Sunday 29 November 2009

Switzerland forbids minarets in referendum: What a sad day!

Europe in the 21st century is a multicultural continent, with multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and multi-religions societies (including non-religious people) - and Switzerland doesn't seem to belong to Europe today.

The Swiss have shown that they truly don't want to belong to this continent by rejecting that minarets may be built together with mosques. They have shown to the world that they want to be a place apart from European values.

These values might have evolved in societies where the majorities were and are Christians, but they have also evolved on a continent that seemed to have learned that religious freedom - the freedom to believe or not to believe whatever one wants - as other individual and collective freedoms need to be respected.

These values have evolved in a continent where migrants and children of migrants and grandchildren of migrant are not a small minority anymore but an integral part of this our common society. In this society, having churches, church towers and their church bells must by as possible as having a minaret with a mosque - or as drawing satirical cartoons about Jesus and Mohammed.

The Swiss referendum rejects this European history and these European values, it is a rejection of the Europe of the 21st century, a Europe where majorities don't rule over the rights of minorities, where minorities are not threatened by what is "normal" or "acceptable" for the majority.

In the Europe we live in today, we try to find common solutions that allow the respect for the freedom and dignity of each and everyone, although this is hard sometimes. Yes, it might be necessary to debate about the shape of a free and multicultural society, but rejecting religious freedom including the right to build appropriate buildings in which this religion may be performed is not the solution.

This victory of xenophobia in Switzerland proves how much we have to fight for the rights of every citizen and person on this continent, it proves that what we regard as given today may be lost tomorrow - and I as a German think I know what I am talking about.

The Europe the Swiss have voted for today is not my Europe, and I hope no country of the European Union will ever follow this sad example!

PS.: And regarding the argument that "this is democracy", I just want to add that decisions against particular groups are decision against equal rights, thus against the foundation of democracy. Had the Swiss voted against all high towers representing a religious or non-religious belief, this would have been a democratic decision respecting its own foundations - forbidding just minarets is discrimination.

Barroso's horror show


Children under the age of 16 should not look at these photos of the next European Commission!

PS.: On should think there are more professional tasteful people working at the European Commission.

Update: And we haven't spoken about the copyright of these photos yet...!

Update 2: It really looks like some intern in the Commission used copy-paste last Friday, violating copyright rules or using Wikipedia without checking. A supranational organisation representing 500 million citizens should be able to get official photos and official CVs directly from nominated candidates instead of creating such an embarrassing mistake.

Elmar Brok (EPP) on Catherine Ashton: Bruxelles2 interview

L'Europe de la Défense et de la Sécurite has published a kind-of-interview with Elmar Brok, EPP spokesperson for foreign affairs in the European Parliament, on the nomination of Catherine Ashton.

The summary of the interview could be this quote (own translation):
"In the interview we had, Elmar Brok rests very prudent and does not want to give a preconceived judgement on the new High Representative, Catherine Ashton. But one feels at least a lack of enthusiasm, even some scepticism. The word "inexperienced" is the one that comes up the most from his mouth."
The full interview gives the impression that Ashton might still be heavily grilled in the European Parliament hearing next week, both regarding her experience but also on questions like her cabinet and dossiers like Russia and Iran.

Saturday 28 November 2009

Coup des Etats: How the member states want to rule the EU and how the Parliament has to withstand

One should not forget that the Lisbon Treaty that will enter into force on Tuesday is the little brother of the Constitutional Treaty rejected for various - mostly internal - reasons in France and the Netherlands.

This Constitutional Treaty was meant to bring the Union closer to the citizens. There is room for debate on whether the result reflected this idea, but it is clear that this goal - making an existing political system, the EU, more responsive, more responsible, and more respectful to us, citizens of the European Union - has been there for good reason.

The title and privilege "Citizen of the European Union" is written on our passports and ID cards, and it is valid since 1992. This citizenship is not just a superficial idea, it is a right that allows us free movement all over the 27 member states. So while we move from one state to another, we always remain in the Union, and we always remain its citizens.

These citizen rights also include that we have the right to be represented on the European level, as we are represented on the national, regional, and local level. However, these days we see that the member states are planning their Coup des Etats, trying to take away rights and weakening supranational figures that are meant to represent our common interest:
  • Several states - the UK, Poland, the Czech Republic - are allowed to disrespect the Fundamental Rights of the citizens as guaranteed by the Lisbon Treaty.
  • Member states purposefully chose two weak leaders, van Rompuy and Ashton, for the two top posts in "their" part of the polity.
  • Member states further limit the powers of these two leaders, using loopholes in the Lisbon Treaty: van Rompuy by measures described by the EUobserver today, and Ashton by measures described by L'Europe de la Défense and me (taken up by Italian euroblogger Matizandrea in Italian).
From Tuesday, I thus expect from the European Parliament and its members to play a much stronger role in defending the rights of European citizens. Only if this, our elected representation on the European level, is able to counterbalance the power games of the states and their bureaucracies, the Union can finally move on. The Parliament has to reject misinterpretations of the Lisbon Treaty by the Council, and it has to go to Court in our name if the Council doesn't listen.

The EP also has to strengthen its communication people and MEPs have to strengthen their communication effort, it has to put more energy in explaining to the public in simply ways what it is doing and why they are doing it.

The European Parliament has to put more weight on the common interest of the 500 million EU citizens instead of accepting policy outcomes that just reflect the particular interest of the leaders of one or two countries against the general interest of the Union.

The EP has to show that it can withstand this Coup des Etats and the false claims in the name of consensus diplomacy from national politicians, national diplomats, and national bureaucrats - claims that are nothing but the defence of a status quo of privileges and powers of the past leading to policy output of the past!

PS.: The big question - and I agree with Charlemagne - is whether "B Team mediocrities who could not make it in national politics" will be able to even get close to these demands.

Friday 27 November 2009

The new European Commission: Names and portfolios of Barroso II

In a press conference, Barroso just announced the names and portfolios of the new Commission.

Me and some others have tweeted from the press conference under the hashtag #barroso2, so if you want to re-read our comments and live quotes from Barroso you just need to click on the link

And here is the full list I took from the Commission press release:
  • Joaquín ALMUNIA: Competition. Vice-President of the Commission.
  • László ANDOR: Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.
  • Baroness Catherine ASHTON: High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security and Vice-President of the Commission.
  • Michel BARNIER: Internal Market and Services.
  • Dacian CIOLOS: Agriculture and Rural Development.
  • John DALLI: Health and Consumer Policy.
  • Maria DAMANAKI: Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.
  • Karel DE GUCHT: Trade.
  • Štefan FÜLE: Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy. *
  • Johannes HAHN: Regional Policy.
  • Connie HEDEGAARD: Climate Action.
  • Maire GEOGHEGAN-QUINN: Research and Innovation.
  • Rumiana JELEVA: International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response. *
  • Siim KALLAS: Transport. Vice-President of the Commission.
  • Neelie KROES: Digital Agenda. Vice-President of the Commission.
  • Janusz LEWANDOWSKI: Budget and Financial Programming.
  • Cecilia MALMSTRÖM: Home Affairs.
  • Günter OETTINGER: Energy.
  • Andris PIEBALGS: Development.*
  • Janez POTOČNIK: Environment.
  • Viviane REDING: Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. Vice-President of the Commission.
  • Olli REHN: Economic and Monetary Affairs.
  • Maro ŠEFČOVIČ: Vice-President of the Commission for Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration.
  • Algirdas ŠEMETA: Taxation and Customs Union, Audit and Anti-Fraud.
  • Antonio TAJANI: Industry and Entrepreneurship. Vice-President of the Commission.
  • Androulla VASSILIOU: Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth.
I will try to follow up on the names and the policy areas as soon as possible but don't have the time now.

