Monday 31 May 2010

The Stockhom Games: Malmström equalises against the Council

10 days ago I reported that the Council looked very unhappy with the Stockholm Programme Action Plan that Malmström had proposed not long before.

The reaction from the Commission (in the annex) doesn't look very friendly either, at least when you read between the diplomatic lines.

The translated version: Go f*** yourself! We heard your complaints but we didn't do anything wrong; to the contrary: we did what citizens and the Parliament expected from us!*

And so they threw the staplers back to towards the Council to equalise in the Stockholm games that will keep going on...

* This is a very rough translations. Commission officials are trained not to speak like this in public, so I am just making a rough guess.

German President Köhler resigns - Will it impact German EU policy?

Today, the German President Horst Köhler has resigned over a controversial interview he gave 9 days ago.

In the interview he said that an export-heavy economic power like Germany would need to be able to use the military to defend its economic interest, inter alia by keeping international trade routes free or by preventing regional destabilisation.

Because of the context these remarks are made, they have been interpreted as related to the German presence in Afghanistan (very unpopular in Germany) and may sound close to support of unconstitutional use of military forces (the German constitution only allows defensive use the army or actions within the UN framework).

Köhler feels that he has been misunderstood and that the public criticism regarding his remarks is damaging his office. I don't agree and rather think that his resignation is more of a damage than his remarks or the debate.

It shows that Köhler, in office since 2004 and re-elected in 2009 by the Federal Assembly, a joint body of the German Parliament and the representatives of the 16 federal states' parliaments, has never been a politician used to public debate. He went through a largely bureaucratic career that lead until his function as Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) before becoming German President.

How will this affect German EU policy?

In principle, the president doesn't have strong constitutional powers except for external representation and the signing of laws or the ratification of international treaties. These functions will now be taken over by the (rotating) President of the Bundesrat, the second chamber in which the governments of the federal states are represented. This is, right now, the mayor of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, the social democrat Jens Böhrnsen. The Constitution foresees a maximum 30 day period until the Federal Assembly has to elect a new president, so the transition will not be very long.

The resignation will thus not have much substantive influence on anything Germany does on the European level.

But the resignation means that, during the next month, Germany will be heavily dominated by an internal debate over who will be Köhler's successor. So far, Merkel's governmental coalition also holds a majority in the Federal Assembly, so the prospect for a Christian Democrat (Merkel's party) are not bad. But the question who will get this semi-political but still highest German office will lead to internal and public struggles within the political parties and within the governing coalition.

This may not be totally favourable to a concentrated German leadership in European and international fora, but I don't expect that this will pose real problems beyond the diversion of political and media attention from certain issues that may seem more important internationally or for the EU.

In summary, my conclusion is that we have seen a not-so-important German president resign unnecessarily over remarks that touched a very sensitive area in the German political system - international military presence - which, in my opinion, will lead to a short perturbation of the German political landscape but no to a political shift or mayor problem with European relevance.

Picture: tgoldkamp (flickr) / CC BY-NC-SA

Shared experiences: The ESC Eurodance Flashmob

Europe is shared experiences. Europe is shared creativity. Europe is shared fun.

The day European and national politicians and administrators will understand that, we shall all go out on the streets and dance.

PS: Thanks at euroblogger Vincent from for sharing the video from the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC)!

Sunday 30 May 2010

European External Action Service - Budget & posts

According to a Council document forwarded from the Council Secretariat to the Council's budget committee, there is the need for a draft budget and a staff plan for the European External Action Service (EEAS) for 2010.

The proposed EEAS budget (this is a Council proposal, not a formal Commission proposal!) is an amendment to the 2010 EU budget and it is necessary to have it even before the EEAS is formally in place because:
"there is a serious and real risk of major disruption of operations (including payments of salaries and other obligations), at headquarters and in delegations, which would be prejudicial for the reputation of the newborn EEAS."
The figures (indicative as explained in the footnote!) can be seen on the bottom of page 6 of the document which shows that for 2010 the EEAS could have 1563 posts of which 411 come from the Council and 1114 from the Commission, 38 posts would be newly created. Of the 1563 EEAS people, 1082 would work in Brussels and 481 in delegations all around the world. A detailed split of the the 411 Council staff members is in the annex.

As you can see, the figures at present don't include any member states' diplomats because the EEAS is not in place yet. It also doesn't seem to involve much additional posts except for the 38 proposed.

However, this Council Secretariat's proposal gives quite a good indication on the possible dimensions of the new EEAS and the possible share of posts coming from the EU bureaucracies.

I suppose that this is not the last word, though.

More or less control in the supervision of EU funds? - On the Commission Communication

It is no secret that the EU is spending a good amount of its budget through funds that are given to diverse recipients all across the Union, and so a discussion on how these funds are spent is always worth having.

They are worth having because almost every EU citizen, business, public authority or non-governmental organisation is directly or indirectly concerned.

In this regard, I find the newly published Commission Communication
"More or less controls? Striking the right balance between the administrative costs of control and the risk of error"
a very good start and probably the right way to go.

This seems to be the beginning of a discussion about what is a "Tolerable Risk of Error" (TRE) when it comes to the spending of EU funds, and while this communication "just" covers the fields of "Research, energy and transport" and the "European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development" it is foreseen to continue this exercise in other policy areas, too.

The big question raised in the communication is whether it is worth spending more money on controlling how EU funds are used when the amount of money and effort you have to invest to do so exceeds the the financial gains you have.

The conclusion is, if I read the document correctly, that a certain margin of error should be formally introduced that is somewhere between 2 and 5% because there a balance between effectiveness of control and efficiency of administrative costs spent seems to be reasonable.

More background information is in the two accompanying Commission Secretariat documents SEC(2010)640 (on the rural development policy area) and SEC(2010)641 (on the research, energy and transport policy area). As so often, both documents are not yet available in the respective PRE-LEX procedure, so thanks to the Council register for making it public first!

According to the agenda of last week's Commission meeting, Commissioners Semeta (Audit and Anti-Fraud; on the picture) and Lewandowski (Financial Programming & Budget) are responsible for this process.

I suppose it'll be interesting to follow this process and to listen to the upcoming debate between control freaks and laissez-faire freaks in the Council, the European Parliament and all around in the stakeholder community.

Picture: © European Parliament (flickr) / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

What are the terms of reference of Russia?

Sometimes EU document titles make me smile. Like this one.

PS: The comments are free to guess what the terms of reference of Russia are.

