Saturday 30 August 2008

The European Council: What to expect?

To answer the question, please just read EU Referendum's nice analysis of the situation, which concludes:
"[W]hat we are seeing from the EU is the usual display of institutional impotence, dressed up in fine language but devoid of action. Very soon we will have seriously to consider revising the EU's motto. From "united in diversity", it should become "united in inaction" – the only thing the "colleagues" can agree on."
I don't have anything to add.

Friday 29 August 2008

Third country workers in the EU

The European Union is working on a
Council Directive on a single application procedure for a single permit for third-country nationals to reside and work in the territory of a Member State and on a common set of rights for third-country workers legally residing in a Member State
The directive goes back to a proposal by the European Commission from October 2007. The French Council presidency has now (in July) presented a compromise proposal, which as far as I can see is the latest version of the text.

In Article 4 (2), as a good summary of what the directive is about, the draft directive reads:
Member States shall examine the application and adopt a decision to grant, to modify or to renew the single permit if the applicant fulfils the requirements specified in national law. The decision granting, modifying or renewing the single permit shall constitute one combined title encompassing both residence and work permit within one administrative act.
When you look at the bold parts of the directive's text indicating changed or compromise formulations, it looks however like the directive has been moved towards more power of the member states, leaving more authority to the national laws and the national authorities.

In Article 12, the "Right to equal treatment" (compared to national workers) is codified in detail and at least here it seems as if at this stage of the process, member states are agreeing.

Altogether, the directive looks like a nice little piece of bureaucracy reduction. However, with all the details and exceptions leaving much room for the member states to manoeuvre, it does not appear to be a big integrationist project.

Thursday 28 August 2008

Bridging the gap (English version) reports that after 15 years of negotiations, Denmark and Germany will now sign an agreement to build a 19 km bridge connecting both countries.

On "Interethnic relations"

Thanks to Veronica Khokhlova from we can read two personal stories from Georgia and South Ossetia, the first positively looking at how Russian-speaking people are treated in Tbilisi and the second about the fear of a South Ossetian mother about her son who is of Georgian ethnicity.

I recommend reading!

Tracking: EP elections 2009 (X)

The German Social Democrats (SPD) have nominated Martin Schulz as their front-runner for the upcoming European elections next June. The executive committee of the party not surprisingly chose him by unanimous vote, as German sources report.

Schulz is currently the leader of Socialist Group (PES) in the European Parliament, and he became famous when in 2003 Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy, then President of the European Council, compared him to a Nazi concentration camp guard during a questions and answers meeting in the European Parliament (video in Italian).

Martin Schultz has also been mentioned as a possible future EU Commissioner for Germany, following Günter Verheugen, the outgoing vice-president of the Commission (and also a social democrat).

However, the Christian Democrats of Chancellor Angela Merkel claim the Commissioner's seat in the next EU commission, something that will bring the coalition of Social and Christian Democrats into big troubles before the German national elections next September.

Under the category "Tracking: EP elections 2009" I am following up national and European activities on the path to the European Parliament elections 2009. So far: (9), (8), (7), (6), (5), (4), (3), (2), (1).

Wednesday 27 August 2008

Transnistria in the shadow of the Georgian crisis

In an article on the breakaway region Transnistria, Moldovan independent daily newspaper Timpul ("The Time") today quotes the policy expert Vlad Lupan, former head of the NATO department in the Moldovan Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
"For a long period of time, the Republic of Moldova will disappear from the international agenda, because everyone will concentrate on Georgia. This concentration will allow Russia to negotiate on other fronts, including the Moldovan front. The meeting [of Moldovan President Voronin and Russian President Medvedev; JF] in Sochi, on the day of the recognition of the two separatist republics [see my article on "The separatist agenda"], demonstrates that Russia wants to impose now a regulation in its own style. In short time, we can expect a Kozak-II."
(own translation)
The so-called Kozak Memorandum,
"[t]he Memorandum "On the Fundamental Principles of the State Structure of a United State - the Republic of Moldova", [...] prepared in 2003 by Dmitry Kozak, the then Russian President's Plenipotentiary Representative at the Southern Federal District, envisaged the formation of a united federal state - the Republic of Moldova, in which Transnistria was offered to be given the status of a federation subject. At the very last moment, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin refused to sign the already initialed document.
Here you can see that "the separatist agenda" will continue to preoccupy not only the European Union but especially its neighbours such as Moldova and also Ukraine. The fear of more trouble in the space between the Russian Federation and the European Union is apparent, and the countries concerned do not have the luxury of just looking what happens.

The European Council on the 1st of September therefor has to give a clear sign not only concerning Georgia and the two breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but also concerning similar cases, i.e. Transnistria in Moldova and Crimea in Ukraine. I would regard anything else but a clear-cut statement as a failure and as wrong sign to the EU neighbourhood!

The European Dream

The "American Dream" is that anyone can make it if he or she just strives hard enough for his or her goals. But what is the "European Dream"?

I am watching the speeches of Democratic leaders (e.g. Hillary, Michelle, Bill, Joe) at the Denver presidential nomination convention and the old story of the "American Dream", the "Unlikely Journey", pops up as narrative of the past and policy vision for the future. The American Dream is something every American and every not-yet American can relate to.

This idea can outshine trifle policy discussions and the bureaucratic attention to every little detail, it can serve as the guiding thread of a story that connects to the audience as whole and as a collection of individuals with their individual hopes and dreams. And the "American Dream" is something understood by each and everyone without explanation, without reference to specific stories, and without difference in social, economic, and political background.

But is there also a "European Dream"?

  • Is it the dream of free movement? - Yes, as long as we are personally concerned. But as soon as someone from another European nation comes by to seek a better life or if a factory moves from one country to another, the freedom of movement is quickly seen as an evil, not as a good.
  • Is it the dream of peace? - Yes, as long as our own countries are concerned. But as soon as we need to bomb civilians in Afghanistan or invade Iraq, many of our nations are ready to send much more than just humanitarian aid.
  • Is it the dream of social justice? - Yes, as long as we do not have to agree on what "social justice" is.
  • Is it the dream of a European Union? - Yes, it is, but for some this dream is rather a nightmare than one where you can fly through the air.
  • Is it the same as the American Dream? - No! We are not looking for those individual success stories, the unlikely paths, the improbably journeys. This will for once and ever remain the "American Dream".

That is actually our biggest problem: There is no single European Dream. Our leaders have nothing to tell. They know a thousand different stories, they can enumerate a thousand little policy steps they would like to make, but they can not tell the one single story we all could relate to.

All the discussions around an elected European president or the lack of appeal of Mr Barroso and even about a "Constitution" or a "Lisbon" are kind of useless without this one story, this one dream, this one thing we can all work for, individually and collectively. Because without the dream, we are discussing about empty containers, not about real differences.

For me, the European Dream is the dream of unity in diversity, of unlikely cooperation between unlikely partners. It is the dream of meeting people who seem different in first place but are so similar at a second glance. It is the dream of realising that shared problems can only be solved together. It is the dream that the implicit virtual construction of "nations" as divisive features of our times is replaced by a more explicit construction of larger union that is inclusive instead of exclusive.

But too often, I wake up from this dream and realise that it is not shared. It is not something everyone around me can relate to. The "European Dream" in itself is an improbable journey, and I can only hope that this journey will find a positive end, and will not get lost in the confrontational disputes of the past.

