Wednesday 13 July 2016

UK's EU Commissioner: Hill goes, King comes?

I've already blogged about the selection of Julian King as potential future (and last) EU Commission from the UK.

His nomination has been formally submitted to the EU Council last week (PDF incl. his official CV). Cameron, who had his last day in office today, wrote in the letter:
"Sir Julian is a very experienced diplomat with particular expertise in European affairs who has served successive British Governments with distinction. I believe he would be a strong addition to the Commission for the period ahead."
This followed the official resignation of the current Commissioner Jonathan Hill with effect of 15 July 2016, midnight (PDF with Juncker's letter announcing the resignation).

As I wrote previously, it will be interesting to see what portfolio King gets and what kind of games the European Parliament might be willing (or not willing) to play ahead of his potential nomination.

Tuesday 12 July 2016

'Brexit': is the EU Council avoiding the term?

As of today, the EU Council's public register of documents lets you find only nine (public) documents that use the term "Brexit".

The only document published after the referendum that uses the term is this agenda of the Customs Union Working Party (it makes sense, though, that it's on the agenda of this committee).

It seems like the Council is avoiding to use this term, or it only appears in non-public documents that cannot be found through the register. In the overall public communication, especially in and around the European Council, the term seems to have been used more frequently.

But since even the phrase "UK referendum" can hardly be found (13 hits as of today) in public Council documents, I wonder whether the Council has already been informed that Brexit might happen soon or whether they are using some creative terminology when they talk about Brexit.

EU podcasts: where are you?

Over six years ago, a bunch of Eurobloggers ran the EU podcast "Chasing Brussels" (see references here, here, here). You can still find the old Twitter account showing that the podcast basically ended after 10 episodes.

I remembered this because yesterday I stumbled over "A Diet of Brussels" by UK academic Simon Usherwood. It has an impressive 191 episodes, starting right after the Conservatives won the last UK elections, which effectively started the Brexit procedure culminating in the recent referendum.

I also know that Politico Europe has its podcast "In the loop" since last year, including sometimes in Italian, French, Spanish or German.

Now, since I haven't followed this scene for six years, maybe there are many more that I am not aware of.

Googling "EU podcasts" brings you to pages like the one of Oxford University, linking to episodes of different podcasts with EU relevance. The EU's interpretation service seems to have their own podcast. There's also a German podcast called "Fokus Europa" but only with a few episodes. And a Reddit thread on the topic of EU podcast died off quickly last years.

That's why I am asking you, EU crowd: Are there any more EU focused podcast existing today that are worth listening regularly?

Explaining EU abbreviations: APF and APSA and the African Union

Even after following EU affairs closely for a decade now, I still find EU abbreviations I've never heard off. Today I stumbled over APF and APSA.

On the 13 July 2016 agenda of the Africa Working Party of the EU Council, there is the agenda item "APF - APSA request". Nothing more. This is the type of document that makes EU decision-making hardly intelligible, even if it has become much more transparent in recent years.

So, what is behind the abbreviations:

  • APF: is the African Peace Facility is the EU's "the main source of funding to support the African Union's and African Regional Economic Communities' efforts in the area of peace and security", with almost €2 billion EU money from the European Development Fund since 2004 (Source)
  • APSA: is the African Peace and Security Architecture is linked to the African Union and it has "the goal of preventing, managing and resolving conflicts on the continent". The idea is that, thanks to this architecture in the making, the African Union can "intervene in a member state in grave circumstances, such as genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity." (Source)
In South Sudan, where there has been a breakout of violence in recent days, is only a member of the East African Community. The African Union only has a Liaison Office (kind of an embassy).

The African Union Commissioner for peace and security, Smail Chergui, was still concerned about the violence in South Sudan, showing that the mechanisms on the agenda of the Africa Working Party, although just two abbreviations, actually links to developments that concern more than just 30 experts sitting around a table in Brussels.

Sunday 10 July 2016

In memory of MountEUlympus (1 year after)

Today one year ago, fellow Euroblogger André of MountEUlympus died way too young.

André started his blog about one year after this one, but he continued blogging until a few days before his death with a post on "Possible scenarios for Greece and the Eurozone".