Saturday 29 May 2010

EU study: Small countries profit massively from EU accession

According to a recent study (only partially public) of the European Executive Agency for Small and Medium Size Member States (EEA-SMSMS), tiny states profit most from the accession to the European Union.

The study finds, for example, that 50% of Maltese work for the EU as translators or in similar jobs directly or indirectly financed by the EU institutions.

An expert from Cyprus (who asked not be named because his Greek mother is the secretary of Slovenian President Türk) found that while there is only 1 Member of the European Parliament (MEP) per 100 million German speaking EU citizens, 1 in 10 Luxembourgers did make it into the European Assembly at the last local elections. If the study's calculations are correct, this is approximately 99% of the Luxembourg population that earns less than the MEP salary.

The Estonian Director of the Agency, Mr. Väikemaa, also told me in an interview that his country of origin, Latvia, had split itself from its northern region Lithuania in the late 1980s to gain extra points on the EU tininess scale in order to profit from the EU's Small Country Funds (SFCs) that are distributed indirect proportionally to the size of a country's population and the actual needs of the recipients.

In it's last chapter, the EEA-SMSMS study however comes to the conclusion that large member states should receive a compensation for the support they give to the SMS countries. It proposes to move the seat and the 75,000 employees of the SMSMS agency every 73 days (a compromise between 10 years proposed by a former French president and 1 day proposed by a Polish plumber) in random order between London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Madrid and Warsaw.

The UK press has already reacted positively with long, well-argued articles, considering inter alia the different options of splitting up Great Britain in its original shires while raising the amount of British contributions to the EU budget. Unnamed sources close to Catherine Ashton have even confirmed that she wants to be the Queen of Upholland in case this decision is taken until the end of 2025, that is 10 years before the end of her term and 5 years before the end of the Liberal-UKIP coalition David Cameron has proposed from 2015.

I don't have time to go deeper into the matter now, but it looks like the study is going to cause more positive reactions all across Europe and so I really recommend that everyone takes the time to read it*. Comments can be send to

* It is available online under and in bookstores all across China.

Friday 28 May 2010

Progress report on the Single European Electronic Communications Market

My own progress report on European electronic communication: Is there progress?

I still have to find a national operator when I move to another EU country instead of having one European mobile phone operator with the same prices and services wherever I am.

The Commission's Progress report on the Single European Electronic Communications Market is a little more detailed than my very personal view, but they also get money to produce a lot of text.

The summary of their report: "There is still work left." Would be surprising if a governmental bureaucracy would one day say: "Yepp, everything is done, we'll go on holidays for the next years."

More interesting than the simple progress report - at least more interesting for all of you interested professionally in electronic communication - is the first addendum to the report, which on over 400 pages lays down the development in the communications market and electronic communications regulation in the EU and in each EU member state. That is kind of a resource worth looking at.

And in the second addendum there are all the raw data, diagrams, tables and sources of the statistics - another 130 fun pages for all of you whose lives are dominated by communication markets, either because you (de-)regulate them or because you earn money on them (or both).

For me this is too much text, but I thought you might be interested to take a look, now that the weekend is approaching.

Riga will host BEREC

As "predicted", Riga (Latvia) will host the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) (source).

Update: Here is the press release following the formal approval on Monday, 31 May 2010.

Thursday 27 May 2010

Useless propaganda on EuroparlTV

I am not totally against institutional media if they fill a gap that the old and new media cannot cover right now.

But videos like the one below are exactly the kind of institution propaganda that I don't want to see.

It's coverage without journalistic distance, critical reflection or political opinions. There is no real (temporal) context, the pictures are stereotype and the commentary is totally descriptive.

An MEP who writes a blog or tweets 3-4 messages a day can produce the same information density for much less money and with much more authenticity.

The institutions shouldn't waste money on such kind of pseudo-journalism - if the MEPs want to promote themselves they shall do so with their own funds!

The Union for the Mediterranean: What a failure!

The zombie organisation named "Union for the Mediterranean" continues to fail.

Now they are not are not even able to hold the summit they planned in June and had to postpone it to November. And the reasoning for the postponement: They want to make it a "complete success" How stupid do they think we are?

And they still don't have a website.

What kind of idiot has invented this most useless of all organisations? Oh yes, an unnamed French president.

COSAC meets in Madrid

From Sunday, 30 May, to Tuesday, 1 June 2010, the Conference of the committees of the national parliaments of the European Union Member States dealing with European affairs (COSAC will meet in Madrid.

A goog number of meeting documents is available online, including the draft conclusions (Word format!) which do not seem very interesting except maybe for the following paragraph:
COSAC urges national Parliaments to intensify their use of IPEX and other forms of cooperation in order to provide mutual information concerning their respective activities and standpoints.
I agree that this kind of co-operation is quite important when national parliaments actually want to work together to have their say and influence over EU law- and decision-making.

But I still think IPEX isn't a very good platform; it is not very intuitive and I'm not sure many people, neither in the national parliaments nor among us citizens understands how it can be used.

It is thus nice to have IPEX, but I don't really see that it is of much help as of today.

Will Latvia get BEREC? - updated

Update (28 May 2010): Council Document 9880/10 mentioned below has been published - and, as predicted, the winner of the seat of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) is Riga, the capital of Latvia.

The EU needs many bodies and agencies and groups and things and they need to be spread all around the Union to make it appears as if we are fair and just and equitable.

So now it looks like that on Monday there will be a decision on the seat of the Office of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), although the respective Council document (9880/10) mentioned in the agenda linked above is not even listed in the register of Council documents.

As Grahnlaw noted in December, BEREC and it's office were created by a regulation in November 2009. BEREC replaced the ERG ('European Regulators Group for electronic communications networks and services') and has been seated in Brussels so far.

From what I can see and read, Riga seems to be the only city campaigning for the seat, apparently supported by France, and so the decision might have just been between keeping it in Brussels and moving it to Riga.

But we all know how the EU works and so I'm pretty sure that on Monday we can congratulate Latvia to host yet another EU agency. Celebrations!

Picture: © an_agent / CC BY-NC 2.0 (flickr)

The EU's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights: Draft Council Conclusions (2)

As discussed before, the Draft Council Conclusions regarding the EU's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) are kept hidden from the eyes of the public. The latest (confidential) draft version as discussed by the Council has just been "published" yesterday.

Now there is a partially declassified Commission Secretariat document that contains parts of the explanatory memorandum for the draft negotiation guidelines.

Nevertheless, the most important points are still kept classified.

