Thursday 31 December 2009

Kazakhstan leading the OSCE in 2010 (updated)

In 2010, Kazakhstan under President Nazarbayev will chair the OSCE, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe including 56 European, Central Asian and some other countries, taking over the presidency from Greece.

And this is what Human Rights Watch told about freedom of expressions in its December 2008 report titled "An Atmosphere of Quiet Repression:
In Kazakhstan, journalists operate in an environment of anxiety, faced with constant intimidating lawsuits and, not infrequently, direct threats to their person. Libel continues to be a criminal, rather than a civil, offense and carries stiff penalties. Even when journalists do not admit to outright self-censorship, they speak privately of the tightly regulated environment and topics they do not dare to cover. Threatening phone calls, visits by the police, and successive lawsuits are common. There are no independent television stations, and websites critical of the government are often blocked by the authorities.
Yet let's not just focus on one single dimension. But since I am no expert on Kazakhstan, I should point to last year's special issue of the academic journal Security and Human Rights on the upcoming Kazakh OSCE chairmanchip that is worth reading for anyone interested.

In one of the articles of this issue, Freedom House programme manager Jeff Goldstein asks a question that I find quite relevant:
"The importance of who holds the Chairmanship was brought home during the August 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia, when the Chairman-in-Office, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, travelled to Georgia, met with the parties and strongly criticized Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Would a Kazakhstani Chairman-in-Office have done the same?
This is just one of the possible questions to be asked, and I suppose that the next year will be a very interesting year for the OSCE.

It is good that for the first time a former Soviet Union country takes over the presidency, but Kazakhstan will have to prove that they can serve all dimensions of the OSCE, including peace in Europe and the protection of human rights and civil freedoms.

In any case, the Kazakh chairmanship shows that organising human security in Europe is not limited to EU countries, and that joining forces in pan-European organisations has to be possible under the leadership of Western as well as under Eastern European countries (and beyond), a fact many in the EU tend to forget.

Update (01/01/2010): There is now the press release for the start of the Kazakh presidency, and the Chairman-in-office website has also been updated.

Euroblogging 2010

Euroblogging 2010 will be:
  • more professional;
  • more diverse;
  • more policy-oriented;
  • more multi-lingual;
  • more conflictual;
  • still Brussels focused.
To be checked on 31 December 2010.

Anything missing? Any objection?

PS.: The Merchant of Venice has more predictions for the EU in 2010.

Wednesday 30 December 2009

How the Spanish EU Council Presidency can be a success

In two days, the Spanish EU Council Presidency will take over from the Swedish Council Presidency, and the Spanish will be the first rotating presidency under the Lisbon Treaty system.

The new institutional setting will need some adaptation, people and institutions will need time to find their roles and their routines, and we shouldn't be too critical if some things don't work out perfectly at the beginning.

But in my point of view, the Spanish presidency can only be a success if they try to stay in the background, if they focus less on policy and put all their forces behind the new leadership trio - van Rompuy, Ashton, and (to some extend) Barroso - in order to make them look good.

If van Rompuy and Ashton are able to stand out positively throughout 2010, the acceptance of the Lisbon Treaty could be significantly raised, which is important both for the core EU institutions as well as for the member states, including future presidencies.

This doesn't mean that the Spanish need to reduce the power or influence of the member states, but just that this coming presidency should refrain from the typical instincts of large member state presidencies - try to heavily influence the EU agenda and to receive international attention. This will be in favour of the Council and the member states, letting them focus on the legislative work while giving van Rompuy and Ashton the freedom to get into their roles, both within the EU and on the international stage.

As a citizen, there is a second direction into which I would like to see the Spanish work: Openness and transparency.

I have major doubts that the Spanish are the right country to foster these two, but if they managed to bring in at least some more transparency and openness, this would be a major success for their presidency.

The Council is the second chamber of the political system of the EU, and most of its structures are law-making or law-interpreting in character. These laws are not made for that EU institutions or member state officials but for us, the citizens. We should thus be able to observe every important decision taken, including a more detailed insight into bargaining dynamics and the voting and drafting behaviour of our own and other EU countries.

Only if the Spanish are able to bring about changes into this direction, their presidency can be a real success.

And so at the end of June 2010 we shall ask: Were the Spanish able to communicate with us, the citizens? Did they manage to make decision-making in the Council more visible, more traceable, more understandable? Did they follow the Swedish in communicating on Twitter and in blogs or did they even find other innovative means get us, the interested public, involved in their work? And: Were they able, through their intelligent work, to support the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty changes?

In the last 1 1/2 years we had the "Ego-Presidency" of the French, the "Chaos-Presidency" of the Czechs, the "Efficency-Presidency" of the Swedes - what kind of over-simplifying label will we use for the Spanish after the coming semester?

Tuesday 29 December 2009

2009 - a summary

2009 has been the year the European Year of Creativity and Innovation, and as usual almost nobody outside Brussels has noticed.

What everybody noticed were the European Parliament elections 2009 that have dominated this blog for the first half of 2009. The last election day and the Monday after the elections were the most successful days (in terms of visitors and hits) of this blog in the first semester. I should also remind you of the Th!nk About it! blogging competition where I was invited to moderate a discussion at the final event in Rotterdam.

The second semester was much more quiet with the summer break - until my visits to Hungary where I spoke to local and regional journalists and to the "Brussels bubble" in October. This visit was extremely fruitful, meeting people I only new through blogging and Twitter, and discussing issues that are very relevant to my own research as a political scientist. These days in Brussels have been covered in a four-part series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 & Part 4.

On 3 November 2009, we finally saw the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty that has put the EU on a new constitutional basis on 1 December 2009 - probably the last "major" reform for at least a decade.

And over the year, we got many new and renewed faces for the top EU posts: Jerzy Buzek as European Parliament President (my comment), José Manuel Barroso as European Commission President (see the very first Chasing Brussels Podcast episode), Hermann van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton for European Council President and "Foreign Minister" (Eurobloggers' comment) as well as Pierre de Boissieu as EU Council Secretary General (comment by Grahnlaw) and his successor Uwe Corsepius (my portrait. Not to forget the new European Commission as proposed by Barroso at the end of November that is awaiting confirmation in January.

