Wednesday 16 April 2014

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Why eCommerce is under attack

Posted by on 10/04/14

Why eCommerce is under attack

May I start with a question? What do you think is one of the most innovative businesses in mankind? Commerce. To sell and buy is a business started from peer-to-peer business to mobile business today. Especially in the last two hundred years commerce developed the way to shop from flying merchants to marketplaces to shops to supermarkets to shopping malls to eCommerce and to Mobile-Commerce.  Millions of people like to shop online and use several innovative ways of commerce. The consumer decides how they want to shop, not governments and not enterprises.

But, eCommerce like we know it is under attack.


A growing number of brands and manufacturers are restricting Internet trade, for example using contract terms to stop sellers from selling goods on Online-Shops and online marketplaces.


What happened? Speaking with Online Sellers for many years now one topic is coming up louder and louder year by year. Platform Bans. After Adidas made it public mid 2012 that they are restricting sellers from selling online and via online marketplaces, this topic seems to be the biggest issue for Online-Trade. To be clear on that, platform bans mean that brand owners prohibit to sell on platforms and marketplaces like Allegro, Amazon, eBay, Priceminister, Rakuten and so on.


In my point of view manufactures and brands act against SMEs, cross-border trade, online and consumers. And this is not a gut feeling – EU Parliament is saying it as well.


At the study „Discrimination of Consumers in the Digital Single Market“ you can find the statement „From the consumer’s perspective, the distorted access to goods or services means discrimination within the internal market.”


But how does this discrimination works? Platform bans and other online restrictions mean that there is less Intrabrand and Interbrand competition. (Inter-brand competition is the competition between manufactures who are selling different brands of the same or equivalent goods. Intra-brand competition is competition among retailers of the same brand.) From this it follows less selection because brands only want new models on sell, less convenience because not each seller is able to run an app, less channels mean consumers cannot buy where they are used to buy, less availability because of less sellers, less information because of missing reviews and test reports. And all ends in higher prices.


We asked thousands of European SME Merchants if this is true. First thing we did was running a petition to see how important this topic is. Unexpected more than 14,000 small and medium businesses signed this petition, cross Europe and cross verticals.

The list of all SMEs who signed the petition was handed over to the Vice-President Olli Rehn in December last year.


To understand the status quo of online restrictions we ran a survey. Now we have input from more than 2,000 Online Sellers, all over Europe, all verticals and most are SMEs.

Close to 60% of business sellers are affected by platform bans, 15.3% more sellers than last year. The highest increase over last 4 years!

And more than 5% of European Business Sellers fear insolvency because of online restrictions by brands.


Next thing we asked for was the impact. And these numbers are remarkable, too.

More than 60% of the Business Online Sellers said that the amount of Online-Sellers will decline, Manufactures will obtain monopoly, diversity of supply will decrease and prices for consumer will increase.


To be clear, these points of impact describes the impact consumer will see. That means the consumer gets only goods brands want them to find like newest season models but cannot find the goods they are looking for and when they find it they have to pay much more because there is no free and no fair market anymore.


Last but not least more than 50% of the sellers said that innovation in Online-Trade will be reduced. And as you know innovation is the base for growth and employment.

These numbers show how important this issue of platform ban is for sellers. And this is the reason why so many sellers signed the petition.


What does it mean? Our claim isn’t complicated:

  • All parties should sit at a table and discuss the way how to run a successful eCommerce business
  • Policymakers and authorities must deal with restrictions and discriminations
  • We need more clearance on the legal side
  • And we need guidelines how to understand the legal rules


Let´s Stop Platform Ban and discrimination in Online-Trade. See you on

Oliver Prothmann

President of Bundesverband Onlinehandel e.V. (BVOH; German Federal Association of Online-Trade)

Founder of Choice in eCommerce – Initiative for Choice and Innovation in Online-Trade



Big change!