Wednesday 26 May 2010

21st century archiving in the Council

Can somebody explain to me why the Council publishes a badly scanned black-and-white version of the Europol "EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report (TE-SAT) 2010" that is available in a similar size in the searchable original coloured version on the Europol website?


Zero energy

There are draft Council Conclusions titled "Towards a new Energy Strategy for Europe 2011-2020" but the document doesn't contain any substance regarding energy policy.

My conclusion: The member states cannot even agree on basic things in the field of energy so far.

An academic look at the Council Secretariat

Careful readers of this blog will have noticed that I am quite interested in the work of the EU Council, especially because there is a lack of attention on the work of this institution, and so I'd like to share some academic insights about the EU Council's secretariat that a fellow political scientist, Hylke Dijkstra, has published in recent time.

It is true that there is hardly any attention to the Council's bureaucracy with its more than 3400 staff members* (that is more than 10% of the Commission staff); when the Council is in the focus, attention usually is on the member states, their ministers and diplomats or on the rotating Council presidency but not on those people who facilitate and influence the work of the Council in the background.

Hylke Dijkstra thus takes a look behind these coulisses of Brussels, a look that very few academics have done so far, and it's fascinating to read.

I was made aware of Dijkstra's research through his newly published scientific article "Explaining variation in the role of the EU Council Secretariat in first and second pillar policy-making" (full text only with subscription) in the latest issue of the Journal of European Public Policy, a leading political science journal especially regarding EU affairs.

In his article, Dijkstra does not only give a short and concise summary of the evolution of the Council secretariat but also shows that the ways the secretariat is involved in different policy areas differs significantly.

He concludes that in the fields of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) - the second pillar - it has played a much more substantive role than just being a "secretariat" that facilitates continuity and decision-making between the member states in the Council. It was able to set the agenda, even in its own self-interest, and could thus influence the evolution and course of the Union's foreign and security policy more than the member states-focused approach of the media was able to tell us.

As usual, this is part of continued academic work, and not the first article published on that matter. For example, Dijkstra's article "The Council Secretariat's Role in the Common Foreign and Security Policy" (linked: pre-submission version) has been awarded the prize for the best article of 2008 in the European Foreign Affairs Review.

In another paper (accessible) from 2008 he has analysed the rivalries between the Commission's bureaucracy and the Council Secretariat by showing how the respective competencies in the field of foreign affairs have evolved over time. This is also great background knowledge for observers of the development of the new European External Action Service (EEAS), because it puts the present discussions about the "unification" of EU foreign policy into a historic perspective of division and overlap, co-operation and competition.

I myself have blogged in the past (quite polemically, I admit) about the legal service of the Council, and I think the role the Secretariat played and plays both in foreign relations as well as in other substantive areas of EU politics should not be underestimated. For anyone interested in more details it may thus be of interest to go through the publication list of Hylke Dijkstra and to take note of the few other academic publications on the Council Secretariat that he quotes in his papers.

On a side-note: When I passed by the Secretary General of the Council, Pierre de Boissieu, last week on a public place in Brussels, I could be sure that people around wouldn't even notice him and the powers he has. But you could feel his presence and the presence of his secretariat when he walked by, tall and concentrated.

De Boissieu will be in office for exactly 13 more months, and with the creation of the EEAS the powers of his secretariat will become smaller, given that only some 50 officials of those dealing with foreign and security affairs will remain in the Council structures (figure is from Dijkstra). It will therefore be quite interesting to see how the role of the Council Secretariat will change once it has lost parts of its competencies and once the long-time Brussels insider de Boissieu will be replaced by the "outsider" Uwe Corsepius.

Altogether, academic works like that of Dijkstra are much appreciated because they offer us a view beyond that of daily news while keeping an eye to what is actually relevant for daily politics - political science at it's best**.

* This figure is from the 2009 EU General Budget (via Dijkstra); in the 2010 budget [p.111] the figure is >3500 for both EU and European Council.

** "At it's best" is meant regarding substance and focus. I won't bother you with the questions I have regarding research methods.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

The EU's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights: European Parliament resolution

Last week, the European Parliament has voted on a resolution regarding the EU's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The resolution is horrible to read (Rapporteur: Ramón Jáuregiu Atondo) and although I'm pretty interested in the subject it was no pleasure to go through the document. I will thus focus on the more practical, cooperation-related elements of the resolution.

Three paragraphs seem to be most important regarding the political interaction of the EU and the Council of Europe (paragraphs 7, 31 & 34) as a result of the EU's accession to the ECHR. The three paragraphs portray how the European Parliament sees the participation of the European Union in the working structures of the Council of Europe.

You'll find the three below; I've added links where helpful.

Let's start with para 7:
Stresses that accession to the ECHR does not make the Union a member of the Council of Europe but that a degree of participation by the Union in the ECHR bodies is necessary in order to ensure proper integration of the Union into the ECHR system and that, therefore, the Union should have certain rights in this domain, particularly:
  • the right to submit a list of three candidates for the post of judge, one of whom is elected by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on behalf of the Union and participates in the work of the Court on a footing of equality with the other judges, pursuant to Article 27(2) of the ECHR; the European Parliament being involved either in drawing up the list of candidates in line with a procedure similar to that provided for in Article 255 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union for candidates for the position of judge at the Court of Justice of the European Union, 
  • the right of the European Parliament to appoint/send a certain number of representatives to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe when the latter elects judges to the European Court of Human Rights;
This is para 31:
Calls, further, for the Union to accede to Council of Europe bodies such as the Committee on the Prevention of Torture (CPT), the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and the European Commission on the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ); stresses also the need for the Union to be involved in the work of the Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), the Governmental Social Committee and the European Committee on Migration, and asks to be duly informed of the conclusions and decisions of these bodies;
And this is para 34:
Stresses that it is important to have an informal body in order to coordinate information sharing between the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe;
Apart from these interinstitutional arrangements between the political bodies, it is also worth (and probably more important) considering the legal implications of the EU's accession to the ECHR, but I don't feel like extracting the view of the EP from the resolution.

Maybe someone with a deeper interest or knowledge of the interrelation of international courts and the interaction of different supranational legal regimes may want to take on that task. I'll be glad to link.

What remains unclear politically is how close the non-public draft Council Conclusions regarding the Commission mandate to negotiate the accession are to the European Parliament resolution and what would happen in case that there are contradiction between the two documents.

There is no answer to that question in the EP's resolution. Which is in purpose, I suppose.

PS.: More articles on the accession process in this blog can be found under the label "ECHR".