Well, and we have seen the amazing evolution of that has become the point of reference for the Euroblogosphere that I expect to continue to mature in 2010, where we will have to move to more policy-related issues after a year dominated by institutional and personality issues.

I myself am looking forward to 2010, not least since I know my own life will change again as I might move to Brussels for some time in Spring, and I will continue blogging as I did in 2009 - although I don't think I will be able to repeat the amount of almost 600 posts published over the year...

PS: My special thanks this year go to the Swedish Presidency Twitterers and blogging Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt for their work in making the Council Presidency the most transparent ever, serving as examples to build upon in the future!

Sunday 27 December 2009

EU country violating human rights: Secret CIA prisons in Lithuania

How can an EU country host secret CIA prisons violating human rights?

After previous allegations that Romania and Poland hosted secret prisons, it seems like Lithuania was actually having such secret prisons from 2002 - even two since 2004.

If this is true, the EU and its member states should act publicly - after disclosing all the other EU countries involved in similar grave human rights violations in the name of the war against terror.

The EU, the home of human rights and the respect for fundamental freedoms...

Wednesday 23 December 2009

When the euroblogger helps the Council press service

I just saw the press release on yesterday's EU Council which formally approved Uwe Corsepius as Secretary General of the EU Council from June 2011 until June 2015.

I have already written about Uwe Corsepius when he was supported by the European Council earlier this month.

At the time, I wrote the following paragraph:
Economist Uwe Corsepius is 49 years old and is the head of the European Policy Division in the German Chancellery - he is thus the EU advisor of Angela Merkel and was, inter alia, responsible the for negotiations ahead of the Berlin Declaration during the German EU Council Presidency that led to the Lisbon Treaty. Jan Seifert wrote about him at the time as being one of the "sherpas" of Angela Merkel (here's a photo of him at the time).
In the press release of the Council the information on Corsepius reads like this:
Mr Corsepius is currently head of the European Policy Division in the German Chancellery. He was inter alia responsible for negotiations on the 2007 Berlin declaration which led to the Lisbon Treaty. Mr Corsepius is 49 years old and has a doctorate in economics.
Looks like I was able to help...

Press release on Protocoll 14 disappeared from the website of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Two days ago I wrote about the resuming of the ratification process of Protocol 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights by Russia - but it seems that the background information that I have used is not available anymore.

My post followed the publishing of a press release of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in which both the President of the PACE and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe welcomed the approval for ratification of Protocol 14 by the Russian Duma.

The press release could be found here. Now this press release has disappeared - it has been deleted.

You can see that it has been actively removed when you look at the URL:

This press release with the IDs 5137 (English) and 5138 (French) is not available anymore, while the previous and following press releases with the IDs 5135/5136 and 5139/5140 are still accessible.

Does that mean that the information on the change of mind of the Russian Duma provided in the press release was wrong or that it was just non-authorised?

Update: In a new press release, this time coming directly from the Council, the Secretary General welcomes "indications" that the Duma is going to resume its ratification procedure in January.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Slovenia is embarrassing

Reading that Slovenia continues to block the accession talks of Croatia due to nationalistic considerations is totally embarrassing.

I thought that with the agreement between both countries earlier this year this kind of things would have ended...

Monday 21 December 2009

Protocol 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights closer to ratification

I have to admit that I had serious doubts that Protocol 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights - the reform of the European Court of Human Rights - would ever enter into force, but now it seems as if a solution was near.

The reform of the overloaded European Court of Human Rights has been halted by the refusal of the Russian Duma to ratify Protocol 14, and there has been a deadlock for over three years - since Norway ratified the document as country 46 out of 47 (at the time 45 out of 46 at the time) in October 2006.

In order to reduce the case-load, an interim protocol - Protocol 14bis - had been put into place after the ministerial meeting in Madrid in May (declaration) and became active in July. Nevertheless, the future of human rights protection in the light of the non-ratification of Protocol 14 was still unclear and is supposed to be discussed at a special conference in Interlaken in 2010.

Now, according to a Council of Europe press release (UPDATE: the press release has been deleted, see my follow-up post), the Russian Duma has finally indicated its approval to the ratification of the document. This move followed a decision by the Committee of Ministers' Deputies (= the CoE's COREPER) last week, which followed a non-public letter sent by Russia in early November (see the last agenda item of the CoE-meeting from 6 November 2009), as we learn from Itar-Tass.

Council of Europe Secretary General Jagland (who is also the Nobel Peace Prize Committee Chairman) is on a visit to Russia right now, probably discussion this issue.

And despite the general urgency of the reform of the European Court of Human Rights, the ratification of Protocol 14 would also allow the EU to join the European Convention of Human Rights as I have discussed in a previous post.

I am still hesitant to applaud but since the ratification of Protocol 14 looks as close as never before in the last three years, I see a light on the horizon and I am hoping that Russia will proceed quickly with the necessary steps to ratify the Protocol.

Sunday 20 December 2009

New ARTE formats: "The Blogger" & "Yourope"

Update (11 January 2010): See my reactions on "The Blogger" and on "Yourope" after their first broadcast.

The director of programming of the French-German TV channel ARTE, Christoph Hauser, informs that from 2010 they will introduce two new programmes that are directed at the net and at bloggers.

I have recently praised ARTE and in particular the ARTE blog L'Europe en Blogs, and so it looks really interesting that they now announce to take a closer look at the net in these new formats next year (own translation):
Christoph Hauser: As a far as it makes sense, we will take up ideas that have developed on the net in our programme. With the new European magazines "The Blogger" and "Yourope" we try to make a targeted use of new technologies. "The Blogger" will find its ideas directly in the web. "Yourope" is a format that explicitly doesn't end with the broadcast but that will continue in forums and blogs and that will include its audience.
"Yourope" starts on Sunday, 10 January 2010, 17:45, and the title of the first programme will be "Networked or entangled - How social networks dominate our life". I couldn't find the date for the first broadcasting of "The Blogger" "The Blogger" will be broadcasted Saturdays at 14:00 (source).

