Thursday 24 July 2014

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How to unlock the EU this summer?

Posted by on 22/07/14
By Dan Luca Federica Mogherini. Jonathan Hill. Names and nominees are floated for future Commissioners, but can't Europe do better? The best thing for the UK's relationship with the rest of Europe, for example, is to put forward David Miliband in the field. Yes: his brother leads the Left in Britain. But David is by far the best choice for all stakeholders, including the Conservatives.

Will Juncker get the Commission he needs?

Posted by on 22/07/14

Andrew Duff looks at the third, concluding phase of the Spitzenkandidaten experiment for the appointment of the new European Commission. He finds that the initiative now lies with President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker.

We have now entered the third and final phase of the constitutional innovation, introduced by the Lisbon treaty, on the matter of the election of the new European Commission.

The first two phases of the Spitzenkandidat experiment have been remarkably successful: the political parties duly put up champions to lead their election campaigns for the European Parliament; the more successful of those, Jean-Claude Juncker of the European People’s Party, was then nominated on 27 June by the European Council – despite some squealing – to succeed President Barroso. On 15 July, the European Parliament returned the compliment by giving Juncker an endorsement of 422 votes – a respectably larger vote than that the 409 votes it had accorded Martin Schulz, the runner-up Spitzenkandidat, for his election as President of the Parliament.

The third stage will tell us whether the new method really works. Will the President-elect, enjoying the strong dual legitimacy of both Council and Parliament, be able to shape the formation of the new Commission more or less to his taste?

Size and shape of the new Commission

Jean-Claude Juncker makes it clear he wants a gender balanced, pluralist college which delivers results. Good. But it is worth noting that his pitch for greater efficiency and effectiveness is already hampered by the decision of the European Council (of which he was then a part) to resile from the formula of the Lisbon treaty whereby the size of the Commission would be reduced in 2014 to two-thirds the number of member states. So he is lumbered with finding 27 colleagues for whom he needs to give respectable (if not always large) jobs.

The first shoes to fill are those of Cathy Ashton, the first Vice-President of the Commission who is also the EU’s High Representative for foreign affairs and who chairs the Council of Foreign Ministers. The treaty gives the power of this appointment to the European Council, with the consent of the President-elect. On 16 July, as we saw, the European Council failed to make the appointment of the High Rep. There are several reasons for this failure, mostly good, and all highly political: party, region and gender are all relevant factors in reaching a decision on top of the question of individual expertise and inclination. The fact is that nobody yet quite fits the bill. The problem is that without Ashton’s successor in the frame the rest of the package deal will be elusive.

The European Council cannot be envied, not least because the size of the package deal is smaller than it used to be. The Spitzenkandidat exercise has deprived the prime ministers of their former freedom of manoeuvre over the Commission presidency itself. There is also a sequencing problem: not all the jobs they have to fill come up at once. The precipitate decision to appoint a new NATO secretary-general earlier this year deprived the leaders of another useful bargaining chip. Herman Van Rompuy, the current President of the European Council, appears to be in no hurry to see his successor appointed (his term continues until the end of the year), while the post of chair of the Eurogroup does not need to be filled until next summer. And nobody dare speak of the identity of the President of the Convention which will have to be called in due course to revise the EU treaties.

So having failed to find a foreign minister, the European Council has left the matter officially until reconvening on 30 August. In the meantime, each government must make a formal nomination to the new Commission. Several prime ministers are rather unhelpfully pitching for specific (and often the same) portfolios. Most, including Cameron, Hollande and Merkel, are ignoring the need for gender balance. Renzi, while proposing a woman, is going for broke on the High Rep.

Jean-Claude Juncker, whose job it is to distribute jobs within the college, can – and, by all accounts, will – stand up to these unseemly demands from national capitals. His role has subtly changed, in this third phase of the process, from being the President-designate of a political party into President-elect of the Commission, whose task it is from now on to seek and find the general interest of all states and citizens.

Each Commissioner-designate will run the gauntlet of European Parliamentary hearings in September, where they will be tested for their competence, European commitment and indubitable independence. Then the entire Juncker college, plus its full political programme, is subject to a vote of MEPs – an open ballot by simple majority – in October. No national government in Europe is subjected to such a thorough inquisitorial parliamentary process.

The direction to take

Juncker already has the advantage of having published his ‘A New Start for Europe: Political Guidelines for the next Commission’, with ten political priorities covering jobs, growth, fairness and democratic change. These offer an intriguing contrast to the ‘Strategic Agenda for the Union in Times of Change’, which was offered up by the European Council at its June meeting. The latter document fulfils the European Council’s role of defining the general political directions and priorities of the Union for the next five years. The European Council wants an EU which is ‘stronger outside, more caring inside’. It advocates ‘stronger euro area governance and stronger economic policy coordination, convergence and solidarity’. But couched in such (inevitably) wide and ambiguous terms, it falls to the new Commission, and especially its President, to set the real political and legislative agenda – not least in terms of democratic renewal.

On the High Rep, Juncker says he wants ‘a strong and experienced player to combine national and European tools, and all the tools available in the Commission, in a more effective way than in the past’. He will establish a cluster of Commissioners under the new High Rep for the dossiers of trade, aid and development as well as for the key geographical regions. He also wants Commissioners with specific portfolios on rights issues and on immigration policy.

In terms of economic policy, Juncker will take forward the 2012 (but since seemingly abandoned) paper of Van Rompuy on ‘Genuine EMU’, and pursue enhanced convergence in the economic, fiscal and labour market policies of the eurozone. In legislative and budgetary terms, there will be a new special fiscal capacity for the eurozone, more emphasis on the social dimension, and better parliamentary control of the EU’s economic governance at both European and, where relevant, national levels.