In any case, Barroso is confident all Commissioners will be accepted by the European Parliament - and it is now our work and the work of the EP to show who is not qualified for their portfolio, who has conflicts of interest and who has shown in the past that there should be doubts on whether s/he is the right person to be a European Commissioner for five years.

On video: The Bulgarian Commission candidate Rumiana Jeleva

The Bulgarian Commission candidate, foreign minister Rumania Jeleva, sat down with New Europe editor-in-chief Alexandro Koronakis to speak about her career, her opinion on the van Rompuy/Ashton ticket, women in the Commission, and the future of the Nabucco pipeline project:

Worth watching!

EU to hand all banking details of Europeans to the US

I am no expert in this field, but it really looks like member states on Monday might give unlimited access to all banking details of EU citizens to the USA.

According to Brussels Blogger this will be done without asking the same from the US, all has been decided without any parliament, and no citizen will be able to go to court against these measures.

In addition, member states want to push this through on Monday because on Tuesday the Lisbon Treaty enters into force an the European Parliament would need to participate in the decision-making then.

If this respects democracy and the rule of law, the East German State Security (Stasi) has been an organisation respecting basic human values and civic rights.

PS.: The Facebook group asking member states to stop their actions regarding SWIFT has been growing from 0 to 530 members within less than a day!

Thursday 26 November 2009

Limiting Ashton's power: The role of the rotating Council Presidency in foreign policy

With the nomination of van Rompuy and Ashton for the two major top posts, it looked pretty clear that the coordination of the EU's foreign policy will now be handed over to these two persons and their administrations.

Yet, as I have explained earlier, the rotating Council Presidency will not disappear but will chair all Council configurations except for the Foreign Affairs Council that will be chaired by Ashton.

However, I just discovered a freshly published Council document regulating the role of the rotating Council Presidency in the preparatory work of the Foreign Affairs Council. This document is definitely limiting the powers of Ashton and is restricting her freedom to work freely with her own diplomatic service:
The chairmanship of the preparatory bodies of the Foreign Affairs Council referred to in categories 1 to 4 in the table below shall be organised as follows:

1) Category 1 (preparatory bodies in the area of trade and development)

The preparatory bodies shall be chaired by the six-monthly Presidency.

2) Category 2 (geographic preparatory bodies)

The preparatory bodies shall be chaired by a representative of the High Representative.

3) Category 3 (horizontal preparatory bodies, mainly CFSP)

The preparatory bodies shall be chaired by a representative of the High Representative, except the following preparatory bodies, which shall be chaired by the six-monthly
- Working Party of Foreign Relations Counsellors (RELEX);
- Working Party on Terrorism (International Aspects) (COTER);
- Working Party on the application of specific measures to combat terrorism (COCOP);
- Working Party on Consular Affairs (COCON);
- Working Party on Public International Law (COJUR); and
- Working Party on the Law of the Sea (COMAR).

4) Category 4 (ESDP related preparatory bodies)
The ESDP related preparatory bodies shall be chaired by a representative of the High Representative.
This means that although Ashton is going to chair every Foreign Affairs Council, the prepared documents coming into these meetings from the Working Parties won't have always been co-ordinated by the External Action Service but also by the rotating Council presidency.

And even where Ashton can chose the chairpersons of the working groups, she is limited by the member states (own highlights):
Where ... a preparatory body (PSC and relevant working parties) shall be chaired by a representative of the High Representative, the responsibility for appointing the chair shall belong to the High Representative. These appointments shall be made on the basis of competence, while ensuring adequate geographical balance and transparency. The High Representative shall ensure that the person he or she intends to appoint as chairperson will enjoy the confidence of Member States.
Looking at this document one can see that the coherence in the European Union's foreign policy is unlikely to emerge, with the member states fighting to keep control over certain key areas, limiting the power(s) of the Foreign Minister.

I might be mistaken, but this looks like bringing further disorder into the European institutions that are already very hard to understand and control.

Supplement: Eurogeek has correctly pointed to the fact that this is not new but has already been discussed for some time, as shows this "L'Europe de la Défense" article from 31 October 2009.

The Union for the Mediterranean: A zombie organisation

In March of this year I looked at the Union for the Mediterranean for the last time, and it was clear that this Sarkozian project was deadly frozen.

A freshly published Council document reporting about the outcome of a meeting in June of the "Directors-General of Civil Protection of the Union for the Mediterranean Member States" pretty much proves how dead this Union is, although it pretends to be alive.

The document appears to talk about possible joint goals and cooperation projects on civil protection mechanisms in the countries of the Mediterranean Union, an area that in my opinion could offer ground for non-political cooperation for the benefit of the participating member states.

However, the document is, even in diplomatic terms, extremely vague.

Where it talks about clear goals it uses extremely weak verbs or sentence constructions that run in cycles:
"[T]he Mediterranean countries [...] have to get organized in order to implement a real joint coordination to foresee catastrophes and accidents for the populations."

(They have to get organised to implement - not: They have to implement...)

"[I]n the continuity of the reinforcement of a training network, the possibility of focal points presenting the necessary guarantee of quality could be explored in order to create recognized training with diplomas."

(Note: The possibility could be explored, in other words: Nothing.)
And where it uses rather clear verbs the goals are totally imprecise:
"...this cooperation having to be reinforced by developing coherent actions, namely in prevention planning preparation."
But most importantly, the "recommendations" this document is supposed to provide already start (and end) with a sentence that says "We should rather do nothing new, what we have has to be enough." (bold in the original version):
"Particular emphasis was given to the Mediterranean’s existing mechanisms and frameworks."
Altogether, nothing in this document is clear, nothing is agreed, nothing seems to be firmly stated. This seems to be the general state of the art in this "Union".

The Union for the Mediterranean has been nonsense from the beginning, and this newly published document is definitely no refutation to this opinion of mine.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

FYROM & Greece: The dispute over the word "Macedonia" continues

According to EurActiv, the Greek and the Macedonian prime ministers will meet on Friday to discuss the stupid name issue they have been running for years.

I have said what I think about this over a year ago already. And I still think that the name of a country should not be part of serious discussions between two European countries, one of them being a member of the European Union.

So Greece, let Macedonia call itself "Macedonia" (instead of "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" - FYROM), and Macedonia, promise that you don't want any territory in today's Greece. Then shake hands and let the EU candidate country Macedonia advance on its path towards the European Union and let us come closer to a united European continents where countries don't fight over names or territories but work together for their citizens.

Thanks in advance for being reasonable!

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Gender balance in the European Union: Tiny steps

After the final nominations for the European Commission are in (see EurActiv), it is clear that the new Commission will be exactly 1/3 female.

That is far from balanced, but closer to balanced than last time. Important to notice is that the goal of the campaign for "Gender Balanced Commission" has been reached, altough it's just the minimum goal. We are glad this is the case, and we are now looking whether all woman will pass the European Parliament hearings.

It's also important to remind that the two important demands I and others have formulated over the last months - at least one woman in one of the three EU top posts and at at least 1/3 of the Commission posts filled with women - are only met because Cathy Ashton counts twice, once as a top post holder and second as future Commission vice president (if she is confirmed by the European Parliament).