Let's see how ARTE will execute these formats and especially whether they will be able to engage with the public or whether they will find an engaged audience. It will probably depend on how intensively they get involved themselves with what is discussed in blogs and forums, and how intelligent they are in realising this in programmes of 30 minutes length.

If they succeed, they might even be able to help to create a transnational European blogosphere, at least Franco-German for the beginning, by bringing together the mass audience (though limited masses in the case of ARTE) of the TV with a smaller but more active audience on the net.

One thing I'd find important is that these programmes will be freely available and embeddable in blogs all over Europe because most of the audiovisual online content of ARTE is only accessible in Germany and France so far. If they really want to engage with a wider European audience, this deficit needs to be tackled.

In any case, these are formats worth trying, in particular since ARTE has the unique position of being a transnational channel with a transnational audience, thus already reaching out to those who might have an interest in European discussions, discussions that we are also trying to create here in the blogosphere.

(Thanks at Kosmopolit on Twitter for making me aware!)

(Updated 22 Dec 09, 11:45)

Saturday 19 December 2009

Copenhagen & the incapable European Union

I wake up this morning and I see that yesterday's minimal compromise in Copenhagen finished just close to a failure, in line with the failures of the European Union.

The pictures from the negotiations of the "world leaders" show Obama and Wen confronted with Merkel, Sarzkozy, Barroso and the Swedish prime minister Reinfeldt in charge of the EU Council presidency. The pictures show the EU of the many faces, and nobody knows whether they show the EU of the single voice.

The minimal compromise presented to the plenary by the group of 30 leaders including Reinfeldt and Barroso exhibits that the European Union is not able to march ahead on the world stage among 200 countries, to foster agreements that would show us being a positive player, an international agent of change.

The leadership failure of the Danish prime minister as conference president shows a member state of the EU that makes the Union look unprepared, pars pro toto.

The fact that leaders leave the Summit before the deal is finally agreed underlines their lack of judgement, their inability or their unwillingness to lead.

It is a large international meeting and the new European leaders - Ashton and van Rompuy - were not yet present, at least not visibly. The EU appears confused and confusing looking at how it dealt with the Summit, and a clear leadership inside the Union did not seem to emerge.

The question is: Will the EU be able to appear differently in the future, at similar occasions, with a well coordinated External Action Service backing the VP/HR Ashton and a European Council President van Rompuy who is able to stand in the front lines, negotiating for the Union while knowing to keep the many faces of EU leaders together and behind him.

Will there be an EU of fewer faces but clearer messages?

I have doubts. Ashton and van Rompuy look exactly like the two personalities who wouldn't be able to keep the EU crowd together while representing the Union as a strong player at such summits.

We will see as much confusion and as few leadership in the future as we have witnessed during these days of Copenhagen - because the leaders of the nation states prefer confusion over outcome, national pride over effectiveness. And van Rompuy and Ashton are too weak to change this.

The Copenhagen Summit, despite the fact that the world "took note" of the minimal compromise from yesterday evening, has displayed the incapable European Union, the one that knows to play blame-games but that doesn't know to work effectively, the Union that raises doubts whether the Lisbon Treaty will bring any changes to the better in the near future, both regarding leadership and outcome.

(Updated at 11:07)

Friday 18 December 2009

Many of you will be heading into the holiday season now and when you come back to life in 2010, you should become a fan of - if you haven't been a fan until now!

The Bloggingportal is the most comprehensive and most useful compilation of blogs and blog posts focused on EU and pan-European topics and we are close to 500 blogs by now, in many European languages (although English is still dominating), including hundreds of topics and a diverse mix of bloggers.

"Who is 'We' in the last sentence?", you may ask.

We are the editors of, about a dozen Eurobloggers so far. We are EU officials, communication experts, students and scholars or political activists from different EU countries, and we are tagging (almost) all posts that can be read through the full RSS-feed of the Bloggingportal.

In addition, we are choosing our preferred posts for the front page, mirrored in the Editors' Choice RSS-feed as well as in the Editors' Choice Twitter feed. And we add Europe-related posts from blogs not focused on European affairs to the feed whenever we find them.

But since we are doing this for no money just because we think it is worth promoting discussions about European and EU topics, we are also looking forward to your contribution in order to share some of the work. You can propose interesting blog post or full blogs that should be added to our feed(s).

You can also become an editor. We are especially looking for those of you who can help with less common European languages (since we are pretty much focused on English, French, Spanish, German and only a few other languages so far) or with programming and designing the interface of the platform to make it more user-friendly. So if you want to help to promote good European blog content, feel free to contact us and join the team!

Altogether, is a great example of a living Euroblogosphere that will hopefully become part of a pan-European blogosphere in the very near future - and we hope that the portal motivates you to contribute by writing your own blog or blog posts on European affairs and to become part of the family!

PS.: And yes, you can also become a fan of the Bloggingportal on Facebook!

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Could I talk to the Commissioner, please?!

Citizen-to-institutions communication still looks like a quasi-impossibility at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, and there where it happens you see mixed results - but still results on which basis we can continue working.

I have discussed the issue of European communication already two weeks ago in reply to a blog post by EU Commissioner Margot Wallström and so I do not have to go back to the discussion (see the comments) about the value of blogging and my hopes that at least one or two of the new Commissioners or their staff will be involved with the blogosphere.

But now Margot Wallström has written her very last blog post as EU Commissioner (UPDATE: Well, Margot has added a real Goodbye post) in which she mentions a few of us eurobloggers personally (thanks for the hint at Eurosocialiste and Oscar), and so we have to say good bye, sending warmest wishes to Brussels and Sweden and taking our hats off for the blogging work and insightful posts by Commissioner Wallström.

In the meanwhile, the web editors of the European Parliament are succeeding pretty well in employing Facebook for citizen-to-MEP chats, as Steve can tell in their latest blog post, and maybe other institutions can use the example and do similar things, whether on Facebook (where the crowd is) or on the EU websites (where there should be more crowd).

But there are also less stylish interactions in 2009, interactions in which you still feel the weight of formality that rules the external communication of public institutions:

Andre wrote a letter to the German Foreign minister supporting his decision to reject Erika Steinbach (see my post on that matter), and he actually got an answer from the ministry in the name of the Foreign Minister - although it is pretty sure he doesn't write himself - and strangely enough the answer is both personal in style and standard in content.