Come the autumn much more flesh will be needed on a programme for the Commission if it is to serve Europe usefully for its full five year term. If the second term of Jose Manuel Barroso was characterised by crisis management, the first (and only?) term of Jean-Claude Juncker must be a time of steady reform and consolidation – the era of internal enlargement of the Union. In particular, a further round of budgetary reform (including revenue) is badly needed, and new financial instruments created to bolster investment beyond the €300bn so far envisaged.

In constitutional terms, the EU must be let to evolve logically so that its capacity to act effectively and legitimately keeps pace with the demands made on its system of government, at home and abroad. Not least among the challenges is Britain’s problem with European integration – a problem which grows larger by the day, and remains to be confronted, not least by the British themselves.

In this context, Jean-Claude Juncker has made a good start on his mandate. He is making a serious pitch for the appointment of a more political Commission whose task is to drive an agenda aimed at building a stronger, more united and democratic Union. As a federalist, I wish him well. Were I a nationalist, I should be worried.

@AndrewDuffEU
 ” title=”mailto:andrewduff@andrewduff.eu
“>andrewduff at andrewduff.eu

If we had taken measures, 180 Dutch wouldn’t have died

Posted by on 22/07/14

Germany longed to be the leader of the European Union, but its Chancellor, Angela Merkel, proves that she is not capable to measure up to such a position.

The actual crisis in Ukraine and the plane crash hijacked by the pro-Russian troops with Russian armament, would have called for a clear and united position from the European Union.

Although 200 European citizens died, Germany does not want to show solidarity and prefers to play into Russia’s hands.

A partial guilt belongs to the other European Union states because they accept a compelling politics from Berlin and choose not to put pressure on the most powerful capital of EU.

If politicians from Berlin do not represent us, then we surely need new ones. Germany without the European space loses its status as a world power. It was the main winner of the European project and the only one not affected by the economic crisis.

Given past experience I would not be surprised if at the end of Merkel’s mandate she is employed somewhere at Gazprom. This would not be the first or the last case, the example set by the German leaders being objectionable.

England, France and Italy, the other powers of the EU are handling their internal politics scandals and prefer to let everything in the hands of Angela Merkel.

But is seems like these hands are too stained with Russian gas.

Europe needs new leader and it is a shame that USA has to come and make order in our ownhousehold.

The Romanian President Traian Băsescu declared that after Ukraine, Poland and Romania could be next and he mentioned that he was disappointed by the European Union’s reaction. He asked for more sanctions against the Russian Federation.

The Romanian President asked that the life of the European Union’s citizens to be put before the economic interest, given its importance. He blames the European leaders who vetoed the application of sanctions for the death of 180 Dutch. If measure were taken a month ago when they were proposed, then we wouldn’t have assisted to this tragedy.

The Romanian President underlined that the European Union should lay stress on what it has more valuable: the people. And even if there are consistent economic losses they would be at the level of the Russian Federation for sure, and this thing will stop the past aggressive style.

He believes that the more the application of firm measures is delayed the more we pay for the Vladimir Putin’s wish to restore the USSR.

Development Aid: the benefits of transparency

Posted by on 22/07/14

The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has launched an open data platform on Development Aid, aimed at improving transparency on funds to developing countries. The new website is still under development. The Ministry already provides OECD with an annual report on this data.
Information on 2004-2012 period is already available on the new website.

In 2012 most of Italian funds have been addressed to Tunisia (78 millions) Pakistan (61 millions) and Afghanistan (39 millions).
Best Italian donors are: central Public Administrations, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Development Aid Directorate).

Most of the money is targeted at funding projects helping refugees, build infrastructures and send humanitarian aid.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs must soon decide whether to publish aid flow data on the International Aid Transparency Initiative, a voluntary, multi-stakeholder initiative that seeks to improve the transparency of aid, development and humanitarian resources in order to increase their effectiveness in tackling poverty.

The common standard was called for in the Busan Partnership Agreement and further defined by the OECD.

After the Government of Japan has begun publishing to IATI in June 2014, Italy and Russia are the only G8 governments not taking part in the process.

According to the not-for-profit organisation “Publish what you fund”, the Italian aid portal is the first step this country has made in the right direction to make its aid transparent. However, in order to be truly useful, the information must be timely, comparable, comprehensive and accessible – so, it must be published to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). Italy agreed to do this as part of its G8 commitments last year, so it must begin publishing to this internationally agreed standard if it really wants to keep the promise to open aid flows by the end of 2015.

Development aid is a precious resource. Open aid data also facilitates the participation of citizens and parliamentarians in holding their governments to account.

Centennial Commemoration of World War I

Posted by on 22/07/14

The killing of a man’s nephew triggered an event that changed the course of human civilization in the subsequent decades. It was on June 28, 1914 when a Yugoslav nationalist assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo.

What followed then was the July Crisis. And on this very day 100 years ago, July 23, the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum against Serbia, for they believed that the assassination was concocted by a secret military society consisted of members of the Serbian military. The notion gave the Austrian government the opportunity for them to exert their influential authority over Southeast Europe and suppress nationalist movements.

The ultimatum though was impossible to abide as it threatened Serbia’s sovereignty. It was Austria’s expectation that Serbia would reject the remarkably severe terms of said ultimatum, thus giving it a “legitimate” pretext for declaring war. The Kaiserreich declared war on Serbia five days later, which also implied the declaration of the death warrants of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and three other powerful empires in Europe that time.

It’s vital for us to memorialize the centennial anniversary of the “Great War”. But there is nothing great in war, especially in this one. World War I was one of the deadliest conflicts in human history, one that cost the world €7.6b and resulted to 20 million senseless deaths, all caused by a few absurd yet essential factors, which include imperialist foreign policies, militarism, sheer nationalism, complex alliances, and domestic crises.