Posted by on 10/04/14

Italy is heading on to next EU-Presidency and wants to give Europe new momentum and a big change. Minister of Finance, Carlo Padoan announced: „We want to change the direction of Europe.“ The nation itself is in a big shift. While nation’s deficit is expected to raise this year up to 2.6 percent and most current surveys lowered growth-expectations, which are now at about 0.8 (near to stagnation), the strategy of Matteo Renzi is clear. He follows the beaten track of his 6.7 billion tax-cut-program. This old-school politics of lowering taxes and hoping on a boosting economy may work out. But maybe its better to finish homework before trying to change Europe with effects on other nations.

CAP reform process comes closer to completion

Posted by on 09/04/14
by Dr Alan Bullion, Principal Analyst, Informa Agra /// The adoption of five EU regulations last December marked the end of a two-year decision-making process on reforming the Common Agricultural Policy. But that was still not the end of the story, as they did not clarify how all of the requirements would be implemented at farm [...]

Sceptic UK can bring new ideas on bottom up democracy in Europe

Posted by on 09/04/14

The prospect of an in-out referendum in the UK in 2017 (if the Conservatives are back in power) is a fantastic incentive for politicians (and academics) to come up with new ideas on ways of governing Europe. The Brits are showing the way on how national parliaments can become more involved in holding the EU executive to account.

By Deirdre Curtin

The British input into this wider debate on the future of Europe is often ‘negative’ and defensive.  An example is the proposal by a group of UK parliamentarians to get a new power to  ‘veto’ planned EU legislation. Yet not all is negative or destructive in the UK thinking on Europe. The House of Commons is engaged in forward-looking reflection and recommendations, in particular on its own scrutiny role. In a recent report looks to consolidate a wider role for national parliaments in democratic self-government in Europe. National parliaments are after all the key actors to hold their governments (ministers and civil servants) to account for what they agree in European Council and Council meetings. This is a task that cannot be taken over by the European Parliament, but that needs to be exercised pro-actively on the ground by the parliaments in the various national capitals.

The House of Commons report zooms in on one of the key obstacles that currently hampers national parliaments right across Europe. This is the fact that they very often do not get the information they need concerning decisions that are in the pipeline at EU level early enough to scrutinise the input of their own national government. But it is not just that their own government does not give them all the information they require on time. It is often also the case that their own government says that they cannot give them information because it is ‘sensitive’. Such sensitive EU information refers to what is loosely known as the EU institutions’ professional secrets. These are not classified secrets but rather documents that the institutions prefer to deliberate on in private as decision-making is on-going and publicity could make negotiations more difficult.

Some national parliaments, including the Dutch Tweede Kamer, get direct access to the EU database with all such EU ‘limited’ documents’. But they do so provided they, too, keep them secret. Such rules are adopted by the EU governments in conclave in the EU Council as internal rules of procedure.

One way of challenging this structural inequality of arms is parliamentary disobedience. In the UK an MP who had obtained a limited document considered very important in the context of the economic bailouts raised it as an urgent question with the Speaker of the House of Commons. She gave authority for the matter to be exposed in the House of Commons and to be debated fully and publicly. This happened and the roof did not fall in.

The fact that one national parliament stands up to its own government (and the EU rules) makes it easier for another national parliament to do the same. Parliaments are increasingly looking to one another and learning from one another. It is up to both the national parliaments and the European Parliament to roll up their shirtsleeves. They must ensure that they are the visible vectors for a genuinely public and on-going debate on the accountability of executive power in Europe. This is the next stage of democratic self-government in Europe and one on which the UK is now showing the way.

Deirdre Curtin is Professor of European Law at the University of Amsterdam and Director of the Amsterdam Centre for European Law and Governance (ACELG).

Error in legislation kept in place for four years as no alternative could be found!

Posted by on 09/04/14

It seems common sense that, if an error is found in legislation, then this law should be immediately amended; at the very least, the erroneous provision should not be allowed to influence the course of a related court proceeding. This is not, however, how some EU Member States seem to view such a scenario.