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Medvedev's vision?

With the official recognition of the Georgian breakaway regions, the Russian President made himself heard all over the "Western" part of the world.

One question I keep asking myself is: What is the vision behind this step? I do not really see the strategic value of the recent military and political moves of Russia.

On the short term, everyone can see that the Russian bear can still bare its teeth. But on the medium term, Russia starts to lose its strongest power basis (beside the gas): The division within the European Union.

This EU division on the question of how to react to Russian tactics, provocations, and human rights abuses was one of the major obstacles of quick reactions from the block of the 27. Cumbersome diplomatic compromise formulas by the 27 member states could take weeks to materialise and Russia could bask in that indecisiveness while already preparing the next move. Russia could play with the internal division of the European Union, keep its diplomats busy with internal nonsense, and distract it from the real issues.

Additionally, Russia is also strengthening NATO. Some of us were thinking of NATO as an outdated instrument of the Cold War (despite the recent developments, I still do), but our arguments are losing in strength. It is not that I think that Russia would start a more open military aggression towards its western neighbours, but when it constructs itself as the old antagonistic force relying on 19th and 20th century big power politics instead of post-1990 trade-and-talk routines, it will face an antagonistic reaction that cannot be in the political and especially not economic interest of the country.

So where is Medvedev's and Putin's Russia heading? Does Medvedev need these foreign policy steps to consolidate his internal power by replacing the strong man's image of Putin by a similar picture with his own face in the centre? In this case, this will just be a phase until he has build up this position. Or is this really part of a strategic move by the 21st century Russia to reposition itself on the world stage? In that case, Russia would either need a policy of self-sufficiency or it will have to look for new partners such as the post-Olympic China.

But honestly spoken: So far, I do not have the impression that these moves are part of a greater vision. And maybe, that is the most dangerous thing for the whole of Europe.

European police stations

Almost unrecognised by the blogosphere and general media, the French EU-Council presidency has proposed the setting up of "European policy stations".

Situated in major tourist areas, these European police stations shall bring the European Union closer to its citizens, providing an added value in situations where people are in need of someone who they can address.

The Daily Mail reports:
France had suggested 'European police stations' in major tourist zones in the bloc at which officers from other EU countries would be available to assist citizens, she [French interior minister Michele Alliot-Marie] said.

'These would not be monstrous mega-police stations, but rather offices where people from a foreign country can come and be assisted when they have something nasty happen to them - if they've been attacked or had their pockets picked - and where they will be well looked after,' she said.

The idea would be similar to what had already been done in policing of big sports events, she said.
According to a Council document published today, the first test stations will be located (or have been located) in Paris, at the Eurodisney park, in Versailles and during major events in Lourdes (pope's visit) and at the 24 hours of Le Mans (a car race).

I think that this is actually a good idea. The free movement of people also means the free movement of problems. Especially for those Europeans who are not fluent in a local language or are hesitant contacting a national police officer in another EU country in case of problems, the possibility to talk to "European" police forces, maybe even to someone able to speak one's own language, could be of great help.

Monday 25 August 2008

The separatist agenda

Le Monde reports that backed by Putin's majority the Russian Duma has unanimously voted today to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries.

The resolution voted upon is non-binding (source) and addressed towards President Medvedev, but it is still a strong sign by the Russian parliament.

At the same time, Russian President Medvedev has warned Moldovan President Voronin (Communist Party of Moldova) today at a meeting of both in Sotchi not to repeat "Georgia's mistake of trying to use force to seize back control of a breakaway region", which in the case of Moldova would be Transnistria. However, Medvedev also told Voronin:
"We have agreed ... to meet and discuss the Transdniestria settlement. [...] I think there is a good reason to do this today. I see good prospects of reaching a settlement."
Whatever that means...

And to make the list of breakaway regions almost complete, Unzipped remarked that "this move would strengthen Karabakh positions in its quest for independence" (via Onnik Krikorian at

For those of you not familiar with this conflict: Nagorno Karabakh is an unrecognised quasi-republic within Azerbaijan with a population that is in majority Armenian. Armenia therefor favours "independence" while Azerbaijan wants the region to stay a part of the country. The resolution of the conflict was one of the conditions for both countries to become (and stay) members of the Council of Europe (the committee working on that question within the CoE is called the "Ago" Group). The countries joined the CoE in 2001...

Finally, Europe and its media start talking about these issues of "separatism" on our continent that are on the agenda of the countries concerned and of diplomatic meetings for years already but have hardly received any attention elsewhere.

It's sad that we needed a war and an intra-European clash of civilisations for that.

The ship's moving

The European Union tanker starts gathering way again.

Sunday 24 August 2008

Sarkozy announces urgent EU summit on Georgia (updated)

The German newspaper website has just announced that French EU-Council President
Nicolas Sarkozy has called for an urgent EU-Summit on Georgia on the 1st of September (that is Monday in one week).
The summit will take place in Brussels as other sources inform.

According to AFP, "French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner had warned this week that Sarkozy might convene an emergency EU meeting if Russia failed to pull back its forces from positions in the ex-Soviet republic." Actually, Poland had asked for this already more than two weeks ago.

The last extraordinary urgent European Councils I am aware of where held in February 2003 on Iraque and before on September 11th in 2001.

Talking to Europe

This year I have already spent well over 10,000 kilometres and 5 nights in trains and coaches. And I mean travelling, not shuttling to work and back. I have passed 10 countries, uncounted cities, and have waited on train and bus stations east and west, north and south.

Travelling with well grounded public transport is much better than flying. Because you remain well grounded. Because you keep the feeling of the distance you cover. And the best thing is: Talking to people. Talking to Europe.
  • Like the young Hungarian who wants to start his studies next year in Hungary but plans to leave the country afterwards because he is unsure about the economic future.
  • And the couple of French civil servants who have experienced their first tropical storm during holidays on Guadeloupe (or was it La Réunion?) and now complain about a crowed train.
  • Or the Romanian man who told he was in prison, found to God and was now travelling with almost no money through Europe - Italy, France, Great Britain, Holland, Germany, Poland and back to Romania - to look for money and a different life.
  • Like the German businessman living in a foreign country without speaking the local language.
  • Or the Moldovan man who was a professor once and is now a construction worker in Italy.
  • The Pole who works for a travel agency and asked me what he should offer for clients like me who like spontaneous journeys.
  • And the old British who cannot sleep in the night train and who I met at 4 o'clock in the morning on the corridor watching the dark landscape passing by.
  • And also the confused Russian who thought he was in the wrong train although he wasn't.
I could spend weeks just travelling around, watching Europe, talking to Europe, seeing Europe pass by the window.

All those europhobes out there, all those afraid of the Polish plumber, the French eurocrat, the German man in leather trousers, the Moldovan illegal or whatever clichés and stereotypes you have: Just go out there and travel with Europe, and actually meet those Europeans who you don't want to be part of your life. I don't want to miss them anymore!

And please, abandon all the borders - I hate to be reveillé by the border controls when I travel at night!

PS.: Thanks again to the young Hungarian girl who offered me sweets earlier this week in the train.

Saturday 23 August 2008

Who or what is Gymnich?

