Sunday 30 November 2008

Opposition in Belarus, Russia, and Moldova

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to representatives of the Russian, Belarussion, and Moldovan opposition (Yabloko, PFP, and AMN).

Apparently, they are all living in countries where civil liberties are not respected (2008 Freedom House reports on Russia and on Belarus) or not fully respected (FH 2008 on Moldova) and where democratic opposition is, well, not liked too much.

The Russian and Belarussian parties are not represented in the respective parliaments and both face suppressive policies from the state: Several leaders of Yabloko have been arrested in recent times, and PFP has tried to be officially registered for several years now but has been rejected three times on "formal grounds"...

AMN is at least represented in the Moldovan parliament, where it is the largest opposition group. Nevertheless, especially limited access to national media and a lack of an impartial press limits their possibility to get their message(s) spread as it is the case in more democratic countries. Early next year (around March or April), there will be elections in Moldova, and it has to be seen how far the democratic opposition will have a word to say.

In this blog I am intensively following the 2009 European Parliament elections, and I am complaining about a number of shortcomings and problems the EU is facing these days. But talking to those men and women coming from countries where they would be more than glad to have the problems we are having in the European Union was a reminder on what is more and what is less important in Europe today:

It is of utmost importance not to forget those women and men who are fighting for democracy in countries where pluralist democracy is more a dream than a reality, and to treasure the freedom and liberty we are enjoying in our democracies (as much shortcomings they may have)!

Thursday 27 November 2008

Switzerland joins Schengen area

According to German news sources, EU ministers of the interior have decided that Switzerland will be the next country to join the Schengen area.

Systematic border controls will be ceased from 12 December 2008, the controls at airports will end from 28 March 2009.

That is good news for the freedom of movement within Europe, and I am looking forward to more countries joining the club, because there is nothing worse than border controls on a European continent that moves towards greater unity.

Nosemonkey's perspectives on multiculturalism

In a rather rheumy article, Nosemonkey addresses discussions around modern politics of multiculturalism.

And although rather negative, the article is extreme well written, which is why I would just like to present the following extract:
[T]he borders go up between the political elites and the people. Turnouts at elections drop year after year. More votes are cast for the winner of Big Brother than in general elections. Party membership tails off as even the most politically engaged lose faith and interest. Resentment grows along with populism, as politicians desperately try to re-engage with the public to the extent that Cabinet ministers feel the need to comment on The X Factor in parliament, or simply follow whatever mindless witch-hunt the tabloid press are up to this week.

If we’re alienated from our national politicians, what hope for those EU level politicians, about whom we know nothing?

And then, of course, there’s the psychological borders rising between the people themselves as opinions and resentments become entrenched and no amount of debate can change minds. Non-geographical borders along the purple America model, where resentment grows, and two ideologically wildly different nations live - literally - side by side in the same geographical territory.

Ignore the obvious race and religion based forms of multiculturalism - what happens when mutually-exclusive political cultures begin to arise within a democratic society?
The challenge of multiculturalism - racial (whatever this is), religious (or non-religious), and political - is to cope with difference, to cope with the fact that we might not be able to agree on how to live individually.

But for the sake of peace there is at least the need to agree on how to live with each other, on how to respect each other although we dream of lives so different that we could also live on different planets.

Wednesday 26 November 2008

EU institutions discuss protection of copyright for performance on phonograms

Discussions are going on between the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament whether to prolong the period of protection of copyright for performances on phonograms from 50 to 95 years.

As explained in a Council report for the next Competetiveness Council on 01 and 02 December published on Monday (here; PDF) the changes in the copyright directive (2006/116/EC) were proposed by the Commission in July 2008 (here). The goal of the changes is to "introduce a uniform method of calculating the term of protection which applies to a musical composition with words".

On the basis of this proposal, the Working Party on Intellectual Property (Copyright) of the Council was discussing the issue.

On 23 October 2008, the French EU Council Presidency proposed a compromise, but the EU Commission rejected several arguments brought forward by member states in a non-paper, where it is inter alia said that:
  • Payments by broadcasters, bars and discotheques would not increase
  • Retail prices would not increase
  • A term extension would benefit overwhelmingly European performers
Afterwards, the Council Working Party has considered the topic again on 18 November 2008 on the basis of a revised compromise proposal by the French Council Presidency.

The European Parliament "has [also] been consulted on the same proposal under the co-decision procedure but has not yet given its opinion at first reading. That opinion is expected in February 2009."

Without going into too many details, this inter-institutional discussion looks like many others on copyright before, between the poles of free competition vs. protectionism, interests of established artists vs. interest of new artists etc.