And I commented on a blog post of German MP Eva Hoegl, member of the Bundestag (German Parliament) committee for EU affairs and vice-president of the "Europa Union", and today, 9 days after the comment, I got an answer from her office manager via email, an answer that doesn't actually answer my question on the blog, but that should at least have appeared on the blog itself.

The funny thing is that I have interacted directly with MP Hoegl via Twitter these days (she made me aware of the fact that Günther Oettinger will be in the Bundestag this week), so that it is strange to get a kind of formalised answer via email on a blog post comment by the staff of someone who is already using the techniques of direct communication.

All examples show that this kind of communication is still not well established, that one Commissioner blogging doesn't mean a new communication attitude by the institution, that Facebook chats are still experiments, that direct answers from a minister are no direct answers, and that new communication styles and old communication styles even mix with the same person.

The question is: Are we witnessing moves forward, or are these just experiments that will be left aside if they don't bring the immediate results?

Sunday 13 December 2009

Merkel's coup: Uwe Corsepius will become the next Secretary General of the EU Council

According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the German Uwe Corsepius will become the next Secretary General of the Council of the European Union.

Corsepius, who was mentioned as a candidate among others, has been confirmed by the heads of state and government at the European Council meeting on Friday, following agreements made on 19 November as Jean Quatremer knows. He will take over from Pierre de Boissieu in 1 1/2 years, as Angela Merkel informed at a press conference after the summit on Friday.

(UPDATE:) The formal approval of this decision was made on 22 December 2009 by the Council meeting (see the press release that uses parts of this blog post). According to this decision, Corsepius will serve as Secretary General from 26 June 2011 until 30 June 2015.

Economist Uwe Corsepius is 49 years old and is the head of the European Policy Division in the German Chancellery - he is thus the EU advisor of Angela Merkel and was, inter alia, responsible the for negotiations ahead of the Berlin Declaration during the German EU Council Presidency that led to the Lisbon Treaty. Jan Seifert wrote about him at the time as being one of the "sherpas" of Angela Merkel (here's a photo of him at the time).

On the website of the German politics and history channel Phoenix it is noted that he started his career in the Chancellery under Helmut Kohl and climbed up in the hierarchy under Gerhard Schröder. In 2005, Merkel made him head of the EU division in the Chancellery.

Three weeks ago, several German online news magazines published a short portrait (produced by DPA) about him, in which he is quoted with the words: "I am no visionary.", which would fit into the choices made with van Rompuy and Ashton, but which fits much better for the job he will have to do at the Council.

Actually, it seems that, according to several sources like EurActiv, Corsepius was also a possible candidate for Ashton's job, but didn't get it - probably for balance reasons as we know how Ashton was chosen. Therefore it is mentioned in the Frankfurter Rundschau that despite the choice of Corsepius for Council Secretary General, Merkel might still demand that a German becomes head of the European Central Bank - a clear sign that she is showing muscles after renouncing to get one of the three top posts (filled with Barroso, van Rompuy, and Ashton).

The amount of background information on Corsepius on the net is limited, but interesting to note is that Cecilia Malmström, Swedish Minster for EU Affairs and candidate for the next EU Commission, mentions Corsepius first in an a blog post about a visit to Berlin in April of this year. Usually he is described as "descrete", or as a person having relevant influence in German EU politics, for example preventing advancements in the negoations around the new anti-discrimination directive, as ZEIT online notices. In the Financial Times Germany, he is described as having a "boyish" face, with moments of "dash" behaviour. His only direct international experience, according to the FT, was his work at the IMF in the early 90s.

All in all, the choice of a national high level bureaucrat like Corsepius instead of an EU insider like de Boissieu is another clear indicator of the "Coup des Etats" I have criticised recently - member states are trying to secure their influence in the EU by the choice of personalities to counterbalance the new provisions of the Lisbon Treaty.

PS.: And if there are doubts, I'd just like to say that this choice is as bad as any other choice made by national leaders to secure their individual interests instead of promoting the good for all European citizens. These posts should be distributed according to merit, not according to geography and power considerations.

(Updated: 17 Dec 09; 12:30; 23 Dec 09 17:30)

Saturday 12 December 2009

Javier Solana: A short documentary

If you speak Spanish, I can recommend this short little TVE documentary about the political life of Javier Solana, the EU's "Foreign Minister" and Secretary General of the Council for the last decade, now replaced by Catherine Ashton and Pierre de Boissieu.

Will he now advise the upcoming Spanish Council Presidency in its foreign policy efforts...?

(via Oscar_rf on Twitter)

EU & Latin America: The cautious approach by the EU Foreign Affairs Council

Now that we are approaching the Spanish Council Presidency, the first rotating EU Council presidency that will not lead the European Council, one of the main foreign policy issues for Spain - Latin America - is gaining importance on the agenda, yet without gaining importance.

Grahnlaw has already written some words on the coming Council presidency in November. And last week, the Spanish have presented their priorities, quite vague priorities as Eva notes, but it seems clear for analysts like Carlos Bohigas that the relations to Latin America will be one special colour of the next presidency's work.

However, if you read through the Council conclusions on EU - Latin America relations agreed upon this week at the Foreign Affairs Council (based on a Commission communication from October plus Annex), you will find a very hesitant and cautious approach by the foreign ministers that will not give much room for the Spanish in the first semester of 2010.

There are some details about possible fields of action in these conclusions, but the document is best summarised by its last paragraph:
"The Council considers that the Madrid Summit [with the Latin American countries in May] should focus on reaffirming the common priorities, and concentrate on delivering concrete and tangible strategies and actions [...]. In this context the Council recognises the value of launching new initiatives at the Summit."
In other words: We don't want anything new, let's try to work on agreed matters that haven't been functional until now.

And the foreign ministers consigned the European Council to decide on any further initiative - which is not much knowing that Latin America is not mentioned with a word in the European Council conclusions from yesterday's summit, the last one this year.