'Gymnich' format: "informal meetings of foreign ministers, with an agenda but without decisions." (full explanation below)

These days, from 5 to 6 September 2008, the foreign minsters of the European Union, the High Represantative for the Common and Defence Policy Solana (who by the way is also the Secretary General of the EU Council), and some members of the European Commission will come together for the semi-annual Gymnich meeting (see preliminary program).

Gymnich is a castle in the western part of Germany (see location) and earlier it was the guest house of the (West) German government, probably because the city of Bonn, the seat of the government during the division of Germany, is quite close. It was the place where the first informal EU foreign ministers meeting took place in 1974.

According to the website of the French EU-Council Presidency,
"[t]hese meetings are informal in that participants engage in free and in-depth discussion on a limited number of subjects, but they do not draw up any formal conclusions. Many current international affairs may be raised such as the Middle East and EU relations with its main partners and thus European policy for the coming months more effectively prepared."
This semester's meeting will be held at the Palais des Papes (Popes' Palace) and at the Petit Palais in Avignon (France). Delegations have been invited to come to Avignon by TGV from Paris, where (according to the French Presidency) they can already start informal discussions.

With regard to Gymnich meetings, Antonia Missiroli from the European Policy Centre recalled that
"what would become the CFSP was initially developed outside the Treaties - through the EPC framework - and only later inserted in the Single European Act (SEA) and in the Maastricht Treaty. It is worth recalling, too, that the 'Gymnich' format (informal meetings of foreign ministers, with an agenda but without decisions) has been preserved and resorted to even after that insertion."
And what I learnt from some other scholars is that
"[t]he external role of the Presidency was confirmed in 1974 by the so called 'Gymnich formula'. This provided that the Presidency, in the name of the member states of the Community, should take charge of the process of informing and consulting allied and friendly nations. In a similar way, the final communiqué of the Paris Summit of 1974, which established the European Council, specified that the Presidency should assume the function of a spokesman for the Nine and set out their views on international affairs."
So there is quite some history and meaning behind a simple foreign ministers meeting.

I suppose that the agenda has been set by the events in Georgia (see the last paragraph of page 2 of the conclusions of the recent EU Council meeting). Maybe our foreign ministers can figure out informally - with a bottle of Russian vodka or a glass of Georgian wine - how the Union's relations with the rest of the continent (including Russia) will develop in the coming month. But probably they won't.

Luckily, Gymnich meetings have no conclusions so nobody will realise it...

Friday 22 August 2008

New EU anti-discrimination directive

Upon a proposal issued by the Commission in July, the Council of the European Union is discussing a new anti-discrimination directive.

The Commission document titled
"Implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation"
wants to supplement "the existing EC legal framework under which the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation applies only to employment, occupation and vocational training." You can find the Commission proposal from page 17 of the linked PDF file.

In a recently published document, the state of discussion in the EU Council is presented comprehensively. However, it is a pity that the positions of individual countries have been erased from the public version. What we know is the following:
All [member states'] delegations have general scrutiny reservations on the proposal at this stage. [Denmark], [France], [Malta] and [Poland] entered parliamentary scrutiny reservations. [Cyprus] entered a linguistic scrutiny reservation.
The proposed directive was also included in the documentation of an extraordinary meeting of the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (website) in July. So the Parliament should also be aware of this policy proposal.

Looks like this document will have some way to go.

Related articles:

German industry lobbyist new member of EESC

Found at European Agenda:

Bernd Dittmann, Managing Director of the German Business Representation in Brussel, has become a new member of the Economic and Social Committtee (EESC) of the European Union.

In February, wrote about him:
Bernd Dittmann is in charge of a representation with offices on seven levels. Having chaired the Federation of German Industries (BDI) for 10 years he is a veteran of the Brussels scene.

Alexander Stubb (almost) live

For most of you reading this blog (and therefore reading many more) this will not be real news, but all the rest should have a look at the blog of Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb.

In this function, he is now Chairman-in-Office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and he is blogging (almost) live from his efforts and activities in and for the region. And the way he does it is quite something - I am not aware that anyone in a similar position has given comparable personal accounts [following the comment from Grahnlaw, I should add: in English language] out of such a crisis where s/he is directly involved.

And although it is nothing but a coincidence, it is striking that a Finnish chairman of the OSCE is in charge of preventing a new hot "Cold War":

The predecessor of the organisation, the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE, founded in 1973) has led to the famous Helsinki Accords in 1975, which many scholars see as one of the major steps towards the end of the real "Cold War"...

Monday 18 August 2008

EU Green Paper "Copyright in the Knowledge Economy"

The EU commission has recently published the Green Paper "Copyright in the Knowledge Economy" (found through the "Arbeit 2.0" blog):
"The purpose of the Green Paper is to foster a debate on how knowledge for research, science and education can best be disseminated in the online environment. The Green Paper aims to set out a number of issues connected with the role of copyright in the "knowledge economy" and intends to launch a consultation on these issues."
That is what a green paper usually is meant for: It sets out the design for a consultation process on specific issues which then leads to the identification of relevant policy issues for the future agenda of an organisation. The green paper heavily predetermines the outcomes by structuring the agenda setting process, but it leaves enough room to influence at least the details of future policies.

I do not have time to analyse the document (if you speak German, I recommend reading the Arbeit 2.0 blog), but I wanted at least point to it for those of you who are interested being a part of the consultation process.

Tracking: EP elections 2009 (IX)

The two Hungarian conservative parties and former governing coalition partners, FIDESZ - Hungarian Civic Union (12 MEPs, link) and MDF - Hungarian Democratic Forum (1 MEP; Wikipedia), might be forming a joint list for the European elections in 2009.

These considerations from the side of FIDESZ seem to be related to a possible replacement of long-time MDF leader Ibolya Dávid by potential challenger Kornél Almássy, who is also a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, this September.


In a comment to this article, Hungarian blogger Dániel Antal remarked that despite the press report, the situation described above is rather unlikely to occur.

Under the category "Tracking: EP elections 2009" I am following up national and European activities on the path to the European Parliament elections 2009. So far: (8), (7), (6), (5), (4), (3), (2), (1).

Saturday 16 August 2008

On the move

Until the end of the month, I'll be busy moving around without regular access to the internet, and afterwards, the relative tranquility of the summer months will be over - work will demand much more attention than it has during the last weeks.

The frequency of my blogging will therefore be reduced, but I'll try to keep an eye on Europe (which I do professionally anyway) and its blogosphere. Naturally, whenever time and access allow, I'll be blogging, too. But don't be surprised if you do not hear from me for 3-4 days!

Friday 15 August 2008

Human Rights Watch: Violations from all sides (updated)

It is not surprising to hear but Human Rights Watch reports about the violation of human right from all sides - Russia, Georgia, and South Ossetia - in the recent war-like crisis in the Caucasus:
"Forces on both sides in the conflict between Georgia and Russia appear to have killed and injured civilians through indiscriminate attacks, respectively, on the towns of Gori and Tskhinvali, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch expressed its deep concern over the apparently indiscriminate nature of the attacks that have taken such a toll on civilians."
And the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) - which has binding authority over Georgia and Russia - has issued the following statement:
"[T]he current situation gives rise to a real and continuing risk of serious violations of the [European] Convention [on Human Rights]. With a view to preventing such violations and pursuant to Rule 39 [interim measures], the President calls upon both the High Contracting Parties concerned [Georgia and Russia] to comply with their engagements under the Convention particularly in respect of Articles 2 [Right to Life] and 3 [Prohibition of Inhuman and Degrading Treatment] of the Convention.