Living abroad

During recent days, I have been asked the same question by two different people - an American campaign expert and the vice head of a national election commission -, totally independent from each other:
What do you consider as "living abroad" for yourself?
My answer was and is:
Whenever I pack my bags with more than I need for a simple tourist or business trip.
I it is in fact as simple as this, because it doesn't make a big difference how long I stay, it is more a question with what kind of spirit I leave the place I have lived before - which is somehow represented by the amount of luggage and personal things I take with me.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

The new European Economic Area

The European Union is starting to look eastwards, and what it sees are six countries with European aspirations: Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

And in order to meet these "aspirations", the Commission proposes to create a "new European Economic Area", as EUobserver observes:
The future EEA will require the six states to "take over the entire acquis communautaire [the EU's legal code], including the acceptance of European Court of Justice rulings."

The Eastern Partnership will aim to create visa free travel in the long-term, but to waive the cost of obtaining EU visas more quickly and to set up Common Application Centres in the six countries to help people enter the EU's passport-free Schengen zone."
Additionally, this initiative will lead to a doubling of EU funds for this Eastern neighbourhood of the European Union.

However, this (possible) move of the Union cannot hide that the different countries included into this package have quite different starting positions when it comes to democratic and economic development.

I can only encourage the EU to take these steps, but seeing the slowness of the countries in their internal reforms, their lack of political professionalism, and their unresolved relations with the big neighbour - Russia - makes me kind of reluctant to believe in substantial developments.

Yet: Every little step towards improvement is a good step, especially if it helps the people of our Eastern neighbours to enjoy more and more those freedoms that we EUropeans are already savouring, not least an increased freedom of movement on our common subcontinent.

Monday 24 November 2008

Why I don't blog. And why I should blog more.

The reason I am not blogging like hell these days is that I am working. Not that I am not working the rest of the time, but these days, it's kind of 110% busy.

And the reason are international experts, or to be more precise, the events we (my colleagues and me) have to organise together with these experts. In fact, it is not so much the experts but rather the fact that we have to bring these experts together with state institutions that makes this rather complicated and time-consuming - and I am not talking of state institutions of Germany or Great Britain (although I am not always sure whether this would actually pose less problems).

I would like to tell you more, but for diplomatic reasons I have to refrain from more preciseness. But I can tell you that working for an international organisation offers quite interesting insights into the life of different state officials from different countries.

The problem: The more you work with them, the more you have doubts about the capacities of some of them. Or to put it more self-critically: The more you work with them, the less you are sure that you are capable, because you don't see the results you would like to see.

I think that more transparency would help, and I think that an open debate about many of the issues I have seen during my recent posts would be of help. But for diplomatic reasons it is difficult to do it directly.

So I should blog more about this, because it is of relevance for the public, for the transparency of how national and international organisations work, and it would be of use for the democratic control of what we do.

But how to do it, if you risk to be fined or fired, or if a simple critique can lead to diplomatic problems?

Saturday 22 November 2008

The European Union's decline: 2025 in perspective

From EUobserver:
By 2025, the European Union will be a "hobbled giant" crippled by internal bickering and a eurosceptic citizenry. Eastern European organised crime could dominate one or more member state governments, and the bloc will likely be kowtowing to Moscow after having failed at all attempts to wean itself from Russian energy supplies.
My comment:
This dark assessment is sponsored by the US-Government, published in a report named "Global Trends 2025 - A transformed world" (PDF; > 8 MB!).

In fact, I share the report's assessment on the European Union. I just think that the US and Russia will have entered into a nuclear war before, leaving no single human being on the European continent. In fact, this will solve all our institutional problems. The next Global Trends Report will then be needed for the year 10025, at least for large parts of the globe.

Hmm, I love predictions of the future...!

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Who or what is DORIE?

Have you ever heard about DORIE?
  • No, it is not the wife of Commission President Barroso!
  • No, it is not the Dutch Open Register for Independent Experts!
  • No, it is not another useless agency of the European Union!
DORIE, as I have learnt today (thank you FAZ), is a Commission database of original documents (starting from the early days and reaching almost to the present times) related to institutional affairs of the EU. These documents - from internal memos and speeches to regular files and official letters - are scanned and contain original notes and remarks in handwriting.

Although it may take some time until all relevant documents are listed, some of you who - like me - are interested in little details and personalised original sources can already find interesting little precious things neither the web in general, nor national archives, nor other EU databases are providing so far.

The only two disadvantages I see for now are the size of the documents (scanned, PDF), and the search function that is not very comfortable. But maybe at least the latter will be refined in the future.

Especially historians and political scientists might be quite happy to discover this tool...

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Tracking: European Parliament elections 2009 (XXVI)

The next European Parliament will be dominated by hard-line conservatives, fascists, and other radical parties. Well, almost, as some MEPs expect according to EUobserver.

And although this summary goes far beyond the lines of the respective article, and although I don't really share these fears, several parliamentarians seem to be concerned that the financial crisis will lead to radical votes for the European Parliament elections.

Some expect a "a conservative euroscepticism" accompanied by an "immigrant-bashing discourse" where "[p]eople will be quick to blame domestic politicians and Brussels for ... the increase in the cost of food and fuel, for issues that are largely international in scope".