One of those factors still infect world politics today. Nationalism, still a major contributing factor to armed conflicts, continues to stand firm. 19th century nationalism was when great powers of Europe had the desire for dominance and prestige. This shameless and greedy desire for power should be condemned. And I have redundantly condemned the ideology in almost every piece I’ve written in this blog. And it deserves more damnation.

Ongoing civil wars in Africa and the Middle East, the rise of new terror extremists, the recklessness of rising superpowers and their refusal to adhere to international legal and diplomatic principles, the capitalist-consumerist policies that hinder world poverty reduction, and the lack of global progress in addressing climate change are just some of the major challenges our world currently faces. And they are the challenges that will continue to make human civilization suffer if we don’t act.

I realize that the planet is geopolitically divided. Power politics continue to evolve and dominate the current global order but I nevertheless believe that we citizens ultimately have the power to construct the world we want to live in. And we can achieve that by pressuring our governments to promote further enhancements in global governance.

From an EU perspective, the creation of a quasi-political union was the first step in promoting regional organizational integration as a mechanism to change an order to a system where unity of nations prevail over individual sovereign states. It’s time to take the next step. For Europe, it’s time to promote more integration. Not just inside the Union, but also outside, by advocating enhanced regional integration of similar organizations.

A huge step is to also reform the United Nations, starting with the Security Council. Reforming the UN is reforming the current global order. It needs to be adapted to contemporary global sociopolitical realities for it to genuinely fulfill its aim to maintain world peace and prosperity.

Let us learn from history. Let’s not do the same mistake. Nationalism was one of the gross factors that triggered the atrocities of the past century. It’s time for us to contemplate this and rationalize a new approach in changing our ways and our world. Thus, governments should start discouraging militarism and jingoism as it is the only way for human civilization to weaken our warmongering mentality. Warfare must be put to an end before it ends us.

 

 

(Political cartoons from Google Images, courtesy of the rightful owners.)

https://i.imgur.com/F4VlMib.jpg

https://i.imgur.com/phH8jBK.jpg

Could İhsanoğlu challenge Erdoğan?

Posted by on 21/07/14

In August 10, Turkey holds its presidential election. This is the first time in the political history of the country that the President is going to be elected directly by the electorate, and not through the internal vote of the Parliament. Meantime, this election brings something new in the political landscape of Turkey: the candidacy of Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, endorsed by five opposition parties, to compete Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Is he going to challenge Turkey’s PM with success or is İhsanoğlu candidacy the critical element of a wider project?

Erdoğan has declared as priority the constitutional amendment and the increase of executive powers of the President, which is literally interpreted as the shift from a parliamentary regime to a presidential one. In a broader perspective, this priority resembles the one Russian President Vladimir Putin put on track when he jumped from President to PM and back, wishing to keep his legacy and power intact throughout his statesmanship. Before the candidacy of İhsanoğlu, the presidential election of August seemed shallow-drifted as Erdoğan was expected to bring about another landslide.

The profile of İhsanoğlu

The 70-year old diplomat became known in the Arabic world after his tenure in the general secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Prescribed as a modest Islamist, born in Cairo, well-aware of the geopolitical balances in the Middle East, a strong lobbyist and effective technocrat so far, İhsanoğlu has preserved a low profile for himself, being almost unknown in the Turkish public – as well as among the Turkish political leadership. However, his candidacy is endorsed by five parties of the opposition, among which CHP and MHP, a fact that inevitably brings him in the center of the attention for the foreign media. His candidacy was based on some critical and qualitative elements that compose the Kemalist tradition in Turkey: İhsanoğlu strongly advocates for a secular state in Turkey, acknowledging the firm position of the army and the judicial corps in decision-making, and maintaining strong ties with the Western world, and especially with the United States.

In addition to that, he has also being networking with Saudi Arabia, being considered as a modest Islamist and a balancing figure between extreme Westernization and Islamism. In this respect, İhsanoğlu was also a founding member of the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture, established in the 1980s in Istanbul. The fundamental aim of the Centre was to build on the effective balance between the secular character of the Turkish democracy and the inner Islamic character of the Turkish culture; in other words, to create the necessary foundations for Turkey to increase its pivotal position in the Western world and at the same time in the Islamic world. All five parties have stressed out that his candidacy can pull a significant part of Erdoğan’s electorate, bidding on the fact that İhsanoğlu is intended to unveil crucial issues like religious freedom, social freedom and gender equality, while addressing the demands and unrest of a large part of the Turkish public in the urban centres that are accusing Erdoğan for being an authoritative leader (i.e. Gezi Park; Twitter shutdown, amongst other issues).

In front of a tough reality

Despite rumors for the support by Fethullah Gülen, one of the biggest burdens that İhsanoğlu has to deal with is the fact that he is completely unknown in the Turkish public. Even the President of CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, told in the media a couple of weeks ago that he did not know him before his being selected as a joint candidate. Media networks inclined to the opposition are making a great effort to shape his profile and make him known to the public, but time is pressing. However, the selection of İhsanoğlu may have a broader reference to the forthcoming general elections in 2015, turning his candidacy for the Presidency a crash-test so that both himself and the opposition can count their leverage and power.