From TTIP to the situation of refugee in Syria, André knew already in 2013 what would be important in 2015. In 2012, he called Martin Schulz a (potential) leftist leader, 1.5 years before the latter would be nominated one of the Spitzenkandidaten (for the centre-left) at the last European elections in 2014.

André put forward a still valid typology of Eurobloggers and had written 100 posts by January 2012. In 2011, he was one of the few bloggers ever to cover the behind-the-scenes of an European People's Party Council but also one sharing photos from Verdun to highlight the value of the European Union or blogging 48 hours to remind Europe of a food crisis in East Africa.

He documented the first bloggers at EU Council meetings during the Hungarian Presidency in 2011. Arguing against the European Parliament travel to Strasbourg every month. And returning from China and quickly restarting to blog about European affairs.

André's very first blog post on MountEUlympus in May 2009 – written in German – was titled "Which EU in the future" about the role of the EU in Germany, Germany in the EU, and about the value that the European Union and free movement have had in particular for the younger generation of EU citizens. Two weeks after the Brexit this June, this sounds all too familiar.

André, you are and you will be missed! It was a pleasure to have known you, first online and later also in person. Thanks for your pro-European voice embedded in a global vision that did not end at the EU's borders but extended to Syria, to China, East Africa and beyond. We will keep your vision alive!

Friday 8 July 2016

Barroso joins Goldman Sachs as Brexit advisor: a choice of bad taste

The FT reports that former Commission President Barroso (2004-2014) joins Goldman Sachs to help them deal with Brexit, which Goldman Sachs confirms (via Contexte).

The Code of Conduct for EU Commissioners only has a cooling-off period of 18 months. If you count from 1 November 2014, the start of the current Commission, until today, Barroso does this move about 21 months into his post-Commission life.

In a sense, Barroso has done everything right in line with the self-set code of conduct of the Commission, and at this point he doesn't even have to inform the Commission anymore about any job moves he is doing.

But had the cooling off period been two years, not 18 months, then his move would already be questionable, especially since the Commission he presided over could have extended the period of 18 months (but didn't do that).

Maybe I would not feel so strange about it wouldn't it be for his move to Goldman Sachs, one of the crucial (negative) players in the EU crisis, who will now be profiting from someone with probably still well-functioning ties to the European Commission (a number of former Commissioners such as Malmström for Trade are still in office), the current European Council President (who sat on the European Council as a regular member while Barroso represented the Commission in this body) and to a number of European leaders who were already in power while he held one of the highest EU positions.

Let's say it's perfectly legal and in line with the self-set ethical standards of the Commission, but it's definitely bad taste to use 10 years of inside information for the benefit of a single bank in a situation of crisis such as Brexit definitely will be.

Will Julian King become the last EU Commissioner from the UK (or will he be blocked)?

"Following the nomination by British Prime Minister David Cameron of Sir Julian King as the candidate to replace outgoing Commissioner Lord Hill, President Jean-Claude Juncker will receive him on Monday, 11 July at 11:00 (CET) for an interview." (COM press release, 8 July 2016)
The announcement that the UK's ambassador to France (since this year), Julian King (Twitter), would be nominated as candidate for European Commissioner for the UK has been floating around for  days, so nothing surprising in the Commission's press release.

What will become interesting is (a) whether Juncker will propose him as a candidate after the interview on Monday, and (b) whether the European Parliament will actually endorse him as Commissioner and (c) whether, in case the EP refuses him, the Council and the Commission President would dare to go against the will of the parliament.

The press release specifies these procedural aspects:
"the appointment of a new Commissioner of UK nationality requires common accord between the President of the Commission and the Council after the consultation of the European Parliament … . In addition, the Interinstitutional Framework Agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the European Commission requires the President of the Commission to “seriously consider” the results of the consultation of the European Parliament – which will audition the candidate – before giving his accord to the decision of the Council to appoint the new Commissioner"
King's CV shows that he had not only experience as representative of his government at the EU Council of Ministers (1998-2003, 2004-08), including as representative to the EU Council Security Committee during the time of the UK's last presidency of the EU Council (as proven by this document). Afterwards (2008-09), he was also in the cabinet of former UK EU Commissioner Catherine Ashton while she was still responsible for trade, not foreign affairs.