Van Rompuy at the European Movement

Just listened live to a speech of van Rompuy at an European Movement event at the Bavarian representation to the EU, and although the European Council President remained very general, he got specific in a number of areas.
  • He underlined that he thinks we need more regulation of the financial sector.
  • He said he wouldn't report on the details of the Task Force meeting of EU finance ministers, the Eurogroup President and the European Central Bank President regarding measures to prevent future crises (they met for the first time last week), but in the next sentence he mentioned something like a "Crisis Cabinet".
  • He told that he wouldn't be "in principle" against Treaty changes regarding the crisis prevention, but he made clear that he preferred informal mechanisms (like a "crisis cabinet"??) over legal changes.
  • On the question whether the Lisbon Treaty didn't bring more external voices than limiting the number, he shared his view of the division of tasks: He and Barroso represent the EU in international fora on the Summit level (heads of state and government) including at the G20, where they speak with two voices when it comes to their respective responsibilities but where they speak with the same message (which the member states would also need to learn, he added). High Representative Ashton represents the Union on "her" level, that is during ministerial meetings.
  • He explained that the advantage of being a European Council president would be the ability to build more permanent relations (although he made fun of the fact that "permanent" means 2 1/2 years), especially informally, and that he is glad that he doesn't need to consider a national constituency during his work (as previous European Council Presidencies had to do). Sounds logic.
Altogether, this was not a revolutionary speech (but he noted that he anyway prefers evolution over revolution), and there was probably nothing new, but it was still nice to see the president in person for the first time. I think he is okay...

Picture: © lucvanbraekel (flickr)

Update: The speech is now available on video.

Friday 21 May 2010

Buzek complains to van Rompuy on "Europe 2020" timeline

In a letter written 11 days ago, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek has complained that the Commission has adopted the draft Council recommendations for the Europe 2020 guidelines on economic and employment policies too late.

According to the letter, the Parliament won't be able to give its consent to the recommendations in due time and Buzek thus asks European Council President van Rompuy that the European Council should not pass them during the June summit.

Update: Here is the European Parliament press release on this subject; date: 23 April (via @mvandenbroeke).

Council is unhappy with Cecilia Malmström

It looks like Cecilia Malmström doesn't have too many fans in the Council.

Because if I read the diplomatic language of the Draft Council Conclusions on the Stockholm Action Plan, a plan that Commissioner Malmström presented last month, correctly, then the EU Council is punching the Commissioner right in her face*.

My translation of the draft conclusions into everyday language would be this:
"The document you presented is rubbish and incomplete, and we will only work with the original Stockholm Program."
I don't recall having seen such clear comments in a diplomatic text for a while...

* Note: This is an exaggeration for the purpose of dramatising the blog post. Usually, Council bureaucrats/diplomats would probably prefer to throw with staplers.

Thursday 20 May 2010


You want to hear a good joke? Yes?! Here it comes: "Progress Report"!

The first time that I wrote about this proposal for a new anti-discrimination directive was in August 2008; the proposal itself is from 2 July 2008, the second day of this blog. I've followed up with two more blog posts in December 2008 and in July 2009.

When you look into the progress report linked above, it doesn't seem like there has been any real progress since 2008.

In my first post about the draft directive in August 2008 I said: "Looks like this document will have some way to go."

I admit that I had underestimated the sense of "long way to go" at that time.

The future of CAP: Ciolos interviewed

The EU Commissioner responsible agriculture, Ciolos, has been intervied by a Romanian radio station.

It's a fairly long interview (48 minutes in audio) so I'd just point to one paragraph on the future of subventions under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the European Union:
"După 2013, intenţia mea este ca nu numai Pilonul doi, programul de dezvoltare rurală, să susţină micile ferme, ci chiar şi subvenţiile să se acorde şi pentru ferme mici care realizează produse care se comercializează direct pe piaţă. Sper să găsesc modalitatea, instrumentele prin care astfel de pieţe locale, pieţe tradiţionale, pieţe ţărăneşti să fie susţinute financiar."
This pledge for for the support of farmers who produce for local markets seems to be quite important for Ciolos, since he underlines this right from the beginning of the interview.

The interview is also worth reading for its "Eastern" perspective on the CAP and the problems faced by smaller farmers in Romania and beyond.

And the moderator does a good job in playing the devil's advocate, pushing Ciolos to give answers also on other subjects like gene manipulated products (Ciolos: Everyone is free to decide.) or the relations between the EU and national or local levels (Ciolos: If European funds are misused, it is first of all the responsibility of national authorities to take measures instead of centralising complaints at the Commission.)

So take a look at the interview; I've just checked and the Google translation seems to be quite understandable.

(via Ciolos on Facebook)

The women who run the Commission

Award-winning journalist-blogger Prune Antoine - who had the guts to show up in jeans for her award ceremony at the Quai d'Orsay (yeah!!!) - is publishing a wonderful series of interviews with female EU Commissioners on her blog.

So far, Connie Hedegaard, Maria Damanaki, Neeli Kroes, Máire Geoghegan and Viviane Reding have answered the same questions about how "macho" they find the EU institutions, how the fact that they are women influences their work and how they would like to change the EU.

If you haven't read the interviews yet - now is the time!

Picture: © european_parliament / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kroes & King

The last words of Neeli Kroes' blog post on the Digital Agenda:
But if we all – European Union institutions, national governments, businesses, citizens, researchers – join forces, it will be possible to make every European digital. And we can all look forward to some fascinating and exciting days if that happens.
The last words of Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech:
And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
Do you see how well this fits together?

Picture: © european_parliament / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

What's the problem with 'meat glue'?

Okay, so the European Parliament has vetoed 'meat glue', but I don't really get what is the problem.

Maybe it is because I'm living a mostly vegetarian life. Or maybe it is because all the fear mongering on food stuff (GMO, meat glue, pesticides etc.) really gets on my nerves.

Force food producers to write down everything they put into and onto my food somewhere where I can read it before I buy the stuff - and then let me decide whether I want it or not.

Full stop.

PS.: But EP webeditors' idea to sell the topic on Facebook asking "A steak or a s+t+e+a+k for dinner?" was still funny.

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Where does Kazakhstan lead the OSCE?

I had my doubts over the Kazakh OSCE presidency, but I actually didn't think that they would go as far as quasi-censoring the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

That is a huge fail, and the European Union member states in the OSCE should clearly address this!

ECI: State of discussions in the Council

The debates around the regulation of the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) continue in the EU Council.