So we are advancing in tiny steps - if we continue at this speed (each time one female Commissioner more) the Commission will be gender-balanced in 20-25 years (depending on enlargement).

And we shouldn't also forget that Ashton got one of the 3 top posts, but that all the other major posts of the Union are filled with men:
  • Commission President,
  • European Council President,
  • European Parliament President,
  • Rotating Council President,
  • General Secretary of the Council,
  • European Central Bank President,
  • President of the European Court of Justice,
  • European Court of Auditors President,
  • European Economic and Social Committee President,
  • Committee of the Regions President,
  • Eurogroup Chairman,
  • EU Ombudsman,
  • European Data Protection Supervisor,
  • Fundamental Rights Agency Director,
  • ...
So if anyone in the EU continues talking about gender balance in the member states - an important topic to talk about - he or she should first care most intensively about the Unions institution, because on third of the Commission and one top post among so many others filled with a woman cannot be satisfactory at all!

Sunday 22 November 2009

Catherine Ashton: Foreign policy experience and public appearances over the last year

After Thursdays choice, questions have been asked about who is the new EU "Foreign Minister" Catherine "Cathy" Ashton, and I'd like to contribute by providing some background information available on the net.

When we look at the foreign policy experience Catherine Ashton gathered over the last year, one might look at the list of important non-EU leaders she met during that time (non-comprehensive):
  • Celso Amorim, Brasilian Foreign Minister (source)
  • Rohitha Bogollagama, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister (source)
  • Simon Crean, Australian Trade Minister (source)
  • Stockwell Day, Canadian Minister of International Trade (source)
  • Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South African Foreign Minister (source)
  • Hage Geingob, Namibian Minister of Trade and Industry (source)
  • Seretse Khama Ian Khama, President of Botswana (source)
  • Kim Jong-hoon, South Korean Trade Minister (source)
  • Ron Kirk, United States Trade Representative (source)
  • Pascal Lamy, WTO Director General (source)
  • Elvira Nabiullina, Russian Minister for Economic Development (source)
  • Anand Sharma, Indian Trade Minister (source)
  • Yang Jiechi, Chinese Foreign Minister (source)
We could also look at some public appearances over the last year to see how she presents herself and trade policy (her portfolio in the Commission):
I suppose that we will learn more and more about her over the months and especially of the the next years, but since "Foreign Minister" and future vice-president of the Commission Baroness Ashton will soon have to get European Parliament approval (as any other future Commissioner), I think it's already worth looking at her record from the past year now.

The information above just give some indications to the fact that she was indeed able to gather some relevant foreign policy experience over the last year and that she is able to be as outgoing as she can be diplomatic - let's see what else will be brought up.

Insider business: Juncker & Sarkozy + Mandelson & Brown

Journalist-blogger Jean Quatremer, quoting anonymous sources, says Jean-Claude Juncker has been prevented as European Council President by the individual veto of Sarkozy.

Isabel Oakeshott and Jonathan Oliver from The Sunday Times, quoting a "well-placed insider", know that former Commissioner and member of the UK government Lord Mandelson was still running on Thursday for the job as EU "Foreign Minister" but was called back by Brown who seems to need him in his government.

In fact, I rather believe both news stories, but they both also show the problem of classical journalism: Working with anonymous sources in reporting (and not just as background) - as necessary as they might be - reduces credibility, at least in my eyes.

I'd rather go for transparency and quotable sources than to opt for the story relying on anonymous sources, but how difficult this can be I have described here.

Quotes that characterise the European Union

Nothing better than clear statements anyone can understand:
"The EUMC recognizes the co-ordinated effort of the Wise Pen, EDA, EUMS, CEUMC, DGE VIII, DGE IX, CPCC, DGA5 and Joint SITCEN in producing this mature draft NEC Concept."
Source: Military Advice on the draft EU Concept for Network Enabled Capabilities (NEC) in support of ESDP (13 November 2009)

PS.: And in the first comment to this post you can find the same sentence as a hyperlink story.

Saturday 21 November 2009

Chasing Brussels Podcast Episode 008: Rompuy, Ashton & Gender Politics

We have been recording the eighth "Chasing Brussels Podcast" this evening.

I have been able to join again after long absence - and obviously it is focusing on the two major issues of the past week, the nomination of van Rompuy & Baroness Ashton and the Gender Balanced Commission campaign:

In this episode, three men sit around and talk about gender politics in the EU.

Joe Litobarski hosts this week, and he’s joined by Julien Frisch and Conor Slowey to talk about the appointment of Herman Van Rompuy as European Council President and Baroness Catherine Ashton as High Representative for foreign affairs.

Is the appointment of Baroness Ashton a good thing for women in EU politics? Or will it hurt the chances of the Gender Balanced Commission campaign to push for a more equal Commission? All these things and more in this week’s podcast.

Chasing Brussels 08 – Gender Politics

If you have comments on the podcast, please comment directly on the page of this episode so that we have everything in one place - have fun!

PS.: For more on the mascot of "Chasing Brussels" go to "!

Europe in blogs - Euroblogs (11): Herman van Rompuy & Catherine Ashton

It was the decision of the decade, because it took a decade until this first decision of "The new EU" could be taken - and the euroblogosphere has covered the nomination of Herman van Rompuy for European Council President and of Catherine Ashton as High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy extensively.

A collective "WHY?" has been going through the blogs, or "Pourquoi?" as Fabien Cazenave is asking. It's "[d]isheartening" for Gulay Icoz, "the dampest squib" for Monnet Musing, "a terrible joke" for Open Europe. "No fireworks" says Konrad Niklewicz, and "No. Comment" from the Berlaymonster.

"Habemus Papam" announces Sauvon l'Europe after hearing the "grotesque result", and this result looks like "Fish & chips sauce biki" thinks Un Européen jamais content. As grotesque as the fact that Eurosceptics are applauding the outcome of the dinner, as Gavin Hewitt rightfully underlines.

One could summarise many of these reactions with the words by European Union Law: "One thing is clear – both Mr. van Rompuy and Mrs. Ashton do not have substantial foreign policy experience." But one could argue,as Grahnlaw is doing, that those holding the rotating Council presidency never had more experience either.

Still, almost everyone is saying what Nosemonkey says about the two: "Lightweights". For Jean Quatremer finding somebody less non-existing than van Rompuy must have been almost impossible, but the fact that it was possible had been proven by the choice of Baroness Ashton - a team that Europeans weren't dreaming of.

Nevertheless, Lobbyplanet doesn't mind to call them "The Dream Team", but the actual dream team should have been Lamy/Freiberga/Miliband, notes Jon Worth.

Others, like Europaeum know very well that Thursday's dream team was not even van Rompuy/Ashton but in fact Merkel/Sarkozy, and reseuropa couldn't agree more, concluding that with the choice of Ashton the two "will have removed the anglo-saxon domination of European economic policy of recent years".In return, Pietro De Matteis interprets the choice of Trade Commissioner Ashton as a decision representing the true core of the EU: Commercial power.

At A Fistful of Europe, one thinks that with this decision the countries have been working to restrain the EU institutions under the Lisbon Treaty, while Charlemagne knows that this decision is a sign that the EU is nothing but an "inward-looking fortress".

This EU is now post-heroic for the Verfassungblog, yet Honor Mahony discovers the new hero: Barroso. This is why EU Referendum summarises the result of the game with a simple: "Commission 2 – Council 0".