Another issue we need to point out with reference to the presidential election is the shift of politics in Turkey towards conservatism, having  this applied into the wider political spectrum. This conclusion stems from the fact that the ideological platform of CHP has been considerably affected with respect to İhsanoğlu. Someone could wonder why the opposition did not choose a political figure that is more recognizable, and being more attached to the secular ideology that CHP represents. Another question would be why the opposition did not manage these 12 years of Erdoğan’s rule to prepare a solid sting of counter-policy proposals, especially in the field of media, youth, or the Kurds for instance. At the end of the day, for the Europeans it has always been hard to interpret Turkish politics and society, as it is truly an amalgam of conflicting yet extremely interested mixture of religious and power balance, social and economic development, regional assertiveness, multicultural growth, and way too prolific and inspiring comparing to what we experience in our western standardized frameworks.

Bridging Europe and JEF Turkey

Regardless of the political developments in August, Bridging Europe and JEF Turkey launched a couple of days ago a common project called “EU-Turkey Dialogue Initiative“, destined to enrich the exchange of different perceptions with respect to the Turkish society. Beginning from September 2014, these organizations are going to unveil a series of issues, ranging from cultural development, human rights, youth mobilization, and gender equality, topics that are not well-developed and often elaborated at the sidelines of the current political debate. However difficult is to predict whether Turkey is going to become or not a full member-state of the European Union, we both consider that knowing better what are the developments in our common topics of reference could definitely bring us closer, building on mutual understanding, especially for the younger generation.

You are all invited to read the PRESS RELEASE, available in English, Turkish, and Greek,  and bring your ideas and proposals into surface.

MH17 should be a wake up call for Europe

Posted by on 20/07/14
By AEGEE-Europe The shooting down of a Boeing 777 is a shocking reminder of the fact that, while the international community divides its attention between the bombing in Gaza and the holiday destination of the German world champions, the situation in Eastern Ukraine has degenerated into a civil war whose consequences are unpredictable.

City of Zagreb still playing with fire

Posted by on 20/07/14

Seasoned Bankwatch-watchers may recall our successful four-year campaign to stop the EBRD from financing a waste incinerator just outside Zagreb. Between 2005 and 2008, we supported Zelena akcija/Friends of the Earth Croatia and local group UZOR to prevent the City of Zagreb from building a huge 385 000 tonnes per year waste incinerator in Resnik on the outskirts of Croatia’s capital.

The reasons against the project were clear: the low levels of recycling and composting in Zagreb, the lack of facilities to safely dispose of the bottom ash, fly ash and filter residues, the inflexibility of such a large facility and poor previous experience with environmental enforcement in Croatia.

Whether for these or other reasons, the EBRD and later the EIB wisely avoided financing the project, with the Mayor of Zagreb confirming in late 2008 that the project would not go ahead.

Since then however, the City of Zagreb seems intent on passing a waste management plan that includes almost exactly the same measures, in spite of Zelena akcija’s best efforts to promote alternatives. The city is again holding a public consultation for a plan that looks eerily similar to the previous.

Even though Croatia must recycle 50 percent of its waste by 2020 as per EU targets and Zagreb has almost a quarter of the country’s population, the city’s new draft waste plan still has the incinerator project as its centrepiece, now – incomprehensibly – with a capacity of 400 000 tonnes per year.

This in spite of the fact that Zagreb’s annual residual waste actually dropped to around 270 000 tonnes per year for the years 2009-2013, all with a very low percentage of recycling and no serious efforts to reduce the production of waste. So imagine what would happen if Zagreb’s authorities really made an effort on recycling, composting and waste reduction.

The proposed waste management plan foresees no less than EUR 360 million for the construction of the incinerator and an ash landfill, 35 times less money for recycling and separated collection, and zero for waste reduction measures. The costs of the incinerator alone total 83 per cent of the entire budget to implement the plan, turning the waste hierarchy on its head.

The only city-wide recycling measures include an increased number of recycling containers, which enable recycling only of a few materials and have long proven to be of limited use when people must walk further to use them and have no economic incentive to do so.

The need to treat waste sludge from Zagreb’s controversial wastewater treatment plant is often cited as a reason for the incinerator, but no alternative treatments are covered in the waste management plan, nor is there an explanation of what will happen once the backlog of sludge is burned and Zagreb does not produce enough other waste to fill it. Importing other people’s waste seems like the only outcome if the burner is built.

The incinerator would create around 100 000 tonnes of ash, but there have so far been no realistic proposals of where this could be landfilled, as all suggested locations have been met unsurprisingly with fierce local resistance. It is also unclear where the hazardous fractions of the waste eg. the filter residues, would be disposed of and how much this would cost, but considering that Croatia has no suitable facilities it can be expected that this could incur considerable costs and as well raise ethical questions about leaving other countries to bear the consequences of Croatia’s waste.

The frustrating thing is that the alternatives – waste prevention, recycling, composting and mechanical biological treatment with anaerobic digestion – are available and functioning in many cities, but the City of Zagreb refuses to see this. We must move quickly beyond this impasse and agree on a waste management plan we can all live with. And that means that the City of Zagreb will have to open its ears and start listening rather than blundering blindly on with its plans.

The question here is where the international financial institutions stand. A meeting with EBRD representatives in Zagreb in May 2013 showed that the bank is aware of the imperative of solving Zagreb’s waste problem and is interested in supporting the city’s efforts. But will it silently follow the City of Zagreb’s increasingly absurd plans or help it finally develop a waste management system we can be proud of?

The Ukraine Strategy Fiasco

Posted by on 20/07/14

The tragic accident of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 has shocked the European public – and with good reason. Less justified, however, is the attitude of some EU national leaders who are trying to use this tragedy in order to slap more sanctions on Russia.

