / CC BY-NC 2.0

Lisbon Wars II: The Council, the Parliament & international trade

You may remember that some time ago I have covered a letter sent by the European Parliament Committee on International Trade to the Council regarding the EP's involvement in international trade affairs. I've also reported about the provocative draft response from the Council.

Below you find the changes in the text from the first draft response presented by the Spanish Presidency (the one I covered) compared to the final draft response (Update: revised version with annex) now made public after three Working Party meetings.
Dear Mr Moreira, 
I am replying on behalf of the Council to your letter dated 25 February 2010 concerning cooperation between the European Parliament and Council in the area of the European Union's Common Commercial Policy. 
As you state in your letter, the Lisbon Treaty provides for some significant changes in the area of Common Commercial Policy. These changes reinforce the democratic legitimacy of EU commercial policy and bring its the legislative procedures in this area into line with those that already apply to most other economic issues. The Council is of course ready to work together with the Parliament, within the limits established by the treaties, to ensure that these new provisions are fully and effectively implemented. 

The treaties set out the procedures governing the negotiation and conclusion of international trade agreements. While the Parliament's consent is required for the conclusion of trade agreements where Article 207 TFEU is the substantive legal base, Article 218 (7) TFEU provides for the possibility for the Council to authorise the negotiator to approve on behalf of the Union modifications to an agreement through a simplified procedure. Furthermore, Article 218 (9) provides for the establishment of positions to be adopted on the Union's behalf in a body set up by an agreement, when that body is called upon to adopt acts having legal effects. In both these cases the consent of the Parliament is not required. 

As you state, the treaties require the Commission to report regularly to both the Trade Policy Committee (TPC) and to the European Parliament on the progress of negotiations. One has also to note that In addition Article 207(3) TFEU also specifically provides for the TPC to be consulted by the Commission on the conduct of the negotiations and assist the Commission in the negotiations. 

Regarding the specific proposals which you set out in your letter, I have the following comments. 

On the issue concerning information related to the Council's preparatory bodies in the fields of Commercial Policy and Economic Cooperation, the Council is happy to provide lists of these bodies to the Parliament. The current list is annexed to this letter. As far as the frequency of meetings is concerned, these vary, but a regularly updated calendar of the meetings of all the Council's preparatory bodies can be consulted on the Council's website (details are also in the annex). In order to keep this information updated, and in order to ensure that there is the regular exchange of such practical information necessary to support the new working relationship in commercial policy, contacts between the General Secretariat of the Council and the INTA Secretariat should be intensified. The General Secretariat of the Council will also invite each presidency to notify you with the contact details of the ministers and officials who have been designated to engage with the Parliament on commercial policy. Furthermore, the General Secretariat of the Council can provide the names of the members of the Foreign Affairs Council and, to the extent possible, of the ministers responsible for trade. 

The Council shares your view on the importance of effective cooperation and dialogue between the Parliament and Council with respect to international trade agreements, while of course respecting the treaties, which do not confer powers of action on the Parliament with respect to the preparation, negotiation and monitoring of trade agreements. With regard to negotiations, the provisions of Article 207 (3) in fine apply. 

The Council recalls that the relevant minister from the rotating presidency normally appears before your committee at both the beginning and end of its period in office, and considers that this practice is positive and should continue. Furthermoreand that these contacts could be stepped up when key trade dossiers reach a crucial phase, the Council favours these political contacts being stepped up in order to facilitate greater clarity and, if necessary, convergence of positions. 

The Council is also ready to build on the existing good relations between your committee and the TPC. It considers in particular that opportunities for direct contacts, such as your recent lunch with members of the committee, will become increasingly important. The Council also favours exchanges of views between yourself (together with INTA coordinators) and the Chair of COREPER II. In general, exchanges of views and contacts with the Chair of the TPC should also become remain an important channel for reciprocal exchanges of information and scheduling of work. As far as the particular issues of meetings of the TPC are concerned, the Council holds that the current arrangements on participation should remain unchanged in order to preserve the specific prerogatives of the committee as set out in the treaties. 