Taking a look back, Titem notices that the list of candidates and the debates going through the euroblogosphere were never really reflected in the traditional media. And still her - Asthon's - name was missing both in the old and in the new media, and so she was "[s]hocked, flustered and almost a little embarrassed" saw Gulf Stream Blues.

Brussels2 saw a Catherine Ashton at the press conference who wasn't prepared, Giacomo Benedetto sees an alumna of the Centre for European Politics at Royal Holloway in one of the highest European offices, and Joe Litobarski sees at least a success of the twibbon campaign "For a Woman at a Top EU Job".

Van Rompuy also gets his share of the attention: Some friendly words from Tony Barber who sounds glad that the first European Council President who will shape the office is "[i]ntelligent, civilised, modest, with a calming sense of humour - a consensus-builder and an organiser" are countered by Paul Belien's comparison with Saruman, the wise wizard in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, who "has built himself a high tower from where he rules over all of us". Ironies Too has a single adjective for Herman: "Ludicrous".

Eva remarks that he is at least not one of those leaders who are searching every little spotlight, and that Ashton could maybe bring the British back to Europe. But Daniel Basteira cannot see van Rompuy filling out the post as "chef d'orchestre".

There is also the Swedish Troika: A "positive result" from still-Commissioner Margot Wallström and "A successful dinner!" by soon-to-be-Commissioner Cecilia Malmström are both washed away by Carl Bildt who is so disappointed that he refrains from any further comments.

Finally, there are also a rather calm analysis by Menaru and a rather negative and taxpayer-oriented analysis by EU for US. And Daniel Antal's call that we need a constitution.

But maybe we should all take it like Gideon Rachman and just think: No matter who would have gotten the jobs, there's anyway no substance and it didn't matter anyway who'd get them. Or do it like Yordanka Stoyanova and just say: "Congratulations!"

But no matter what we do or say, the decision is taken, and we'll have to live with it in one or another way. So, that's it for now, but Europe in blogs - Euroblogs will be back soon, probably with more amazing coverage of the citizen-oriented European Union.

PS.: And for all those of you who cannot get enough of euroblogs speaking about "great" events, I recommend re-reading the Europe in blogs - Euroblogs: Barroso Special published before Barroso's re-election earlier this year.

Friday 20 November 2009

The new EU: First analyses

Yesterday evening I have commented on the van Rompuy/Ashton decision, and the main point to highlight is that I was right with my prediction on Wednesday about how the result would look in terms of the profile of the persons.

Now the time for complaints is over for a moment, it is time go into the analysis.

Having seen the press conference of Reinfeldt, Barroso, van Rompuy, and Ashton yesterday evening one could already see how the new EU will look like:

  • The rotating Council presidency (see their coverage) will lose importance, it will be sidelined in public appearances, as Reinfeldt was sidelined yesterday evening.
  • The European Council President will hide himself behind pre-fabriqued speeches changing languages every minute to confuse interpreters. He will try to keep invisible, filling his role as moderator, as European Council General Secretary.
  • "Cathy" Ashton, the "Foreign Minster" will be responsible to speak in foreign policy matters, she will be having the telephone that Hillary Clinton will call when Obama wants to know whom to talk to in the EU. Nevertheless, the personality of van Rompuy will probably leave Ashton with much more freedom and a much stronger role than any other European Council President would have been doing. Maybe I am mistaken, but for Ashton, if she knows how to use her position, this might actually by a good thing, although I am not sure that she will be able to handle large diplomatic service. And in the press conference yesterday it was clearly said that she would be responsible (just) for the day-to-day work.
  • The clear winner of yesterday night was Barroso and the European Commission. You could see it in his eyes, in his smile, in his gestures. He was handing a present to Reinfeldt that looked like he said: Thanks for being here and helping me, now go and leave. Van Rompuy is even less a communicator than Barroso and he won't have a large administration to support him, so he won't be a threat for Barroso. Ashton is too new and she will be below Barroso in the Commission hierarchy, so Barroso knows that he'll keep a strong influence on foreign policy, too, while having the better networks in Brussels and in the world to get decisions that fit his policy preferences. In the future, Ashton will have to deal the problematic and conflictual work in foreign policy while Barroso will come and appear whenever it suits him - he'll probably be much more visible than in the past.

In this regard one could say that after yesterday's decision we might see a much clearer division of the EU into an intergovernmental and a supranational part. By choosing weak personalities for their domain(s), the governments made clear that where they govern, they don't want to be disturbed by supranational elements (like brilliant personalities working in favour of the EU).

But they also didn't put up a strong personality that could overshine the supranational institutions - the Commission and the Parliament - or their leaders. They have thus opted to keep their governmental strength in their national hands instead of projecting them on the EU level with the risk to loosing them to the personalities they chose.

The new EU will hence probably see an even sharper division between its two poles, and the question will be who will win the fight with what means or whether this will just bring the Union to a new equilibrium - interesting months and years to come.

PS.: And just not to be mistaken: I don't blame van Rompuy & Ashton for who they are and I wish them good luck for their jobs. When I complained yesterday this was rather against the choices of the heads of state and government. The two newcomers will have to show their abilities or (non-)impact over the next months.

Thursday 19 November 2009

van Rompuy and Baroness Ashton for the top EU jobs

Update: See the "Europe in blogs - Euroblogs" post with over 40 blog reactions from all over the euroblogosphere!

I have already said everything on this massive disgrace in my post some 30 minutes ago, but now it is official: With Barroso, van Rompuy and Ashton the EU gets the worst Troika any could have imagined.

I have just decided to learn Chinese, because the EU will definitely lose importance over the next years, and with van Rompuy and Ashton there is no hope that there is anyone to stop it.

This is the end, this is definitely the end. What a sad day for Europe, for the European Union, and all its citizens.

PS.: My blog post on me becoming an EU-sceptic is truer than ever before.

A massive disgrace: van Rompuy and Baroness Ashton for European Council President and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy?

Update: See the "Europe in blogs - Euroblogs" post with over 40 blog reactions from all over the euroblogosphere!

The day is (almost) ruined, the nightmare seems to have become reality.

On Twitter and in several news sources we can hear that the faceless Belgian prime minister Herman van Rompuy has been officially proposed to the heads of state and government to become the first permanent European Council president.

In the same sources, Catherine Margaret Ashton, Baroness Ashton of Upholland is told to be proposed as future High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

If this double ticket will be confirmed, this Thursday, 19 November 2009, will have been one of the worst in the history of the European Union, because this would mean that we get the "Troika of Death and Boredom".

With van Rompuy we get an unknown European Council president without European or international profile and without the strength to oppose the national leaders, and a "Foreign Minister" who is female but clearly not qualified for the job.

Ashton wasn't qualified to become EU Commissioner (let me remind of Nosemonkey's and Jon Worth's articles when she was nominated a year ago) and within one year she has had no impact at all, neither in the area of trade nor elsewhere. She has, as van Rompuy, no European or international profile, and they won't be able to inspire the EU or bring our Union forward.

If the two are confirmed, the heads of state and government have insulted all European citizens, they have spit into our faces and they have ruined any dynamic that the Lisbon Treaty might have created. It would be a disgrace, a massive disgrace!!!

We won't be silent, no, we won't be silent!

Ouverture for the EU top job summit

Just watched the prime ministers and presidents arrive for the EU top job summit in Brussels. Most of them passed the pack of journalists without giving interviews. Those who did did not say much.