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace in Moscow, gives a more balanced view of events in Ukraine and the way they should be interpreted:

“The west fully supports a Ukrainian government which originated from a revolution that toppled an elected – if obviously corrupt – president. True, the new president, Petro Poroshenko, has a solid popular mandate. Yet the referendums held in Donetsk and Luhansk two weeks prior to the presidential poll – and no less illegal than the Maidan revolution in Kiev – reflected a very high degree of dissatisfaction in eastern Ukraine with the deal they were getting from central government.

The legitimacy of the “people’s republics” is questionable, of course, but the Ukrainian government’s “anti-terrorist operation”, resulting in an ever-rising toll of civilian lives, does not do much to endear Kiev to the easterners. The west’s tendency to treat one’s allies more leniently than one’s adversaries – while sticking to the same high principles throughout – can and does backfire.

In Ukraine, a lot is at stake today. First, for the Ukrainians themselves, wherever they may live. The fate of their country remains in the balance – not just because of the armed conflict in the east, but as a result of the dire economic situation and an uncertain political future. Russia, too, is profoundly affected. Having clashed with the United States over Ukraine, it is now facing increasingly serious consequences in a number of areas – above all, in economy and finance.

For Europe, Ukraine represents a security risk far higher than the one it faced in the Balkans in the 1990s. In the US, Russia may have come to be seen as a nasty nuisance rather than a worthy competitor or a real threat. Yet there is an impression that the punishment already administered is not supported by a realistic strategy leading to a credible goal. If so, it could lead to a very different outcome from the one that the US might desire.”

 

Let us face it, what we are dealing with in Ukraine is yet another American-inspired policy quagmire. No clear exit strategy from the worrisome situation is available, even if the West has ample financial leverage on the Kiev government that could be used in order to put a stop to the military operations in the East and bring all parties involved in the conflict to the negotiating table instead.

A lingering question about the tragic MH17 accident remains. Why is it, that no EU or Ukrainian air safety official had taken timely measures to prevent commercial flights above a war zone ? In hindsight, these officials are at least as responsible for what happened to the unsuspecting passengers of the plane as the actual people who shot it down.

 

Getting rid of ECHR: Good for Cameron, bad for the rest of Europe

Posted by on 20/07/14

As it is well known, David Cameron is ready to do everything in order to stay in Downing Street after next year’s general election. With his latest proposition, however, he sets new standards in terms of unreason and is directly threating Europe as value-based community at its very core.

Mr Cameron and his party intend to sideline the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) by enabling the House of Commons to veto its verdicts. In this way the United Kingdom is basically riding itself from the judical surpremacy of the Strasbourg court, since such a mechanism is barly compatible with the European Convention of Human Rights.

Inducing the Tories to such an unprecented move are the general backlashes of the court’s verdict onto British legislation. More immediately, however, the British government seeks to be able to expel convicted foreigners from its country.

Mr Cameron’s plan is widely criticised – even within his own party. Last week, two major opponents in his ranks, the liberal-minded Attorney General Dominic Grieve and fromer Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, lost their jobs in the Cabinet due to a comprehensive reshuffle by the Prime Minister. Although Downing Street is neglecting any link between their replacements and its ECHR plans, it can hardly be sold as an unhappy coincidence that his strongest and vocal opponents ,of all people, suddenly find themselves out of their jobs. According to reports, the party’s convention in October should clear the tracks for the endeavor.

It is the latest display of unreason that Mr Cameron hopes would help secure his re-election. And it, again, comes at a very high price.

The European Court of Human Rights has been established in the early 1950s as a supranational court, that monitors the compliance of the European Convention of Human Rights and imposes sanctions in case of violations. It was founded on the idea that the reading of human rights should not be subjected to the political arbitrariness in every single European country, but should follow common standards and subjected to the jurisdiction of an independent supranational body.

And that is exactly what the court has done ever since. In this month alone, the ECHR has passed its judgement on the controversial imprisonment of reporters in Turkey, on keeping defendants in cages during court proceedings in Russia and on the marriage ban for transsexuals in Finland.

47 European states have ratified the respective convention and thus subjected themselves to the jurisdiction of the ECHR. If the United Kingdom were to leave, as the Prime Minister obviously intends, it would join an exquisit club with Belarus, Europe’s last dictatorship. Furthermore, observers on both sides of the Channel consider the recognition of the ECHR a requirement for EU membership. Britain’s sidelining could thus lead to its exit from the European Union which notoriously is not a frightening scenario among the Conservatives.

If Europe today is legitimatised to present itself as a champion of human rights, it is solely due to the European Convention of Human Rights and the Strasbourg court that guarantees for its compliance.

The European Union, on the other hand, is almost powerless with regard to the adherence of human rights. Yes, there is the Charter for Fundamental Rights that proclaims the values and freedoms of the Union and its citizens. But neither is the Charter legally binding for national legislation nor has each member state sign up to it. Poland and the UK have opted out. For countries like Hungary or Romania, it is does not make for a proper instrument to curb undemocratic developments.

For years, European politicians and jurists have been discussing legislation to create a legally binding instrument out of the Charte. Until now, they have not been able to come up with a tangible and feasible way to do so. Jean-Claude Juncker, President-elect of the European Commission, announced in his speech before the European Parliament that he intends to appoint a Commissioner of Fundamental Rights in his Commission. How such a Commissioner could do anything to improve the situation, has yet to be seen.

Today, the ECHR remains the sole guarantor for human rights in Europe. If the European Union by itself is not able to contribute to that task, it should at least support the ECHR at the very utmost. Consequently, there must be an unambiguous response to David Cameron’s intentions – if not for the sake of Britian’s future in Europe, then at least in order to avoid such intentions from catching on in other member states. Otherwise there is serious concern for human rights in Europe get subjected to political arbitrariness of single countries and for the idea of Europe as a community based on humanitarian values to remain nothing but a rhetoricial figure.