[...] [T]he President further requests both Governments concerned to inform the Court of the measures taken to ensure that the Convention is fully complied with."
The media and most of the blogosphere is talking about geopolitics, about who has gained or lost influence in the region, and who is to blame and who not. Commentators argue about diplomatic victories, political inability, present philosophical and legal assessments, care about international law and even refer to chaos theory. I myself have argued about the weakness of the EU Council conclusions, and in geopolitical terms I am right - but at least the text puts a lot of emphasis on humanitarian questions, which is actually the right thing to do.

The fact that human rights abuses have occurred and that a humanitarian crisis is on the way (yet another one, I might add), is much more important than all this political analyst chitchat (no offence intended to those linked in this article!).

But instead of really caring for human rights, the "leaders" of Russia and Georgia are playing games: Making war crime accuses the continuation of the war itself is nothing by cynical. Playing with human rights as political weapon while tolerating human rights abuses of their own troops is disgusting. Those political leaders are nothing but ignorant, because they miss the point of being the leaders of human beings.

History of mankind is the history of war, people killing people, reciprocity of cruelties, and suffering for nothing but national, regional, and global politics. Instead of solving conflicts, we spend hours and days talking about them, creating them through repetition and disguising the real issues behind the concepts of "nation", "territory", "international law". In fact, it is not Russia against Georgia, Georgia against South Ossetia, the East against the West, it is human beings killing human beings because other human beings (allegedly) have been killing other human beings.

Whether Russia has used cluster bombs or not is a detail, important to discuss if you are far away, but unimportant if you or your children have been killed.

There have been human rights abuses in this conflict as in most conflicts before. That is the message everyone should get!

The rest is nothing but winding each other up about political and legal terms.

Thursday 14 August 2008

That is so 20th century!

You know what strikes me? - This Georgian-Southossetian-Abkhazian-Russian war is so 20th century.

I was getting used to planes flying into skyscrapers, wars on terror including extralegal detention of people, overthrowing of far-away dictatorships, African genocides, car bombs, suppression of minority uprisings, and 21st century cyber war acts.

But I cannot stand pictures of tanks and soldiers actually fighting for territories on the European continent. That is so 20th century. A real war where you invade neighbouring regions to win-lose-win 10 kilometres and say: "Well, I won 10 kilometres!" - and that's all?

I haven't seen any nice images of clean shots with cruise missiles. It is not even totally clear for my media who are the good guys and who are the bad ones. I am confused. How can we be in the 21st century with such kind of a war? We are even starting to have an open East-West, Cold-War-like confrontation (although some are trying hard to ignore it). Is that really the 21st century?

Aren't we supposed to be fearful of African immigrants coming north? Haven't we just been ready to accept that far-away things like China and India and Brazil and Iran and Hugu Chavez are the new interesting political issues - instead of European on-the-ground wars with moving front lines?!

Where is progress when you need it? No weapons of mass destruction? No terrorism? No stealth and digital technology? That is ridiculous!

Europe could do better than this. Europe has to be at the technological front-line. Let's make conflict more modern, adapt it to the decentralised needs of today's citizen, something where our European leaders can stand together and celebrate the glory of innovation. Maybe we find a bureaucratic way of institutionalising the conflict at the Community level: Think global, bomb local! But let's stop this non-21st-century conflict, it is disturbing!

Let's not confuse ourselves with this traditionalist way of country-to-country confrontation. We are not used to this kind of story-telling anymore and, because of that, our leaders have no clue how to react.

So we don't want 20th century conflicts to happen! They make us think that actually the world is not changing. We have learnt to live with a situation where changing times bring changing challenges. But when changing times bring old challenges, are we really living in changing times?

Instead of answering this disturbing question, let's rather look forward to the good wars, those where we feel that the future has arrived. Let us all live in the 21st century, with new wars, new problems, and new solutions that bring about completely new conflicts!

And please, tell that to the Georgians and Russians!

Wednesday 13 August 2008

EU Council on Georgia: Weak conclusions (updated, 2x)

So far I only have the French version of the conclusions of the EU Council on Georgia [update: now they have been published also in English]. But they are massively weak. They are the smallest common denominator, as I have expected.

Georgia and Russia are barely mentioned in the text: The Russians shall go back to where they were before and the Georgians, too. The crisis is humanitarian in first place and the EU has to think about the reconstruction. There has to be an unspecified international mechanism to resolve the conflict. But no direct criticism of either side.

And Georgia's territorial integrity is referred to without directly mentioning Georgia (and/or its breakaway regions) in the same sub-clause with "territorial integrity":
"Une solution pacifique et durable des conflits en Georgie doit être fondée sur le plein respect des principes d'indépendance, de souveraineté et d'intégrité territoriale reconnus par le droit international et les résolutions du Conseil de Sécurité des Nations Unies."
From my own experience in diplomatic negotiations, this paragraph looks like a clear compromise between Eastern and Western EU countries, the former asking for a strong wording and the latter weakening this by putting the name to a place without direct linguistic connection, arguing that everybody knows what is meant by this.

And while some sources write that the EU wants to send a monitoring mission to Georgia, the conclusions only state that "the Council considers to engage, also on the ground, to support the efforts of the UNO and OSCE". "Considering" in diplomatic terms means that this issue remains on the agenda, not more and not less.

Altogether, this whole things looks pretty worthless as the result of an urgent EU Council meeting.


If you look at the participation list, it is interesting to see that, as the only country, the United Kinddom participated with two ministers (David Miliband and Jim Murphy) in the meeting. Malta only sent a diplomat, which usually indicates that members of the government or their deputes had better things to do...

Tuesday 12 August 2008

Ceiling in Strasbourg's EP plenary collapsed

Through Jan's EUBlog I just got to know that the ceiling in the European Parliament's main plenary chamber in Strasbourg has collapsed last Thursday. This news has now been confirmed by EUobserver.

I wonder why the news spreads only now...

Georgia as single issue for EU Council (updated)

Today at 15.00, the Political and Security Committee (PSC) of the EU Council will meet to prepare the urgent External Relations Council of the European Union, having just "Georgia" on the agenda.

The Council will meet tomorrow at 10.00 in Brussels. Around 13.00, a press conference is planned.


Romanian anti-corruption prosecutor fired (updated)

The possibility I have discussed in a previous article has become reality - Romanian anti-corruption prosecutor Daniel Morar has been removed from office.

Justice Minister Predoiu has nominated Monica Serbanesco to replace Morar. She has been his adviser in the Romanian Ministry of Justice since 2005 and an assistant to the controversial former Attorney General Ilie Botos.

The replacement of Morar for his "political motivation" is a serious blow to the anti-corruption work of Romania.

The dismissal of disagreeable prosecutors (not least one whose efforts have been commended in the latest Commission report on Romania) is a sign to the outside world that the Romanian government and ruling National Liberal Party (PNL) are not interested in a fully-fledged fight against the evil of corruption.

We can only hope that Ms. Serbanesco can and will do her new job uninfluenced by the knowledge that if she is tough on the matter, she might also be removed after three years...


German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (tomorrow's issue) reports that it is not very like that Serbanesco will be confirmed by Romanian president Basescu. It seems more likely that the decision will be postponed until after the parliamentary elections in November when a new Justice Minister might be elected.