In this case, the relevance of European Parliament elections should be taken into account: Since its political profile is not high, there is a lower risk for this institution to constitute a projection of fears, especially not economic. And I would also argue that the European political arena is not the most interesting field for those political movements that prefer a nationalistic view onto the world.

This does not mean that I do not expect radical right-wing parties in the next EP. I just would like to express my hesitation to see these next elections as a particular turning point for the European Parliament, a significant move to the right. We will see more general eurosceptic views, but from quite different political movements with quite different political interests.

So yes, EP elections are often used to sanction national governments, an act which on the national level sometimes leads to far-right votes, but right now I don't see a great danger of a Euro-radicalisation on the right wing of the political spectrum.

PS: And I hope to be right with this prediction.

Under the category "Tracking: 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.

Monday 17 November 2008

The state of the EU debate

What else can be said than summarised by Nosemonkey these days, inter alia as a reaction to Kosmopolito's article on "The problem of EU debates":
[T]he reason the public are so uninterested in the EU is that they’ve been consistently misinformed about just how important it is to their daily lives.
The European blogosphere remains small, and with few readers, even after several years, he (Nosemonkey) reminds us. The public is misinformed, and most probably we bloggers are as badly informed as them (you allow me to distinguish ourselves from the general public, which we are not, because we blog about the fact that there is a misinformed public).

In fact, a major problem is that those from the inside do not blog from there (good morning, whistleblowers!), and those from the outside don't see what's going on behind the institutions' walls. So what we are doing is reading between the lines, putting issues on the agenda, discussing in circles, asking ourselves where this will lead us and our readers. Without definite answers.

So what?

Let's be satisfied with this situation, let's complain, let's cry and wait for our Messiah! Let's hope for better days, and better years, and better debates, and a better public, and a better press, and better institutions.

The country where I am living these days faces similar problems, and the choice the local population takes is to leave in masses, to look for money and status, to ignore politics and to remain ignorant because there is no real press to take on its responsibilities. The state institutions with whom I work don't show much interest either to increase transparency, and their hopeless efforts of self-promotion are as imperfect as their internal organisation.

Additionally, the international organisation I work with shows similar problems, and so we turn around in circles, as does the European blogosphere, the European demos, and the millions of people who have no time to care for a bunch of bloggers that write about a bunch of themes that are of interest for a bunch of people.

Because below the surface, we don't care. And if we care, we don't have the guts or the time to care enough.

And so we continue in imperfection, in self-reference. And if after five years we realise nothing has changed, we continue for another five years, and then meet our friends and colleagues and tell that still nothing has changed.

This is the state of the EU debate.

Thursday 13 November 2008

Nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical (NRBC) threats database to be created in the European Union

According to a document issued on 11 November 2008 and forwarded to COREPER, the European Union is going to create a special database to track terrorist threats. Therefore, the Council of the European Union will invite
EUROPOL, with the support of the European Commission, to develop and to host in the European Bomb Data System (EBDS) the European NRBC database in which to gather and centralise technical information on NRBC terrorism-related events and NRBC products and materials which may be used with malicious intent.
This can be seen as part of the Commission's counter-terrorism package launched one year ago.

Heads of State and Government of the CIS meet in Chisinau/Moldova

Today and tomorrow, the Heads of State and Government of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) meet in Chisinau, Moldova.

Participants beside Moldovan officials (e.g. President Vladimir Voronin) are, inter alia, Vladimir Putin (Prime Minister of Russia) and Julia Timoshenko (Prime Minister of Ukraine), who want to meet on the sidelines to discuss energy prices, as well as Igor Chudinov (Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan, the next chairman of the CIS) and the CIS Executive Secretary Serghei Lebedev. In total, around 650 officials are expected to be present.

It is hard to find the actual agenda of the meeting, although some sources report about around 30 issues contained in the schedule of the two-days conference. Some topics for the agenda seem to be an Economic Development Strategy until 2020 as well as questions of co-operation in the field of transport, food supply and energy security.

But it is quite striking that the international press is not covering this meeting more in detail, at least not until now. Let's see whether we get some more in the aftermath.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Does Medvedev prepare Russia's constitution for Putin's return?

Several news sources report that the Russian President Medvedev has introduced a bill into the Duma (the Russian Parliament) prolonging the term of office of the president from four to six years and the term of the Duma from four to five years.

Introduced last week, the Duma wants to pass these changes in the Russian constitution within one week - quite something for such an important ammendment. However, since Medvedev's (and Putin's) party hold a 2/3-majority, I don't see a reason why the ammendments wouldn't pass.

In fact, they do not concern the present president and Duma but will enter into force only after new elections.

This is why Western news sources suspect that this move is a preparation for a return of Vladimir Putin. After Medvedev's term, he could run again for office and would be re-electable for a second term which would give Putin additional 12 years as the most powerful figure in Russia.

Whether this will become a truth will have to be seen. However, and taking into account the realities in the Russian political system, I would not be surprised if this would happen as projected.