Three years ago a company called me up with quite a technical problem relating to import duties on whey protein products. In essence, this company was being faced with a very large demand of back duty from the UK tax authority, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, based on the results of a test for milk fat provided in EU legislation. It rapidly became apparent that this test was faulty and gave wrong results when applied to whey protein products – this placed the products in a category for which higher duty was demanded.

This should have been an easy case to solve: since the test had been proven to throw up results that were wrong, the UK authority should have withdrawn its demand, whilst asking the European Commission to amend its legislation.

Instead, however, the case escalated to the tax tribunal and ultimately required a three year long lobbying campaign just to ensure that a responsible company was not penalised on the basis of an erroneous provision. Who is to blame is hard to say, as all authorities involved had their reasons – some reasonable, some less so.

The UK tax authority was bound to apply EU legislation (even if erroneous); the European Commission could only amend the rules on the basis of an independent scientific analysis (itself quite time consuming), and any resulting amending legislation could only be adopted if approved – or a at least not opposed – by the EU Member States (who, for their own reasons, didn’t support the solutions presented by the Commission).

The issue was a drain on the time and effort of virtually everyone involved. Without the assistance of Members of the European Parliament, national Parliamentarians, the US authorities and a strong EU wide public affairs campaign continually pressing for action form all involved, the issue could still have dragged on into the next European Parliament, requiring even more time and effort to brief new MEPs.

We are now hopefully only a couple of weeks away from a provisional solution that will ensure that a responsible business is not penalised until an alternative scientific test for milk fat is proposed and adopted at the EU level. The Commission now needs to formally adopt its proposed amendment that was debated – at length – by the then 28 EU Member States, who all had different views as to how the issue is to be tackled.

This issue has not shown the European Union at its most dynamic, even despite the Commission being very helpful and proactive. What the three-year-long saga has shown, however, is the value of a consistent and informed lobbying campaign. Only a campaign that harnesses specialist knowledge of the European decision-making process and the bodies involved can give one company a chance, in the face of institutional sluggishness, of fairly resolving a complicated tax case such to nearly everybody’s satisfaction.

Chris Whitehouse is Chairman of leading public affairs consultancy whose Food Regulation Team advise many organisations and businesses in the specialist food product sector. He is also Director of Strategy of consumer organisation Consumers for Health Choice and of the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance


Kickstart youth entrepreneurship in EU

Posted by on 09/04/14
Youth unemployment is a generalized problem in the EU and a main theme with all EU institutions and leaders. At a pan EU-28 level of 22.9 % in February 2014 and an overall cost of  €153 billion per year in benefits and foregone earnings and taxes, it is clearly evident that unless tackled this issue will only [...]

Foucault, the European Idea and Greece.

Posted by on 09/04/14

Foucault distinguishes between despotic power and the limited state (governmentality, physiocratic economic liberalism, economic free market liberal criticism of Nazism in the Ordoliberalismus group), criticizing the state which claims to unify the nation/peopleo within itself and defending economic, societal and personal space outside state control (Barry Stocker: Political theory and the Idea of Europe, Foucault against Habermas). Foucault was a child of the Enlightnement. He supported an alternative concept to disciplinarity.

Foucault had been influenced by a Machiavellian concept of governance. He insisted that the new idea of government concerning large populations is a permanent coup d’ etat because the new form of the state ( whether it is called a monarchy or a parliamentary democracy) exercises its power over the other social and political institutions.

The emergence of a European Polity can not be founded on transcedental unity through intergovernmental structures. “Macht” is legitimated via violence, even in transnational structures like European Union.

The role of the global market economy which reflects a massive change towards the spheres of politial, society, and economy has influenced a lot the emergence of the idea of a European institutional Unity.

Foucault assures us that the enhancement of the European Union is bringing us waves of strong reaction. The desirable consensus that is difused among the atmosphere of the European Institutions does not reflect the political reality.

In this frame, Greece is not facing a political infection by its European partners but a Schmittian attack of an enemy at the political and economical level.