Following the identification of key issues (my report), discussions in the Council show that member states seem to be split over most of these key issues.

In a Council document published yesterday, one can see that EU member states have diverging opinions on the admissibility check, regarding the personal data needed with the signature to an ECI and to the online collection system.

The main debate seems to be over the question of personal data and online collection of signatures.

Some member states apparently complained that for administrative reasons they won't be able to quickly check whether online collection systems from ECI organisers fulfil the required specification. Because of these questions, the Council has decided to organise an expert meeting that will try to resolve these differences.

One thing that seems to be consensus among the member states is that they don't want to give delegated power to the Commission in specifying the details of the citizens initiative as formulated in the Annexes 2-8 of the draft regulation, which means that any future revision of the technical details of the ECI except for the number of signatures needed per country would need to go through the decision-making process of the Council and the Parliament.

Seeing the differences between the member states I have doubts that there will be a regulation until the end of the autumn, in particular since after the Council has a first position there will have to be an agreement between the Parliament and the Council.

"Transparency and Democracy" (1994)

It is of the highest importance for the credibility of the European Union that its decision making process be as transparent as possible, especially in view of the difficulties of ensuring democratic control of this process, and of its remoteness from European citizens.
"Transparency and Democracy" (1994)

History blogging: Why is SCIFA still there?

Just details of EU history:

According to a Council document from June 2008 in which you find a summary of the preparatory work for the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty at that time (document version with handwritten comments), "many delegations" of EU member states thought that the SCIFA, the Council's Strategic Committee on Immigration, Frontiers and Asylum, should be abolished in order to streamline the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) structures (see page 7).

However, in November 2009, right before the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the Council decided to keep SCIFA until 2012.

This means that "many delegations" had changed their mind within one year regarding the streamlining of JHA structures.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

ECI, transaction tax & the details of EU policy-making

The German and Austrian Social Democrats have decided today that they want to initiate a European Citizens' Initative (ECI) on the introduction of a financial transaction tax.

The way their press release is formulated makes it sound like they are calling for a referendum (cf. last sentence that reads: '... for that 500 million Europeans can decide over the taxation of financial market speculation'), not mentioning that all they can do with an ECI is make the Commission consider the issue.

They should also mention the timeframe of an ECI and that once they had a successful ECI, the proposal needed to be taken up by the Commission (where there is no social-democratic majority) and it had to be passed (probably according to Art. 113 TFEU) by the Council with unanimity. The European Parliament would only be consulted (if the decision was taken under Art. 113 TFEU).

And only the EU experts - those who know that the ECI regulation is not yet in place and that you cannot even start an ECI right now - will notice that the last paragraph of the press release is actually just a demand that the ECI regulation will be put in place until autumn, so that the Social Democrats can begin their ECI. For the rest of the readers this sounds like the Social Democrats demand an EU transaction tax until autumn.

And if they knew the present state of the ECI discussions, they would also know that 500 million Europeans (as formulated in the last sentence) will not decide about an ECI because the participation age for the ECI is proposed to be the election age of EU citizens which will exclude some 100 million Europeans from this agenda setting instrument. But they anyway only need 1 million signatures.

It is thus nice that the German and Austrian Social Democrats want to make use of the new democratic element given to EU citizens, but the way they treat this issue is far from realistic and thus merely a PR instrument - but the press will surely buy it.

PS.: German social democratic MEP Matthias Groote is aware of that and thus focuses on his demands regarding the implementation of the ECI which seems much more reasonable at this point.

The EU's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights: Draft Council Decision

Well, I'd like to report the details of the
Draft Council Decision authorising the Commission to negotiate the Accession Agreement of the European Union to the European Convention for the protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR)
but the Council has decided that this draft is not for the public, although the EU's accession to the ECHR is of constitutional importance for the Union (since it is prescribed by the EU Treaties) and although it is highly relevant for every EU citizen (since the ECHR guarantees individual rights and allows individual complaints).

But apparently the public is not supposed to know what the Council plans to decide and it prefers to discuss the rights of EU citizens behind closed doors.

The European Dream is not dead

Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times just has proclaimed "The Death of the European Dream" and Dominique Mosi of the Harvard University calls us "Europe's Doubting Generation", and they are both kind of wrong.

For Rachman it is the eurozone crisis that puts into question Europe's ambitions as a dynamic global superpower, thus destroying the European Dream, and Mosi uses his experiences with College of Europe students in Natolin/Poland trying to convince us that the youth's vision of a common Europe has been replaced by self-centred pragmatism.

The European Dream, as I wrote some time ago, has never been a unified dream, definitely non that was shared by all citizens and not even by all so-called "elites" all across Europe.

The European Dream has been to create unity in diversity, it has been to prevent wars happening between European countries, it has been to allow freedom of movement, to create a common market, a common social model or even to create a common demos etc.

The thing is that we have moved quite far on all these lines, it is just that Europe and the world around it have changed, too, in the course of the last decades.

The European Dream is now embedded in a different world and in a different Europe. Europeanisation, globalisation, migration, and communication have changed the way we live and think and interact, and they have changed the way Europeans perceive themselves and the rest of the world.

However, the present Eurozone crisis is not the end of the European Dream, it is a proof that the European Dream has become a truth.

National and European leaders are having debates about common economic solutions that affect all the EU and the Eurozone, and even though the national leaders are tempted to please their national audiences, their discourses are European and they are part of a true European discussion. Their argumentation is about a common European good, not so much about the national goods.

At the same time, there is a sudden awareness in the member states that political choices of leaders from other European countries have consequences for the lives of citizens in one's own country, and the national press has the typical reaction to portray these political differences as national differences, because this is still their thought process.

It's just so easy to depict different views over policy choices as a fight between nations, although in fact this is an important discussion about how to best govern our common Europe. But that is a problem of the press, not of Europe. The press is too lazy to make this a political story and so they focus on the superficial national attributes of those involved.

So this is not so much about nations than it is about different ideologies, some of them transnational and some of them influenced by specific national experiences and national political debates (but they are still ideological debates, not national).

I am sure that our leaders are actually very aware of that, and it's a pity to see the national and European press construct this as a fight that is about whether we should have a common Europe or not.

For me, the political fight we are seeing is the proof of a common Europe, not an indicator of its bad state. And even if this was a fight of nations, it is still a political fight and the European Union's system is advanced enough for that this will remain just a political fight - quite an unlikely scenario 60 years ago!