The Council is also open to more wide-ranging contacts where this would be useful. It will however be for each presidency to determine the exact nature of these contacts depending on the progress on individual dossiers and on specific issues which might need to be addressed during its period in office.

The Council considers that these arrangements, taken together, should enable us to exchange information more efficiently and rapidly, thereby ensuring full and effective implementation of the new provisions on the Common Commercial Policy as introduced by the Lisbon Treaty. Since commercial policy is, by definition, directed towards our international partners, both the Council and the Parliament will wish that the new arrangements will strengthen the EU's performance in this part of the international arena. The Council looks forward to continuing its dialogue with the Parliament in this area, in particular through further contacts between yourself and the Chair of the Trade Policy Committee.

Yours sincerely faithfully,

For the President of the Council Chairman of the Permanent Representatives Committee
It is hard to judge how the discussions went on in the Council Working Party on General Affairs, but it seems to me that the final draft response is even weaker in its concessions to the European Parliament than the Presidency draft.

This is most notably underlined by the deletion of the sentence "reinforce the democratic legitimacy of EU's commercial policy" at the beginning of the letter, showing that the Council doesn't see any change in the Lisbon Treaty.

When the this letter will be approved and sent to the Parliament, it will be very interesting to see how the International Trade Committee will react...

PS.: In case I missed anything in the comparison, please tell me in the comments so I can correct it.

Common Fishery Policy, Data Blogging & Transparency in the EU Council - updated

Update: See the visualisation of this blog post that I have done as a follow-up.

This blog post is definitely among the most work-, research- and lern-intensive I have ever written, and I still feel I haven't done enough, even knowing that the article is way too long for a quick read.

It is inspired by the re:publica 10 conference and the different workshops on data journalism, on data visualisation (see my first experiments and the map at the end of this post) and on farm & fish subsidies as well as the permanent discussions about making politics and government more transparent.

As you may have read in a recent post on this blog, the EU is about to reform its Common Fisheries Policy. This is absolutely necessary seeing the overfishing of our seas and the severe attacks on many marine species by the industrial fishery. Not to talk about reports on illegal fishing by EU vessels.

Part of this larger reform process is the "Council Regulation (EC) No 1224/2009 of 20 November 2009 establishing a Community control system for ensuring compliance with the rules of the common fisheries policy". This regulation inter alia deals with supervision and sanctions regarding fish quotas and other rules set in the Common Fisheries Policy.

(Update:) There is also a case in front of the European Court of Justice against the Council and this Regulation, as the the Council Legal Service informed on Friday, a fact I wasn't aware of when writing this post.

The Regulation has been passed last November after one year of discussions, and since most documents have been made public afterwards it is worthwhile looking at the discussion process more in detail.

Those of you who work with EU institutions know how painful it is to track EU policy developments. And most of you will agree that it is particularly difficult to track what is going on in the EU Council; even ex post it is almost impossible to follow in detail what has been said and written behind the scenes.

The Council Regulation 1224/2009 is both, a good example of these difficulties and an exceptional case because of the amount of national positions that are publicly available. And since it is a Council Regulation I will also only focus on the decision-making process in the Council.

To start the research on the decision-making, we should begin with two possible sources of documentation and help, the PreLex dossier of the regulation and the Council website on the Council configuration for agriculture and fisheries. But if you follow the two links, you will first notice that the Council website is nothing but embarrassing and that PreLex only lists a very limited number of Council documents, despite the fact that the Council was the main institution in this process and despite the fact that there are many more documents as you can see below.

Since we don't get much help over there, we need to do in-depth research on our own. Most documents that you will find in this article have been found via the advanced search in the online archive of the Council (see recent statistics), the rest was found via Google or added from PreLex.