Read also:
- Robert Amsterdam's Daily Russia News Blast - Nov 12, 2008

A glance at science: European party politics

The Journal of European Public Policy is dedicating its last issue (n° 8) of the year 2008 to European party politics.

The issue covers the role of parties with a specific look to different EU institutions, starting from Parliament and including also the Commission, the EU Council, as well as the European Council.

I don't have access to the full texts of the individual articles today, but as soon as I have I will give you a short insight into everything interesting. So far, let me list their titles so that you get an idea about what science is working these days:

  • Party politics as usual? The role of political parties in EU legislative decision-making - Authors: Lindberg, Bjorn; Rasmussen, Anne; Warntjen, Andreas
  • Who leads, who follows? Re-examining the party-electorate linkages on European integration - Author: Hellstrom, Johan
  • Decision-making dynamics in the European Commission: partisan, national or sectoral? - Author: Wonka, Arndt
  • Party soldiers in a non-partisan community? Party linkage in the European Parliament - Author: Rasmussen, Anne
  • Are political parties controlling legislative decision-making in the European Parliament? The case of the services directive - Author: Lindberg, Bjorn
  • Parties in the Council? - Authors: Hagemann, Sara; Hoyland, Bjorn
  • Party politics in the European Council - Authors: Tallberg, Jonas; Johansson, Karl Magnus
  • The party political make-up of EU legislative bodies - Authors: Warntjen, Andreas; Hix, Simon; Crombez, Christophe
  • Towards a partisan theory of EU politics - Author: Hix, Simon

Without knowing the exact content of the issue it is hard to evaluate its pertinence or quality; however, taking into account the titles of the articles, I suppose that they will provide those of us interested in the backgrounds of European decision-making with a number of usefull insights for our practical work and our blogging activities.

If anyone of you has already read one of these articles, feel free to comment! If not, I will come back as quick as possible with my own remarks.

Read also the follow-up to this article with a discussion of some of the articles.

Barroso "incompetent" says former foreign minister Fischer - corrected and updated

Via Coulisses de Bruxelles I found an article published on Monday in the French daily Le Figaro in which former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer (Greens, pragmatic left) calls EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso "incompetent".

In this article titled "The crisis - a chance for Europe" Fischer said the following (own translation):
"The incompetent President of the Commission has seen its mandate renewed for five years thanks to his inoffensiveness. Unfortunately, this is also Europe."
The rest of the article is what we have heard from many other mouths these days: Europe needs effective financial and economic governance and the global financial crisis is the perfect moment to put this into place.

But what will remain from this article is that Barroso is "incompetent".


Everything I write above is true, however, there is an English version of the article by Fischer published in New Europe already on 03 November 2008. The paragraph cited reads there:
An incompetent president of the Commission has had his term renewed for another five years as a reward for his innocuousness. Alas, this, too, is Europe.
I am not sure, what is the original version, but since "New Europe" has an earlier date on the text, I wanted it to be mentioned here.


In a comment to this article, Erik has linked Fischer's commentary in a German version, which according to the respective site has been published in October.

Erik also correctly remarks that in the German version, Fischer compares the incompetence of Mr Barroso to the incompetence of the German Minister of the Economy, Michael Glos, something missing in the foreign versions of the text.

Altogether, the text is available in English, Spanish, Russian, French, German, Czeque, and even Chinese.

Tuesday 11 November 2008

European communication (IV): What is "important"?

This article is a reaction to Martin Westlake, the Secretary General of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), who has also joined the world of Eurobloggers quite recently.

I first wanted just to write a comment to a recent article by Martin, but when the comment became too long I decided to dedicate a full article to this question. To a certain extend, it also an indirect reaction to Martin's article on the notion of "importance", which was addressing a comment of mine to an earlier article.

But let me first cite the article from Martin titled "Well-informed, misinformed, disinformed or over-informed?" which I am referring to (with additional links and line-breaks):
Over lunch in Paris yesterday, I chatted with Beatrice Ouin (French EESC member/Employees’ Group). She is a trained journalist and communicator and has for many years given communication courses to trades unionists. Recently, she started teaching younger people, around 18-20 years old.

As an ice-breaking exercise, she asked her students to list the most important events of the past six months (she then intended to ask them what ‘important’ meant). They all listed the Chinese Olympics, naturally, but not a single student mentioned the Irish referendum result.

In the past, we might have said that it’s because of the newspapers; because they don’t cover ‘Europe’ sufficiently. But these young people almost certainly don’t read newspapers on a daily basis. They probably get their information on the hoof, from the web. The internet is a wondrous thing but it raises fresh challenges for communicators.

Beatrice recently authored a Committee opinion on the EU’s communication challenge (reconciling the European and the national levels). You can read it here. It’s well worth a read.
My main argument: The problem of European political communication is that it is not filling our attention on a daily basis because it focuses on the wrong notion of "importance".

There are ("important") mediated European events like the referendum in Ireland, but after its failure, the discussions about the future of the EU go back into intransparent structures within the Council working parties, EP committees, Commission divisions etc. and they come up to the surface only from time to time, e.g. when the European Council meets and discusses them.