Former Commissioner Grybauskaite who is now Lithuanian president said that she is not a candidate. Balkenende from the Netherlands told that the (formal?) nomination would only be on the 1st of December. And the Irish prime minister Cowen told that their candidate John Brutton was still available if there was a consensus around the table.

Most noticeable was the Swedish prime minister Reinfeldt who stood at the entrance of the Council for an hour, greeting the European political high society with handshakes. Some halted for a minute to discuss with him, most just stopped for a photo. Reinfeldt look really nervous and uncomfortable, and he seem tired, too. I think that this might have been the worst week of his political life, and it might be the worst night, too.

At 18:01 he left his place in the lobby to climb up to the European Council meeting in the form of a dinner. The night could be long, and we are waiting for the results to come late.

We may expect surprises, but I am not sure whether they will be positive or negative... (I will stay up all night if necessary.)

The Dinner

What are the Heads of State and Government having for dinner tonight?

Fish & Chips and Pasta?
Pīrags & Sautéed reindeer?
A mix of French fries from Place Jourdan & Central London?

Or maybe just some blowfish, and the two Heads of State and Government surviving decide on their own?

If you know the menu, you know everything...!

PS.: Did I forget any dishes?

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Euroblogs in the "New Europe" weekly newspaper

I just wanted to use the opportunity to thank the editors of "New Europe" for printing euroblog articles in their weekly newspaper and for linking them on their front page.

I had the pleasure to appear twice over the last two weeks (see page 22 of the issues 559 & 560), first with my post "10 steps to becoming a Euroblogger" and this week with last Friday's article "A European Blog Action against a Commission without gender balance" that became reality quicker than I expected with the campaign for a "Gender Balanced Commission". But it is as much a pleasure to find my own texts published as it is to read the texts of other bloggers, seeing our content distributed in a new way and incorporated into editorial content.

What I particularly like with the blog section in New Europe is that it connects the world of blogging with the readers of classical newspapers, that it brings our texts from the widths of the net into the limited space of physical paper.

They, the editors, still keep their editorial control, they make the choices they would like to make for their readers, but we, the bloggers, do not have to change our style or rhythm, we don't have to follow editorial rules: They like it, they take it - if not, it's still online in our blogs...

I appreciate this a lot, and I can only commend the New Europe team for taking this step to link from the "real world" to us, the euroblogosphere - a different kind of hyperlink story.

We won't be silent!

It's the final countdown: Tomorrow - or aftertomorrow - we will know whom our lowly skilled and unmotivated national leaders have chosen to be their handymen on the European level.

The one will have to play the role of the Secretary of the European Council, the other will represent the lowest common denominator of what the bosses think about the EU's foreign relations, and we might thus have to call him Low Representative.

Together with Barroso they will form the Troika of Death and Boredom, and Jerzy Buzek (European Parliament President) will smile, lower his head and ask the assembly to approve anything these three men do.

And they will tell us that this is what we need. They will inform us about what they have decided after they have decided. And they will hope that we agree or that we don't care.

But if the choices made tomorrow are bad, we won't be silent, and if we don't agree, we won't be silent. And we will let them know, not just on Friday or Saturday or Sunday, but every day of their term.

We will let them and their bosses know what we think of them, and they will realise that the Union of the Lisbon Treaty cannot be "politics as usual" because we will finally have clear targets - and we will learn to hit!

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Gender balance & "Females in Front"

There is quite a lot going on around the campaign for a "Gender Balanced Commission" that started just yesterday - including a mentioning of the campaign on European Voice.

We finally get to a point where this issue is not just something for the "feminists", we are arriving at the point where even national news start to recogise the topic (right now it's on the top of the front webpage of the Austrian newspaper "Die Presse" and the campaign is mentioned by El Pais).

I am really glad seeing this, in particular since the issue of gender balance has been one of the guiding lines of this blog. I just looked back and found that my fourth post ever, 1 1/2 years ago, was on "Females in Front", an initiative that demanded that at least one of the three top EU posts would be for a woman and that has almost 200,000 signatories by now.

In two or three days we will know whether this initiative had any success, whether following up was worth the time, or whether the political and social struggle will have to continue - maybe through a rejection of the proposed Commission college in the near future.

On thing is clear for me:

We - men and women - need to stick to this matter, we need to keep it on the agenda until the moment when European leaders will recognise that gender balance as a policy issue has left the back rooms and has become a priority issue for more than just the hard core, an issue strong enough for a campaign like this and strong enough for the European Parliament to act decisively...

Monday 16 November 2009

Campaign For A Gender-Balanced Commission

Gender balance is not just a matter of women fighting for women, it is a matter for all of us to work together to get politics that represent the full human diversity instead of just promoting old white males.

On Friday, I called for a European Blog Action in case the next Commission would not be gender-balanced.

Over the weekend, Jon Worth, together with others, has set up a campaign for a gender-balanced Commission, that I am thus supporting with great pleasure.

As usual, Jon doesn't just talk, he acts.

And since we are not just fighting for an abstract number of women in the next Commission, you will also find a list of possible candidates from all 27 member states on the website - and feel free to propose more qualified but politically realistic women candidates. The more we have, the easier it will be to address MEPs and national governments on this issue.

Please go to the website and sign the petition - and let's thus not wait until it is too late to get a new European Commission with at least one more woman than last time!

Saturday 14 November 2009

Will the High Representative come into office against the Lisbon Treaty rules?

Next week, the European Council will meet informally over a lunch, and the heads of state and government will decide over the two remaining top EU post, the European Council President and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy - but it looks as if the latter will be coming into office against the rules.

Grahnlaw quotes a press release of the the Finnish government
The Swedish Presidency has announced that the High Representative will become a member of the Commission immediately after his/her appointment and the current Commissioner of his/her nationality will step down from the office.
This looks like the European Council wants to act against the Lisbon Treaty where it is clearly written in Article 17 para 7 (on the election of the Commission):
The President, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the other members of the Commission shall be subject as a body to a vote of consent by the European Parliament. On the basis of this consent the Commission shall be appointed by the European Council, acting by a qualified majority.
Since the Parliament's vote shall happen before the European Council formally nominates the Commission, I don't see how it is possible that the High Representative can enter into office right after her/his nomination next Thursday.

This is especially not possible since it would be the old Commission that was formed under the Nice Treaty into which the person would be "nominated". The Nice Treaty doesn't even foresee the High Representative in the future format, so how can s/he enter into the old Commission while already being nominated according to Lisbon rules?

Legally s/he will probably "just" be part of the old Commission. Practically this means that s/he can shape her/his office before the new college will start its work, s/he will be the de facto Foreign Minister in a weak caretaker Commission and s/he won't be confirmed by the EP as all other Commissioners before. The person will thus lack the legitimacy foreseen in the old Treaty for Commissioners as well as the legality of the Lisbon Treaty.

This sounds to me like the Heads of State and Governments are trying to create a fait accompli:

By illegitimately (almost illegally) putting the person into her/his office before a Parliament vote, the governments put pressure on the EP so that it can't vote against the Commission later this year when the de facto Foreign Minister has already shaped her/his office and when the governments could argue that it would be "damaging" to remove the person from office after several months.

Friday 13 November 2009

A European Blog Action against a Commission without gender balance (UPDATED)

UPDATE: This post has become reality with the Campaign For A Gender Balanced Commission!