So anyone expecting the Spanish to be able to put Latin America higher on the agenda than this status quo consensus of EU member states as of today might be disappointed at the end of next June, especially since Spain will not be chairing the European Council (van Rompuy) or the Foreign Affairs Council (Ashton) to push the issue as much as previous presidencies were able to do with their own topics.

Friday 11 December 2009

EUX.TV on 5 billion Euro CO2 emissions trading fraud

Raymond Frenken who first made me aware of the massive CO2 emissions trading fraud has produced an EUX.TV video on the matter:

Involvement of national parliaments under Lisbon: Barroso letter

A week ago, Barroso has sent out a letter explaining how the national parliaments will be involved under the Lisbon Treaty.

To remember: Under the Protocol 2 of the Lisbon Treaty, national parliaments have gained explicit scrutiny rights in EU law-making. Parliaments have to receive documents in time and may react within 8 weeks if they see their rights unduly limited by the EU level, including the possibility to refuse legislation:
Where reasoned opinions on a draft legislative act's non-compliance with the principle of subsidiarity represent at least one third of all the votes [every country has two votes; in bicameral systems these are shared; JF] allocated to the national Parliaments [...] the draft must be reviewed.
The Barroso letter now explains how the procedure will look like in practice:
  • National Parliaments will receive Commission documents the day they are sent out to the EP and the Council.
  • Draft legislation will always be accompanied with a letter ("lettre de saisine") that will point to the subsidy control rights of the national parliaments (NPs) and the procedure according to Protocol 2 of the Lisbon Treaty.
  • At the end of the week, the Commission sends out a list of all documents sent in that week. NPs have three working days to complain if they missed one, which, if true, may prolong the 8 week deadline for the parliaments concerned.
  • August (as summer recess month) will not be counted for the 8 week deadline.
  • NPs are asked to distinguish clearly between substantive comments and comments regarding subsidiarity rights when they comment on legislation.
  • The blocking threshold of one third will be effective even when the reasons for rejecting a proposal by different NPs will be different.
  • The opinions of NPs will be published on the Commission website.
  • If a proposal is rejected by the NPs, the Commission will decide whether to amend or to withdraw the legislation.
  • Pending proposals from pre-Lisbon times are not covered by the procedure.
It will be really interesting to see how this works in practice, but the procedure as proposed looks very promising, and I am looking forward seeing the dynamics this may bring in the future.

Tuvalu & L'Europe en blogs

Everybody is speaking of Tuvalu these days, the country that sells the top level domain .tv.

Which brings me to the best TV station on earth, ARTE, a French-German co-production full of culture, charm, knowledge and little details - and on the web ARTE can be found at

And this brings me even closer to a beautiful little blog called "L'Europe en blogs" that belongs to the ARTE blog collection.

Written by a French living in Berlin, the blog is full of culture, knowledge, charm and little details, full of lovely humour, journeys through European blogs, glances at Europe's multicultural facets and much more.

If you speak French, you shouldn't miss a post, and if you don't speak French, you are missing something with every post.

Merci et félicitations, Prune, for L'Europe en blogs, a true gem of the euroblogosphere!

Thursday 10 December 2009

Europol: 5 Billion Euro fraud in EU CO2 emissions trading

Via Raymond Frenken I was made aware of a Europol press release that reports about fraud in the EU CO2 emissions trading, including a graphic that explains how this worked.

But the sum is incredible: 5 billion Euros lost for the European taxpayer!!
"The European Union (EU) Emission Trading System (ETS) has been the victim of fraudulent traders in the past 18 months. This resulted in losses of approximately 5 billion euros for several national tax revenues. It is estimated that in some countries, up to 90% of the whole market volume was caused by fraudulent activities."
Maybe I have missed something, but why don't the traditional media report about that?

Lisbon Treaty: Changes in inter-institutional decision-making procedures

Sometimes I start writing a post because I find informative documents that I would like to share, and then I find little treasures like Annex 4 that you find below.

But let's start from the beginning:

The Lisbon Treaty has brought and will continue to bring a number of changes in the work of the EU, some of them concerning rules of procedure as summarised by Grahnlaw here and here, some involve the more complex nature of inter-institutional procedures.

According to Communication COM/2009/665 from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament (PRE-LEX procedure; IPEX dossier; EP procedure, Council documents) published last week, the Lisbon Treaty does not only result in a renumbering of articles of the Treaty (the Treaties) and in a renaming of procedures, but in more substantial changes to already ongoing work.

These changes include:
  • Commission proposals that will change their legal basis (Annex 1 to the Communication; not found);
  • proposals where the legislative basis has been radically changed and that will be replaced (Annex 2); and
  • excessive deficit procedures against member states that will be changed from recommendations into proposals (Annex 3).
In addition, the Commission has put up an indicative list of all (!!) pending proposals (Annex 4), a list that is 73 pages long and even includes a number of procedures that have been started around 20-30 years ago and have apparently never been finished...?!

For each proposal there is an indication whether the legal procedure changes with Lisbon, and the abbreviations used, well known to all insiders, are listed in Annex 5:
  • COD = Codecision procedure
  • APPRO = Approval procedure
  • CNS = Consultation procedure
  • AVC = Assent procedure
I am not sure how the future procedure on this Communication will look like, but it would be definitely worth going through Annex 4 in order to see what kind of proposals have been pending for decades and have not been touched for years either.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

List of European Parliament intergroups 2009-2014

Update: Here is a list of intergroups (Word file) that I found on the parliament website.