A good indicator for the failure to keep up debates on important questions like the Lisbon Treaty is the fact that the European blogosphere is not discussing its future these days, at least not to the extend it did when the Irish were heading to the polls. The reason is that the most relevant political disscussion on this matter take place below the radar of our attention, in meeting rooms and hidden offices.

For "digital natives", those of us who have grown up with electronic media, issues become important when they are able to focus constantly our attention. But in order to receive our attention, they need to be constantly interesting and understandable.

However - as it is mentioned in the EESC comment on the EU's communication strategy - European language and presentation of news are not interesting enough to catch our attention for more than a glance (see my remarks on the report of the EU ombudsman's report or on the Court of Auditors' report) - not even if we are more intrigued by European politics than by the Olympics.

In other words: The European Union is not able keep its topics on our daily agenda, we are not seeing it between the important "European Days of Public Attention" and the even more important "30th anniversary of the European Public Attention Strategy".

This lack of communicative follow-up after really "important" decisions, a follow-up that reminds us ("citizens") that these "important" decisions have "important" positive or negative effects to our less important daily lives, is the most striking problem of Europe.

Because if European politics and policies are important, they have to appear in our daily life. And since we are consuming diverse electronic media every day, the European reality needs to appear on our screens and earphones on a daily basis. Consequently, as long as Europe and the European Union do not focus their communication to become interesting for diverse medias and diverse audiences, there won't be much attention or interest.

A further problem worth mentioning: The most important reports and documents contain the heaviest Eurospeak instead of raising attention through lively language, concise summaries or pointed conclusions. Thereby, possibly interesting stories become boring administrative problems instead of raising interesting political debates.

The importance of European issues is therefore not really defined by the question "Well-informed, misinformed, disinformed or over-informed?" but rather by "Interesting or not interesting?". And it is not by coincidence that this sounds like "To be or not be", because the question of perceived "importance" (i.e. relevance) is existential for the European project, not more, and not less!

And as long as the EU's information are boring and discontinuous, the answer of most will remain:

Not interesting!

Tracking: European parliament elections 2009 (XXV)

Via Steffen's blog I found an interesting site that published visitors' statistics of Wikipedia.

Having a look at the statistics of the article on the 2009 EU Parliament elections, which appears on top of Google's list when you search for "European Parliament Elections 2009", one can see that between 70-250 people have been visiting this site per day during the last 3-4 month; in average around 120-130.

And although this is double the amount of the beginning of 2008, it is still a clear sign of low interest in the matter. The article on the European Parliament receives 7 times more attention these days.

Interesting to see is that the German and the French version of the article attract more interest than the English version, while the Italien version has less visitors. Any blind guesses, why this could be the case?

I will keep track of the development of these statistics in order to see whether there will be raising interest in the matter. Interesting to see would be a "turning point".

Under the category "Tracking: 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.

Monday 10 November 2008

Out now: European Court of Auditors Report for 2007 - supplemented

There it is: The European Court of Audiors report for 2007 (PDF). I won't be able to give a full account of the 300 pages, but let's have a look on some specifics.

According to the press release, the area most affected by misspending is social cohesion:
As in previous years cohesion policies (42 billion) are the area most affected by errors. Following the Court's sample estimate at least 11 % of the value of reimbursed cost claims should not have been paid out.
If I understand this correctly, then the European Union is spending more than 4.5 billion Euros to much on its social cohesion policy. Or in other words: A lot!

One of the reasons for misspending seem to be overly complicated legal and administrative provisions:
The Court also calls for due consideration to be given to simplification - for example in rural development and research. Well designed rules that are clear to interpret and simple to apply decrease the risk of error.
This is also the main point that the President of the Court of Auditors, Vítor Caldeira (CV), stresses in his speech: He asks for further simplification.

But regarding simplification, I would like to point out that neither the report, nor the press release, nor the published speech by the Court's president are very citizen-friendly - neither in terms of presentation nor in terms of language.

What do we learn? We learn that some things are better than in the past; we learn that the EU is spending too much money in several areas; we learn that the control mechanisms can be improved; and we also learn that a balance between efforts and results of control has to be maintained. Interesting, but rather empty.

All in all, the report lacks an executive summary, and it lacks a clear presentation of past shortcomings and necessary future changes.

Is anyone expecting citizens or smaller non-governmental organisations to comb through this technical language? - You may ask why? Well, maybe because it concerns all of us, and maybe because a simplification of the presentation would ease our understanding of how the European Union and its institutions are (not) working.

But maybe, this is yet just another administrative document, and we should not care about it too much, right?!


The EUobserver article covering the reports brings some interesting voices, inter alia from Commissioner Kallas, that demand a tougher stand of the Commission towards the member states when it comes to the mismanagement of funds.

Related articles:
- Daniel Hannan: "EU budget rejected"
- Me: EU budget committee criticises EU agencies
- Me: Boring: The European Ombudsman and his 2007 report

By the way: If you would like to be the next Secretary General of the Court of Auditors - now is the time!