  • Foucault Michel, The Order of Things, London: Routledge, 2001
  • Hayek Friedrich August, The Road to Serfdom, London: Routledge, 1944
  • Rwals John, A Theory of Justice, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971
  • Schmitt Carl, The Concept of the Political, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2007


Brussels must urge Beijing to follow international law

Posted by on 08/04/14

A recent joint opinion article by European leaders called for the EU to do more in challenging Chinese president Xi Jinping to fix their human rights issues and find a solution to end territorial conflicts.

As they argued, “China’s significant economic growth has not been matched by meaningful progress in rule of law, respect for human rights, democracy and the environment.”

They also indicated China’s behaviors on the international stage, particularly its politicization of “international forums where its human rights record has been challenged” and its “unilateral actions on the Indian border and over the East China Sea.” This has shown the potential threat of China in becoming a global power supplemented with an undesirable system.

But what those leaders forgot to mention in their article was China’s growing aggression towards its neighbors. In Southeast Asia, an ongoing conflict is currently intensifying over a group of islands claimed by the People’s Republic and the ASEAN states, particularly the Philippines. Manila submitted to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in The Hague its 4000-page petition last March 30 seeking to challenge Beijing’s claim over the majority of the South China Sea, which includes territories within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The Centrist Democrat International, whose European wing is the European People’s Party, recently released a one-page resolution explicitly condemning China’s forcible takeover of the territories, affirming the Philippines’ legal occupation of the islands. They also pressured China to “pursue peaceful, lawful and internationally sanctioned rules on dispute resolution to remove rising tensions in the region.”

The Brussels-based political bloc, consisting mainly of Western democracies in Europe, passed the said resolution and has been seen as a first step in achieving victory.

The next step should be for the European Union to take a position in this issue and remind China that their behavior is unacceptable; if not for Manila, then for the ASEAN countries and the international community. China should realize that their failure to adhere to diplomacy and international arbitration is a sign of their inadequacy to become a superpower. Europe and its allies must be reminded of history where catastrophic wars commenced as a result of democratic countries standing silent when other countries’ sovereignty were unlawfully and forcefully breached.

Courtesy of the Delegation of the European Union to the United States


Ronald Duong: the silent majority wants to hear the true story about Brussels

Posted by on 08/04/14

“The country benefits when key aspects of economic and financial affairs and the single market are dealt with properly in Brussels. But our politicians look at such joint (EU; rg) agreements as infected, europhile dossiers that they’d rather not be seen with in public. As soon as yet another European agreement has been reached, they dash to the national tv cameras and proudly detail everything they’ve managed to block in Brussels.
Former Italian prime minister (Mario; rg) Monti, astounded over this dynamic, once suggested introducing a code of conduct requiring government leaders to tell their domestic audiences about the agreements reached in Brussels instead. It wasn’t to be. Many government leaders are too fond of lashing out at Brussels in order to divert public attention from domestic issues. The low point in this respect is our own prime minister (Mark Rutte; rg) who is fond of saying he always takes a loaded pistol with him when leaving for Brussels. This is defeatism in the face of the cheap populism of a boisterous minority. Luckily, most people in this country understand very well that we owe the buttter on our bread to a trade and business climate shaped in part by our politicians and civil servants who managed to get our national policy objectives enshrined into EU internal market directives.
Surveys again and again arrive at the same conclusion: in this country, EU supporters continue to outnumber its opponents by a large margin. The outspoken minority may have hijacked the debate about Europe, but the silent majority understands that Europe is vitally imporant to this country’s prosperity.
But as major centrist parties have also started catering to that vocal minority, the voters risk being wrongfooted. Politicians are pretending we could do without Brussels. (…) The achievements of our EU membership are being smothered in political rethoric which is out of wack with the facts. (…) The silent majority wants to hear the true story about Brussels, rather than cheap scepticism in front of the cameras.”
– Roland Duong, tv journalist, who made a series of documentaries for VPRO television in the Netherlands entitled The Battle for Europe (De Slag om Europa), in a comment published in the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad, 7/8 December 2013.