Via EurActiv France on Twitter I found Françoise Castex's post containing a list of the European Parliament Intergroups (see my post on EP intergroups for the last parliament) for the period 2009-2014:
  • SME - Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise
  • Ways of Saint James / Camino de Santiago
  • Family and the Right of the Child & Bioethics
  • Sky and Space / Ciel et Espace
  • Youth Issues / Jeunesse [see my post on this group earlier this year]
  • Urban
  • Mountainous, Island and Sparsely Populated Regions & R.U.P (Regions that are extremely peripheral )
  • Social Economy / Economie Sociale
  • Sustainable Hunting, Biodiversity, Countryside Activities and Forests
  • Extreme Poverty & Human Rights Fourth World European Committee
  • Disability
  • Tibet
  • Climate Change & Bio Diversity & Sustainable Development
  • Water / Wasser
  • Baltic Europe
  • Media (chaired by Jean-Marie Cavada, see press release)
  • Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity
  • Seas and Coastal Affairs / Mer et Zônes Côtieres
  • Welfare & Conservation of Animals
  • Trade Union Coordination Group
  • New Media, Free Software and Open Information
  • Society
  • Tradition National Minorites, Constitutional Regions and Regional Languages
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual  & Transgender Rights – LGBT
  • Public Services
  • Western Sahara
  • Anti-Racism & Diversity (Roma included)
  • Wine, Fruits and Vegetables, Tradition and Quality Food
Update (15:40): pstrempel remarked on Twitter that the list might not be complete since he doesn't see, for example, the Federalist Intergroup.

Update (29 January): The Federalist Intergroup has been rejected as we learn from Le Taurillon.

The next task will be to find out presidents of the groups, see whether they have websites, and how influential or how influenced they are.

(last update: 21 Jan 2010)

The new European Commission: Günther Oettinger in the German Bundestag

After looking at Joaquín Almunia yesterday, there is news on Günther Oettinger.

According to the agenda of the EU affairs committee of the Bundestag (the German parliament), Günther Oettinger who is proposed as EU Commissioner for energy will stand questions of German members of Parliament next Wednesday (16 december). The agenda item that does not look final in the agenda linked above has just been confirmed by German MEP Eva Hoegl on Twitter.

It is a pity that the Committee doesn't meet in public...! But at least German MEPs have the right to participate in the EU affairs committee meetings, so they can hear him before he appears in the European Parliament in January.

And via Wolfgang Wettach (also on Twitter) I found the video of the speech of Oettinger at the German (federalist) Europa-Union, a meeting that took place last weekend, and that has also been covered and commented by Europaeum. This is the first part in German (without subtitle), but if you understand the language it might still be worth watching:

So what will MPs learn from Oettinger? Will he present his visions of a European strategy on energy policy or will he meander in vagueness? We won't probably know...

(Substantive changes to original version of the post: 9 Dec, 12:59)

Political science blogging: Why Germans support EU membership

This post is based on the conclusion - following a short exchange of views with Kosmopolit some weeks ago - that I should not only contribute as a European citizen to European debates, but also as a political scientist with an interest in EU affairs.

Whenever I will find interesting analyses I will thus try to provide you with latest results and debates from academic journals and other publications:

In a freshly published article titled "Sources of EU Support: The Case of Germany" from the political science journal "German Politics" (issue 4/2009), authors Angelika Scheuer and Hermann Schmitt have presented their analysis on why Germans support EU membership.

In their study based on independent aggregate data sets for a period of 39 years they analyse how the economic situation, the amount of EU legislation implemented, and the general satisfaction with democracy in Germany affects the support of Germans for EU membership.

Their main findings are that although all three factors have an impact, the economic factor is the least relevant; a higher GDP only has a small positive affect on satisfaction with EU membership.

More important seems to be that they find that the stronger the impact of EU policy making, the lower the support for EU membership, and that the more satisfied Germans are with their own political system, the more supportive they are of EU membership. Both effects have a similar strength, with the latter being slightly stronger.

I won't go into possible critiques of the analysis - because there would be some - but the findings are still interesting enough for further political and scientific debate.

And so, although these findings, according to the authors, are not generalisable for other EU countries, they still show that satisfaction with EU membership is not just influenced by how citizens view the work and concrete impact of the Union, but also by the perception of and satisfaction with their own country's system, still the main political arena for most.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

The new European Commission: Opinions on Joaquín Almunia

As I have announced when the new Commission was presented by Barroso, we should take a look at the new (and old) Commissioners to see their qualifications for the job.

Via the German-language Kartellblog I was made aware of a collection of law-firm opinions on the future Commissioner for Competition, Joaquín Almunia, so far Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, opinions that are astonishingly positive and paint a picture of a competent person - despite his left-wing political background.

This sounds rather authoritative to me, but a look through blog reactions on Almunia over the last two weeks shows that these either very general or rather superficial, so I am not sure that this is the full picture.

For those who want to get a live impression of Almunia, I have found a one-hour English language interview where he speaks about his work in the Commission and on EU economic policies:

But I'd be glad if some of you have further opinions on Joaquín Almunia, his qualification for the new portfolio, and his task of being a vice-president of the Commission.


If you allow me a prediction: The Copenhagen Climate Change Summit will end with no result.

The world leaders will call it a success because they will have a roadmap for future discussions. The pro-do-something groups will complain that nothing concrete has been decided. The anti-do-something groups will complain about the fact that there is a roadmap.

Nothing will change, discussions will continue.

(This is the only article I will write on the topic before the end of the summit. For the rest, my opinion on climate change has been voiced earlier, so no need to repeat.)

Monday 7 December 2009

Presidential elections: Close results Romania and no result in Moldova

After yesterday's presidential elections in Romania, this morning the winner has been announced: President Traian Băsescu was re-elected with a minimal majority of 50.43%, winning over the Social Democrat Mircea Geoană whose victory's consequences had been prescribed by A Fistful of Europe, although they won't happen now.

On the other side of the river Prut, in Moldova where the state language "Moldovan" is in fact a Romanian dialect and where many citizens also hold Romanian passports, the political crisis continues with today's failure to elect a new president, and the announcement of early elections.

Background on Moldova:

After the parliamentary elections in Moldova in early April which the governing Communist Party won with 60 seats in Parliament, yet without having the presidential majority (61 out of 101), riots in the capital Chisinau, and several failed attempts to elect a Communist Party president, the country went into early elections in July, that the rather pro-Western four-party "Alliance for European Integration" (AIE) won, but having just 53 seats in parliament.

This majority of the AIE coalition was based on the Democratic Party led by Marian Lupu, parliament president for the Communist Party until April, who had left the CP and joined the Democratic Party (member of PES) afterwards. Today, in a repeated attempt to elect a president, Lupu was proposed for the post of President of the Republic, but since the Communist Party holding a blocking minority refused to vote for him (leaving the plenary), Moldova will see early elections again, the third parliamentary elections in one year.