Monday 11 August 2008

The EU's many voices - Kouchner, Stubb, and Bildt

Rarely can we see all three major European regional institutions - the European Union (EU), the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Council of Europe (CoE) - united in action.

And although some see the EU move only "at its usual speed", now the not so improbable coincidence* that all presidencies of the European regional institutions are in the hands of European Union countries has lead to a situation where the one voice of the EU is effectively heard out of several mouths.

Bernard Kouchner of France has spoken for the French EU-Council Presidency, Alexander Stubb of Finland has found clear words as the Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE, and now Carl Bildt, Foreign Minister of Sweden, and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe , has issued a statement that is astonishingly clear in diplomatic terms. All three are present in Georgia and try to mediate for peace - peace not only for Georgia, its breakaway regions, and Russia, but for Europe as a whole.

This is a rather good situation, because, although coming from EU and non-EU organisations, the general position of the European Union is amplified and clearly audible all over the continent, especially in Moscow and Tbilisi.

And this shows that we should not be looking for a European Union that speaks with just one single voice. No, we should be longing for a European Union where many voices speak in the same direction, drowning out the many other regional and global voices that herald their messages of hatred, war, and ignorance of human rights.

A joint statement from an emergency EU Council meeting will maybe be a sign of unity, but it will, as so many times before, just express the lowest common denominator then promoted by just one country - the Presidency - instead of stronger voices echoing from all over the Union.

Maybe, today's situation is much better for the European Union than it will be after a Council meeting...

*27 out 47 countries in the CoE and 27 out of 56 countries in the OSCE are EU countries .

Information war: Georgian ministry "blogging"

In order to get their message through, the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has started "blogging".

Google seems to be more reliable than Georgian sites which have been attacked in the information war behind the war where real people die.

Public Affairs 2.0: "11.5% of MEPs are bloggers"

The people from Public Affairs 2.0 have been doing some research on the web activities of Members of the European Parliament.

They found that 89 out of 785 MEPs are blogging (=11.3%) and they were also kind enough to provide links to all these blogs.

That's worth having a look at!

Sunday 10 August 2008

Finnish OSCE presidency: Russia cannot be a mediator!

I have been asking for a tougher stand by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in a recent post, so I am glad that Alexander Stubb, Finnish foreign minister and currently the man in charge of the rotating OSCE-presidency, has said the following:
"Russia is at the moment a party in this conflict, not a mediator, and that has to be mirrored when ceasefire and peace talks begin."

"It is clear that there is no return to the status quo, to what was."
This is a clear statement towards Moscow, and I think that this more than appropriate!

Stubb has gone to Georgia together with his French colleague Kouchner, currently responsible for the French EU-Council presidency, in order to mediate in the conflict.

EU working on Passenger Name Record (PNR)

While the news have recently covered the discussion about the exchange of passenger data between the USA and the European Union, the European Union itself is working on a proper Passenger Name Record (PNR).

The proposal for a respective draft regulation (document provided by had been presented by the European Union Commission in November.

In a recently published EU Council document for the Multidisciplinary Group on Organised Crime (MDG), the French EU-Council presidency outlines the state of discussions and the further tasks. The initial considerations are:
It is paradoxical that while the European Union has agreed to transfer PNR data to third countries, it has not yet passed legislation enabling it to reap the benefits itself of such a system, which, as the experience of several Member States reveals, is an effective tool. It is naturally necessary to ensure that the European PNR system reflects the Union's commitment to fully respecting fundamental rights.
On this basis, several topics have been identified that need to be discussed:
  • FLEXIBILITY: It is necessary to delimit the margin of manoeuvre that Member States may be allowed in complying with future European standards adopted jointly;
  • FUCTIONAL AND GEOGRAPHICAL SCOPE: At this stage of the proceedings the Group has opted for restricting the application of the European PNR system to air transport;
  • PURPOSES OF THE PNR: a) The possible inclusion of purposes relating to integrated border management; b) Possible extension of the system's purpose of preventing and punishing terrorist and organised crime - already covered by the Commission proposal- to other serious crime;
  • FUNCTIONING OF THE EUROPEAN PNR: collecting and using the the PNR data;
On the basis of these issues presented by the French Presidency, the Council will continue its discussions.

In an article by Statewatch discussing the PNR regulation, editor Tony Bunyan (photo) comments:
"This is yet another measure that places everyone under surveillance and makes everyone a "suspect" without any meaningful right to know how the data is used, how it is further processed and by whom. Moreover, the "profiling" of all airline passengers has no place in a democracy."
Meanwhile, British news report that the British government is dissatisfied with the European plan, quoting a Home Secretary document:
As currently drafted, there is a real risk that the EU PNR proposal would degrade e-Borders [explanation] by prohibiting the use of PNR data for combating immigration offences.

'We will therefore lobby strongly for the framework decision not to preclude the use of PNR for this purpose.'
It will be interesting to see what we will get in the end. I hope that the European Parliament will have a strong word to say on the final regulation, although it seems as if the is only subject to a simple consultation procedure.

If any MEP or MEP assistant is reading this, I would be more than glad to hear about the state of discussions in the European Parliament!

Self-torture: Watching "Russia Today" (updated)

I have been forcing myself watching the Russian English language news channel "Russia Today" today and yesterday for much longer than it needs to understand the Russian position.

It is self torture, although I excuse for all victims of torture using the term in this context. I really want to hear all sides of the story, no matter how awkward the sides present themselves. Yet, the (not unexpected) one-sidedness of the channel is really hard to stand.

I appreciate to get some more insights, details and footage that Western media do not show, i.e. more pictures from affected people in the region and interviews with officials of the breakaway regions.

But I don't appreciate the presentation of the story, actually not so much for the positions taken (because I watch this to get exactly these positions) but for the journalistic inaccurateness of the presentation:

Serious accusations towards Western media are made but proven only by interviews with some anonymous citizens. The constant subtitle of the news, "GENOCIDE", is used as a political statement, not as a journalistic descriptive category. No remarks are made about Russian raids over genuine Georgian territory. The other side of the conflict is not at all heard, except for the broadcasting of the speeches of Georgian president Saakashvili, which are immediately "counter-proven" by "experts" or Russian/South Ossetian officials.

And it is in fact this obvious inaccurateness that makes the Russian side of the story so noncredible. It is very easy not to believe Russia, because most of the "evidence" presented can be dismantled as rhetoric, as biased statements, and dialectic distortion of arguments. In some ways, I am even surprised, that the disguise is not more professional. It seems to be enough to repeat the same things over and over again, no matter how absurd they sound.

I am not naïve, please do not get this wrong. It is not that I expected it to be so much different. But being used to a presentation of news that at least pretends to present all sides of a story, that demonstrates that there are actually different (legitimate) views on the same events, it really hurts watching the news on "Russia Today".

So even if you are willing to engage with non-Western positions in this conflict, it is really impossible to do this without serious "cognitive dissonances". Russia is complaining about being "misunderstood". But actually, this is not because there wouldn't be the will to understand Russia, it is because Russia does not much to construct a story that is credible at any place where multiple sources of information are used to form an opinion about this conflict.


From the German newspaper Sueddeutsche I have just learnt that 25-years old Russia Today correspondent William Dunbars had to leave the TV station after reporting live via satellite that Russian airplanes had bombed the Georgian town of Gori. Obviously, and according to Dunbars, this truth did not fit into the story Russia Today wanted to tell...