European Court of Auditors report to be published today - updated

UPDATE: For a discussion of the 2007 report, read the follow-up article!

According to several sources, the European Court of Auditors will publish today its report on the 2007 (mis-)spending of the European Union and its institutions.

I have tried to reach the Court of Auditors' website, but right now it is either offline or too busy - in any case I do not have access to it for the moment.

But as soon, as I will see the report, you will get my commentary!


Now the website is accessible again. According to the press briefing (pdf), the report is already accessible to journalists now, but may not be published before 14:30 (Brussels time; at this time, the report will appear on the Court's website). The official presentation will be at 16:00.

A look at: Blog censorship dedicates one article to the topic of blog censorship including EU criticism towards Turkey, the attitudes of older Finnish as well a British view on the matter.

Interesting read, which makes me remind readers that even EU institutions are ready to censor or prohibit critical reporting.

Friday 7 November 2008

Tracking: European parliament elections 2009 (XXIV) - supplemented

Via EU Media I found the following project by Cafe Babel:

The project is not yet launched, but as soon as it will air you will find, according to the description on the site:
an information site and a multilingual debate on the European elections in June 2009.
We can expect to
read the latest news from the EU parliament, watch videos of Europe’s citizens, see opinion polls and campaign blogs, check our news on the politics and economy of Europe [...] EU candidate programmes?
Let's see whether this site will actually be able to "Europeanise the European elections" and whether it will help to give more visibility to the process and the politics behind the 2009 elections.

At least it looks as if the European public will get some more than it got in the past - even though Twitter might still not become President and although Facebook is ignoring that there are EU Parliament elections, which some see as a warning for the EU institutions.

Under the category "Tracking: 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.

Thursday 6 November 2008

Tracking: EP elections 2009 (XXIII)

Today, I have started to read the biggest Finnish daily, Helsingin Sanomat...

And although from the Finno-Ugric languages I only know some Estonian (Tere päevast, ma rägin veidi Eesti keelt!), a good fairy (alias Ralf Grahn or Grahnlaw) has sent me a very nice hint:

The Finnish newspaper reports about "Parties seeking money and candidates for European election". According to the article, one of the most important issue for Finnish politicians is to get the necessary funds for the elections.

Other than for the national parliament elections, where the country is devided in 15 multi-candidate constituencies (1), for the European parliament candidates have to compete nation-wide for the 13 seats that Finland possesses according to the Nice Treaty (and also according to the Lisbon Treaty).

This raises the costs for the campaigns massively while lowering the chances to actually get a seat. For me, this is a quite surprising effect, taking into account the perceived importance of the European elections: Interested politicians have to invest more money to interest citizens in an election that has generally less interest than local or national elections, while offering less possibilities to be successful.

And suggestions for a good solution?

Under the category "Tracking: 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.

EU human rights report 2008: Negative conclusions?!

The EU has published its annual human rights report for 2008 (PDF).

In the conclusions of the document, several shortcomings are addressed:
Although the EU has achieved some undoubted successes (such as the UNGA Resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty), it nonetheless faces new challenges:
  • In this year of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the universality of human rights is disputed, more than ever, by those who subscribe to relativism based on a tradition, religion, cultural affiliation or history.
  • At a time when the European Union is increasingly expected to answer for the situation of human rights within its frontiers, it must be exemplary. It is a question both of consistency and of credibility on the international stage.
  • Mainstreaming human rights across all the EU's internal and external policies is the key to ensuring that consistency.
If these are the conclusions, you can read between the lines that human rights are not really mainstreamed in European Union policies and politics, and that the European Union and its member states are not really exemplary.

Because why else would these statements appear in the conclusions?

And if this is what the Union is able to conclude after more than 200 pages of reporting its activities in the field of human rights for 2008, then I would interpret the document as a concession of failure, of inefficient use of funds (e.g. 140 Million for EIDIHR) and efforts.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Twitter for EU President! - updated

Let me cite from a recent post by Steffen:
[W]ill any MEPs or MEP hopefuls take a leaf out of Obama’s book and try to Twitter their way into constituents’ hearts in the upcoming campaigns?! It’d probably be a waste of time to send regular updates given the low profile of European elections (no I’m not contradicting myself: updates don’t mean you’re engaging in a conversation and should only be provided with a significant number of followers). But I would advise them to follow what people are saying in social media in general, including Twitter, and the blogosphere in particular. There won’t be much, but some of it could make interesting reading. And if they really want to start an online conversation, I’d recommend they resort to traditional blogging, but I’ll save that for another post.

When it comes to the use of the internet for the next EP elections, EUobserver shows some hesitation with regard to the possible success of the use of the internet, especially because of the profile of the elections:
Struggling to gain the attention of its citizens, the European Parliament is at great risk of seeing another turnout below 40 percent in the upcoming 2009 elections.