Thus, he knows his way around the Council, including at the level of the Council Presidency, and he has served at cabinet-level inside the Commission in a not-so-distant past, which will have given him quite some insights into Commission business.

In other words, the UK sends a person who looks very much qualified for the job, probably better qualified in EU terms than any of his recent predecessors. Don't know anything about him personally, but, short of Jonathan Faull, this sounds like a good choice and I don't see why the EP should not approve him except for broader political considerations.

How will Brexit affect the EU's agricultural policy (the 'CAP')?

In a new study (PDF) for the European Parliament's agriculture committee on the interaction between the EU's agriculture and foreign policy, Alan Swinbank has also included a section on the effects of Brexit (pp. 34-5).

In short, he makes three main points:
  • A sizable amount of money will be missing as Britain is a net contributor and there'll also be a net loss to agricultural funds spent outside the UK.
  • Trade flows will be affected, for example for the Irish dairy and beef sector.
  • The UK's reform oriented voice will be missing in the post-2020 EU agriculture policy discussions. We can expect more public intervention and spending in agriculture afterwards.
It'll be interesting to play these kinds of scenarios out for all major EU policies, as the EU will slowly have to prepare for a time post-Brexit, the changed power dynamics between member states (and to some extent this will also affect the European Parliament), and the resulting policy-changes.

Some argue that Brexit will bring the EU more together, but what if this "togetherness" will actually be more backwards-looking than forward-looking? What if it means going back to times when the EU invested more in food subsidies than it did for future-oriented technology and investment?

Thursday 7 July 2016

In 7 minutes or less: Frans Timmermans defends EU parliamentary democracy (videos)

Jean Claude Juncker can be proud of his wingman and 1st Vice President Frans Timmermans for defending not just his president but also parliamentary democracy at European level – and in way that you don't see every day in Strasbourg.

In less than 7 minutes, Timmermans explains what it means to work for a European Commission that is backed by an elected majority in the European Parliament. He stands the shouts from the negative fringes of eurosceptics and eurohating members of the EP, and the gets standing ovations from the positive core of the house at the end.

If I wanted to end on a less positive note, I would say that it is quite telling when the strongest and most convincing voice for the prerogatives of the (European) parliament comes from the (European) executive.

But I don't wanna end on this note, so I highlight that at the time of writing the video already has 25k+ views on the Commission website alone. Must have hit a nerve.

Update: The video is now also on Youtube, including English subtitles (automatic translation into other languages work, too):

Are Europol's anti-terror databases broken?

"The number of FTF [Foreign Terrorist Fighters] in Europol databases does not reflect the numbers reported by MS [Member States]" (Source: EU Council document
Maybe I'm seeing this wrong, but does that mean that Europol's anti-terror databases are broken? Are emails from all around the EU getting lost on the way to The Hague?

Does that mean that all the anti-terror work – including the creation of an EU counterterrorism centre – doesn't even lead to the EU's wannabe FBI to have a full picture on known terrorists and that Europol is thus unable to foster a proper sharing of information within the EU?

I'm in shock (unlike the terrorists).

The rest of the EU Council Terrorism Working Party summary document linked above is also interesting, for example if you care about Daesh narratives.

Wednesday 6 July 2016

Alexander Betts' TED Talk: Why Brexit happened -- and what to do next

Alexander Betts asks serval questions:

Did it happen overnight? What does Brexit represent? And what should we do about it?

EU member states delay trilogue transparency

This Council document (item 5c) reads like EU member states want to delay increased transparency of EU law-making by trilogues*:

The Presidency informed delegations on the outcome of the General Affairs Council on transparency issues. … Regarding trilogues, the President indicated that discussions had shown the need to balance transparency with the efficiency of the decision-making process and that further discussions were needed.
* Trialogues is EU language for: behind-closed-doors meetings of Parliament, Council and Commission to compromise on new EU laws before first reading without providing any public protocols.