And this normalisation process of European life and politics is also true for the observations Moisi is making in Natolin:

He says students don't go there anymore because they believe in Europe but because they want a degree. This is not a sign of the problems of Europe, it underlines that the European Dream has become a normality that is now embedded in the life choices of young Europeans.

In Natolin (and elsewhere), students from all over Europe meet in a university because they think what they get there will qualify them for the jobs they want to do (whether that is true or not). For Moisi, the fact that there is a diverse body of European students in one place doesn't seem to be noteworthy; the fact that they can come to Poland without visa or special permits and that their degree will (very likely) be accepted all across Europe is not even worth mentioning although these are social and political advances that we are all profiting from.

The European Dream is not dead, we are just witnessing the intersection of two distinct phenomena that change our view on Europe and our dreams: The normalisation of Europe as a common space and a large financial and economic crisis.

The crisis makes that political conflicts break up that may be hidden in more quiet times when there is a larger cake that you can share among everyone. This crisis also makes that economic and social competition between citizens from all over Europe is higher than usually, raising the pressure and thus fostering both self-orientation and pragmatism in choices of education and places to live (instead of promoting self-referential idealism).

Meanwhile, the normalisation of Europe makes that we seem to be looking more at the defaults of the present system and how we can solve the problems it creates instead of looking ahead into a bright but unknown future and instead of celebrating the successes of the past. At the moment we are learning that finetuning the European Dream can also be hard work from time to time, and that hard work can be exhausting physically and mentally.

But that is a snapshot of 2010, and things will move on. They will move on for the better, because there are a still many people who see that a common Europe and the European Dream were the way out of the dark ages of the past.

The European Dream is not dead, it is there, and many of us are living this dream - very well aware of the luck that we had having grown up in a European Union, one in which we look at each other as different but equal, and one in which we don't mind having a good political fight with friends and partners today and a glass of wine tomorrow to talk about our common plans.

Monday 17 May 2010

The joke: Part 2 of the story

Tracing back viral stories (like a joke) to their origin is not very easy, but one can at least try.

Last Wednesday I wrote about the EU joke that Ashton told at the LSE in London, and according to the press and the moderator at LSE this joke was first told by Finnish foreign minister Alexander Stubb.

I wrote to Mr. Stubb to ask whether this was true, and via his secretary he told me that he heard the joke from Māris_Riekstiņš, who was the foreign minister of Latvia until March.

Does anyone know what Mr Riekstins is doing now or how one could contact him? Since he is no longer foreign minister, it's kind of difficult to address him.

Because the question now is: Was he the originator of the joke?

Picture (from the left: Stubb, Riekstins, Bildt): © latvianmfa/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Communication & the International Day Against Homophobia - updated

Every day is a day for or against something, and today is the International Day Against Homophobia.

There is no doubt that there is still a lot to do when it comes to fair and equal rights for people with a different sexual orientation all across Europe; the recent problems with the gay pride parade in Vilnius/Lithuania are just one example among many.

So today is the day when everybody is supposed to talk about the topic, including European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek.

A press release on the EP president's website says that there is a video of him addressing the public, but it is not there (there is just an ftp-link for broadcasters). So Buzek releases a video but it is not there when it should be, neither on his website nor on the website of the European Parliament. Great communication work, Mr. President!

Speaking of "great" communication work:

Passing by the main Commission building ('Berlaymont') here in Brussels I also came across the people from ILGA Europe who were campaigning for equal rights in front of a little tent with rather loud techno music between the Council and the Commission [will add a photo later on].

Why should I stop there and talk to anybody when there is music like at a garden party?

They handed me two leaflets - a map of the legal situation of gays, lesbians and bisexual people in Europe (rather well-done) and a flyer titled "BE BOTHERED" that is designed in so ugly colours that I didn't even bother to read it (it hurts the eyes!!). But apart from that they didn't try to catch my attention. I got a friendly "Bonjour" and that's it.

Later on they plan to let balloons fly in the air, but that's just buzz for the press - woooooo, balloons! They should rather stand on the central market of Brussels and convince the tourists from all over the world of equal rights and not waste time standing between big institution buildings.

This is another stone in the wall of my conviction that international/European Days and Years of/against Something are bureaucratic communication monsters regarding important topics but without any interest for the public.

Update: Via @soerenlandmann I just saw that the LGBT intergroup of the EP has uploaded the video with Buzek's speech to Vimeo (but there is still no link on the EP or the President's website):

President of the European Parliament on the International Day Against Homophobia from LGBT Intergroup on Vimeo.

Picture: © danielgreene/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Sunday 16 May 2010

The Week in Bloggingportal: Obama saved Europe!

There it is, the first time that "The Week in Bloggingportal" has been published from Brussels.

It's also the first time under the new European President Barack Obama and the first time under the new British government.

That's kind of special, isn't it?

The travel

What a perfect European day was yesterday!

Getting up way too early in my home village, the day began cold and rainy. Not the perfect start, but who cares?! Since non of my family members was at home, one of the neighbours was so kind to get up early, too, and to bring me and my luggage to the train station in the neighbouring city (the bus goes there just once a day!). Big thanks again!

The only person that I came across in the regional train at that time was a man searching for empty bottles in the litter boxes. He turned to me asking very carefully whether I had a Euro for him. Which I had.

Later on, in the next train, a young mother and her young child were walking through the wagon in what was apparently a train discovery tour of the little child. Since the mother talked Russian to the infant, I said "privyet" (one of the few Russian words I know) to the girl when it discovered that it could fold down the seat next to me and climb on it.

This one Russian word made that the mother began speaking in Russian to me, so I had to interrupt her with two more words I know in Russian: "Nye panymayou..." ("I don't understand.") She then told me in German that they were on their way to grandma and grandpa, which reminded the child that there was still a lot to discover before the train arrived. And so it left, taking the mother with her.

In the next city where I had to change trains I used the time to drink a coffee and to read the regional newspaper. Interestingly, the first page of the cultural part of the newspaper was a full page about John Malkovich playing a serial killer on scene in Brussels. They seemed to know where I was heading...

Arriving in Cologne, I had to rush to get my connection train to Brussels.

A lady in front of me was also rushing, which her scarf didn't appreciate and so he decided to leave her in favour of the platform floor. I picked him up and had to rush even quicker behind the woman to catch her, which I only managed two wagons later when she was already entering the train. Handing the scarf over to her saying in German that I supposed that it belonged to her, she turned around, smiled, and thanked with a loud and cordial "Bedankt!" (which is Dutch). I think she and her pink scarf will be able to continue living a fulfilled life together!