Sunday 6 December 2009

Not checking facts is not the privilege of the blogger

Luc Mandret has a nice story (in French) on how traditional media take over unproved stories, without citing original sources. It fits into slight concerns I have voiced two weeks ago.

Chasing Brussels Podcast Episode 009: Language & The Euroblogosphere

Right after our recent Eurobloggers' meet-up - see the report by Joe Litobarski - we recorded the next episode of the Chasing Brussels Podcast.
This week, Joe Litobarski is joined by Conor SloweyJulien FrischJon WorthMatthew Lowryand Frank Schnittger to talk about the problem of the language barrier in European blogging.
The debate follows on from the recent euroblog meet-up that was arranged around the same topic. So, what can be done to solve the language problem in the euroblogging? Some sort of voluntary effort to translate blogs? Would EU funding set off the eurosceptics and make it look like a conspiracy? Or will Google translate solve all our problems.
All this and more in this week’s podcast.
And here's the podcast: Chasing Brussels 09 – Language & Euroblogs

Saturday 5 December 2009

Barroso II: Questions to the new Commissioners

When I blogged the list of new Commissioners designate, I said that we and MEPs now have to look at "who is not qualified for [the] 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 work in the new Commission or in the particular portfolio.

Brussels Sunshine has started to take a look at the candidates from a lobby and transparency point of view.

And serious doubts are voiced regarding Janez Potočnik, now Commissioner for Science and Research, and designated Commissioner for Environment. He is said to have favoured big business in his present portfolio and should therefore be asked whether he will continue in this direction in his new job, too.

A different strategy is pursued by the most important German blog

Ralf Bendrath, blogger at Netzpolitik and assistant to new Green MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht, is asking readers to bring up questions for the new Commissioners who will work in or influence the field of internet and new communication technologies. These questions shall then be asked in the hearings in January.

The list of candidates they see as relevant is:
  • Michel Barnier: Internal Market and Services;
  • Neelie Kroes: Digital Agenda;
  • Viviane Reding: Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship;
  • Cecilia Malmström: Home Affairs;
  • John Dalli: Health and Consumer Policy;
  • Maire Geoghegan-Quinn: Research and Innovation;
  • Androulla Vassilou: Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth.
Questions raised so far include important issues like SWIFT, ACTA, net neutrality and the use Open Access in public science - and I expect to list to grow longer over the next days.

I think both approaches, the critical one by Brussels Sunshine and the participative one at are excellent examples on how we can make sure that Commission hearings in January will not be about minor "argy-bargy", but about substantive issues on which the Commissioners will have to take a stand if they want to be nominated for the Barroso II Commission.

Follow-up: The future of (European) institutional communication

My last post (triggered by Margot Wallström) has been followed by four interesting comments, and I have now reacted with a long comment that would be worth an own blog post.

In short: If the institutions want to be able to help and to positively influence society, they will need to adapt to the way society functions. And if society and societal communication change - and they do so rapidly - institutions will have to change, too. If they want or not.

I didn't want to reproduce the full comment here, so if you're interested, just join the debate!

Thursday 3 December 2009

Margot Wallström and the future of European Communication

Since still-EU Commissioner Margot Wallström, responsible for Communication, has mentioned me personally in her latest blog post, reacting to a comment I made to her previous post, I'd like to use the opportunity to re-react openly to her full post to show that we can actually have open dialogues between the European level and European citizens.

So let's start with Margot's first point:
- a number of people have asked what will happen to my blog when I leave the Commission and whether other Commissioners will blog during the next mandate. Well, I will write again on this topic before I leave but I will say at this stage that blogging is very much an individual choice and takes a lot of time. I will be recommending to future Commissioners that they should certainly think positively about it.
I think that indeed blogging is a good way for officials to communicate with the public, because it can a) show their human side and they can b) transmit messages and subtexts that might not pass a traditional media filter but that are actually important to understand their point.

But it is true that blogging, if taken seriously, is time consuming, because it actually means interaction both within your blog but also with discussions outside your blog. And knowing the time constraints of top officials I understand if they don't blog (although Carl Bildt is the best example that it is possible). And better not to blog than to let your PR people blog in your name or to use your blog as another means to send out quasi-press releases (which some Commission blogs definitely do).

My compromise proposal would be: Allow the "lower ranks", people working in the Commissioners' cabinets or within the DGs to blog or to use Twitter or other means of web 2.0 communication, and to use them in their own name, with their own personalities, not pretending to actually be the Commission. You still get a personal view on the Commissioner's work, without forcing her or him to engage in all the nerve-wracking activities that come with the use of social media.
- on what will happen to the communication portfolio: President Barroso announced last week that Viviane Reding would be responsible for communication and citizenship as well as justice, fundamental rights and gender equality. Putting communication and citizenship together makes sense, it is something I have argued for before and I am pleased the President acted on it.
In my personal opinion, communication does not need to have a particular portfolio or DG. It is important that communication is seen as a true horizontal task, not something delegated to a specific portfolio.

What the Commission and other EU institutions lack is the ability to communicate among themselves, and you might better employ a communication coordinator than having a bureaucratic structure in the form of a full portfolio. External communication could be coordinated by the Commission President's communication service and executed by the PR people of the individual portfolios or DGs.
- there were a number of comments on the Citizens Initiative, many of which indicate precisely why we are having a public consultation – there are a lot of details to be sorted out. Some of you had very sensible suggestions – please make sure you contribute to the consultation! For the rest, yes the Commission will be obliged to make a proposal which will be put to the Parliament and Council. But no, petitions relating to the location of the seat of the Parliament or the UK leaving the EU are not issues on which the Commission can act.
This a good reminder that we all can contribute to the consultation procedure on the European Citizens' Initiative until the end of January.
- on the so-called ‘climate gate’ affair: I think the best replies came from George Mountbiot and George Marshall in the Guardian:
I leave that to you to judge.
- Finally, Julien Frisch criticises the procedures for choosing top posts in the EU and I agree with him. I think horsetrading behind closed doors does the EU no favours. I see no reason why candidates should not declare themselves publicly and be questioned, whether by the public or by parliament. Why should candidates for the post of Commissioner, for example, not have a public hearing first in their national parliaments?
First, the particular comment Margot is referring to was on the fact that Ashton was not presented earlier, making a public debate on her qualities impossible, and thus damaging the idea of promoting qualified women into top posts. My questions were: If the Socialist leaders had been convinced of her qualities, why not proposing her earlier? If even Ashton was surprised, how can the public be be convinced? And it gets even worse if you read the backgrounds provide by Jean Quatremer.