This peace first appeared on TheEuropean.de on July 19th (in German). Follow me on Twitter @brnshnwd

The EU v Palo Alto: An EU perspective on privacy

Posted by on 20/07/14

One year on from the Snowden revelations and the global privacy debate is by no means settled. FB announced it will be exercising its rights to sell users’ data to third party advertisers, Russia signed an act banning the export of all its personal data abroad and Google is portraying the ECJ ruling on the right to be forgotten not as a right to privacy but as an infringement on freedom of expression. As far as privacy is concerned the field is still wide open and it’s all to play for as governments, tech-companies and the EU square up for a show-down in the months and year to come.

Kathleen Garnett

Related links: Little BrotherBig BrotherBrother on Brother

Dave Eggers’ much hyped novel, The Circle, from a literary point of view is a flop. Set in an imaginary tech-campus modelled on Googleplex in California the characters have about as much charisma and fluidity as two-dimensional card-board cut-outs. The message is at times over-flagged to the point of tedium. The relationship between the protagonist and her “love interest” as implausible and artificial as the artificial intelligence the giant tech company “The Circle” is at the forefront of developing. A missed opportunity. Had Eggers’ characters and plot been that bit more nuanced this could have been a brilliant book and possibly, one day, a classic.

For what Eggers’ lacks in literary style he makes up for in vision. Like Orwell, Eggers’ has an uncanny ability to identify the threat and coin it in a slogan. Thus, the founding philosophy of the three Circle founders reads as follows:

SECRETS ARE LIES, SHARING IS CARING, PRIVACY IS THEFT.

When George Orwell conceived 1984 in 1948 Big Brother is portrayed as an ever present, all watching, insidious State from which individuals can never escape. Eggers’ fictional “The Circle” on the other hand is based on a cheerful “Little Brother” (i.e. a huge commercial tech company with billions of subscribers harvesting user data to sell on to third parties) that slowly but insidiously invades our personal lives. Like Big Brother Little Brother is ever present, all watching and impossible to shake off. The contrast between big brother and little brother is one of perception. Whilst big brother is sinister from the word go, little brother appears to be a more benevolent, well intentioned, harmless invader of our privacy.

This is where fiction and real life over-lap in unsettling detail. Modern populations are more than willing and happy to subscribe, by the millions and billions to apps and social networking sites, hardly viewing them as sinister or malevolent. In any case do the CEO’s of on-line service providers look like ominous, totalitarian dictators? Hardly. Steve Jobs gave inspiring TED talks that made millions want to weep. Zuckerberg? C’mon hardly a Blofeld plotting world destruction from a mountain top. Just a regular nerd in a hoodie. Sergei Brin – looks like a nice clever chap with a strange obsession for glasses and extreme sports. Nothing wrong with that.

Just as the three fictional founders of The Circle reinvest their billions into new on-line tools to solve the world’s evils so too do the larger than life Jobs, Zuckerberg and Brin. They too use their immense wealth and patented technology to devise on-line tools which they claim will be able to eliminate, in no particular order: crime, corruption, fraud, world hunger, poverty, child abuse, violence, disease. Identify the global challenge and Palo Alto (aka The Circle) is ready to step in and solve the problem through innovation and technology. Money is not an obstacle to their ambitions. Privacy, on the other hand, is. For their business ambitions to succeed three crucial factors must be set in stone.

First, complete transparency which is why the message secrets are lies must be promoted. Second, all registered users must keep on posting everyday events hence sharing is caring. Third, there is nothing in our private lives to be ashamed of unless we have a criminal past or criminal desires which is why privacy is theft and not a right.

Eggers’ novel portrays a not too distant future, where monopolistic, dominant tech-companies control each and every aspect of our everyday lives by tagging us with impunity on-line. A future, which many European regulators and civic privacy groups consider no longer fiction but reality. Continental Europe, more than any other global region, is pushing for a regulatory agenda to find a balance between the obvious benefits of on-line technology on the one hand and citizens’ expectations of their right to a private life on the other.

Let us then, take each of The Circle’s slogans and dissect them, one by one, in order to determine whether, from an EU perspective, there is anything to fear from the increasing influence of global tech companies on our everyday lives. Are their business practices well intentioned signalling more jobs and a better future for us and generations to come? Or could their business practices have a less obvious, though no less problematic down side? If yes, can European regulation square The Circle and bring it back into line with human rights law?

The first section will consider the assumption that “secrets are lies” and contrast it to the EU’s “right to be forgotten”. The second section will consider the idea that “sharing is caring” and contrast it with European citizens’ squeamishness with sharing their private lives with unknown third parties . The third section, “privacy is theft” considers whether our personal data is a proprietary right or, as the EU sees it, a human right.

 

Israel’s ‘Protective Edge’: Why now?