The high speed train from Cologne to Brussels was packed, but I had reserved a seat and so I could relax after the rush and sit down at the table with three (still unknown) passengers after helping another lady with her luggage (I wouldn't mention that also if it wasn't part of the story, as you will see).

I was kind of tired but still tried to read the Spanish novel that I had taken with me to practice my Spanish (since I was moving in with a Spanish). But I realised that it's kind of hard to read a foreign language that you haven't used for a while, especially when you are tired and people around you chat in 4-5 different languages including Finnish (the woman on the other side of the corridor was reading a Finnish newspaper). So I plugged in my earphones and listened to spheric techno music provided by one of the train's radio channels.

At some point, the woman next to me and the man on the other side of the table started chatting, apparently in Spanish and soon later I became part of the conversation because my neighbour had concluded, seeing my novel, that I must also speak Spanish (she wasn't aware that I had just failed to concentrate on the book).

So the conversation continued for a moment in Spanish until we realised that he was actually an American who had just moved to Germany and she and me were Germans, so we changed to English which allowed the fourth passenger on the table, an Austrian living in Brussels, to also join the conversation.

Two main topics evolved for the rest of the trip: German culture and dialects (because the American wanted to visit Germany in the weeks to come and asked for advice) and Brussels sightseeing tips (because he wanted to visit Brussels but only had the rest of Saturday and Sunday).

Arriving at Bruxelles-Midi the conversation ended and we wished us goodbye.

But the woman whom I had helped with her luggage when entering the train had heard that I was moving to Brussels and thus she asked where I would start working (probably assuming that I'd be heading into one of the EU institutions). I told her why I was coming.

She then grabbed into her pocket and handed me her business card - she is, as I learned, the assistant of a German MEP - and told me: "Here you see the first Brussels habit: Everybody will give you their business card. Contact me - we have all started small here in Brussels!"

I realised that I don't have business cards yet. I probably need some not to be regarded as an outcast here in Brussels.

The American and I left the train together and I walked through the train station with him. Since I still had time until I could move into my apartment in the evening and since the sun was shining I decided to join him for his sightseeing tour.

We left the metro at the stock exchange and were received by the loud techno music of the last wagon of the Brussels gay pride parade. We had a drink on the central place (yeah, like real tourists!), talked about Europe (he has been around for a while already) and then left towards the European Parliament where I gave a rapid tour in EU politics. Hardest question: Who is the most important person in the EU?

In front of the Spaak building of the European Parliament we met three Algerians, one from Belgium, one from France, and a senator from Algeria, who were also on a visiting tour, and entered into a friendly discussion (in French) about European history and intercultural relations with them, a discussion that went on for about 15 minutes. The Algerian from Belgium told that it was the first time in the 40 years he was living in Belgium that he came to see the institutions, but he wanted to show his friends what we Europeans were able to develop over the last decades, which he thought could be a model for the Arab world, too (though he had doubts that this was possible).

The American and I ended our tour on Place Jourdain with Belgian fries and a drink in one of the cafés before we finally separated.

I walked to my apartment not very far from the place and finally got to know my Spanish housemate (Bruxelloise for several years already), her cat and her parents who were on a visit here in Brussels. We spent the rest of the evening with tasty Spanish food and wine, talking in Spanish and French about life in Spain and Germany.

This was a truly European day with so may different facets, and honestly: If I had just come for this one day, my travel to Brussels would have already been worth it!

Picture: © renaissancechambara / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Saturday 15 May 2010

Moving on

Friday 14 May 2010

Never again

When I read about this news from Hungary today, I remembered a video made by Hungarian artists:

I've got nothing to add.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

The joke - updated

EU foreign minister Cathy Ashton spoke at the London School of Economics (LSE) yesterday, and while here speech (mp3) was fairly general, she ended it with a joke that caught my attention.

She told the joke like this:
The Secretary of State of the United States goes to the President and says:

"Mr President, finally an answer to the question that Henry Kissinger raised. Which is: 'We want to talk to Europe - whose number do we ring?' We have one phone number; let's ring the number and see what happens."

They ring the number and my
[Catherine Ashton's; JF] voice mail is answering: "Welcome to Europe! For the French Position press 1, for the German position press 2..."
I had read or heard this one before, but since the moderator mentioned ex-MEP and Finnish foreign minister Alexander Stubb as the origin of the joke and Cathy Ashton wasn't aware of that, I did a little research to check that claim.

According to the New York Times, it was indeed Stubb who told the joke at a NATO reform conference in early March (although we don't know whether he invented it himself).

The version reported in the NYT goes like this:
"President Obama learns with interest that Europe now has a phone number. He’s told that, responding at last to Henry Kissinger’s famous jibe, the European Union has appointed a President named Herman Van Rompuy from Belgium and given him a 24/7 phone line.

So, Obama decides to try out Europe’s phone number. Henry will be tickled. But the president forgets about the time difference and gets an answering machine:

“Good Evening, you’ve reached the European Union, Herman Van Rompuy speaking. We are closed for tonight. Please select from the following options. Press one for the French view, two for the German view, three for the British view, four for the Polish view, five for the Italian view, six for the Romanian view. ...”

Obama hangs up in dismay.
While the punch line is the same in both versions, there is an interesting difference: In Cathy's version, she is called by the the Secretary of State and the President of the USA, in the version reported from Stubb it is European Council President van Rompuy.

The question is: Which version of the joke will prevail, the one with Ashton or the other with van Rompuy...?

Update: According to Alex Stubb, he is not the one who invented the joke.

Picture: © european_parliament / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Europol Strategy 2010-2014

Already three months old but just released now: The Europol Strategy 2010-2014.

The short summary: Europol wants to become the "information powerhouse" of the Union.

There we go.

The regulation of regulations

Many have said much about the plan that was made to save the Euro and the Union.

But why say so much when it can be said as cold-blooded as in Article 1 of the regulation that has changed the Union:
"With a view to preserving the financial stability of the European Union, this Regulation establishes the conditions and procedures under which Union financial assistance may be granted to a Member State which is experiencing, or is seriously threatened with, a severe economic or financial disturbance caused by exceptional occurrences beyond its control, taking into account the possible application of the existing facility providing medium-term financial assistance for non-euro-area Member States' balances of payments, as established by Regulation (EC) No 332/2002."
These are the words that are worth 60,000,000,000 Euro (this sum is not mentioned anywhere in the regulation) and they are followed by words in the second article that are probably historic in the constitutional history of the European Union:
"[T]he Commission shall be empowered on behalf of the European Union to contract borrowings on the capital markets or with financial institutions."
Just to repeat that: A regulation by one institution, the Council, gives new fundamental, quasi-constitutional powers to the another institution of the European Union, the Commission, namely to make debts on the financial markets.