The Creation of the European Commission by EU Media, in 7 Days

EU media, day 1:
“Commission doesn’t do what member states want. Bad Commission!“
EU media, day 2:
“Commission does what member states want. Submissive Commission!“
EU media, day 3:
“Commission doesn't work with the European Parliament. Unaccountable Commission!“
EU media, day 4:
“Commission works with the European Parliament. Non-independent Commission!“
EU media, day 5:
“Commission doesn't listen to citizens. Undemocratic Commission!“
EU media, day 6:
“Commission listens to citizens. Populist Commission!“
EU media, day 7:
And EU media rested on the seventh day from all their work that they had done.*
Readers who liked this post also liked: Short Guide to Lazy EU Journalism

Tuesday 5 July 2016

Europe in blogs (19): Questions to the Remain campaign

Questions that won't find an answer but that future generations will probably continue to ask unless the Brexit mess turns into a surprising future success that is hard to see:
"Why the clumsy responses to great campaign manoeuvres by Leave; why did they double down on the economy and fear when a quick study of potential voter groups demonstrated that a positive narrative could work; why were key demographics not targeted more directly; and why were get out the vote efforts not more aggressive given that turnout was a concern?"
(Questions asked by Steffen Moller)

You may also want to read: "How remain failed: the inside story of a doomed campaign" (The Guardian) that gives some answers to the questions raised by Steffen.

Article updated with The Guardian link.

Why is there a media campaign against Juncker?

This blogger is no stranger of being part of an anti-Commission President – the old ones among you may remember "Anyone But Barroso" started by Jon Worth in 2008 – but I still wonder why there is and anti-Juncker campaign in EU-media in recent weeks and where it is coming from.

It all seems to have started with Politico's major article on Juncker some weeks ago, followed with pre-Brexit speculations and denials about Juncker's resignation.

Then, on 27 June, the Czech foreign minister went on the record to criticise Juncker, citing the former saying the the Commission President would not be up to the job. Euractiv and Politico both ran the story. The Financial Times had the Polish foreign minister on the record. Politico then ran several stories with denials from Juncker and his surrounding.

Some days later, Politico reported that Juncker still had the backing of a large majority in the EP, the only body that can make the European Commission (and thus Juncker) go, as I've blogged Sunday after the Sunday Times ran another story reporting calls from Germany that Juncker should resign. The Luxemburger Wort covers the attacks in several German media, such as an editorial in

EUobserver simply repeated the Sunday Times story yesterday morning, just to report the opposite in the evening, while still mentioning Commission Vice-Presidents Timmermans and Katainen as potential successors for the job.

I suppose you have to be part of the Brussels bubble to understand where all this is coming from.

Some central and eastern European countries, none of which share Juncker's europhile attitude anyway, and most recently some forces in Germany seem to want to limit the Commission presidents ambitions. A concerted media attack, with few sources on the record, shows that Juncker must have angered quite some people recently.

But since I cannot remember any similar attack on Barroso, this is probably a sign that, indeed, this Commission is more political than the last. Once you are political, you make (political) enemies.

The fact that Brussels (and some other) media play along could mean two things: either Juncker and his team have angered the journalists – I remember Juncker's Chef de Cabinet Selmayr being coined quite a control freak when he was Reding's spokesperson and chef de cabinet, so he may well have angered some journos in his current role – or journalists got bored over the lack of news stories because the EU does so few laws these days.

Or the Brussels bubble is afraid to actually deal with Brexit substantially, so they focus on key players instead. He against them. They against him. The Council fighting back, afraid to lose ground to the supranational level. The media, jumping on board because it makes a simple story.

Since I've been doing anti-Barroso campaigning in the past, I can fully understand the pleasure in running behind Juncker. But it's kind of cheap politics. It's not like Juncker doesn't do anything that could be expected of him when he was elected President; he was known for how he was, his political program was and is more than clear.

All that anyone seems to blame Juncker for post-Brexit is that he speaks out against what seems to have been the most fucked-up political campaign by UK politicians in our lifetime. The EU would do good to strengthen the pro-European Juncker for what will be difficult negotiations over Brexit (or whatever the future EU-UK relations will be called).

Monday 4 July 2016

Europe in Blogs (18): Poland, Brexit and Polexit

"The only calls for a ‘Polexit’ referendum on whether Poland should leave EU have so far come from fringe politicians on the radical Eurosceptic right. Law and Justice’s anti-federalism notwithstanding the dominant view in the ruling party remains that it is in Poland’s interests to remain in the EU and try to reform it from within."
Over at "The Polish Politics Blog", Aleks Szczerbiak looks at Brexit from the Polish perspective.