So let's tell some parts of the story of Council Regulation 1224/2009:

On 14 November 2008, the European Commission published the Draft Council Regulation (81 pages plus explanatory memorandum) together with an extensive Impact Assessment, which, as always, initiated the whole policy process.

In the Council, the Working Party on Internal and External Fisheries Policy, a group of national experts from all member states, started working with this draft regulation on 15 January 2009. In its meeting on 22 January, the experts got a presentation of the legislative proposal by the Commission followed by a first exchange of view.

Afterwards, the Working Party continued its work on 29 January, on 5 February, on 12 February, on 19 February, on 5 March and on 12 March, examining the draft regulation article by article.

After the meeting on 12 March, several member states submitted their first comments and amendment proposals (chronological order): Italy, Bulgaria, Poland, Estonia, Greece, Sweden, Spain, Latvia, Germany, Portugal and the Netherlands.

These comments were included in the discussion at the Working Party meeting on 27 March. Until the next meeting on 2 April, Finland and Ireland filed their remarks, followed by Lithuania. These first 14 submissions by member states continued to be the basis for the following meetings on 7 April, on 16 April and on 21 April.

The Working Party meetings until mid-May did not have the Draft Regulation on their agenda, but several member states sent in their first, some already their second comments on the initial draft: United Kingdom, Poland (2nd), Belgium, Denmark, France, Spain (2nd), Sweden (2nd), Portugal (2nd), the Netherlands (2nd), Bulgaria (2nd).

Then, on 20 May 2009, a commented draft proposal (doc. 10152/09; almost 150 pages) preceded by a summary of comments from the member states and the Commission was published. Interesting to note is that, on the same date, an internal negotiation document (DS 329/09) that is not listed in the Council register was issued as a compromise basis for further negotiations during the Working Party meetings on 28 May, on 4 June, and on 11 June. This compromise proposal was revised several times in the discussions (see below) and it contains intermediate consolidated versions of the draft regulation.

Following these meetings and based on a number of questions asked by the Czech Council Presidency on 5 June, the national ministers meeting in the Council on 23 June 2009 held discussions on the draft regulation. Their answers to the questions raised by the Presidency are summarised in a document published three days after the Council meeting.

Around the date of the Council meeting and afterwards, several delegations also published new comments on the draft: Denmark (2nd), Slovenia, Belgium (2nd), Estonia (2nd), Germany (2nd), Slovakia, Lithuania (2nd), Denmark (3rd) and Latvia (2nd).

Based on these contributions, the Council Secretariat prepared a new negotiation draft until 3 July; the text is laid down in the revised meeting document DS 329/1/09 (see PDF from page 7; document not available on the Council website). This draft then was discussed in the following Working Party meetings on 9 July, on 15 July and on 22 July.

These discussions were followed by new comments and drafting proposals by several delegations: Bulgaria (3rd), Belgium (3rd), the Netherlands (3rd), Slovenia (2nd), United Kingdom (2nd), Cyprus, Denmark (4th), Ireland (2nd), Malta, Finland (2nd), Greece (2nd), Italy, Estonia (3rd), Germany (3rd), Latvia (3rd) and France (2nd).

Probably based on these contributions, the Working Party discussed the second revision of meeting document DS 329 (not available on the net) on 10 September . The Working party meeting on 14 September continued this work.

For the Working Party meeting on 18 September, the fourth revised version of the meeting document DS 329/4/09 (Word format!) was issued on 16 September. Also on 18 September, the date of the Working Party, Portugal issued their third written comments, followed by France, the last written comment by the member states in the preparatory phase.

On 25 September, a new draft proposal (13597/09 ADD 1) was published. According to the Council Secretariat it contained only minor changes compared to the fourth version of the negotiation document DS 329 (see above).

This proposal was then examined by the Working Party on 1 October, followed by a report for COREPER on 2 October. The report summarises the different positions of the member states at this point of the negotiations and requests COREPER to deal with these diverging opinions.