Posted by on 20/07/14

An air strike in Rafah in the southern of Gaza strip Another Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip; it’s not the first and won’t be the last if the political equation in the region does not change. With the previous offensives launched by Israel on Gaza, several military goals were declared. This time, “Operation Protective Edge” comes within a different context, with new domestic, regional and international factors at play. These conditions, by and large, are more prosaic and complex and have been key elements in determining Israel’s goals for this operation, as part of a larger strategy that goes beyond the war itself. A clear change in the map of world politics has underlined a rising Russian role. With Moscow’s fundamental stance on the Syrian crisis and clear US and EU bewilderment towards the Ukraine and Crimea, Russia’s political weight cannot be overlooked anymore; fading US influence has become a fact. China has revised its position and role in the Middle East and opted to stay away from the limelight, maintaining its interests but with a lower voice. This was seen as the best option in order to halt its sliding popularity in the region due to its obvious support for the Syrian regime. Regionally, this Israeli war comes when the events of the Arab Spring continue to surprise all observers. The fall of the Muslim Brotherhood, by force in Egypt and voluntarily in Tunisia; the escalated crisis in Syria; and the unprecedented chaos in Iraq, Yemen and Libya are cases in point. On the other hand, Iran managed to defuse international pressure and has been successful in reviving and preserving the diplomatic track of its nuclear file. In Israel, a volatile ruling coalition has been facing mounting domestic criticism. Several domestic travails and economic difficulties have pushed many Israeli intellectuals and politicians to call repeatedly for the dissolution of the current government. In Palestine, the aggression on the Gaza Strip comes shortly after the long awaited national reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah; a new deadlock in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations (Israel has been widely blamed for this stalemate); and a wave of violence in the West Bank, started by the killing of three Israeli settlers and followed by the murder of a Palestinian teen in cold blood. Israel had constantly asked the Palestinian Authority to choose between reconciliation with Hamas and peace. For this reason, Israel could not hide its irritation at Palestinian reconciliation and the resultant unity government, and threatened the moderate PA with serious consequences. In response, its closest allies called upon Israel to put the Palestinian new government to the test and to give it a chance. In light of the noticeable decline in Israel’s international popularity, its frustration was expressed in condemnation of the US administration’s willingness to work with the new Palestinian government. It is bizarre to see Israeli leaders accusing the Palestinian Authority of isolating Israel globally. In this vein, one should concede that the Palestinian leadership has succeeded in building bridges with people and governments around the world. The international community has become closer to the Palestinian narrative on peace and international campaigns to boycott Israeli institutions and products have grown to include civil societies, universities and official positions. Considering the above, it has become unimpeachable that the Israeli government had to find a way out of its domestic crisis and international dilemma. Domestic cohesion often requires governments to find an external bogey; the US has played this card at least since the start of the Cold War and it is not a novel strategy by any means. Concocting an external crisis, therefore seems to have been a foregone conclusion, but what, who and where, especially at this critical juncture for the Middle East? Israeli decision-makers had a number of options. Iran: There is a broad swathe of anti-Iran sentiment in Israel, for example, and considerable popular support for a military strike on Tehran’s nuclear sites, although polls showed that Israelis are lukewarm about the Sisyphean task of attacking Iran unilaterally. So what about the northern front? Hezbollah: Hezbollah may cause Israeli leaders to have sleepless nights but they are fully aware of the strategic, logistic and military capabilities that the Lebanese militia possesses. Moreover, the Israeli government is also aware that Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria and its losses there have not exhausted the movement enough to make military surprises on Israel’s northern border unlikely. That leaves the Palestinians. Palestine: Whether it is true or not that Israel “fabricated” the killing of the three settlers by hiding the “fact” that they were actually killed in a car crash which was covered-up to provide the government with the “kidnap and murder” story, is irrelevant. The real fact is that Israel has been itching to pick a fight with the Palestinians. The military and political planners knew that no amount of bloodletting on the Palestinian front would bring down international condemnation or major losses; nor even garner much media attention given the current regional and international chaos Hence, Israel blamed Hamas for killing the settlers, which the Islamic movement still denies. Before the government could benefit in this respect from the deaths, however, a number of Jewish settlers abducted and burned alive a Palestinian teenager. As a result, Israel decided to transfer the battle wholesale to the Gaza Strip, intending to get Hamas embroiled in a confrontation and bring the movement to its knees. There was a specific sequence to Israeli attacks on the besieged territory; unpopulated open areas were targeted first and there was a gradual shift until Israel is now hitting anywhere and everywhere. This was done with the aim of pushing Hamas and other resistance groups into retaliating by firing rockets across into Israel. Fully aware of the limited effectiveness of, and thus threat from, the Palestinian rockets, the Israeli government succeeded, despite some criticism, to unite its citizens against the perceived threat coming from the Gaza Strip and so distract attention away from domestic problems and international crises. Images of Israelis in bomb shelters were shown worldwide; the Palestinians, of course, have no such places to seek refuge from Israeli bombs and missiles. Israel’s gains have not stopped at the domestic level. With every rocket fired from Gaza, the government gets closer to other goals. Whereas many in the international community had started to accept the Palestinian position and condemn Israel’s disproportionate violence, the rockets fired from Gaza brought them back to the Israeli side. Led by the usual suspects in Washington, London and Paris, we were told that Israel has the right to “defend itself”, regardless of its excessive use of force and the horrifying death toll among the Palestinians. Not limited to these gains, Operation Protective Edge dealt a heavy blow to the Palestinian unity government. Any plans for it to implement the reconciliation agreement and prepare for national elections have been side-lined, with priorities changed by Israel’s fait accompli. In addition, Israel depended, as it has always done, upon the contradictory positions taken by the Palestinians on how to deal with such aggression, creating another setback for reconciliation. The only military goals that Israel’s offensive can hope to achieve are to damage the capabilities of the Palestinian resistance groups, who are presumed to have a limited stock of weapons, destroy the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt and continue the siege. It was always on the cards, therefore, that the Israelis would accept an unconditional ceasefire. Hamas’s rejection of the Egyptian ceasefire initiative was unexpected, placing the Israeli government in the position of having to consider an unplanned ground operation. The longer the operation lasts and the more losses that Israel suffers, the more likely that it will seek new terms with amendments to the 2012 truce in an agreement acceptable to its citizens. Hamas and the Palestinian resistance groups, meanwhile, will not accept languishing in the besieged Gaza Strip any longer; they are unlikely to agree to the terms of the 2012 truce again. Finding an outlet to the world beyond its borders has become sine qua non; this could be the Rafah border crossing, a sea port or even an airport. It is obvious that neither Hamas nor the disgruntled and weary Palestinians in Gaza would accept a return to the detested status quo. Appeared in: Arabian Gazette, Political Science Academy, Iran Review, Arab Media Network, the Daily Journalist, Middle East Monitor, Today’s Zaman, Daily News Egypt, News 24,