Dear fellow bloggers,

in case Barroso proposes a Commission with less women than in the last one, we should call for a European Blog Action addressing as many MEPs as possible asking to reject the proposed Commission.

This is not just about gender balance within the college, this is about the credibility of EU policies in promoting gender equality and anti-discrimination in general. This matter is thus also about the credibility of the EU as a whole, and the former is as important to me as the latter.

We could already start with this European Blog Action as soon as it would be clear that non of the top posts - Commission President, European Council President, and "Foreign Minister" (the High Representative) - would be a woman, since rejecting the Commission also means rejecting the High Representative.

Anyone ready to join?


PS.: This post is encouraged by the latest bad news in the media, but also by this interview Macarena did with Commissioner Wallström.

Thursday 12 November 2009

Blogging and the legal mess before and after Lisbon: ECJ, ECtHR, and Protocol 14bis

The beauty of blogging does not lie in the superficial debates on topics of obvious urgency but in the minor but messy issues that are irrelevant to most and thus for the mainstream media (making them even less relevant for most).

Although the former is necessary in the EU case because of the obvious lack of relevant public debates, taking a look at minor issues and debating them often seems to make up the real added value of using social media to advance one's understanding of the world.

Like the following:

When I recently wrote about the foreseen accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), I highlighted the legal provisions set by the Lisbon Treaty and the fact that I expect a long bargaining process before the EU accessing the ECHR will become reality.

I didn't write about more details, thinking that this would be enough for the moment.

Yet, a few days later, the Adjucating Europe blog raised questions on the same issue, probably almost unnoticed because this was in an article on a specific case at the European Court of Justice (ECJ):
"This accession – if done in hurry – might lead to an unprecedented mess. A mature reflection is in fact needed.

What would be the exact scope of the Strasbourg Court’s competence? I am curious to see how the Strasbourg Court will deal with increasing litigations involving EU citizens’ rights, residence rights or provisions of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights not explicitly enshrined within the ECHR?
More interesting than these questions is the short discussion in the comments to that post in which we learn that not only is the European Court of Justice already referring to judgements of the European Court of Human Rights (the ECtHR in Strasbourg oversees the ECHR), but that even the Strasbourg court has already been using ECJ jurisprudence for his own judgements.

Still, it is not clear to us how their relation will be in the future and how the ECtHR might even use the Charta on Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (as part of EU law) for its judgements once the EU as an institution joined the ECHR.

And then, yesterday, the ECHR blog took a look at the matter, and while at first sight it just seems to quote a press release of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the post closes with a hint to the debate around the ratification of Protocol 14 to the ECHR.

This Protocol was developed to reform the overburdened ECtHR, which adjudicates on human rights in 47 countries on the whole European continent, but since Russia has signed it but refuses to ratify, it hasn't entered into force yet (which is why it has been replaced ad interim by the so-called Protocol 14bis).

Why is this relevant? Because Protocol 14 to the ECHR also adds a little sentence to the ECHR that reads: "The European Union may accede to this Convention."

What does this mean? It means that even Russia is now an integral part of the debate.

From the 1st of December, the EU, through the Lisbon Treaty, will have the right (and duty) to join the ECHR, but a Protocol that makes this possible legally on the ECHR side is not ratified by Russia that is afraid that this Protocol could make the Human Rights Court more effective and thus would show even more how ignorant Russia is when it comes to human rights.

Kind of complex matter isn't it? Any journalists writing about that mess? Would be glad to see that. But for now, it's just in the blogs.

Oh, and speaking of journalists and blogs in this matter, one could even point to other stories, like the one where the European Court of Human Rights is confused with the EU's European Court of Justice by journalists, which happens quite frequently (see these recent posts by bitmorecomplicated, The European Citizen and Jon Worth) - but that would be to much, wouldn't it?

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Central Europe Activ on the new Hungarian Commissioner

Germany has nominated a very odd candidate for the next European Commission, but now Dániel from the Central Europe Activ blog reports about the coming Hungarian Commissioner Laszlo Andor - and the article doesn't paint the most promising picture:
"Mr Andor’s is a non-executive member of EBRD, Europe’s development bank. He was ejected to this position when his small circle of far-far left intellectuals in a far-far left periodical called Eszmélet (Consciousness) stood behind the most right-wing pragmatist later prime minister and party chief, Mr Gyurcsány [...]

He was a kind of a politician, every bending the truth, also a gentle man, a guy who liked to play soccer with the students, who had strange friends ‘in the movement’ in Western Europe. He was never elected to any other position, never ran for office and never took a job in any branches of the government of his country.
" (via Jon on Twitter)
I recommend reading the full article - it's a first hand account of somebody on which very few people might actually have knowledge!

Monday 9 November 2009

Europe in blogs - Euroblogs (10): Fall of the Wall Special

Today is clearly a historic day, and the blogosphere and the euroblogs use the opportunity to look back in time, into their own lives, into global moments, into politics and art.

L'Europe en Blogs is just murmuring about the event, and strappato is glad that at least once in his life he was at the right place at the right time.

A Fistful of Europe focuses on the immediate effects, while the New Europe Blog prefers the special effects of films.

The 9th of November reminds Matthias Fekl of his childhood in Berlin, and Shiraz Socialist is reciting a poem on the "Good Town".

More poetry comes from The Lobby with the text of the song “Over de Muur” from 1984, while Carl Bildt is remembering less poetic politics from the time before the wall fell.

Georgia Gotev compares the American 9/11 and the European 9/11 as days where everyone old enough to remembers knows exactly what he or she was doing on either day - and EUonym clearly remembers that she was at Frankfurt in November 1989.

Still looking to 1989, Gavin Hewitt is remembering the time together with Angela Merkel, and European Union Law is remembering communism in general. takes a much deeper look into the past and reminds us of Kennedy's speech in Berlin in 1963, while the Hauptstadblog sees the changes Germany went though over the last 20 years from different perspectives.

Others have arrived in 2009, and so for Andreas Bock the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change has to be as important as the 1989 events, while for EU Referendum 2009 is already a failure because the Lisbon Treaty set up new walls.

And although there are probably hundreds of more posts on the subject today, let's just close with the call at Le Taurillon - "EUROPE, tear down this wall" - and then let's tear down all walls that still exist here and elsewhere on the planet!

Sunday 8 November 2009

Erika Steinbach, leave us alone!

Erika Steinbach is the head of the German Federation for Expellees, and for years she is ruining German relations to our Polish neighbours.

Her confrontative course regarding the representation of interests of Germans (and their children) who were expelled from what would become Poland at the end and after World War II is a disgrace for us Germans who are working for a united Europe with where nobody needs to be afraid of neighbouring countries.

Steinbach has now repeated her claim that she wants to sit in the Board of the new Polish-German Foundation for Expellees that will try to retrace the fate of expellees at the end of World War II, in a way that doesn't put the emphasis on blaming each other or bringing up the idea of restitution but that focuses on the tragic stories in order to allow a proper culture of remembrance.

Yet, somebody like Steinbach who is not interested in good relations but in confrontation is embarrassing, and I can only hope that our new government will manage to keep her out of the new foundation in order to show to our Polish neighbours that in the European Union of the 21st century we Germans don't support those who live in the past but that we look ahead and look forward in expanding good relation to Poland - something foreign minister Westerwelle has made clear when he spent his first visit in office to Poland.

I am glad that although Erika Steinbach is often presented in Poland as the voice of Germans, she doesn't have much room in our own media - and I hope that our government will make clear that she would be the wrong choice for the new foundation and against the whole idea of the creating such an organisation!