After its meeting on 7 October, COREPER sent another report to the upcoming EU Council on 19 October, reporting to the ministers which issues had not been sorted out by the diplomats and which needed political agreement on the highest level (quite a lot actually when you look into the document).

According to a note issued by the Council Secretariat on 5 November, the October Council then came to a political agreement, which subsequently led to a final compromise proposal (DS 641/09, not in Council register) put forward by the Swedish Presidency in agreement with the Commission on 23 October. This proposal was sent to the next Council meeting for final approval.

The Council Regulation was finally approved by the Council meeting on 20 November 2009 and published in the Official Journal (50 pages) on 22 December 2009, entering into force on 1 January 2010.

Of the 27 member states, only Finland abstained, the rest voted in favour. The summary of Council acts (pp. 20-23) includes special statements by the Commission, Finland, Italy and Slovenia. The Finnish statement makes clear that its abstention could also be understood as a "No".

This is the whole documentation of the process as far as I could track it within the Council.

You may have noticed that I didn't talk about any content, but going through the amount of documents would take days, and I am also no expert on fisheries.

It could still be worthwhile comparing the different draft versions of the regulation and the positions of individual member states. Or one could compare the drafts and the national positions with the positions of national and European lobby organisations. Maybe there is some open source software that could help doing this. Or some scientist with the time and budget to do so.

What we lack are meeting reports from the Working Party and Council meetings, which one probably could get from the Council Secretariat or from the national ministries in charge of fisheries. This would demand further journalistic investigation. These documents would help to get a more detailed view into the real discussion process.

Altogether, one can see the absolute complexity of EU negotiations and EU law-making. The regulation was passed last year and at the time only few actors were actually likely to be able to track the decision-making process while it was going on. Still, it is on us to retrace those processes and make them accessible to the public if the Council is not willing to become more transparent in its day-to-day work.

But even if we would have "A Leaking Union" there would be the need to follow closely every document that is coming out and policy experts would need to analyse new drafts and changes regarding their technical meaning and their influence on the policy process. Data blogging and data journalism and meticulous research cannot be replaced even if everything is public.

Somebody needs to find the right documents and somebody needs to filter the relevant from the irrelevant. Believing that this could be done in its entirety by voluntary work is an illusion.

In the end, this post has become way too long and has cost way too much time, but I hope I was able to show the length and depth of decision-making in the Council on this particular issue. What I would have liked to have was a simple tool to put all the links I have assembled above in a simple timeline so that it would be easier to track the process visually and to click at any point in time to see what was on the agenda - but that will be a task for the future.

On the map below you find a marker for every EU member state. When you click on the marker you will get a link to the fish subsidies the country has received in the past and the comments and amendments tabled in the decision-making process on Council Regulation 1224/2009 described above.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Geomapping test for European Citizens' Initiative visualisation

I was playing around a little with Google Map Visualisation for Blogger, just trying to figure out easy ways to visualise the collection process of signatures for the European Citizens' Initiative.

For this example I just uploaded a simple Excel spreadsheet and used it for both maps - but it is just testing and could be used for many other things, too.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Campaign for a Cleanternet



Navigating the Social Media Space: What the EU can learn from Eurocontrol

I wasn't one of those concerned by the recent ash and airspace crisis, which didn't prevent me from noticing the incredible success of Eurocontrol in the social media sphere, especially since many people whom I follow on Twitter were directly and indirectly concerned.

EU institutions apart from the the great people at the European Parliament are very hesitant to move forward in their social media efforts. One of the lucky exceptions these days seems to be EU Careers. But other EU institutions, organisations and sub-units can learn a lot from what Eurocontrol was able to do these days.

Eurocontrol is not an EU institution but a European intergovernmental organisation working on the development of a single European sky. However, it is still a European organisation that has to work with obvious problems such as multilingualism and quite different stakeholders: State and public authorities, larger and smaller businesses and now also individual citizens, all having their own communication styles, working rhythms, and information needs.