[T]he motivation for millions of Americans is the hope of change, something the European Parliament cannot deliver, no matter how many Europeans go and vote.

The European Parliament is not in charge of presenting laws, only capable of influencing them. And Europeans are not asked to deliver an opinion on the election of their president of the European Commission. Real passion about European affairs has only been seen in the three referendums on the Constitution and Lisbon Treaty, but as they resulted in No votes, they have hardly been taken note of as models for participation.

It will take more than an Obama 08 campaign to make European elections into a real act of democratic decision-making - something that European citizens could actually get passionate about.
Consequently, EU parliamentarians should use Twitter, but they should know that nobody will care.

Looks like fun!

More on Twitter and the European Union in this blog.

A female Obama for Europe!

You are looking for a female Obama? You are looking for her on the European continent?

What about Rama Yade?!

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Barack Obama is the new President of the United States of America (USA) - updated

I will have to leave my computers for today, and I won't have time until tomorrow to blog.

Therefore, let me post this now, so when you come to my blog during the night or morning, you will always be up-to-date:
It is sure now: Barack Obama has been elected the next President of the United States of America (USA). Political leaders all over the world have congratulated Barack Obama, and huge crowds frenetically celebrated his victory all throughout the US.
This victory will change the image of the USA in Europe, at least at the beginning, leaving aside the pictures of US troops in Iraq and tortured prisoners in Guantanamo.

The image of the country where everybody can make it will be restored - and time will tell whether Obama's promises of hope and change will become a reality, at home in the US, but also beyond (not least on our beautiful European continent).


First, and just for the protocol: I was right.

Second, for EU reactions check the Child of Europe.

Tracking: European elections 2009 (XXII)

Via openeurope blog I found these introductory remarks in an Guardian article by EU Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering (European Peoples Party, EPP):
It would be wonderful to think that the intense interest with which Europeans are following today's US presidential election might be matched by Americans watching the European parliamentary elections in June 2009.
I fully share openeurope's comment: Ha ha!

Anything might happen until next year, but not that the EP elections will get nearly as much attention in our media than the American presidential election got attention in our media. The fault is to the EU, because it is increasingly boring and increasingly intransparent. The only alternative could be: Free coffee!

Meanwhile, on this weekend, the European Liberal Democrats (ELDR) met in Stockholm for their congress, adopting, inter alia, their manifesto for the next EP elections.

In the press release from the meeting (which does not yet contain the manifesto...), we learn that
Annemie Neyts, ELDR party president expressed her satisfaction and added: I really encourage all the member parties to base their European campaigns on this common European liberal vision.
This does not sound overly optimistic that member parties will actually use the European vision, it rather sounds like a helpless plea to desinterested national parties. But I might be mistaken... At least ELDR's youth organisation (LYMEC) shows a bit of enthusiasm and informs that they have a "Facebook strategy".

Under the category "Tracking: 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 look at the overview article.

For the five newest post see also the sidebar.

The Union for the Mediterranean to be seated in Barcelona

The Union for the Mediterranean, a project that already started with low expectations, seemed to be in great difficulties until yesterday.

The foreigh ministers of the countries participating in the Union met in Marseille to discuss several issues. The International Harald Tribune told that
the Union for the Mediterranean is deadlocked over where to base its headquarters, who should attend meetings and who should get the top jobs.
It seemed as if the prestige project of French EU-Council president Sarkozy had been shipwrecked by different expections and national selfishness.

However, overnight, there has been at least the agreement to seat the Union in Barcelona. And although this might be seen as a blow to those non-EU countries participating in this Union and interested in having the seat (like Tunesia), as a follow-up to the Barcelona Process, Barcelona seems to be a quite natural host city.

Yet, this is again just a technical agreement - the form is as so often more important than the content. And so far, there seem to be many unresolved issues between EU countries, and the countries from northern Africa and western Asia.

So I do not see any success, I just see the name of a city, and a lot of money wasted for new premises (although the building will be provided by Barcelona, if I understand correctly) and for a lot of new staff that will spend most of their time on form - and not on substance...

For me, it looks as it looked several month ago: Let's keep expectations low!

Monday 3 November 2008

The 2008 Weblog Awards: Nominations from today

The 2008 Weblog Awards nomination procedure starts today.

Go here to nominate your favourites!

Conflict resolution in the South Caucasus: Good news from Nagorno Karabakh

After month in which the negative sides of the "Separatist Agendas" in the South Caucasus have dominated the headlines, this weekend brought one little light of hope: The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to solve their conflict around Nagorno Karabakh with political - and, hence, peaceful - means.

This conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh is one of the least covered disputes on the European continent, and books like Thomas de Waal's "The dreary language of the resolution" (summary) are rare examples of attention to this issue.

However, BBC and others report that yesterday, and thanks to the mediation of Russia's president Medvedev, the presidents of Armenia (Serzh Sargsyan) and Azerbaijan (Ilham Aliyev) have signed a joint document in which they agree to resolve the question of this breakaway region peacefully.