Life with Disability: “I am not Feeble-minded, I just Can’t Hear You Well”

Posted by on 20/07/14

Article by: Jelena Đorić, Hrvoje Nimac, Haris Dedović
Edited by: Ana Alibegova & Stefan Alijevikj

“When I go to the counter in some institution, I have to read the lips of the officer behind the counter because I cannot hear the voice through the glass. Sometimes I do not understand so I have to ask same things several times. Then this person becomes upset and starts yelling at me saying word by word, as if I am feeble-minded. Then I have to tell them: Sorry, I’m not stupid, I just can’t hear very well”.  This is how Sandra Peshevska-Mickovska, a passionate painter and a member of  the Association of Students and Youth with Disabilities portrays an unusual situation from the everyday life of a person with disability in Macedonia. Together with Daniela Stojanovska – Djingovska, the President of the Association of Students and Youth with Dissabilities, they present their organizational activities, explain the challenges they are facing, discuss the inclusion of the disabled people in Macedonia, and send a message that being disabled does not require a special treatment or over-emotionalizing, but equal rights as any other citizen of the country.

M!: Tell us something about your association. What are the activities you work on?

Daniela: Our association started working in 2002 and at the beginning was registered as an “association of students”, however, some time later, we re-registered and became “youth association”, being able to also include other young people with physical difficulties. The association has around 150 members and while most of them are people with disabilities, we also have 10-20 per cent of people without disabilities as we are an inclusive organization.

Regarding activities, first, there is the promotion and implementation of inclusion of people with disabilities, but in addition, we are working on the realization of rights, equality and on the correction of system errors that we have in Macedonia. Essentially, we are trying to remove all barriers  for people with disabilities, in order to engage them more easily in the educational processes.

M!: Do you cooperate with the authorities in Macedonia?

Daniela: When it comes to financing, as an association we are not getting anything from the present government and we have not gotten anything from any of the preceding governments either. We are funded strictly by foreign donations. Since we operate as a service and we are unique in this regard, we have tried in the past to get some funding from the authorities, but it was all in vain. One thing I can commend is that we have a good cooperation with the governments regarding creation of new laws. In 2008 an Act was adopted that enabled people with disabilities to be free of fee payment for enrolling to higher educational institutions. This resulted with increased number of people with disabilities going to college. And on a local level, in the city of Skopje, the transportation for the people with movement difficulties has been solved.

Dear Mr Juncker, Europe is ageing fast and action is needed

Posted by on 18/07/14
Guest blogpost by Anne-Sophie Parent, AGE Platform Europe Secretary General. In 2012, we were already 190 million people aged 50 years and over in the EU, i.e. 37% of the population. In 20-30 year time, we – including you and me – are going to be three times more to reach the age of 80 and [...]

27% ≠ 27% ≠ a good idea

Posted by on 17/07/14

By Adam White, Research Coordinator at WWF European Policy Office’s Climate and Energy Unit

The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.

- Aristotle

When it comes to European targets for greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy, and energy efficiency, every percentage point is closely modelled and examined.  The esoteric target of 27% renewable energy is the product of European Commission analysis on contributions to reach the (inadequate) 40% emissions cut by 2030.

A separate review of Energy Efficiency, still in draft form, looked at energy savings of up to 40%, as called for by Parliament and NGOs, and while it did examine 28%, 30 and 35%, found greater benefits to the higher end.

Unfortunately, such dedicated number gazing sometimes clashes with politics, or circumstance, or – as in the case of the 2030 energy efficiency target – both.

The higher energy efficiency numbers are intimidating to a Commission that’s afraid of doing battle with difficult Member States, and contradict its earlier 2030 framework review (the one done prior to the recognition by all concerned that efficiency is crucial to energy security).

Never fear, because some Commissioners have cooked up a solution: simply ‘match’ the efficiency target to the renewables target – 27%/27%. Neat and parallel (and more than an echo of Commissioner Oettinger’s earlier 30/30/30 rhetoric).  Sadly, it is just not as simple as that.  However similar the numbers seem on paper – in reality they mean very different things.

The renewables target applies to the share of final energy use – the proportion of renewable energy we get when we switch on lights.  On the other hand, the efficiency target applies to cuts in primary energy use below a baseline projection – so it reflects the reduction in the amount of fuel used in the EU compared to expectations absent the applicable policy.

These are completely different notions. 27% in no way equals 27%.

The renewable energy target and the efficiency target interact in complex ways.  You can reduce the EU’s consumption of fuel, and therefore help to meet the efficiency target, by increasing renewable energy.  This is because renewable energy technologies convert their energy inputs (sun, wind) more efficiently than traditional power plants convert coal and gas into electricity.  The converse is also true, you can help meet the renewables target by boosting efficiency, since the less total energy you use, the easier it is for a higher proportion of that total to be met by renewables.

These are all considerations that the number crunchers pay close attention to, but which their bosses seem willing to overlook in the interests of symmetry and expediency.  And like a heart bypass candidate who can’t resist another double cheese hamburger, the Commission has decided to ignore the consequences of their bad decision: a 27% energy efficiency target actually represents a slowdown of current efforts, and would put in jeopardy the improved health and billions of euros saved every year that efficiency delivers.

Interesting how a Commission which is almost 70% male, and 100% white is apparently only interested in equality when it comes to plucking numbers out of the air.

 

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