Nevertheless, in of the largest airspace crises in the history they were able to manage a huge increase in communications with just one employee - Aurelie Valtat (who has already been interviewed and profiled by El Mundo).

Just one social media communicator - the second team member was stuck in Spain due to the crisis as Aurelie told me five minutes after I asked her the question on Twitter earlier today - was able to connect both to professional organisations as well as to individual citizens with their individual problems. She transmitted both official information coming from inside Eurocontrol and from relevant national authorities but she was also quickly answering diverse questions coming directly from citizens and stakeholders on Twitter and on Facebook.

On Mashable, Shashank Nigam qualified the work of Eurocontrol as "probably the best effort [he had] seen in aviation crisis management through social media". And the BBCblog concluded that the success of Eurocontrol's communication effort came because:
  • They were open to conversation
  • They were quick with answers
  • They had a loud & clear communication
  • They were consequent in hashtags
  • They sounded like a person
  • They were nice in the right way
How many EU officials and social media channels could you mention that would qualify for all these six points?

In the meantime, the Twitter account of Eurocontrol has over 7300 followers (after 300 before the crisis according to El Mundo) and the Facebook page has 3200 "Likes", a base that they will be able to use for communication when the crisis is over but also whenever a new crisis may arise.

The combination of first-hand knowledge (i.e. working within the institution) and the ability to interact with a diverse public seems to be a major asset for social media communication of institutions. It is also trust in an employee (or several) to handle the communication efforts in the name of the institution, being allowed to answer without hierarchic authorisation of every little answer and thus being able to react at the speed of social communication, not of institutional communication.

And Eurocontrol also had the ability to work only in English, relying on the linguistic capabilities of followers and translation efforts of major stakeholders and of the social web that is able to get message translated into any language when needed, as we have seen in our experiment recently.

EU institutions should study what Eurocontrol and Aurelie Valtat - a single qualified and talented employee - were able to do during these days, how much their image profited from the way they were handling communications in this crisis, and how much added value European public institutions can have for citizens and for other stakeholders if they employ the right social communications strategies with the right people in the right way.

Picture: © anguskirk / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Cecilia Malmström & transparency in the EU Commission

In a recent blog post (Google translated), Commissioner Malmström told that she would (partially) publicise her official communication on a special Commission website called CaROL (Cabinet's online register)*.

In the comments to the post I asked her:
Will you be able to convince your colleagues in the Commission to do the same?
and her Cabinet assistant Love Berggren today gave me the following answer:
Cecilia Malmström’s would certainly welcome if other Commissioner’s were to follow, and hopes to provide a good example by making this register available. But the decision is up to each and every Commissioner.
I want to thank her assistant Love for the answer - and I definitely hope that Ms Malmström will serve as an example for her colleagues, indeed!

PS.: This seems to be "Commissioners' Reactions Day", since fellow euroblogger Samuel just received a reaction to one of his blog posts from EU Commissioner for Agriculture Dacian Ciolos.

* You can use the following short link for direct access to all the correspondence of Commissioner Malmström: - which can be helpful because in default it shows only the last ten letters.

Picture: © european_parliament / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The European Citizens' Initiative: Key issues in the Council

According to a freshly published Council document, the Spanish Presidency and the member states have identified four key issues that they need to deal with regarding the Commission proposal for the European Citizens' Initiative.

The four issues are:
  • the registration of the proposed initiative with the Commission and the admissibility criteria;

  • the minimum number of signatories per Member State;

  • the procedures and conditions for the collection of statements of support; and

  • the online collection system.
Under non of these four key issues mentioned in the four-page document the Council is actually looking at how to make cititzens' initiatives easier, except the fact that some unmentioned member states would like the Commission to check admissibility right at the start so that campaign organisers would not need to collect 300,000 useless signatures.