Read also:

The Duck of Minerva, including a clip from "Russia Today".

Saturday 9 August 2008

Background chart: Development of the intensity of Georgia's secession conflicts

I have found the following chart in
"Conflict Resolution through Democracy Promotion? The Role of the OSCE in Georgia"
by Pamela Jawad, published in the June 2008 issue of the scientific journal "Democratization":

The chart visualises the development of the intra-Georgian conflicts. The 1 to 5 scale is indicating the intensity of the conflict:
  • 5 = war
  • 4 = severe crisis
  • 3 = crisis (only sporadic incidents of violent conflict conduct)
  • 2 = manifest conflict (non-violent)
  • 1 = latent conflict.
I think, we could continue the chart to an unpleasant level for 2008.

South Ossetia: Poland asks for urgent EU summit [supplemented]

Several sources (here and here) inform that Poland requests an urgent EU summit on the situation in Georgia.

Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski is quoted:
"[I]t seems to me that a meeting will be convened."
I think that this is in fact necessary. The European Union, the EU Council Presidency, and the member states have to prove that they can react to such a crisis, and that the Union can take a tough but pacifying stand on this war at its borders.

I also think that the OSCE, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, should do more than just issuing a statement of the Chairman (currently Finnish foreign minister Alexander Stubb). Usually, a statement by the Chairman means that there is no agreement between all member states - if this would be the case, it would be the Ministerial or the Permanent Council presenting a joint statement.

I know that with Russia and Georgia being members of the OSCE, an joint statement is very unlikely to come.

But what is the OSCE for if it cannot even serve its basic goal?

The Chairman's statement does not even give a clear message that the OSCE will do everything possible to help with a peaceful solution of the conflict. And the only time that the important diplomatic term "condemn" is used is in connection with the OSCE premises in South Ossetia:
"I condemn the shelling of the OSCE Mission premises in Tskhinvali. The OSCE Mission to Georgia is intensively working with all parties to defuse tensions. The Mission's work and mandate must be respected by all parties in the conflict. I am ready to increase the number of OSCE observers as soon as the situation allows."
That is not much, to be honest.

If that is the strongest we are going to see from the OSCE, the European Union really has to take over the task of providing security and organising cooperation in Europe. A possible EU summit should deal with this question, too!

Blogosphere coverage of the South Ossetia war

Thanks to the translation of Veronica Khokhlova from , we can read some comments about the situation in Georgia posted by "cyrillic bloggers".

Wu Wei has also continued posting this morning while planning her evacuation and asking, what she will need for that:
The Greek: your wallet and passport. But he has already packed his case.

The Bosnian: lots of dollars to bribe your way past the guns; credit cards not so useful

My thinking: a car to get you out. Does the travel insurance pay?
These are sad days... Good luck for everyone who is in the region, no matter if Georgian, South-Ossetian, Russian, or from wherever else!!!

Tracking: EP elections 2009 (VIII) - updated

Update (28 January 2009): Read also the follow-up article with the the comparison between the PES and ELDR manifestos.

The European Liberal Democrat and Reform (ELDR) party has published the draft program for its next congress from 29 to 31 October 2008 in Stockholm.

Apparently, only six hours will be spent on the final drafting of and voting on the electoral manifesto. On 30 October 2008 there are two drafting sessions, from 10.30 to 12.30 and 15.30 to 17.30. And on 31 October 2008, from 14.00 to 16.00 there will be the voting (supposedly on the draft manifesto and possible amendments) on the manifesto.

The process leading to the draft manifesto has been described in one of the party's publications from April 2008:
The programme is developing in the format of a ten point action plan, the first stage of which was a consultation of ELDR member parties and stakeholders.

Following this process, four priority themes have been identified, which member parties and supporters would like to see included in the ELDR 2009 Manifesto.


Workshops composed of representatives of ELDR member parties that are experts in the fields of civil liberties and immigration (“liberal Europe”), the EU Single Market, and foreign, security and defence policy are scheduled to discuss and define two to four policy statements on each subject that will be included in the electoral Manifesto. The first such workshop on foreign, security and defence policy took place in Tallinn on 11th April in the framework of the ELDR Council meeting.

Let us compare this with the description of the process of the Party of European Socialists (PES):
From October 2007 to 1 July 2008, the PES ran an open consultation on its manifesto for the 2009 European elections. The consultation was a big success: 300,000 visitors, 500 posts, 100 videos, 1,350 members in our Facebook group, more than 60 written contributions from PES member parties, NGOs, Foundations and activists. Moreover, 3,000 activists joined us during the process.

A draft manifesto will be drawn up on the basis of that consultation, and there will be discussions within the PES between the end of the consultation and the adoption of the final document. The PES manifesto will be adopted by the PES Council - a mini-Congress with voting representatives from all member parties - in December 2008.

At a first glance, the PES process seems to be more oriented towards broader participation (and the figures support this analysis), while the ELDR seems to be more expert oriented, although it remains unclear how the "consultation of ELDR member parties and stakeholders" has been conducted.

At a second glance, however, it is also not too clear how open the process within the PES has been and will be since the public consultations have ended: Who decides which of the ideas and proposals of the manifesto consulations are included in the draft manifesto? It is also not specified what a "mini-congress" will be and whether there will be actually more time spent on discussions about the final version of the manifest than the six hours ELDR is planning to spend. Still, the pre-drafting consultation figures are quite impressive and far beyond what I have seen and heard about on the national level.

I would have also liked to add more about the other parties, but so far, I could not find any indications of the specific process the European Peoples Party (EPP) or the European Green Party (EGP), which is why I can only compare ELDR and PES. I hope I provide you with more information in the future.

But comparing PES and ELDR, the PES at least manages to keep on an open debate, which creates the feeling of better involvement of the public in the process (PES secretariat staff is even openly commenting on my articles). Whether this will bring more activism and identification with the final document will have to be proven.

And it will be interesting to see whether the other parties will try to keep up with this kind of publicity after the summer break.

Under the category "European parliament elections 2009" I am following up national and European activities on the path to the European Parliament elections 2009.

For an overview over all articles in this category have a look at the overview article.

For the five newest post see also the sidebar.

Friday 8 August 2008

South Ossetia, Georgia, and Russia heading towards war (updated)

Let me start with saying: STOP THIS!

I do not get this. I really don't get it. This armed conflict does not serve either side, civilians get killed for nothing, and the situation that has existed more or less stabile during the last 16 years will not be solved with weapons now.

I was aware that the conflict(s) in Georgia was (were) getting serious when a colleague of mine who was working in the Georgian capital Tsibilisi from May to July was telling me that it could well become ugly. But I honestly thought that the smaller border clashes of the last weeks would be it.

But now it's getting really serious. The European blogosphere is starting to react to the Georgian invasion of the separatist region South Ossetia and the threats of Moscow to protect "its" citizens (which are mainly South Ossetian citizens having received Russian passports). European media (Le Monde, El País, BBC, SPIEGEL), even the local one's, are reporting about the situation, which is quite a good indicator that something is really going on.

From a Georgian blog we know that it is still "All calm in Tbilisi". But there are reports from the South Ossetian region that more than a dozen civilians have been killed. Georgia is calling on its reservist to mobilise. Russian prime minister Putin has threatened to "react" on to the situation.