The current Law and Justice (PiS) government seems to blame EU elites for the Brexit votes, whereas the opposition sees some of the blame with rising eurosceptic voices (like PiS). Overall, however, there are very few calls for a Polexit, because Poland and Polish citizens overall benefit from the EU.

The Polish case seems interesting to me because, after Brexit, Poland's role as a sizable EU member state should only grow, while payments coming from the EU budget should rather decrease. It will be interesting to see how this can go together…

Interview with the future UK prime minister? - Theresa May on ITV

Yesterday morning, Theresa May, candidate for UK prime minister and thus also one of the candidates for chief negotiator for Brexit in the years to come, gave an interview at ITV.

Most importantly, she doesn't want to evoke article 50 of the EU Treaty before the end of 2016. And she does not want new elections but instead just a Tory party membership vote to decide about the next Prime Minister.

There'll probably be quite some interviews like this in the weeks to come, but they are already telling something about the potential future course of action of the Brexit negotiations.

Sunday 3 July 2016

Berlin may tell Juncker to go but has no say in this

The Sunday Times reports that Berlin (Merkel etc.) wants Commission President Juncker to go. The problem is: Berlin has no say in this.

It's funny to read an article like the Sunday Times about some government wanting the Commission President to go but not mention once that the only institution that can do this is: the European Parliament.

Article 17.8 of the EU Treaty makes clear that
"The Commission, as a body, shall be responsible to the European Parliament. … the European Parliament may vote on a motion of censure of the Commission"
And for a motion of censure to go through (see article 234 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union), it needs a 2/3 majority, after which not only the President has to resign but the Commission "as a body". Which means that even if "Berlin" wanted Juncker out, Merkel would have to organise a large majority of EP members that kicks out the whole Commission - that's pretty unrealistic.

The only other way to get rid of individual Commission members would be a clear breach of integrity (art. 245 TFEU), which would have to be decided by the Court of Justice of the EU.

It's exactly this kind of little detail that makes media reporting about EU matters – in the UK in particular but also elsewhere – create totally unrealistic expectations about what can and what cannot be done, one of the underlying problems that led to the Brexit majority followed by post-referendum chaos. 

The Brexit mess was predictable

In his post "The five routes to a Brexit: how the UK might leave the European Union" published quite exactly two years before the referendum, Tim Oliver concluded quite neatly:
"This all begs the question then of what ‘out’ means. As noted at the start, a Brexit is a means to an end and not an end in itself. For each of the above scenarios, ‘out’ is a difficult concept. A referendum or unilateral declaration of withdrawal cannot compel the EU to give the UK what it wants beyond an official withdrawal. What ‘out’ the UK then secures will be shaped by what the rest of the EU and other powers such as the United States are willing to grant it in terms of new or recalibrated political and economic relations."
Others like Fabian Zuleeg (for the European Policy Centre) have also predicted in 2014 the rise in nationalistic rhetoric that the UK has experienced throughout the referendum campaign but especially in the days since the Leave side won:
"While it is unlikely that the UK would become a “failed state,” there is a probability that a much more strident nationalism could develop with a negative impact on inter-European cooperation"
Funny enough, while it seemed unlikely the UK would become a failed state, it now very much looks like one, at least when it comes to top-level politics.

I'm not saying nobody told about this during the referendum campaign, but the post-referendum mess and the lack of a plan and the messy situation are not necessarily something you couldn't have seen coming already two years ago…

If Britain was a Youtube channel…

If Britan was a Youtuber or a Youtube channel, this is how the story would be told:

It's by a French Youtuber (Masculin Singulier), in French, with quite well-done English subtitles. Maybe one or the other metaphor less would have done the job, but it's still a fun little story about YT channels (The Channel…?!), trolls, the interests of big business and false information.

Fun element of the video: the European Parliament Brexit debate running in the background while the video was filmed.

What do we learn: With Brexit looming, maybe we have to listen more to non-English voices, learn to appreciate (social) media and perspectives from voices of all 28 countries.