(Source: Roland Duong, ‘EU-voorstanders zijn zwijgende meerderheid’, NRC Handelsblad, 7/8 December 2013, O&D2)



Analysing the priorities of the European Parliament for EU-EaP relations

Posted by on 08/04/14

On Wednesday 12 March 2014, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on assessing and setting priorities for EU relations with the Eastern Partnership countries (2013/2149(INI)). The Eastern Partnership Project of AEGEE-Europe warmly welcomes and supports this resolution.

Regarding points 5, 13, 15, 43 on the role of youth, education and civil society exchanges, the Eastern Partnership Project of AEGEE-Europe would like to emphasise that our objectives are:

  • Enhancing bilateral cooperation in the field of education and culture between youth from EaP and EU countries
  • Strengthening EaP youth participation by promoting active citizenship in the region
  • Developing solidarity between young people in EU countries and in the EaP region
  • Fostering a common understanding by raising awareness about the EU in the EaP region and vice versa

We call upon the particular attention of MEPs the existence of the Eastern Partnership Project of AEGEE-Europe. Founded in 2011, this project is a unique initiative created out of the commitment of young Europeans, aware of the importance of youth work and the necessity of providing young people with opportunities to experience cultural diversity. It is also crucial to the development of civil society in the six program countries.

The Eastern Partnership Project of AEGEE-Europe has developed and will continue to develop a wide range of activities (conferences, training sessions, cultural exchange programmes) within the abovementioned framework.

The Eastern Partnership Project of AEGEE-Europe would like to express its utmost willingness to fulfill these new priorities for EU-EaP relations. Given the experience of AEGEE-Europe, we are best suited to work in collaboration with the European Parliament, the European Commission and other institutions in order to bring EU and EaP countries closer.

Lea Hannaoui-Saulais, Impact Measurement Manager and Adrian Browarczyk, Project Manager
Eastern Partnership Project of AEGEE-Europe

European overseas aid slightly increases but lags behind global trend

Posted by on 08/04/14

By Natalia Alonso, Oxfam’s EU Head of Office

Bwalia 'Bottom' Hospital in Lilongwe by Abbie Trayler-Smith

The latest figures from the OECD seem promising but hide an uncomfortable truth. Donors have collectively increased their development aid spending, but most of Europe’s wealthiest governments still fail to meet promises designed to alleviate global poverty and slash economic inequality.

Overall, the EU-19 contribution to overseas aid has increased a little and some countries like the UK and Sweden have increased their contributions. However, a closer look at some of Europe’s wealthiest countries proves worrying. Key donors like France (-9.8%), Netherlands (-6.2%), Belgium (-6.1%) and Portugal (-20.4%) have slashed aid and spurned their own development pledges.

It is this slowdown by key countries which has led to Western Europe performing slightly worse than the global trend. The EU-19 delivered €51.3 billion or 0.42% of their national income as overseas aid in 2013, which reveals a €42 billion funding gap to meet their 0.7% target by 2015. This long-standing commitment lies at the heart of the UN flagship Millennium Development Goals (MDG) set to expire next year.

Slashing aid has a real human cost leading to fewer teachers and nurses in the world’s poorest countries. European aid saves lives every year and is irreplaceable.

The irreplaceable nature of aid is seen when we look at the European Commission’s aid spending in 2012. The budget totalled €13 billion, representing an important share of government revenue in poor countries including 23% in Sierra Leone, 22% in Comoros, 19% in Burundi, 18% in Malawi, 13% in Madagascar and 12% in Togo.

It is vital that European countries continue to support robust aid projects, refusing to replace it with alternative methods of finance with the developing world. Unlike aid, other sources of development finance like foreign direct investment or loans are not designed to get people out of poverty. Aid is designated to help poor countries raise their own resources for basic services like health and education by helping strengthen their tax systems.