As for now, the Council plans to come to an agreement for "a general approach" until the end of June.

The Council thus seems more or less supportive of the Commission proposal, which I think is quite citizen unfriendly as of yet.

Reflections on the EU citizenship consultations

Until 14 June 2010, the European Commission is holding a "Consultation on how to strengthen the rights stemming from Union Citizenship".

But what do they want from us? Can't they see on their own that there are so many obstacles of moving around freely that they just need to start doing something? Just read the comments to a recent euroblog post and you already know where to start.

Instead of spending their time trying to find solutions, they present us a bureaucratic questionnaire that is already so introduced so boringly that I as a citizen want to stop reading after the first lines.

What if I fill in the 9 questions and send them to "Unit D2 of the Directorate General for Justice, Freedom and Security"?

Will they go to my local administration to explain that it is ridiculous that I need an expensive official translation of an English letter of reference in order to acknowledge that I have been working in another European country? Will they go to my health insurance and tell them I get the same medical protection in every EU country? Will they make my pensions or my unemployment insurance transferable wherever I live? Will they talk to the UK bank telling them that they can't refuse to give me a bank account just because I'm not a British citizen? Will they allow me to just go wherever I want in the Union, tell the local authority that I'm there and then let me live and work there like anybody else?

I don't think so. The Commission will write another report that no citizen will ever read and then start another decision-making process that no citizen will follow and then come to the conclusion that the best thing they can do for us citizens is to regulate how much we pay for mobile roaming (instead of promoting true European mobile phone contracts).

So many problems are known, and what these consultations will do is just bring them up again, but they won't be given by those concerned but by some European organisations who earn their money pretending to speak in our name.

And something about the coherence of the consultations:

What do the questions about obstacles to free movement have to do with voters' participation in the European Parliament elections? Not much. Participation in the European Parliament elections is so low because European and national parties give a shit, because they run campaigns that pretend it's about national topics while it's actually about European issues. But that is is not the problem of the Commission, that is the task of the politicians who sit in the European Parliament or of their parties back home and in Brussels.

Why can't the Commission at least focus on a proper consultation that focuses on obstacles to free movement or political participation or consular protection instead of mixing up totally different subjects? And why do they already give possible answers after each consultation question? If they think they know what we should answer, why don't they just take their own answers and do something?

Sorry, but for me the main task is easy: I am a European Union citizen and I want to move around freely in the Union without state bureaucracies, big corporations and other social institutions putting all kinds of smaller or larger stones in my way. Now figure out what needs to be done.

Picture: © loungerie / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Stop Berlaymont!

I think we could use this photo for every blog post in which we criticise the EU Commission*... Thanks @quarsan!

* For the non-Brussels crowd: This is the main EU Commission building called "Berlaymont" (sometimes also called like this).

Picture: © quarsan / CC BY-NC 2.0

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The debate around the External Action Service (EAS)

In the video below you see MEP Elmar Brok (EPP), European Parliament rapporteur on the EAS, talking about the present problems in the establishement of the EU External Action Service.

More on the debate in Euroblogs: Matizandrea (Italian), L'Europe de la Défense (French) & EU at 50 (English).

PS.: Also take note of the summary of discussions presented by the Council Presidency in March (made public in April).

How many MEPs made it to Strasbourg this week?

I'd like to positively mention Jean Quatremer (with whom I've been having a little dispute in the past about value of linking and blogosphere interaction) for his reactiveness.

In a blog post from Monday he informed readers that only some one hundred MEPs had shown up for the opening session of the plenary week of the European Parliament. On Tuesday, I read at @mvandenbroeke from the EP press unit that 408 MEPs had made it to Strasbourg.

I then wrote a little tweet mentioning the discrepancy to which Jean reacted quickly on Twitter explaining that his figure was from the opening of the session, the 408 was only reached at midnight.