Blogging & the EU

Some think blogging is about fame. Some think blogging is about influence. Some think blogging is just about the blogger. Some have misunderstood blogging.

Some think the EU is about economic power. Some think the EU is about global influence. Some think the EU is just about the EU. Some have misunderstood the EU.

Others think blogging is about sharing arguments. Others think blogging is about working together on topics of common interest. Others think blogging is about crossing boundaries and about overcoming stereotypes.

Some might understand.

Saturday 7 November 2009

A critique of "Women's Political Representation in the European Union" by Johanna Kantola

Those of you who follow this blog and my tweets know how much importance I put in women's representation in EU institutions - the latest article on Tarja Halonen or an earlier post on the gender gap in the Commission staff are just two examples.

So with interest I noticed the recent issue (December 2009) of the "Journal of Legislative Studies" and in particular the article "Women's Political Representation in the European Union" by Johanna Kantola.

I was hoping for new insights that go beyond the obvious - women are underrepresented both in the member states and in the EU institutions - something that explains more in detail the dynamics that keep women out of the relevant EU jobs.

But the article is about nothing but the obvious: It mostly presents already existing descriptive statistics, it summarises some of the existing scientific literature on why women are underrepresented in political institutions and it lists some possible reasons why one might be interested in changing this.

This article has no added value in a debate, its just telling what we all already know. It doesn't explain anything, it strings together figures that aren't really new, just newly assembled. And it doesn't even have the intent to do more:
"The contributions of the article are empirical and consist of an account of the EU policy on gender-balanced decision-making and numerical presentation of new data on women in political decision-making in different EU institutions."
Looking at where we are in the debates today - bloggers and Twitterers lobbying for women in top EU jobs while Barroso asks governments to nominate women Commissioners - this article sounds light-years behind.

It should have answered why, despite the impression that there is pressure for more women candidates, in the end there are no women brought forward at the crucial stages of selection processes (like Milliband and Van Rompuy now looking to be the only two real candidates for EU "Foreign Minister" and European Council President).

A scientific analyses would be of added value if it could show why women who are official or unofficial candidates for some time disappear from the shortlists later on. Is it because in complex political and regional balances of posts the male majority is not able to fit in qualified women candidates or is it because they think the women candidates are not qualified? Is it because women in power - apart from Margot Wallström - don't support women candidates or because women candidates are never presented by man?

Kantola even takes a short look at women's representation in COREPER I and II, but finding out that women are underrepresented there just tells us that there are probably too few women climbing up to the top diplomatic ranks. By knowing this we haven't learnt anything about the mechanisms that lead to this imbalance. So why aren't women in the upper diplomatic ranks or, if they are there, why aren't they promoted to COREPER I or COREPER II?

What are the real mechanisms? How do they differ between the different institutional settings? Can the same institutional design lead to different representation of women in EU institutions? Do positive dynamics in one member state influence the dynamics in a second member state through personal relations developed in the Council? So many questions, so few answers given by fellow political scientists. Nothing about real mechanisms, just numbers and wild guesses.

This would be my pleading:

Social scientists, political scientists, students of feminist and gender studies, tell us more about the real mechanisms, show in comparative perspective how one could advance gender balance within EU institutions, reprocess unlikely success stories and stories where likely female candidates are dropped. Because those of us in favour of gender balanced power distribution need to know where to "attack", which small or large wheels we need to turn, which level of the hierarchy we need to go to to get the results we want.

But writing descriptive articles about known facts - no matter if the data is presented as "new" - doesn't help at all, it just lowers the interest in the subject, and the next time I will see at title like "Women's Political Representation in the European Union" I might think twice before spending time reading it.

Friday 6 November 2009

The EU's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR): Waiting for controversies...

Follow-ups to this article: here, here & here.

With the Lisbon Treaty entering into force next month, one particular issue that has been part of legal and political discussions for years will become pertinent: The EU's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

All EU member states have ratified the Convention and most have also signed and ratified the additional protocols to the convention (including the protection of property rights and free elections [Protocol 1] or the prohibition of the death penalty under all circumstances).

The rights guaranteed by the ECHR are supervised by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg. Since through its member states the legal traditions of the ECHR are also informally part of the EU's legal traditions, the European Court of Justice (the EU's court) is already taking into account rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, but so far there is no legal obligation for the Union to follow the Human Rights Convention's provisions.

However, now that the Lisbon Treaty will enter into force, the EU is getting legal personality and is thus able to join international agreements outside the scope of the former European Community, including the ECHR.

And, for those who did not have time yet to read the Lisbon Treaty, the document explicitly foresees that the EU will join the European Convention on Human Rights (which might mean that the EU institutions will be subject to rulings of the non-EU ECtHR). It deals with this matter in Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and in the Article 218 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) as well as in the Protocol 8 and the Declaration 2 to the Lisbon Treaty.

In short, these provisions foresee that the EU shall in fact join the ECHR, but only after the EU and the member states have agreed on how the EU's legal and practical relations with the different control bodies of the convention will be and after it is clear how one will differentiate between law suits against the EU and those that would go against a member state (which could become difficult when it comes to the execution of EU law in the member states).

In the end, the Council needs to decide unanimously on the accession to the ECHR, and all member states will have to agree individually according to their constitutional provisions.

Although this is now clearly prescribed by the Lisbon Treaty, this is still going to be a very difficult legal and political process, not least seeing the debates around the Charta on Fundamental Rights and Freedoms in some member states or the latest "outrage" in Italy against the Crucifix judgement by the ECtHR.

And so even though the Council of Europe - the international organisation built around the European Convention on Human Rights - is already starting to pressure on the EU start its accession procedures, this could take some time until the EU has ruled out all complex legal and practical problems related to this accession.

Therefore, I expect the process to be quite controversial already between the EU member states and EU institutions (including its legal services), but also between the EU and the Council of Europe (including the other 20 signatory states to the European Convention on Human Rights) - and the result will probably be an unprecedented case of legal interdependencies between two different supranational regimes.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

10 steps to becoming a Euroblogger

Some time ago, I have already given an answer on why I blog, but I think there might be some interest in knowing how to actually become a Euroblogger - in 10 steps, because anything can be done in 10 steps.

1. You need to become crazy.

If you are not crazy yet, start reading the consolidated Lisbon Treaty from the first to the large page. If you finished reading and you are still not crazy, please apply for a job in one of the EU institutions.

2. You need to make the first and most important choice.

If you finished reading the Lisbon Treaty, you think it is crap and you don't like the EU because of that, you need to call yourself a "eurosceptic". If you think it is crap and you still like the EU you are now called "federalist". As a Euroblogger you will belong in one of the two categories, and officially there is nothing in between.

3. You need a good name.

If you are lucky, you already have a good name or nickname that is easy to remember. If not, invent something. And since you are crazy, don't hesitate to think of really strange animals when choosing your nickname.

4. You need to write a first post.

It doesn't matter what you write, just use "Europe" and "EU" several times, first in the title and then in the text. Since normal bloggers don't use these terms you will be clearly identified as a Euroblogger. Be aware that from now on you are an outcast in the general blogosphere.

5. You need to get the attention of other eurobloggers.

The easiest way is to start at Go to every post that appears there and comment on anything you read. Eurobloggers don't get many comments, so they are glad about anyone coming their blogs. By commenting, you are telling them that there is at least one person interested, and they will thankfully go to your site, see that you used "Europe" and "EU" in your first post and add your RSS-feed to their feed readers.