It does not sound like the situation would quickly calm down. It seems as if we were going to see a violent situation - or even a war - that could well take some time.

And since I consider the Caucasus region a part of Europe - we are seeing Europe at the eve of yet another war.


Please read "A Fistful of Euros" on the issue: Here and here.

Corruption in the Moldovan education system

In an article in the Moldovan weekly Timpul ('The Time'), Oxana Greadcenco reports about corruption in the Moldovan education system (the text is also published in her blog).

Buying a good mark for the final school exam is simple and persecution of corruption is ineffective. And if the admission to the universities is based on marks, those who did not want (or could not) bribe the responsible persons in school and instead worked hard to get their marks, struggle to get into the higher education system because they have to pay study fees or do not even get a place.

Let me translate the final paragraph of Oxana's article titled "Priority for those with money, not for those with talent" („Prioritate au cei cu bani, nu cei cu merite”), because this is the most personal account of the text and a reminder, that corruption is penalising those who do not participate:
"I realised that all my endeavour and the dream to receive a financed place in journalism studies crumbled because those with money are prioritised, not those with talent. It is not said, the chance still exists (I have an average of 9 [out of 10]), but the 15 places offered in that specialisation are not much for more than 200 applicants with good or very good marks, honestly achieved or not. Thinking of all this and considering the tragic, and even the [sad] humour of the situation, I cannot but regret living in a society stuck in lies, corruption, and injustice."
What can be said if the most engaged young people are stopped at the invisible glass ceiling of corruption and mismanagement? - Not much.

We have to fight this evil, wherever we come across it, and we have stay hard on the subject, as hard as we can and on all levels of society.


Luckily for Oxana, she has finally received her permission, but in her blog she reminds that what she has written is still the truth.

Thursday 7 August 2008

Denmark in conflict with European Court of Justice

While some say that "there's no news" in August, Le Monde reports:
"Denmark is heavily questioning a judgement of the European Court of Justice concerning the Irish legislation dealing with family reunions. The Luxembourg judges have indicated that the foreign - "non-EU" - spouse of a European citizen could move and travel around with this citizen within the Union without previously having legally resided within one member state. This decision goes against the more and more restrictive policies implemented in that matter in several European Union member states."
(own translation)
(See also the press release [pdf] of the case (N° C-127/08) "Metock and Others v Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform".)

That is another example of the tendency of the European Court of Justice to take decisions that are extremely pro-integrationist, especially when it deals with questions of free movement within the European Union.

Read also:

The Brussels Journal

How active is your MEP?

Blogger and reader of this blog, Falk Lueke, has pointed out to me a wonderful site that could become a nice toy for all of us covering European Union politics.

On this site, the Institute for Public Policy Bucharest ('Institutul pentru Politici Publice București') is presenting data on all MEPs' activities at the European Parliament, including attendance in plenary sessions, motions for resolutions and loyalty to their political groups and countries.

You can research the activities of individual members, of political groups, countries etc. It is possible to rank them according to their activities and you can play with facts and figures that would otherwise necessitate quite some research activity. From a first glance, I would say that the presentation is quite well done and easily to understand, something that will most probably ease the search of specific information.

That there are some limits to the data is explained in the "About"-section. The most important are:
  • The data only goes back to September 2007 and it is based on the public documentation of the European Parliament. Incomplete documentation on the website could therefore lead to underreporting for certain MEPs or certain activities not covered there.
  • The figures concerning votes only refer to electronically registered roll-calls, which means that many less important votes are left out. The statistical results (measured in the differences between MEPs) will therefore be more noticeable (that is, contentious) than in reality where more consensual votes do not need an extra roll-call.
So please, interpret the figures with some caution!

But despite these limits, we can extract quite some details from the data already collected and presented and I am looking forward getting deeper into it as soon as I have some more time.

By the way: This could also be a nice tool for the European Parliament election campaign...

Electronic entry and exit recording to Schengen area

I have just found the reference to a recent but not published EU document called:
"Presidency project for a system of electronic recording of entry and exit dates of third-country nationals in the Schengen area"
Did anyone of you hear about this?

Because I didn't. It would be quite interesting to see, what the French presidency is planning...

Wednesday 6 August 2008

Tracking: EP elections 2009 (VII)

Slowly, the European Elections 2009 are starting to receive some attention in the member states.

The news are not yet focused on the event, but all over the European Union we can see parties and party leaders beginning to orient towards 2009:

In Poland, the left prepares to fight for its political life in EP election and in the Czeque Republic the Social democrats have nominated former minister Karel Březina as EP elections manager

In Malta, the EP elections will be the test for the secretary general of the Labour party and in Greece, Party leaders are seeking fresh tactics with a view of next year's European Parliament elections.

French-German Green party member Daniel Cohn-Bendit wants to unite the ecologists for the European Elections and in Italy the Berlusconi Cabinet will pass a bill on the electoral law for the EP elections 2009 at the end of the month.

Under the category "Tracking: EP elections 2009" I am following up national and European activities on the path to the European Parliament elections 2009. So far: (6), (5), (4), (3), (2), (1).

Fakeproof passports (updated)

In a Times article, Steve Boggan reports that so-called 'fakeproof' passports can be easily... faked:
"New microchipped passports designed to be foolproof against identity theft can be cloned and manipulated in minutes and accepted as genuine by the computer software recommended for use at international airports."
The Times has assigned a specialist, Jeroen van Beek, to test the security of these new generation passports and the results are devastating.

This is especially relevant because, according to the article, only 10 out of 45 countries using micro-chips on passports are using the Public Key Directory (PKD) code system, a security system that could prevent the manipulation of identities.

Times reports:
"Using his own software, a publicly available programming code, a £40 card reader and two £10 RFID chips, Mr van Beek took less than an hour to clone and manipulate two passport chips to a level at which they were ready to be planted inside fake or stolen paper passports.

A baby boy’s passport chip was altered to contain an image of Osama bin Laden, and the passport of a 36-year-old woman was changed to feature a picture of Hiba Darghmeh, a Palestinian suicide bomber who killed three people in 2003. The unlikely identities were chosen so that there could be no suggestion that either Mr van Beek or The Times was faking viable travel documents."
The easiness of this process is stunning, and I would like to raise the rhetorical question whether all these digital "security measures" introduced post-9/11 are really worth the public money spent. My feeling is that this will ease manipulation in the future because everyone will be relying on technology that can be fooled systematically.

Bright future, we are awaiting you!


Felix Knoke of underlines that not participating in the PKD does not mean that states do not exchange security keys bilaterally, and that several states in fact prefer this direct exchange.

Tuesday 5 August 2008

Next round in the Greek-Macedonian nonsense war of words

Different news sources (also here) report that Greece and Macedonia, or in diplomatic terms, the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (FYROM), will return to the negotiation table on 14-15 August to try to resolve the pending name dispute between both countries.

For those of you who are not aware of or not familiar with the issue, I recommend reading the respective Wikipedia article on the naming dispute.

For me, this is ridiculous diplomatic nonsense!

It is a waste of time and money, a typical play of over-nationalistic or over-regionalistic politics that are used by the political idiots of our days to avoid the real issues hidden behind this proxy war of words. And both sides are equally responsible. If some basic intelligence would rule, this kind of things would stop happening.