The document is the first joint document signed by both parties at this high level in 15 years, despite ongoing talks within the so-called Minsk Group of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) of which both countries are members, and despite constant diplomatic monitoring within the Council of Europe (through the so-called AGO-group, abbreviated "GT-SUIVI.AGO").

This step is very promising, although the basic positions of the countries regarding Nagorno Karabakh have not really changed. It is a good sign in a region that is rather seen as conflict-laden than as a centre of harmony.

And it is an intelligent and commendable move by Russia: As a successfull mediator, the country can get out of the black hole it entered with the conflict in South Ossetia, and it can show to Europe and the rest of the world that it can facilitate the peaceful resolution of conflicts in its periphery.

Altogether, this is very positive news, and we Europeans should be grateful for any step taken to reduce tensions on our continent.

I am looking forward to hearing similar news from Georgia or from Transnistria...

This issue in other blogs:

- Gail's Tail
- AriRusila

The EU Parliament discovers RSS

Thanks to Public Affairs 2.0 we now know that the European Parliament has discovered RSS-Feeds.

Welcome to modern world, European Parliament!

Sunday 2 November 2008

The financial crisis: French EU-Council Presidency on the financial architecture

The French EU-Council Presidency proposes to EU countries the setting-up of a specific global financial architecture that would be proposed during the World Summit in Washington on November 15.

In its Presidency note (PDF) published on Friday, 31 October 2008, the French presidency starts with complimenting the work of the European Union:
[T]he European Union displayed decisive leadership. It should remain proactive and ambitious so as to enhance the present financial architecture, in international fora and dialogues, as well as in the prospect of the Summit called for by our Heads of states and governments.
Then, it continues with the list of principles that the international financial architecture should follow:
  1. Ensure that our frameworks are not excessively biased towards the short-term

  2. Ensure increased responsibility of all the financial actors, notably along the credit chain,

  3. Work towards properly enforced and extended transparency on all the segments of financial markets
  4. Ensure more consistency across standard setters and across regulatory and oversight frameworks with a common aim to promote financial stability

  5. Better anticipate risks and appropriate risk management based on an enhanced cooperation between institutions
Based on these principles ("values"), France is proposing the following objectives ("orientations"):
  1. Strengthening and broadening the scope of global oversight of financial markets

  2. Promoting a global approach of risks

  3. Reinforcing the legitimacy of the global financial architecture so as to better promote coordination and crisis prevention

  4. Addressing global challenges of the 21st century
And along these "orientations", a number of possible shortcomings are mentioned - inter alia, that financial mechanism in some countries are not appropriately adapted to the needs of the 21st century, and that in some countries oversight mechanisms do not cover all sectors of the economic and financial markets.

On the last page of the document, the French EU-Council Presidency proposes 11 possible commitments EU leaders could (!) agree on during their informal meeting on 7 November.

These draft commitments would then be proposed to the G20 world financial summit in Washington on 15 November:
  1. Increase transparency on financial markets and take the necessary steps not to let any financial institution, market or jurisdiction outside the scope of regulation or oversight

  2. Submit rating agencies that provide public ratings to registration and to governance rules and to appropriate monitoring of their activities

  3. Draw up codes of conducts to address incentives to excessive risk taking in the financial industry, including through compensation schemes

  4. Reconsider accounting and prudential standards where necessary to improve their mutual consistency, facilitate coordinated supervision and control, raise the margins of safety of the system and mitigate pro-cyclical effects

  5. Regarding capital adequacy standards, harmonising capital definition to ensure an homogenous quality of capital

  6. Promote proper risk-magement incentives regarding securitization, including considering the impact and effectiveness of requiring originators to retain a share of their issuances

  7. Reinforce cross-border cooperation between supervisors and regulatory authorities, especially to oversee activities of cross-border groups

  8. Promote a change of culture in the governance of financial institutions towards sustainable value creation. Risk control mechanisms in financial institutions should be enhanced and placed under direct responsibility of senior management, notably to prevent significant operational incidents in market operations

  9. Review improvements in liquidity risk management and promote a consistent approach for cross-border groups

  10. Encourage an internationally coordinated response to the macroeconomic challenges to come

  11. Formulate concrete solutions to improve the international economic governance
These conclusions are too far reaching and too general at the same time. Although most of these do not really include legally binding instruments, they reach quite far and concern a wide range of market regulation, something many countries will not agree to, while other will demand even more concrete regulatory steps.

Taking into account the results of previous European Councils, we will end up with two or three main commitments and some weaker conclusions. Additionally, a number of working groups might be proposed, leaving results open.

On 15 November at the World Summit, these will be further watered down, and instead of commitments we will get conclusions of good will, non-binding, leading to further discussions that will bring results long after the crisis or way too late to have any influence on its outcome.

But the heads of states and governments will sell it as a big success - some will say they saved the market economy, others will tell their populations they contained the ambitions of uncontrollable markets.

Standard procedure. So, I am really looking forward to the evenings of November 7 and November 15...