6. You need to write a second post.

Since you are now recognised as a euroblogger by the community, you need to show your web 2.0 competence. So write anything that combines "EU" and "2.0", "Twitter" and a Youtube video. Since 95% of eurobloggers organise their life around new communication tools, you will now be seen as a euroblogger who is also a tech geek - which means that you are now formally part of the club.

7. You need to get a Twitter account.

You cannot write a euroblog without using Twitter these days. If you don't have one yet, get one. Follow all the eurobloggers who will also follow you. Then find one MEP from your country on Twitter and retweet every second message s/he writes. Then discuss with other Eurobloggers on Twitter the added value of Twitter for European democracy. Retweet most of what the others are saying. Then address the MEP with an @-message and ask what s/he thinks about the latest Barroso press conference. If s/he doesn't react, write a blog post about how European politicians have not understood the idea of Web 2.0.

8. You need to comment on an important European event.

The added value of euroblogs is that they comment on important European events, i.e. those events that even the national media notice. Having an opinion on these events and writing excessively long posts on EU-related topics everyone understands will finally bring 20 readers (from the US) via Google. So wait until an important referendum, European elections, or a huge corruption scandal and then voice your anger in your blog. Since all eurobloggers write about it, you will be quoted at least twice, bringing 20 more readers (from Brussels) to your blog.

9. You need to write on Twitter that you wrote a blog post about an important event.

If you don't write about your blog posts on Twitter, you show that you don't think you are important enough. So tell your followers that you have blogged. You will start realising that from now on you don't only care how many people read your blog post but how many of the other eurobloggers retweet your tweet on your blog post. Over the next 60 minutes, you will get 10 extra readers on your blog and two new Twitter followers (one of them will be called Mary Lu and her last tweet links to a porn site).

10. You need to repeat steps 4-9 for three months.

If you don't get frustrated by self-referential and repeating discussions with a small number of like-minded people, if you don't get fed up with boring sources, and if you can draw your motivation to blog out the same 10 people commenting your posts all the time for more than three months, you will be an established euroblogger. After six more months, you will get a comment from an EU Commissioner and some people will start calling you "guru". You will know that this is becoming crazy - and then you realise that this is how everything started (see step 1).

And yes, one day, when you get bored by just being a Euroblogger, you can still organise an anti-religion campaign that becomes news all around the earth...

Three Pillars, Two Treaties, and the One European Union

In the past, the European Union was based on three pillars but in less than a month these pillars will be no more.

Future students of the EU will read about these pillars in history books, they will try to understand the differences between the European Community and the European Union (that no citizen without EU expertise has ever understood anyway), and they will wonder how anyone could see the European Union, based on two interrelated Treaties, the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, as different legal entities and not as the one thing that it should have been from the beginning but that it needed to become over a long period of political and legal fights.

Nevertheless, it is now true that from 1 December 2009, the European Union will finally have to stand alone, not on three pillars but on the shoulders of 500 million citizens living in its 27 member states.

Tuesday 3 November 2009

The Lisbon Treaty is ratified

It is like a dream, but the Lisbon Treaty (here: consolidated versions of the two future EU treaties), topic of endless blog posts and uncounted discussions, is finally ratified.

We all know that this is not a perfect Treaty, it's not the massive reform solving all the many problems of the European Union, but I am sick and tired of waiting and discussing a hypothetic reform instead of actually working on making the EU a better place - which is now finally possible.

I still remember when in 2003 I was reading the Constitutional Treaty for the first time, thinking that it would be ratified soon. I also remember discussions on the diplomatic level in 2006 where it was said that certain things couldn't be done until the Constitutional Treaty would enter into force. I remember a simulation of the Berlin Summit in which I represented the German EU-Council Presidency in which we managed to get a similar result to what would become the final declaration that led to the draft Lisbon Treaty in 2007. Not to talk about the two Irish referenda, the German Constitutional Court decision that will be part of German political science discussions for the years to come, and all the ifs and whens that were part of our lives over the last years.

I am glad that all this is over now, and I am looking forward seeing the changes foreseen by the Treaty entering into force. From 1 December, the European Union will be a single entity with international legal personality. It will get its own diplomatic service with Foreign Minister (called differently but I don't mind); the Council and the Parliament will be official co-legislators and the European Council will get a permanent president. And much more is to be changed and adapted with the new Treaty in force.

Today is 03 November 2009, and after almost a decade of deadlock, the Union can finally move on - and as a citizen of this, our common Union, I am really hoping that it will move on for the better!

Update - the news (good for some, bad for others) in other euroblogs: Eurocrat, Nosemonkey, Jean Quatremer, Open Europe blog, England Expects, Ironies Too, Wiktor Dabkowski, Adjucating Europe, EU Law blog, Brussels Blog, Gawin Hewitt, Eva in Europa, Cecilia Malmström, Jon Worth, A Fistful of Europe, Le Taurillon, Grahnlaw, EU Referendum, Central Europe Activ, The European Citizen, Jochen Bittner, European Journal, Jonathan Fryer

Monday 2 November 2009

The EU in German blogs (10): EU debates health policy - and nobody notices

The well-known German health politics blogger strappato just published an article titled "Die EU debattiert unbemerkt über Gesundheitspolitik" (English: "EU debates health policy - and nobody notices") in which he criticises a recent public consultation by DG SANCO that remained almost unseen by a wider public.

Strappato was so kind to allow me to translate the integral post and to publish it here on my blog:
The influence of the EU on health policies is underestimated. Not even the recent debates on controversial initiatives like the strengthening of patient rights in cross-border health care or the maceration of the ban on advertisement for pharmaceutical products have been noticed by the public or the media.

Hence, it is no surprise that the EU [Commission] Directorate-General Health and Consumers (DG SANCO) invited to contact the administration in several online fora without being noticed. The occasion: The tenth anniversary of DG SANCO. From 14 September to 9 October, European citizens could use the opportunity to raise their voice in their own languages to address consumer and health policies and to share their views with others, according to the goals formulated.

The response rate was far from overwhelming. In the German forum only eight posts are losing themselves. And not much difference in the other official EU languages. Only the English forum was more lively.

The communication deficit, however, is on the side of the initiators. Established without proper public relation activities, for a too short time period, without moderation. The EU Commission has shown how much she appreciates the participation of citizens. And the announcement that five participants of the "European debate" were to be invited to a seminar together with Commissioners and former Commissioners for health and consumers on 23 October 2009 in Brussels seemed helpless.

Travel and accommodation costs were paid by the EU Commission. A press release on the event? Nothing so far.
Did anyone of you notice this "debate" or the event with citizens? I haven't heard anything about it...

Sunday 1 November 2009

New borders in the Union?

As an EU citizen you tend to forget that borders still exist, and usually you only realise this when you leave the Union.

But in his latest post, Jon Worth is rightfully complaining about the following incident:
"On the Amsterdam-München CityNightLine service last weekend Netherlands Police boarded the train at Venlo and shone a flashlight in everyone’s faces at the border."
And since I had similar experiences in the night train from Paris to Barcelona and in a normal train from the Netherlands to Germany, I also ask myself whether the member states are trying to establishing new borders within the Union, and in particular within the Schengen area?

If they are doing this, I'd expect the EU institutions to intervene - especially since border controls re-establish the impression that borders are not disappearing, and this would definitely go against the goals and ideals of the Union.