In other words, the Council has given itself the quasi-constitutional right to create quasi-constitutional rights for the Commission. In a meeting that lasted just half a day.

Let's face it: This is the "regulation of regulations".

Picture: © tpcom / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

FYROM chairs the Council of Europe

For the next six months, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) will chair the Council of Europe.

FYROM took over from the Swiss yesterday, and the details of their presidency can be found on a special presidency website; the speech of the very young Macedonian foreign minister Antonio Miloshoski (who has studied in Germany) in front of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has been published there, too.

The Macedonian presidency wants to focus on three priorities, although I would estimate that the second is of particular interest for the Western Balkan country:
  1. Strengthening human rights protection
  2. Fostering integration while respecting diversity
  3. Promoting youth participation
In the press conference (video), Miloshoski also underlined that he also wants to support the reform of the 47 member states strong Council of Europe to make it "more relevant, more political, more European, and more visible".

That is going to be hard work, but let's wish FYROM as much success as possible!

Picture: @9899582@N05 / CC BY 2.0

Tuesday 11 May 2010

The secret five - observations on the COSI meeting of 30 April 2010

COSI, the Standing Committee on operational cooperation on internal security, has met on 30 April to discuss issues like the protection of the EU's external borders or the cooperation between the internal security agencies of the EU.

What we see in the summary of discussions of the meeting is that the public is not trusted to know what the committee is working on in detail.

Take the summary of agenda item 5:
"The meeting reached consensus on the Presidency proposal (doc. 8852/10 COSI 24 ASIM 48 FRONT 57 COMIX 321) regarding the involvement of COSI in the implementation of 5 out of the 29 measures set out in the above-mentioned Council Conclusions. The COSI Support Group was invited to submit to the next COSI meeting concrete proposals for COSI's involvement in the identified measures and delegations were invited to indicate their willingness to participate in the elaboration and implementation of these proposals."
In this summary, we are directed to a non-public "Presidency proposal" (I've added the link) that seems to give guidance on how to deal with 29 measures proposed by the Council in February (see the Council conclusions).

But instead of telling us which are the 5 of the 29 measures to will be dealt with, COSI keeps it secret from us.

In other words: The ministers have agreed on a public list of 29 measures regarding FRONTEX, but the non-elected officials sitting in COSI keep secret from us what they are doing with these measures. Brilliant!

Monday 10 May 2010

Europe in blogs - Euroblogs (17): Eurozone

Euroblogs have reacted strongly and quite differently to the decision taken by the finance ministers in the EU Council early today.

Gavin Hewit: "staggering", "the nuclear option"

EU Weekly: "un plan ambitieux, impressionnant, couteux"

Tony Barber: "Mother of all rescue plans" "D-dag for euroen"

Bruno Waterfield: "a lie"

The European Journal: "a Swan song of the current oversized EU machine?"

Charlemagne: "stunning", "a revolutionary shift", "fiendish complexity"

Vision for EU: "unthinkable even 3 months ago"

Joe Litobarski: "a compromise solution in an attempt to avoid full fiscal union"

Eva en Europa: "Espero que no farem tard."

Centre for European Reform: "the EU is still working on a false premise"

Konrad Niklewicz: "Przecież Unia nie jest zagrożona i nie trzeba jej ratować."

Gulf Stream Blues: "should have been agreed weeks ago"

Straneuropa: "Apertura positiva e euro in ripresa. Speriamo bene."

Cecilia Malmström: "och det är viktigt att vi nu får finansiell stabilitet"

Euros du Village: "les hésitations de la chancelière allemande ont coûté beaucoup"

Jean Quatremer: "Les marchés auront ainsi réussi à imposer la rigueur pour tous"

Alpha.Sources: "some economies in the Eurozone still face debt restructuring"

Global Dashboard: "At best however, the deal is a stopgap"

Brussels Log: "De kogel is door de kerk"

500 billion Euros

Update 1: Here are the official Council conclusions!

Update 2:
Just to put this into perspective: 60 years and one day after the Schuman declaration, a group of 27 states (or 16 in the case of the Eurozone) has just decided, basically in one meeting, to launch a stability package that is far beyond imagination and that is designed to secure financial security of the EU member states and the stability of the Euro.

We are not talking about soft issues and week diplomatic declarations, we are talking about a huge thing with hard economic consequences. We are witnessing a European Union that has cleared entered a new stage of supranationalism with this decision.

It is fascinating, I must admit.

On hour ago, the Finance ministers of the European Union have decided to secure the Euro with 500 billion Euros.

I've watched the press conference with Commissioner Rehn and Spanish Finance Minster Salgado in the web stream and I also live-tweeted.

Here is what I understood (the official decisions have not yet been published on the web)*:

The 500 billion are split into two different mechanisms. The first is a "community mechanism" based on Article 122(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union:
"Where a Member State is in difficulties or is seriously threatened with severe difficulties caused by natural disasters or exceptional occurrences beyond its control, the Council, on a proposal from the Commission, may grant, under certain conditions, Union financial assistance to the Member State concerned. The President of the Council shall inform the European Parliament of the decision taken."
Commissioner Rehn said that this article applied because the financial stability of the European Union and the Eurozone were threatened by the present situation, and that this situation was out of the control of the member states. The 60 billion Euro under this mechanism are managed by the Commission and are quickly available if needed.

The second mechanism is called a "special purpose vehicle" and it is an intergovernmental agreement between the Eurozone member states. In case that more than the initial 60 billion were needed, another 440 billion Euro could be made available by the member states of the Eurozone. In case they were requested, it would need unanimity of the Eurogroup to get the money released and the timeframe would be similar to the mechanism established for Greece (some weeks).

The 500 billion Euro from both mechanisms could, in addition, be supported by up to at least 250 billion Euros from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In addition, member states have agreed to take fiscal measures to reduce their deficits. Spain and Portugal seem to have given special promises to tackle their budgetary situation with addition measures.

Altogether, the 11 hour negotiations of the EU finance ministers seem to have lead to a comprehensive and massive packaged that should show to financial markets that the Eurozone is ready to act to secure our currency.

PS: It is also worth reading Charlemagne's blog post, especially his late-evening and night updates at the end of the text.

* Please verify with the official decision taken; I was just listening to the press conference audio stream (English version).