Second, regarding the proposal to present candidates for EU Commissioner to national parliaments I am not sure. It could be that this raises transparency, but it could also be that it raises national elements to the debate although Commissioners should be chosen according to merit and European orientation and not to internal national criteria. Having the candidates present themselves to the national public might put even more pressure on them to "represent" their nation.

Yet, since this European choice criteria still look like fiction, having national parliament hearings would at least reduce the impression that member states send unqualified Commissioners, people national leaders want to get rid of or that they want to provide with a last top post before retirement. The candidates would at least need to go through a public selection procedure that anyone could comment on, reducing the ability to send "anyone".

Another proposal I have read elsewhere (don't remember where) was that member states could openly propose two or three candidates so that the Commission President could balance her/his Commission according to qualification and gender and also forcing the Commission President to publicly explain why s/he picked certain persons. Now, Barroso can only explain why he put someone into a specific portfolio but he can always say that the person itself was sent to him.

In a choice situation, these choices could be publicly debated, and the European Parliament also had a basis for its deliberations when hearing the Commissioners.

And since democracy is all about choice and about public debate, putting forward candidates for all top posts ahead of their (s)election will be a crucial element in raising awareness for European democracy, a democracy that doesn't just present its results but that confronts the public debate, a debate that will hopefully become transnational and pan-European instead of being limited to a small number of European enthusiasts dancing on the head of a pin.

Well, this has become a long post, but since we don't know whether any new Commissioner will actually blog, we should use these opportunities for an open debate - hoping that this will not remain unheard but will be taken up by the European institutions to make European communication more open, more direct, and with a stronger will to interact.

The Europe of Fear: The other has to disappear - or be like us

Finally a minister - the Dutch minister for European Affairs Frans Timmermans - who knows to speak, on Europe, on fear of the other, on the world, on the future, everything in 20 minutes:

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Europe in blogs - Euroblogs (12): Pan-European blog reactions on the Lisbon Treaty

This Europe in blogs - Euroblogs edition is a little bit special because it's core content is to be found in yesterday's article on the Lisbon Treaty that I have now updated with European and national blog reactions in 18 official EU languages.

But since I think the update I have made very well reflects the core idea of Europe in blogs - Euroblogs, and since it also fits into the discussions around a European blogosphere that we are going to continue "live" in our Euroblog meet-up tomorrow, I thought I'll give it some special attention:

With a little bit of research effort and the help of Google Translate I have updated my previous blog post on the Lisbon Treaty with links to blog reactions on the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty both from euroblogs (blogs mainly dealing with EU or pan-European issues) and from a number of national blogs.

Altogether, I could assemble blog reactions in 18 official languages of the European Union, and I just couldn't find relevant articles in Estonian, Hungarian, Irish, Maltese, and Slovakian.

Most blog posts are very well understandable if translated with Google Translate (just copy the link into the translate field), so I'd warmly recommend taking a look on the different perspectives in all of these articles!

Tuesday 1 December 2009

The Lisbon Treaty: A new constitution for the European Union [updated]

Update: (Europe in blogs - Euroblogs) For blog reactions on the Lisbon Treaty in 18 official EU languages just scroll down to the end of the post!

It is the 1st of December 2009, and the Lisbon Treaty has entered into force less than one hour ago.

Sixteen years and one month ago, on the 1st of November 1993, when the Maastricht Treaty entered into force, the European Union was born. In that moment, we all became citizens of the first supranational Union, and we have been its citizens ever since.

From today, the Lisbon Treaty has become the legal basis of the EU, and although the amount of innovation might look minimal, the effects on our daily lives might seem small, and the text of the document is a horrible read, the European Union now has become a full Union. No more pillars, no more European Community (EC) - nothing but a European Union, with a strengthened European Parliament that gets almost equal rights in law-making and budgeting as the Council.

In some sense, the Maastricht Treaty (and the Amsterdam Treaty and the Nice Treaty) has already been the constitution of the European Union, but although the Lisbon Treaty is just a limited version of the Constitutional Treaty rejected some years ago and split into two parts, this text it is now a true and unique constitutional document for the supranational system of the European Union.

This European Union is a Union of 27 independent but interdependent countries represented in the European Council and the EU Council, and a Union of 500 million citizens directly represented in the Parliament, both held together by the European Commission in the centre of the institutional setting and the constitutional system of the EU.

Yet, the Lisbon Treaty is just one step forward in a a step-by-step evolution of the constitutional system of the European Union that started less than 60 years ago. But even if this step was the last one, the existence of this supranational polity cannot be denied or ignored, and so we all have to make the best of what we have, for the sake of the Union, for the sake of the member states, but most and foremost for the sake of each and every of the 500 million European citizens living within the Union's borders.

It is the 1st of December 2009, and the Lisbon Treaty has entered into force less than one hour ago.

Update (other blogs on the subject): The European Citizen, Grahnlaw, Le Taurillon, Claudia Sölken (CES), Coulisses de Bruxelles, EU Referendum, Umar Ahmed, Martin Westlake (EESC Secretary General), on European Tribune, Daniel Hannan, Democratic Society Blog, Eurosocialist, Yello Stars pro Europe, European Union Law (in Bulgarian), L'Europe en Blogs, Cecilia Malmström, Espacio Europa, Eva in Europa, Adjudicating Europe, Exílio de Andarilho, Codex, Stampa, Scuola e Vita, Anne Albinus, Ruth Winkler, Ihmisoikeudet ja valoisa tulevaisuus, Greek-olympics, moien, Andrius Vyšniauskas, Drasties, Lady Godfrey, Hans Vindeland, Razmišljanja Palčice, Miss Icefyre.