Against the backdrop of broken aid promises by some of the Europe’s richest countries, innovative ways to raise money for development are absolutely crucial. The 11 EU countries who agreed to implement a financial transaction tax (FTT) this year must spend part of the revenues to help fight poverty and climate change. Europe can also crackdown on tax dodging which drains $950 billion out of poor countries every year.

Jonathan Holslag: ‘Europe will be the world’s playground’

Posted by on 08/04/14

It happens rarely that I write ‘Dear Mr/Mrs…’ to people younger than me. But with Professor dr. Jonathan Holslag, that is the case. He is only 32 years old, professor of international politics at the Free University of Brussels since 2011 (!) and has written three academic books, mainly on China, Asia and Europe. After the interview I told him one of my heroes is Robert Kaplan. Holslag responded: ‘He’s a good friend of mine. We read our work to each other.’

I was notified on Holslag’s existence by Luuk van Middelaar, the speech writer to Herman Van Rompuy, who is also a hors categorie of his generation. It took me months to get a date for the interview, because Holslag was busy with the preparation of his latest book, The Power of Paradise. Which deals with the future of Europe and our relations with Asia. The book is out since two months – first as a Dutch version – and has already sold nearly 10,000 copies, which is extremely good for the Dutch-language book market and especially for political non-fiction.

Europe isn’t the prime focus of research for the young professor. ‘My career has developed quite capriciously. Initially I started in Africa, working on African affairs like rebel groups in Congo, and then I was almost forced to start working on Asia by my supervisor.’ But now his prism turned to the old continent. ‘By traveling extensively to the Asian region, also by talking to a lot of decision makers and business folks from Asia, it really became clear that Europe is in quite an uncomfortable position nowadays. But also in terms of perceptions it is going down rapidly.’


That perspective from the East instigated Holslag to ponder about the question how bad our position is, as a market, as a society, as a political constillation, as an international actor. And will our ‘fragile European construction’ be altered further by ‘a turbulent and uncertain international order?’

The fourfold crisis of Europe
‘It has been said many times that Europe was in a death struggle and that it was reaching its terminal stage,’ argues the researcher. ‘Each time Europe came out of those episodes of uncertainty in a stronger way. But this crisis is different. Altogether the world order has changed and it will make it less easy for us to adjust as we did in the past.’ His analysis is one of a fourfold crisis.

  1. The most manifest one is that there is a collective action problem at the European level. Many of the negotiations, very complicated ones, have moved to more discreet technical committees, where national powers are still very blatant and outspoken.
  2. A stark weakening of pragmatic elites, the central parties in the member states. They used to bear the European project. The electoral shift is really sliding to a critical point. The electoral share of the central parties  will become smaller than a colorful array of populist, conservative and extremist parties.
  3. The fraying of the welfare state, as a system of redistributing economic opportunities. The bottom fourty percent of the European population are losing out rapidly in terms of purchasing power and employment opportunities. That reverses the positive current that we witnessed in the last six decades.
  4. The altering of the economic balance of power at our expense. Europe bit by bit becomes less competitive, and more dependent on external debt. Government debt has become the most successful export product of the EU.

Looking beyond these immediate crises, Holslag reckons that the failure of Europe ‘to provide tangible economic opportunities’ is the biggest long term threat. ‘Europe as a political project is not an exception. Like each political project it will only survive if it visibly advances the interests of the majority of its people. And it is no longer able to do that, as the member states are also no longer able to do that.’ But what about all the measures that have been taken in the past years to reform our economies and stabilize the eurozone? ‘I don’t see with the current answers to the crisis, the banking union, some efforts to create new jobs amongst the youth, sufficient reassureances that we will turn the tide. So my prediction is we will slither further down into our legitimacy trap and the EU will fray.’

Afbeelding 1

Europe as a playground, not a player
As we become weaker, the world will take advantage of us, predicts Holslag – who is a realpolitik thinker. ’Friction between the member states will be exploited ruthlessly by the other major powers. That we already see. In the past week the Chinese president came here to visit several member states. In spite of not giving anything in terms of clear concessions, or giving clear gestures to Europe, still all the governments went on their knees, flat on the ground, and they walked over us.’

The way we kowtowed in front of China, bodes ill. In the upcoming power politics between the major powers, ‘Europe is not going to emerge as a player but as a playground,’ thinks Jonathan Holslag. ‘The situation is really gloomy. What the reality bears a lot of resemblance with, is with Italy in the 15th-16th century, the time of Machiavelli and the Liliputer states in Italy. They believed they could use the great powers around them – the Austrians, the French, the Turks – to maintain their position. Whereas in fact the reality showed the opposite. These powers trampled the Italians because they couldn’t agree and form partnerships, cooperation that was solid enough to deflect the ambitions of the others.’

Luckily, the other kids on the playground all have their own issues. ‘I don’t think the world order is characterized by new strong leaders. We are all fragile in our own way. China is struggling, India is at disarray almost, the US is also having serious problems.’

Though we may not be played upon, Europe can expect a very volatile – even violent – world in the 21st century. ‘In such order characterized by fragile powers, there is a greater tendency towards greed, selfishness, free riding, economic power politics, mercantilism, protectionism.’ In such an environment we are bound for trouble. ‘The very tough economic power politics will ultimately merge with the military one. The chance that things spiral out of control is quite large, it will spill over into Europe’s backyard, which is a belt of uncertainty.’ Holslag even thinks that we will see a militarization of space as well as of cyber, and that is just the start.

Afbeelding 7

Sham power politics
In his book the researcher calls for stronger foreign policy by the EU. But as we witnessed in the Ukraine crisis, Europe fails to take a collective stance because the interests of national member states are too different. Holslag is very critical of the policy towards Russia. ‘I am not sure these countries, are playing their national interests. They are departing from very opportunistic, short-sighted interests, not from what basically is for this generation of citizens and the next one. It is sham power politics. It is sham statemanship. It is not real. We see politicians pretending to pursue statecraft but in fact they are selling out the future of their own citizens.’

‘What is missing is an institution in Brussels, a group of officials that is able to turn the natural differences of political orientations into a sort of consensus. What the External Action Service ought to do, is to do less external action, and more internal action. It has to invest in brokering this consensus, it has to explain why it is in the interest of the Swedes to mind the instability in North Africa, why it is in the interest of the Italians to mind the power play in the Arctic, what the Russians are doing there and so forth.’

‘Only by striking that geopolitical consensus and also by explaining it to the people, not just to the governments, we can overcome the problem. We can do this fairly easily. The message of Europe at the brink of drowning, submerging into its new, complicated security environment is a very compelling one, and could even turn the tide of euroscepticism. We have to explain, and I think it is doable, to European people that we are in the same boat. This is a tiny tail piece of Eurasia and we do not have any other option but to stick together.’

Afbeelding 5

Maintaining the paradise
In a world of realpolitik, how can we maintain legitimacy for Europe-wide cooperation and even further integration? Jonathan Holslag is not too worrisome about the supposed lack of democracy. ‘The European Union is one of the most democratic projects in the world, even in world history, certainly given its scale with more than 500 million citizens. It’s not peanuts to organize ourselves in democratic structures that are functional at the same time.’

No, the real problem is in politics. ‘The crisis is more a consequence of a lack of ideas. And that’s what Mill already said: a democracy is a marketplace of ideas. It only functions if there are enough ideas that appeal to the people, and that explain how the political structure benefits to them.’ Therefore Holslag – a researcher, but also one who supports federalist thinking – pleads for a ‘progressive vision’ for Europe. ‘Conservatism and economic orthodox policies for me are not enough. The progressive vision provides in the maitenance of standards of living of Europe’s youngsters, provides in their security, and especially comes up with a project that is more dynamic, that is more competitive, but is still also solidary enough and more pleasant than what we have to do today.’