Soon afterwards, he also updated his blog post mentioning both figures, (rightfully) adding that this doesn't undermine his argumentation regarding the ridiculousness of having a plenary meeting in Strasbourg under these conditions.

Update: The latest figure is 444 for Tuesday.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Comitology: Some recent scientific insights (updated)

After my recent posts on "Comitology 2.0" and on "Public access to EU documents" I found it worthwhile to continue my research into that direction for a moment.

One of the things I came across and the first thing you might want to read is the 2008 European Law Journal article "How Transparent are EU ‘Comitology’ Committees in Practice?" by Gijs Jan Brandsma, Deirdre Curtin and Albert Meijer who include in their text a nice and concise history of the comitology system.

What they find in their analysis of the documents available in the Comitology Register in 2005 is that only "67% of the summary records were available through the register". More seriously, only "5.5% of the draft measures [those passed by the committees, JF] were available through the online register", keeping in mind that these "draft measures are the most important result of the committees" (p. 836).

Now, this is just a small dose of comitology. If you want the full dose of comitology, you can also read the 2010 PhD thesis by Gijs Jan Brandsma that is titled "Backstage Europe: comitology, accountability and democracy in the European Union". Since the comitology is to be reformed under the Lisbon Treaty, this might well be one of the last research projects done while the old system was still in place.

And since this thesis looks really promising, I think I'll dig right into it now...

Update: Having now read the first two chapters of Brandsma's dissertation, I'd like to say that this (especially chapter 2) is pretty much what anybody should read before talking about comitology or before discussing its reform. This is brilliant academic writing, easy to read even if you are not a political scientist and brief enough for a quick overview in case you need to prepare for an informed discussion, both in an academic as well as in a political context. Impressive!

Picture: © chivacongelado / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Public access to EU documents - A never-ending story

After having written about the 2009 report on public access to EU Council documents* and about "The Leaking Union" these days, I thought I'd just link the previous Council reports, too, and then put these into some perspective regarding the stalemate reform of public access to EU documents.
  • 2002 (first annual report)
  • 2003 (second annual report)
  • 2004 (third annual report)
  • 2005 (fourth annual report)
  • 2006 (fifth annual report)
  • 2007 (sixth annual report)
  • 2008 (seventh annual report)
(Maybe somebody wants to take a look to see whether there are some interesting developments?)

In the meantime, the EU institutions are debating the recast of the Regulation 1049/2001 on public access to EU documents that is the basis for the above-mentioned reports. Already two years ago, in April 2008, the Commission proposed changes, but Council and Parliament have not come to an agreement (see the PRELEX dossier) until now.

Since December 2009, the entry into force of the Lisbon has changed the legal basis of the regulation and of the proposed modifications, as the Commission tells in an explanatory note from January.

The public right to access to documents is now governed by Article 15 paragraph 3 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU):
Any citizen of the Union, and any natural or legal person residing or having its registered office in a Member State, shall have a right of access to documents of the Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies, whatever their medium, subject to the principles and the conditions to be defined in accordance with this paragraph.

General principles and limits on grounds of public or private interest governing this right of access to documents shall be determined by the European Parliament and the Council, by means of regulations, acting in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure.

Each institution, body, office or agency shall ensure that its proceedings are transparent and shall elaborate in its own Rules of Procedure specific provisions regarding access to its documents, in accordance with the regulations referred to in the second subparagraph.
The proposal regarding the recast of the 2001 regulation is not affected, explains the Commission in its note, but since the other two institutions are unable to come to an agreement the Commission considers proposing some modifications.

I hope that there are people within the Commission, the Parliament and even the Council who are willing to bring these things forward - the Union desperately needs more transparency, in particular in the light of the initiatives to create a European public sphere.

PS: If you want to see what kind of requests for access to documents are made at the Council, you can follow this search query.

* full title: "Eigth annual report of the Council on the implementation of Regulation No 1049/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents"