Tuesday 29 September 2009

Thorbjørn Jagland new Secretary General of the Council of Europe

After long discussions, Thorbjørn Jagland has been elected Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

The dispute over the election of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe has been going on for a while, as I have covered in the past (here, here, and here).

Today, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a mainly consultative assembly of the international organisation, in which delegates from all 47 parliaments of the Council of Europe member states meet four times a year, has finally elected the former prime minister, foreign minister, and president of the Norwegian parliament, Thorbjørn Jagland (new photo) with 165 against 80 votes for Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz a former Polish prime minister (see the press release).

The election is not a too big surprise, but I still think that the election of a Norwegian for this post is a particularly good choice.

Since the main task of the Secretary General is to moderate between the 47 member states, including the 27 EU members and most other countries of the continent, including Russia and Georgia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan, it is good that the SG is neither from an EU country nor from a country involved in conflicts with its neighbours or in serious human rights violations.

This is also of advantage for the relations between the Council of Europe and the EU, since the present Special Representative of the CoE to the European Union is former Norwegian ambassador to the Council of Europe Torbjørn Frøysnes - so the two might be able to work together in way that will strengthen the relations between both institutions.

Altogether, it was time that the Council of Europe finally got a new leadership - and I am glad that it is a profiled figure such as Mr Jagland who will be responsible for the most important human rights watchdog on the European continent.

Sunday 27 September 2009

The German election results and their implication for EU politics - updated

The German parliamentary elections are over, and although the results are not yet final, the political game will move on quickly.

The results (see the provisional results), however, are clear:

The Grand Coalition of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) is over, due to an expected but still painful historic loss of the SPD (23%) with its candidate, foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Nevertheless, Angela Merkel will remain the chancellor of Germany, thanks to only small losses of the CDU/CSU (33.8%) and the strongest results of the Liberals (FDP) - lead by Guido Westerwelle - in their history (14.6%), with whom Merkel will form a coalition for the next four years. The Christian Democrats will be even stronger than their overall election result suggests, because the will receive many overhang seats because of their strong results in the constituency votes, a particularity of the German election system.

The other two parties in the Bundestag (the German parliament) will be DIE LINKE (the Left Party; 11.9%) and the Greens (10.7%). The Pirate Party received 2% in their first participation in national elections, the extreme-right NPD got 1.5%, both missing the 5% threshold to enter into the parliament but still qualified for the party financing for the next 5 years (85 Euro Cents per vote for the first 4 million votes, 70 Cents for every further vote).

How will this effect EU level politics?

In my last post I have already talked about implications of these results for EU politics, and I'd like to become even more clear about what the future coalition CDU/CSU-FDP coalition might imply for European politics:

1. The German EU Commissioner:

After these results, it is pretty sure that the next German Commissioner will be Christian Democrat (EPP). Due to the strength of the Liberals in the new coalition, I don't think that it will be Wolfgang Schäuble but rather a more moderate candidate like Peter Hinze. In any case, the victory of Merkel will thus also strengthen Barroso.

2. The German positions in the EU Council and the European Council

Due to the rather market-liberal shared profiles of Christian Democrats and Liberals, I also expect that Germany's positions in the Council will be more market liberal than before. In the European Council I do not expect major changes since Merkel will continue to be a dominant figure profiting from her already existing networks to other European and international leaders.

3. The German behaviour on the EU level

Despite the previous argumentation, there is also a possibility that the German behaviour on the EU level will be characterised by internal veto points. Different to the last four years where due to the Grand Coalition the opposition was divided and weak, the joint left-wing opposition of SPD, the Left Party, and the Greens will use all the powers it has - including creating veto points in the second legislative chamber, the Bundesrat, where the federal states are represented - to slow down German decision making on the EU level. This is particularly relevant after the recent changes of the participatory rights of the legislature in EU decision making.

And although this sounds rather negative, it could also mean that EU politic could become more visible due to more active debates on the position(s) of the German government on the EU level. But this will have to be seen.

4. A side-note

The new government will most likely see a combination of two leading personalities that are unprecedented in the EU and probably also beyond: A woman (Angela Merkel) will be leading the government and the foreign minister will be a homosexual man (Guido Westerwelle). But more interesting will be that neither the one nor the other have played any role in the campaigns - and it won't play any role in the future government because both is not considered very special in Germany at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. But I think that this will still be a sign for an EU where equal rights - both for women and for sexual minorities - are still not respected all over the place.

Altogether, German politics will see continuity in its main leadership, but it will face major changes in the political dynamics with more pro-economic policies, a stronger polarisation between the political camps and probably also an intensive politicisation of the multilevel politics between the national institutions, the federal states, and the EU level.

Other Euroblogs on the same topic: Grahnlaw (excellent summary), Europe & You, Stephen Spillane, Jonathan Fryer, Alpha.Sources, Gavin Hewitt, Carl Bildt, Eurozone Watch, Andre Feldhof, Géopolitique, eToile.

Saturday 26 September 2009

Parliamentary elections in Portugal and Germany

National elections in EU member states concern the lives of citizens not only in the respective countries but in all countries of the Union.

Through the policy-making power of the EU Council and the guiding weight of the European Council, governments influence the European political agenda as well as the outcome of negotiations on the European level, possibly even including the level of the working groups in which administrators and diplomats prepare and discuss future legislation.

So tomorrow, the parliamentary elections in Germany and Portugal might or might not change the lives of European citizens. In both countries, the polls predict a win by the leading governing party, but the way they can govern is unsure:

In Portugal, the latest poll foresee that the Socialists will remain the strongest power, although they won't be able to hold the absolute majority and might be forced into a minority or coalition government.

Since I am no expert in Portuguese politics, let me focus on the German case:

In Germany, Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) will very likely win the elections (see the latest opinion polls) while the unwished present coalition partner, the Social Democrats with their candidate foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, might receive the worst result in the history of the Federal Republic.

The question will be whether Merkel's CDU (together with its Bavarian sister party CSU) will have a majority together with Guido Westerwelle's Liberals (FDP) - the polls are very tight - to form a coalition of the economic right led by Merkel or whether Merkel will have to continue with the Social Democrats.

The two other parties likely to enter into the Bundestag, the Left Party (DIE LINKE) and the Greens (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) don't seem to have a power option because all likely (triple) coalitions that include them have either been categorically ruled out by the other three parties or by the two themselves.

The most likely result of tomorrow will thus be that Angela Merkel remains the Chancellor of Germany, not matter what the election result.

However, a renewed but shrunk Grand Coalition (Christan Democrats and Social Democrats) will be less stable than it was in the previous term, risking not to hold for another four years.

A "Tiger Duck Coalition" (term created during this campaign because the two colours of the tiger duck represent the Christian Democrats and the Liberals) in return will mean a shift in policies towards the economic right, but it will also create a stronger opposition of the then concentrated left and centre-left that might slow down German decision making in crucial policy areas, especially through the counter-balance of the second chamber, the Bundesrat, in which the federal states co-legislate and in which the CDU/FDP coalition would only have a tight majority that might change after regional elections in one or another major federal state (two minor federal states - Brandenburg and Schleswig-Holstein - are voting tomorrow, too).

Both scenarios would influence the German government's ability to act - in substance or speed - on the European level in the next 2-4 years, not least because of the strengthened position of the legislative branch after the Lisbon Treaty ruling of the Constitutional Court and the subsequent adaptation of the by-laws regulating the involvement of the two legislative chambers, Bundestag and Bundesrat.

The only small surprise factor in tomorrow's result might be the Pirate Party, probably the first party movement boosted by European dynamics (especially in Sweden), that could gain a visible part of the (extended) youth vote. The party running mainly on new technology, file sharing, and data protection issues was able to create considerable attention during the early stages of the campaign but wasn't able to keep up the pace of the traditional media (although the overall campaign was extremely boring and low key, not too far away from the European Parliament election campaigning). So I expect that they will reach the 2-3 percent tomorrow, not crossing the electoral threshold of five percent.

I myself won't be able to report during the day tomorrow because I'll be working in a polling station, but for anyone who wants to get a glimpse at the debates and who is able to speak German, I recommend following the #btw09 hashtag (short for: "Bundestagswahl 2009") on Twitter.

I'll then try to give a summary when I return late in the evening on Sunday, or at least to link the most interesting reports of others.

Read also on the topic: A Fistful of Euros.

The intransparency of making the EU more transparent

I had a good laugh when finding this document regarding the:
Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents (recast)
The regulation deals with access to documents - and thus democratic transparency - and in the document it is masked who sent in the amendments (again the famous Republic of Deleted!).

(The whole procedure is listed under 2009/0090/Cod and the responsible person in the European Parliament is Socialist & Democrats MEP Michael Cashman (source)).

Friday 25 September 2009

How eco-friendly is "Think About It 2: Climate Change"?

Think about it! has gone into a second round, this time covering climate change ahead of the Copenhagen Climate Summit at the end of the year.

But is #think2 really eco-friendly, eco-helpful, eco-sensible, eco-effective etc.?

If "some 90 bloggers from 43 countries" travelled to Copenhagen for the launch event last week - the majority by plane, I suppose - how much energy has been spent to make this happen? And won't this happen a second time with a possible closing event?

Using hotel rooms filled with electrical devices like huge televisions (I suppose they were there), running a conference venue with microphones and video projectors, including tasty buffets and joint trips, doesn't this all cost a hell lot of additional energy?

Giving new HD cameras to the participants, doesn't it mean a lot of energy has been invested to produce these devices, and will the bloggers not have to recharge these cameras after each 2-4 hours of filming?

And doesn't running a server for 90 blogs that will include a lot of video material over two months cost quite some energy too, not to talk about the computer time used to write the blog posts, edit the videos, run telephone conferences for podcasts?

In the end, won't even more people spend time in front of their monitors and mobile devices reading, watching, and commenting on what is posted on Think2 - without changing their lifestyle or without any decision-maker having the time to go through the content to find some new inspiration for a diplomatic process that doesn't follow the rules of the net?

Wouldn't the most eco-friendly solution be that they all stay at home, riding a bike from and to work and using as few energy as possible instead of spending time and electricity on blogging activities?

So isn't all this climate change conference hype part of the problem, and not part of the solution - which would be to radically change our lifestyle in favour of less energy consuming activities and behaviours?

Europe in blogs - Euroblogs (9)

I am trying to catch up after my trip to Hungary. One week with only rough checking of Euroblogs feels like a decade without reading a book.

First and notable there is new member in our euroblogging family: BBC's Gavin Hewitt will be the new Brussels correspondent and started promisingly and enthusiastically into his euroblogging career with a reflection on "The capital of Europe" and followed already by three other posts since Tuesday.

In the meantime, Open Europe is bashing the Young European Federalists because they support the Irish YES to Lisbon with public money, while my favourite EU lobby watch Brussels Sunshine criticises "MEP-industry fora" as lobbying events without transparent funding.

Josh from the EP web editors notices that the European Parliament is not always working very media friendly, while La Com européenne discusses the recent re-launch of the EUROPA.eu portal.

Joe Litobarski published the first "Chasing Brussels" podcast in which I will also participate in the future (couldn't be there this time due to time constraints), enriching the EU media scene with more personal voices on EU politics.

Behind The Scenes one is waiting for Klaus, while Poland has opened a new (European) chapter in its security policy orientation, summarises Jean Quatremer.

Eva takes a look on how the new Commission will look like regarding substance and power, while Grahnlaw voices uncertainty on whether the next Commission will just be a temporary Commission until Lisbon enters into force.

On Ideas on Europe, Pietro de Matteis points out that Iran is now using the Euro as main foreign exchange currency while Giorgi Gotev is delighted to report that (thanks to the retreat of Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner) the Bulgarian diplomat Irina Bokova has been elected UNESCO Director General.

Oh yes, and don't forget to notice the second round of Think about it! (Twitter hashtag #think2), this time on Climate Change. Many Eurobloggers are participating, inter alia: EU Law, Stephen Spillane, Joe Litobarski, Andre Feldhof, Conor Slowey, Louis Lepioufle (anyone missing?).

Cecilia Malmström is also on a long road to Copenhagen, but not on the Think2 train, while Mitja preferred bikes during the European Mobility Week.

This all happened while Germany finally ratified the Lisbon Treaty, as is registered by Europe & You (given that Ralf's trust in the German diplomatic service is justified) - and so we are now waiting for voice(s) of the Irish, with my own hopes being on the YES side!

There was much more in euroblogs over the last days, but that's it for now. "Europe in blogs - Euroblogs" will be back soon.

PS.: And the Swedish Foreign Minister still embarrasses with his sheer endless stream of blog articles, more than any other individual euroblogger. Sweden and José Manuel Barroso, can you make him EU Commissioner for Communication, please?!

Hungary.EU - EU.Hungary

Not much blogging this week as you have seen. The reason is simple: I spent some days in Hungary, combining holidays with being a Euroblogger.

Upon the invitation by Café PR, a subunit of Café, one of the largest PR and communication agencies in Hungary, I participated in two Media Academies that Café PR organised for the European Commission in Hungary.

The goal of this series of academies is to discuss with local and regional journalists on how to report about the EU, how to find reliable information on EU topics, and how to link EU-related information and news with relevance for the local/regional level.

After I got asked whether I would be ready to participate as a presenter during two of the academies, sharing my experiences on how I - as a blogger - find and present EU-related information, I adapted my initially different holiday plans in favour of Hungary.

So I first spent two days of pure holidays in Budapest - a city that can easily cope with other major European capitals as a touristic destination - and then moved on to Debrecen and Szeged where the Academies took place.

Especially Debrecen was the positive surprise of the last years.

Being the 2nd-biggest city in Hungary, Debrecen has a beautifully restaurated city centre that is larger than one might expect at the first sight. But the self-proclaimed "Calvinist Rome" impresses not only with its city centre, its nice choice of cafés and bars, and with an open friendly human atmosphere, but also with a university complex that is a touristic attraction in itself.

The campus is situated some two kilometers north of the historic city centre, on the southern rim of a large forest-park, and since the tourist information recommended going there and also to pass by the university I finally found myself in front of the main university building - and had difficulties to close my mouth (which wasn't made easier when seeing the interior, too).

Honestly spoken, if I was a student again I would try a lot to get an ERASMUS place there, and I would seriously consider a fellowship-offer if the university made one to mee...

And it is not just the main building, the whole campus with its mix of historic, modern, and functional buildings, its huge fountain and the botanic garden is more than impressive. Together with the atmosphere in the centre and on the campus, Debrecen left the image of an excellent place with all basic conditions for academic work.

But let's not forget the media academies:

They involved, beside myself, one of the main and most respected EU experts in Hungary, Zoltán Horváth, and György Urkuti, editor at the Hungarian business newspaper Világgazdaság and renowned journalist with a major focus on EU affairs, as well as Ákos Moskovits from the Media Unit of the Commission Representation in Hungary.

Our presentations went from current EU affairs over how to find interesting EU news and information to good and bad examples on how the EU is presented in Hungarian news, which seemed to be a fairly interesting mixture of perspectives.

So it was a pity that not too many journalists were participating in the free events... Nevertheless, I still had the impression that those who were there took an honest interest in what was said, and I had the feeling that even the euroblogger's perspective I was representing was of some added value, in particular to the younger journalists present.

For me, this trip was in any case extremely valuable, both because I could discover Hungary and because I met a number of amazing people I might not have met otherwise and with whom I share the passion for Europe, European politics and modern communication.

My warmest wishes and thanks thus go to Veronika and Anita from Café PR who did a marvellous job in organising the events and who were maximum helpful and flexible in facilitating both my travel and accommodation. I also send many thanks to my co-presenter György, who, as I learned, is a reader of Euroblogs and proposed me as a possible presenter for these events to Café PR.

And last but not least I'd like to thank my interpreters in both cities - Hungarian is not in my repertoire and so their work was most appreciated! Attila Terök, my interpreter in Szeged who usually is doing freelance interpretation for the European Parliament and other EU institutions, is even a blogger himself, running a blog in which he translates American rap vocabulary into Hungarian...

What I again take with me from these days is that Europe and the EU is not about Brussels and Strasbourg, but it is about people with shared interest meeting and discussing freely, without borders between their countries and without walls within their minds - and anyone who does not understand this dimension of European integration will never understand my passion for the European project!

Monday 21 September 2009

German Lisbon Treaty by-laws pass second chamber

Just in case you didn't notice:

On Friday, the Bundesrat, the second legislative chamber of the German federation in which the 16 federal regions ('Länder') are represented, has passed the German Lisbon Treaty by-laws that were necessary after the Constitutional Court decision in June ruling that the by-laws were unconstitutional.

In the televised news on Friday they told that the president (who needs to sign the law) will wait for a hint by the Court whether he can sign it or not since it seems that some (unnamed) individuals have again brought an action before the Court.

But since neither the political group of the Left nor the deputies from the Christian Socials, who were the main complainants last time, are opposing the law - which they'd make very clear during an election campaign - I don't see any substantive problems for the President's signature.

The only question will be whether he'll be able to do it before the Lisbon referendum in Ireland...

Wednesday 16 September 2009

The Barrosocracy

53% is the magic figure, 382 warm votes for the man running the European Union - a firm YES to the Barrosocracy.

Few of you reading this blog will have missed this moment today. A collective cry went through the Eurotwittersphere, and Stephen (spiller2) could not have been more right when he said:
"[Y]ou know your obessed with EU politics when your entire twitter stream is telling you the result of the Barroso vote!"
José Manuel Barroso has been re-elected, and received the absolute majority of votes of all members of the European Parliament, which had made him the Commission President even under the more rigid rules of Lisbon Treaty that has not yet entered into force.

Some are still saying that the 53% make him the weakest president in the history of the Commission, but for once I don't want to blow into this same horn. This 53% is nothing but a clear sign of the politicisation of the European Union and the European Parliament, which makes Barroso the president under the strongest European Parliament ever.

This tight vote shows that the election of Barroso was not the most obvious thing in the world - although the result was better than expected - but that with another result in the European Parliament elections his election could have been prevented.

I was among the supporters of Anyone but Barroso! and I stand to this opinion, because I am still convinced that his lack of charisma and his inability to stand against the negative forces of the member states were amongst the reasons that made that the European Union did not advance much over the last 5 years.

But now I can only wish luck and strength to Mr. Barroso, who has been proposed by 27 democratically elected governments and approved by an absolute majority of directly elected European parliamentarians, and is thus one of the most democratically legitimised political figures in the world.

After he got elected today, Barroso said that he wants to work more closely with the European Parliament to make the Union a "European parliamentary democracy".

If this is his firm intention, he deserves every support from us - even from those running against him until now - and if he really wants this help from our side he will get it for sure.

But we will hold him responsible for these words over every minute of his term - hopeful that after five more years we might be able to say that second five years of the Barrosocracy were far better than the first.

On the same topic: E.g. Publius, Coulisses de Bruxelles, Gulf Stream Blues, Cecilia Malmström, euenvironmentblog, La Oreja de Europa, Silvana Koch-Mehrin, The Lobby, FT Brussels Blog, Cédric Puisney, Marie Ramot, Francesco Molica, Brussels Blogger, EU Referendum, European Union Law, Global Europe, ResEuropa, Charlemagne, Eva en Europa, Glennis Willmott, Grahnlaw, Public Affairs 2.0, Hökmark, Europe Sociale, Petra Sorge, Europabloggen, Eurocrat, eurosocialist, El mundo desencajado, L'Europe en Blogs, Géopolitique, Jochen Bittner.

The faceless Commission

Two days ago, three new Commissioners have been approved by the European Parliament, but the Commission saw no reason to announce this on its main website.

Since until now there is still no remark regarding this change on the Commission website, it'll probably never happen. So the Commission will continue to be the faceless Commission, filled with unknown personalities shaping the lives of 500 million people.

It will remain so, because if new faces and names are not properly communicated, they won't be noticed, recognised and most probably also not taken seriously.

I regard this a massive failure of the institution - and the only question I ask myself is whether this is a deliberative decision or just pure ignorance. Both cases would be fatal.

PS.: And if I may add a sentence of sarcasm: Thank you, MEPs, that you will re-elect the person responsible for all this today!

Tuesday 15 September 2009

Commission staff statistics: The gender gap

I just came across this lovely site with the Commission's staff statistics (via Dan Luca).

The blogger's instinct told to look into the sheets that separated gender and administrative grades, and it was immediately obvious that the institution heavily lobbying for gender equality has a massive gender gap in its upper ranks:

Only 2 out of 37 (5.4%) top administrative ranks (category AD16) in the European Commission are filled with females, and with 49 out of 235 (20.9%) for AD15 or 66 out of 431 (15.3%) for AD14 - these three ranks cover directors and directors-general - the next two ranks do not look very gender-balanced either.

I suppose somebody has some beautiful statistics how much better the situation has become over the last years, and I know that these upper ranks are filled with life-time officials which makes it hard to push for a rapid change, but what about credibility when it comes to the fight for gender equality, e.g. with regard to the new anti-discrimination directive, if the Commission cannot serve as a positive example?

And where are the Swedish Presidency and the European Parliament who should push the Commission on these issues?

Monday 14 September 2009

The Commission does not care for the new Commissioners

Today, the European Parliament approved three new Commissioners:
As you can see from the links set above, the respective websites of the Commissioners have already been updated to the new Commissioners, although they have been formally approved only today.

Yet, on the frontpage of the European Commission there is no hint that European citizens are now represented by three new Commissioners (see screen shot from 21:45):

If, by accident, I had come on the Commission website today, it would have seemed as if nothing has changed over there. No single information about the news that the legal approval by the European Parliament took place today, not to speak about the voting results that you can read in the European Parliament press release.

This is yet another example of the inability of the European Commission to contribute to a democratic image of the Union: Yes, today a democratically elected supranational parliament has approved (including dissenting votes) parts of the EU's political executive - but this executive does in no way communicate this democratic event.

Does anyone care? Or am I the only one concerned?

But maybe it is just because Communication Commissioner Wallström has already packed and moved back to Sweden...

On camera: Andrew Duff

Quick snapshot of Andrew Duff, MEP and President of the Union of European Federalists, after he spoke on the European Parliament Elections 2009 at the final roundtable of the 5th ECPR General Conference in Potsdam/Germany.

Sunday 13 September 2009

The EU in German blogs (8): The priorities of the Greens in the European Parliament

New MEP Ska Keller reports about the discussions around the priorities of the Greens in the European Parliament as well as about her own priority (own translation; links added):
"Last week there was a meeting of the group in which the priorities for the group for the next year were discussed. It's just the first reading, and I ask myself how the board will bring together all the different (good) proposals. There are just too many huge problems that are all important, but there is no sense in putting up 20 priorities at once.

Jan and I are already planning to work mainly on the Stockholm Programme during this year.

Tuesday 8 September 2009

Fuck you, homophobia (not just in Hungary)!

Since this event in Budapest has not passed unnoticed, the following video by Hungarian artists may not pass unnoticed either:

Generation 1.5: Inactively interactive?

In a fascinating blog post, Steve from the European Parliament web editors shares the feelings of what might be the pre-web 2.0 generation, those already acquainted with the internet in all its forms, but still hesitant to get heavily involved in what is now called "Web 2.0".

And while the article is already an enlightening read, especially taken into account that it is written by a web editor, it also contains notions of generational conflict within the EP web editor family - which is not a bad thing if it results in such paragraphs:
"The pressure is always to be cutting edge, to be doing the latest thing, surfing the latest trend. We need to do that, but we cannot do only that. If our notion of digital democracy is to focus ALL our efforts on Facebook and Twitter (or whatever’s next), we win plaudits from the in-crowd online, but we arguably open up a digital divide of our own, cutting off an otherwise completely sentient crowd of people (I know many of them) who may have heard of Facebook and Twitter, but still think it’s a bit of a waste of time. They exist, yes, they use the internet, and they vote…"
As a standalone paragraph it sounds a little flat, but it fits into the whole article. It fits because it raises the important question whether doing more democracy 2.0 is actually involving more people, or if it is just raising the applause from the "in-crowd" (which many of us in the blogosphere are definitely belonging to), making it sound like reaching a larger share of people, without actually doing so.

I am a little too tired today to further elaborate on the topic, but I'll definitely take it into account when writing my next post on EU politics 2.0 at the Personal Democracy Forum Europe.

Sunday 6 September 2009


I've already been telling it to some of you, but since I am quite busy these days - thus probably not much blogging this week - let me shorten the process a little:
I will come to Brussels.
This may not sound revolutionary for someone writing a blog that has become focused on the European Union. But it will be the first time in two years and thus the first time during the life of this blog that I set foot into the bubble.

I am also a complete Brussels outsider, my last visits being connected to pre-scheduled short-term events with limited amounts of time to really discover the political scene of the city.

So I'll probably arrive in the evening of the 30th of September and stay for a week. And in this week I'd like to meet with as many people as possible, starting from breakfast and ending with the last glass in the evening.

I want to discuss EU politics, life in Brussels, and maybe possible projects that one can set up to get closer to an EU democracy 2.0.

I'll still contact some of you (as soon as I know that the date is definite), readers and commentators of this blog, whom I want to meet, but if you're already interested in meeting you can also email me and I can then try to get my schedule right.

Oh, and be aware that I come as both, political blogger and political scientist researching on EU decision making, so you may face questions that concern both interests...

PS.: One question: Does anyone know a nice and simple place to stay? Like a cheap but central hotel/pension where I get a single room and wireless internet? (No breakfast needed.)

Saturday 5 September 2009

Europe in blogs - Euroblogs (8) - Barroso Special

BEWARE: Bashing the blundering Barroso because of his blatant behaviour is bogus, yet biased backtalk builds up the brilliant and bright but bruised brains of those baffled backbenchers broadly betoken "bloggers"!

As you can see from the opening alliteration, this "Europe in blogs - Euroblogs" is something special, dedicated to a marvellous mind who - as I have reported - is begging on 40+ pages to get re-elected by the European Parliament.

And although some are already looking beyond Barroso's re-election and towards the other new Commissioners, like Marko from an Estonian perspective or Jan and Jon, who summarise the speculations about who will remain or become EU Commissioner in the next term, let's take a look at what the blogosphere has to say about JMB and his ambitious programme:

In a more reflected note, Renaldas sees the presentation of the Barroso programme as an important precedent in the history of the European Parliament, showing the increased confidence of the Parliament. In a less reflected note, Gawain shares his visualised thoughts on the content of Barroso's presentation.

For Rafael, Barroso is suffering from what he calls the Napoleon syndrom, searching for eternal power, while for MEP James Elles the 40 pages document is written from a worm's perspective.

For now and forever, this image of a worm with Barroso's face wearing a tricorn will stay in my brain...

But looking at this Napoleonic worm in the EU Zoo, it seems like the economic proposals coming from Barroso are nothing but old wine in new bottles - yet, if the old wine is the only wine, then it is still the best wine as MEP Katrin Saks concludes.

However, using old wine to get re-elected in September will make the manoeuvre difficult (but not impossible), says Durarte, while The Croydonian feels that the style of Barroso's prose leaves a great deal to be desired, maybe because he drinks too much.

In a more sober style, Stefano writes an open letter to Swedish Prime Minister Reinfeldt asking not to re-elect Barroso, but the Swedish minister for European affairs answers with "NO!", because she thinks that Barroso's programme is long but easy to agree on.

Now I was thinking about how to link from prose and style to content, but thankfully Finnegan counted Barroso's buzzwords, and Mathew presented them in a more stylish way, so that I don't have to invent a bridge on my own. What we learn from what both guys did: You need computer programs to understand Barroso.

This opinion is definitely shared by the people at Google where they also count words to find that Barroso has no idea about innovation. And Jean would have probably been very happy if innovation was the only blind spot of Barroso, not accompanied by 100 other failures that he lists in the latest post of his series "Campaign Journalism in the 21st Century".

When it comes to content, Judith is convinced that Barroso is too vague on climate issues. But why care about content, if one finds, like Conor, that there is not much content at all?

Finally, thinking about the consequences of the non-election of Barroso, Anna reminds that without a strong Commission president, the EU would be weakened at the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December, while for Stefan Barroso was anyway a weak president - so we will be weak in any case...

And before finishing: If you want a more eloquent "Europe in blogs" on the Barroso story - especially one in a much more beautiful language - I recommend the latest "L'Europe en blogs" where you will learn that Jesus returns!

That's it for now; "Europe in blogs - Euroblogs" will return soon with an objective and unbiased look at Europe and the European blogosphere.

PS.: I would have liked to link much more blog posts, but nobody cares about Barroso out there. This is all I found - if you found more, tell me!

Friday 4 September 2009

What member states think about CIREFI

You have never heard about CIREFI, the Centre for Information, Discussion and Exchange on the Crossing of Frontiers and Immigration?

Me neither. Until today.

Apparently, it is a forum of national experts meeting every two months to exchange information on legal and illegal immigration. The Centre was created in 1994 and includes all 27 member states plus Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.

Okay, you might say, so what?

Interestingly, all member states have been asked what they think about this Centre, and for once the answers to the questionnaire sent out by the Council secretariat are fully public (pdf), which allows a comparative assessment between 30 states (Liechtenstein didn't answer) on a set of 18 questions.

And although CIREFI is just one of the many groups within the immense field of working groups, expert committees etc. that govern the European administrative space, the comparative reading of all answers still gives some very useful insights.

For time reasons, I just went through question 17:
Considering the activities of other platforms dealing with the issue of illegal migration, do you consider there still to be good reasons for the existence of CIREFI and that it continues to be useful for the participating institutions?

(a) If so, what do you consider to be the main benefit of CIREFI?
(b) If not, what are your suggestions for the future functioning of CIREFI?
and it seems like all member states consider the body a valuable forum for the quick exchange of information on migration, in particular illegal migration, and for the personal contact between professional working in the respective field(s).

Some (like Finland, Germany) point to the fact that there is the possibility to double work with Frontex or that the work of these bodies could be combined, but most answers still indicate that they see an added value in this particular body.

The most interesting statement in the answers to this question comes from Slovenia:
"On the contrary of some other EU bodies working parties with the Council guarantees equal treatment of all Member States."
That sounds like a pretty harsh critique, and it would be interesting to know what Slovenia is referring to...

So if you are interest in European migration policy, trying to understand EU and Schengen politics in this regard, the questionnaire gives a pretty good insight into one rather unknown institution facilitating the flow of information between the member states, thus probably having a significant impact on the political and technical perception of the problem throughout the EU and beyond.

In any case, it good to see such an assessment in a public document, and I would be glad if this was the case for many other documents, too!

The Barroso Identity & The Barroso Ultimatum

José Manuel Barroso has spent his summer waiting for his staff members to write his government programme (PDF) for the next five years*.

The result is 40 pages long, and I spent a good 50 minutes train ride yesterday to go through it.

To make it short: It's not worth reading.

I know that from somebody who hasn't shown a great deal of support for Barroso over the last year this conclusion may sound expectable. But I was ready to read the document without prejudices. And so I started. And so I tried hard. But the document is so much Barroso-like that it hurts.
  • First, it has no clear structure.
  • Second, it assembles all the nice-sounding topics (representative examples: innovation, participation, communication, environment, security) without filling them with content and without prioritising any of them.
  • Third, it sounds like ass-licking whenever he speaks about the Parliament - while everyone knows that when your head is already in the ass of one person (the Council) you cannot simultaneously lick the ass of somebody else.
  • Four, he presents himself as the candidate of change while defending his own achievements (which he actually doesn't list).
  • Five, Barroso defends the way decisions are taken in the EU while calling for more transparency - which is not possible because more transparency would end the classical back-room worst-case compromises we regularly get presented as great decisions.
  • Six, he tells us he has a passion for Europe, but this identity of his never translates into his behaviour.
  • Seven, he notes that the document is not exhaustive, but how can you write a 40 page government programme that encompasses all major policy topics without being exhaustive - does this mean Barroso is unable to focus his thoughts on 40 pages?
  • Eight, he wants solid action instead of rhetoric, but his text is nothing but the latter.
  • Nine, the only truly firm statement throughout the text is his support of the single market - which I support - but I suppose that this is not what the Left in the European Parliament wants to hear.
Isn't that funny: Barroso spends 40 pages on writing about nothing and everything in a fuzzy language to win all sides, but the most clear policy statement is one that one side of the Parliament might find a little too aggressive...

In fact, I could go even more into details and especially wording, but it would mean spending time writing about nothing. As Barroso did. But while he is highly paid to do so, I am not.

One thing is for sure: No decision of a political group will be based on this document. If the political groups (Socialists & Democrats, ALDE) will vote for Barroso, they will vote for him out of pure power considerations, because they know that this will secure their influence on other posts or on certain policy areas.

Thus, the ultimatum for Barroso has begun, and we will see whether he has enough to offer to S&D and ALDE to secure his re-election on 16 September - but his government programme will end in the litter box of history!

* - Just to avoid confusion: I don't think that JMB has written the whole document on his own, but that a lot has been written by his staff. Yet, I do not have any proof!

Quotes from the document

"This is not the time for business as usual or for routine – what we need is a transformational agenda."

"[T]he European culture in decision-making at all levels, the Community method
", which he calls "decisive to use Europe's assets to achieve the best results for citizens".

"Setting the priorities for Europe in a ten year horizon"

"This strategy for the "EU 2020" will comprise a more convergent and coordinated approach for the reform of Europe's economies through investment in new sources of growth. This means boosting research, development and innovation.This means upgrading of skills as the basis for more employment. This means more competitiveness and less administrative burden to strengthen our industrial base, a modern service sector and a thriving rural economy. This means closing the "missing links" in the internal market to realize its full potential. This means action against climate change and for energy security to make our economies and societies sustainable. This means deploying the networks of the future, be it broadband or a new European supergrid for electricity and gas. And this means securing sound public finances."

"I have a passion for Europe....It is based on the values of peace, freedom, justice and solidarity, and it must mean advancing people's Europe."

"To accomplish this, we need a more political Europe. This requires a special partnership of the two European institutions "par excellence" – the Commission and the European Parliament. We hold a joint responsibility for the common European good: it is when we work together, when we have a clear consensus on our vision for Europe, that we can best realise our ambitions for the transformational agenda that the Europe of tomorrow demands of us."

"This document does not aim at being exhaustive."

"I will redouble my efforts to do everything possible to make an ambitious Europe happen."

"I want the European policy agenda to be built much more clearly around the rights and the needs of Europeans."

"I have always preferred, and I will always prefer, solid achievements over empty rhetoric."

"1. Restarting economic growth today and ensuring long-term sustainability and competitiveness for the future.
2. Fighting unemployment and reinforcing our social cohesion.
3. Turning the challenge of a sustainable Europe to our competitive advantage.
4. Ensuring the security of Europeans.
5. Reinforcing EU citizenship and participation."

"5. Reinforcing EU citizenship and participation.
Revitalising the link between the peoples of Europe and the EU will make it both more legitimate and more effective. Empowering citizens to be involved in decisions affecting their lives, including by ensuring transparency on how they are taken, will help to achieve these aims. This means that the rights of European citizens must have real effect: citizens today should not find that they still face obstacles when they move across borders within the EU."

"This Commission has also launched an important review of the common fisheries policy. On the basis of the consultations which are now underway, the next Commission should set out how European fisheries policy can be placed on a sustainable footing."

"The recent crisis showed that there remains a strong short-term temptation to roll back the single market when times are hard. There were attempts to use the crisis as a pretext to attack the single market. The Commission will remain an implacable defender of the single market as a cornerstone of the Treaties, and will do everything in its power to defend it as the best guarantee of long-term prosperity. The experience of the past year has shown once again that the single market is the rock on which European growth is built. But it also needs to be updated to suit the demands of tomorrow's economy."

"This Commission has instigated a revolution in the way policies are made at EU level, with public consultations and impact assessment now the norm for new legislative proposals and a major simplification of existing Community law now underway. By 2012 the next Commission will deliver on our commitment to reduce administrative burden by 25%. But I want to go further. We need to match this huge investment in ex ante assessment with an equivalent effort in ex post evaluation – to ensure that our proposals really do deliver what they promise and to enable us to revise and correct them where they fail to work as expected. All of these initiatives are designed to focus EU action on the essentials, removing bureaucratic processes and unnecessary centralisation."

"I will also seek ways of helping the European Parliament to exercise its scrutiny rights over the full range of politically important decisions."

"Last but not least, the people's Europe is also about the accountability and openness of the EU institutions. Dialogue with the citizens and the different actors in civil society, a hallmark of the current Commission, will continue to be of critical importance People have a right to accessible information. The Commission will redouble its efforts to have a real Commission presence
communicating on the ground in the Member States and in the regions, in partnership with the European Parliament, listening to citizens and dealing first hand with their questions and concerns. I will also examine ways and means to intensify the dialogue between the Commission and the media. But we should be under no illusions: the gap in awareness of the EU can only be closed in full partnership with national and regional authorities. We must break out of the negative trap where politicians are quick to take the credit for the positive achievements of Europe, and quick to blame "Brussels" or "Strasbourg" for everything they don't like. We need a more mature dialogue with our citizens on decisions that affect their daily lives."

"The appointment of a new High Representative who is at the same time Vice President of the Commission in charge of External Relations is a major innovation which carries an enormous potential. The same is true for the future European External Action Service which would bring together resources from the Commission, the Council Secretariat and Member States to help leverage the best results from our external action. This will be a break with the past and I am determined to make it work effectively."

"[E]nlargement has been a huge source of strength for the Union, and for the promotion of peace and stability in our continent. At the same time, enlargement can only take place when both the EU itself and the candidate country are ready to take on the responsibilities that come with it. And enlargement is not an infinite process. For those neighbours that will not become members of the EU, we need to develop credible and attractive alternatives that satisfy the aspirations of these countries as well as the EU's. The next Commission will take forward the Union for the Mediterranean and the Eastern Partnership to develop a neighbourhood policy that meets the challenges we and our neighbours face."

"The EU budget must focus on activities which produce genuine European added value [...]; move towards an approach based on solidarity, burden-sharing and equity which is comprehensive and shared by all [...]; stability of the financial framework needs to be counterbalanced by a far greater degree of flexibility so as to enable the Union to respond effectively to new challenges and needs."

"Only the Commission has the authority, the administrative capacity and the technical expertise to make proposals that take the interests of all Member States and all citizens into account, and the long term view needed to tackle the big issues we face today. Only the Commission has the authority and the independence to ensure the equal treatment of all Member States in the enforcement of treaty obligations and legislation."

"The authority of the President is of critical importance to guarantee collegiality, coherence and the Commission's special role in the European system. It is now recognised that the current College, the first of the enlarged EU of 27, has been able to bring together different portfolio interests effectively, to tackle crosscutting, integrated policies like migration, energy and climate change."

"OLAF should be given full independence outside the Commission"

Thursday 3 September 2009

Reaching new audiences for EU politics 2.0: Blogging on the Personal Democracy Forum

I have been asked by responsibles at the Personal Democracy Forum, and in particular from the Personal Democracy Forum Europe subsection whether I would like to blog on their platform on issues related to European politics and modern technologies.

Since I knew that Bente was already writing there, I thought it would be a good idea to join in the effort of reaching out to new audiences, those not already involved or even interested in EU politics.

So from now on I will blog every 1-2 weeks on personaldemocracy.com and the first article published today is titled:
"EU politics 2.0: Getting the citizen into European democracy"
It is a fairly general and simplified introduction into the topic I am going to cover in future, but I think I managed to accentuate the most important challenges we are facing with regard to EU politics and communication strategies.

For the next post(s) I will try to involve you and your ideas, helping to spread the message and to foster creative thinking on how we can create European debates through online and offline activities - I count on your creativity!

Wednesday 2 September 2009

An EU top job summit and the prolonged Commission

EurActiv reports that the Swedish EU Council presidency plans to use the 29-30 October EU summit (European Council meeting) to discuss the distribution of the EU top jobs under the Lisbon Treaty (if it is ratified).

And while the article only mentions the European Council President and the Foreign Policy chief (High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy), I would also add the Commission President, hoping and betting that Barroso won't be re-elected on 15 September - not least because of these considerations.

There is a second indication in the article why we might not see Barroso re-elected:
"Karel de Gucht, Belgium's commissioner-designate for development, said he was taking the job for four months, confirming a public secret: namely that the European executive would stay on beyond its mandate until the end of the year."
So since the Commission will in any case stay in office over its mandate, there might be no need to elect Barroso before the ratification of Lisbon, not least because a failure would also be a personal failure of Barroso himself, unable to represent the Union in an appealing manner for its citizens!

Still, what I ask myself is whether the prolonged Commission mandate is not a breach of article 214 (1) of the Treaty of the European Communities which regulates that Commission members are elected for five years?

PS.: And a "Transitional Commission" as I read in some sources is even more dubious in my eyes than a prolonged term of the old Commission, e.g. in the form of a "Commissary Commission".

Tuesday 1 September 2009

Being German 70 years after the beginning of World War II

I suppose this is a topic on which so much has been written and so much could be written that a blog post is the least appropriate thing to write.

Yet, if you ask me how it is being a German 70 years after the beginning of World War II, I can only say that the concept of war is so unreal, so unthinkable for me due to the way I have been raised as a German citizen and thanks to the way in which I have become a European that I can only be grateful to be a German born into this generation.

We do not celebrate any military victory of ours, we have no stories of war heroes, no great minds and fighters, brave and strong in the face of the enemy. What we have are murderers and cowards, simple people drawn into the army, and young boys forced to fight for nothing at the end of the war. We have destruction and death, disgust and disgrace.

For me as a German, war is nothing but evil - and I am glad it is this way, because there is no single reason or anecdote in our socialisation that makes us like war, weapons, or the killing of others.

When the war started 70 years ago, my grandparents were young children or not even born. When my parents were born, over a decade had past since the end of this most murderous of all wars. When I was born, several decades had past since this 1st of September 1939 in which the myth of the nation, the ideal of the gun, the predominance of horror started to dig their own grave into which millions and millions of human beings were pulled before it was finalised.

70 years later, being German for me doesn't mean to feel guilty for the past, it means to feel responsible for the future.

If my ancestors and their friends and families were ready to go into such a war and to execute the atrocities of the Holocaust, then it could be that people like me would do it again, unless we use this pain deeply fixed into our minds to prevent this from ever happening again - not just here, not just in Europe, but anywhere where people invest most of their time, and money, and effort, and human lives to kill others for the sake of a horrible higher good, be it the nation, the race, or the religion.

70 years later, we as Germans cannot make the past undone, but we can use our collective memory to tell our story, a story in which we win by losing, in which we are happy not to be the winners, feeling ashamed for what has been done in "our" name in the past.

70 years later, I am European because I was raised as a post-war German in a Europeanised and re-unified Germany, and I live in the hope that anyone coming after me will still be post-war and never pre-war again.