But I have the feeling, that those narcissistic politicians together with sophisticated diplomats prefer to remain stuck on nothing than to actually work on something...


You really want to get into it? Then have a look at this!

Countries from same 'cultural area' to share EU-Commissioner?

According to an article in the German national newspaper Die Welt (which I found through the "European Union Law Blog")
"the French EU-Council presidency under the leadership of president Nicolas Sarkozy is considering to reduce the number of EU-Commissioners in such a manner that countries from "similar cultural and linguistic areas" will dispose of just one common Commissioner in Brussels."
(own translation)
As source, the newspaper is refering to "high diplomatic circles", but I haven't found any confirmation anywhere else (did you?).

The goal of this initiative, if the news is correct, seems to be to prevent lengthy disputes about how to scrap individual countries' commissioners.

In agreement with the European Union Law Blog, I doubt that this will actually avoid any lengthy discussions, especially since there will hardly be an agreement on what a 'similar cultural area' is, how many countries will be included, and from which country of each cultural area the Commissioner will come from.

Ha-ha! I can already imagine the public debates about questions such as "Skandinavia", the "Baltics", the "Germanic area", the "Roman area" (including Romania!)...

Maybe drawing lots will be less conflictual, and if the European Parliament disagrees, it can redraw until the best Commission is composed!

5th August 2008: EU documents

You are interested in wine?

Well, then you might enjoy the lecture of the 50 pages (+annex)
Proposal for a Council Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 1234/2007 establishing a common organisation of agricultural markets and on specific provisions for certain agricultural products ("single CMO Regulation") (PDF)
that deals exclusively with the amendment of the respective Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) regulation that has been introduced to simplify [sic!] the CAP.

Tibetans and Germans, the suppressed peoples

Is it necessary to comment on such stupidities?
"If it is wrong for Beijing to impose its rule on the Tibetans in the name of harmonisation, why is it right for Brussels to impose its rule on equally historic nations? Surely the national principle applies to Europe, too. If Tibet can legitimately aspire to independence, Germany must have the same right."
Who has elected him into the European Parliament?

Monday 4 August 2008

Referendum in Latvia failed

Yes, there are still referenda in the European Union that are not EU-related:

In Latvia, a referendum that aimed at giving the population the right to dissolve the parliament has failed due to low turnout (39% instead of >50%).

But since 97% voted in favour of the constitutional amendment, Latvian president Valdis Zatlers (who is without particular political power) has proposed to the parliament to amend the constitution by itself.

Latvia would be the first European country to give its population such a right.

Read also on this topic (updated):

Elia Varela Serra
Baltic Blog
European Voice

Eurocrats less eurocratic?

In a Telegraph article (that I found through European Avenue) I have learnt that the European Union is abandoning its traditional "Who wants to be a Millionaire Eurocrat?" entrance game. And, they are going to shorten the application procedure.

The reason?

Well, less and less people seem to apply. The Telegraph even calls it an "alarming decrease in applicants". So instead of looking for people who have accumulated show-off knowledge that you can find within 10 seconds on Wikipedia and who can afford to wait two years until they know if taken or not, the European Union will now start to look for... qualified people.

This final remark might be a bit too extreme, because I think the EU gets a lot of qualified people. But I think that many of those who have gone through the "Concours" (the application procedure) will have been a bit disappointed because the selection process does not match the work they are doing. And others felt that the effort for such a test would not be rewarded by working in an administration that is not always "modern" as it calls itself.

But will it be enough to change the application procedure? Maybe. Maybe, the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) can find some better candidates who would at least try to apply for the Brusseleaucracy after the process has been adapted.

But the bigger problem is the image of the administration in Brussels (and wherever they have put the different institutions and agencies of the European Union), true or not true:

It all appears like a huge moloch of non-mobile, central-power oriented, and hierarchically organised administrators who mutate into supranationalists as soon as they enter the service. Working in there is like coming into a micro-cosmos that will never let you out anymore.

Applying for EU institutions has lost some of its appeal because other employers seem more dynamic, more demanding, and more relevant. Changing the application process is a sign to the outside world that the institutions start to realise this. But I doubt that this will raise the general attractiveness of the European bureaucracy.

The European Union will have to do much more to excite Europe's best!

Sunday 3 August 2008

Powerful Women (II): Rama Yade

If you were looking for a female Barack Obama on the European continent, someone uniting charisma and youth and an African origin, you would quickly find Rama Yade.

Rama Yade (photo), whose full name is Ramatoulaye Yade-Zimet, is the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights in the Foreign Ministry of France.

Born in Senegal, she came to France at the age of 8 and, despite starting from the unfavourable banlieues ("suburbs"), she then went through an educational 'parcours' that is quite typical for the French elite. Yet, after an astonishingly short political and administrative career, the 1976-born Yade became Secretary of State on 19 June 2007 at the age of 30.

Her political path started in 2005 when she joint the party of (now president and back then minister of the interior) Nicolas Sarkozy. In 2006, she became a national secretary of this party, which most probably was an important step towards the power.

If you watch her during the time of the presidential campaign of Nicolas Sarkozy, you can already see her liveliness and her articulateness, that make up her personality (although in the interview she appears much younger than she does today). But the day when she became known to a larger public was the day when Nicolas Sarkozy was nominated as presidential candidate on 14 January 2007.

Similar to Senator Obama, who became known through his speech at the nomination congress for John Kerry in 2004, she held an impressive 13 minutes discours in front of the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) nomination congress.

Attacking Ségolène Royal, Sarkozy's socialist adversary (interestingly also born in Dakar/Senegal) at that time, she said:
"She [Royal] says: 'Vote for me because I am a woman!' No debate! That's it, nothing more to say. In short: She wants to be treated preferentially. For us, the young women of today, the equality of rights does not mean the 'War of the Sexes'. We do not want to victimise ourselves. We are well aware of the fragility of accomplishments that women have reached. So we have to do better than to victimise ourselves unnecessarily!"
(own translation)
The same impressive resoluteness could also be seen on the day when Sarkozy was elected president, when she defended him on national television against (alleged) attacks from the left. And I think that this is exactly the reason why she has been chosen as Secretary of State although still quite young for such a position.

Nevertheless, she does not back off if she disagrees with Sarkozy and others (you can find some examples in the Wikipedia article about her). For my eurosceptic readers, I should also mention that in 2005 she was backing the French "No!" to the European Union Constitutional Treaty, against the position of her party.

But most spectacular to me seemed her comment to the press after having met and shaken hands with Gaddafi in Libya:
"Certain gestures make you feel like you should wash your hands"
Wow! This does not sound like French diplomacy, but it sounds refreshingly honest and you could only wish that there would be more politicians out there with this kind of directness that Yade displayed at numerous occasions!

If she does not make any severe mistakes, her future looks very promising to me, even if her political path might be interrupted by the typical changes in political constellations that are likely to occur one day or another.

She has everything necessary for a political career in the early 21st century and I am sure we will see more from her in the years to come!

[If you'd like to read more, I recommend an English language biographical text about Rama Yade, written by French author and economist Eloi Laurent.]

Read the follow-up article from December 2008!

- Video: Yade's first solo trip as State Secretary - Moldova

The category "Powerful Women" is dedicated to European women with influence on the national or supranational level but with relevance for both. It has been inspired by the initiative "Females in Front".