With the upcoming European elections and the instalment of the new Commission (November), the EU has a big window of opportunity to take this path. Holslag hopes that the change will be primarily in communication. ‘It is all about form. The new Commission has to play politics more vigorously and more actively, we have to have a face of the Commission that is recognizable, and a voice that is convincing, expresses empathy, and an understanding of what is happening in the 28 countries.’

On a policy level, the way forward is to get standards that allow companies to create growth and jobs, ‘without having the fear to be washed away from credit-supported imports from China, and polluted shale gas imported from the US.’

‘The ideas and visions are quite obvious. But we have to learn to play politics with the European institutions and be not afraid to go instantly to the people that we serve. These are not governments in capitals, these are the people on the streets, the 500 million European citizens.’

Watch the interview with Jonathan Holslag here (25 minutes):


Are European Wages In A Race To The Bottom?

Posted by on 08/04/14
Anecdotal stories from friends in recent months have alerted me to a stunning drop in wages for new hires here in my adopted home of Malta. Essentially, the economy has been so bad in [enter name of country here] that young people have upped and moved, looking for better opportunities elsewhere. Since the Maltese economy [...]

Electromobilité : le plan d’action berlinois

Posted by on 07/04/14

Le 26 mars dernier s’est tenue la seconde conférence sur l’électromobilité dans la ville de Berlin. Les deux autorités en charge, l’agence s’occupant du programme et le Sénat de Berlin, ont ainsi révélé leur plan d’action. Locations de voitures et vélos électriques, production d’énergies renouvelables décentralisées, développement des smart grids…  Alors que de nombreuses stratégies sont déjà mises en place depuis plusieurs mois, voire années, les projets de la ville sont aujourd’hui encore ambitieux.

Alors que Paris vient à peine de réussir à sortir du niveau d’alerte maximum en termes de pollution aux particules fines, une ville comme Berlin surprend par son engagement et montre sans nul doute l’exemple que la capitale française devrait suivre depuis déjà de longues années. Preuve qu’il est possible aujourd’hui de réduire les émissions dans une grande ville sans en faire pâtir les habitants, la ville s’est dotée, ces dernières années, de pas moins de 5 plans d’action : le Plan cadre Berlin Ville d’industries 2010-2020, le Plan de développement urbain Transport, le Plan d’action ProIndustrie, la Stratégie énergétique 2030 et la Stratégie commune d’innovation Verlin-Brandebourg. Une totalité de cinq plans réunis plus  globalement sous l’appellation « Plan d’action 2020 ».

L’enjeu est de taille pour la ville : être reconnue dans le monde entier comme un modèle de l’électromobilité en instaurant une économie forte afin de créer une nouvelle chaîne de valeur. Les transports sont bien évidemment au centre de ce plan d’action, sous toutes leurs formes. La ville développe aujourd’hui un réseau de voitures et de vélos électriques pour les déplacements individuels, mais réfléchis également à développer d’autres modèles de transports personnels comme l’auto-partage. Pour les transports de fret, extrêmement polluants, deux axes sont envisagés. Il serait d’abord possible de remplacer les propulsions habituelles par des propulsions électriques. L’électrification du dernier kilomètre des livraisons ou encore la micro-mobilité électrique pour les livraisons de courte distance, d’autres solutions innovantes existent.

Vous l’aurez compris, Berlin mise sur l’énergie électrique pour réduire au maximum ses émissions. Celle-ci n’est cependant pas infinie et pour mener à bien ces projets, la ville doit également réfléchir à une meilleure gestion de son réseau ainsi qu’à l’intégration de plus d’énergies renouvelables dans celui-ci. Pour cela, personne n’a douté un seul instant : les smart grids constituent la piste la plus intéressante. Capables d’intégrer à un réseau électrique conventionnel de l’électricité provenant de sources d’énergie renouvelable, les réseaux électriques intelligents peuvent également aider la ville à adapter l’offre en électricité à la demande et ainsi éviter les pics de consommation ou les gaspillages.

Les infrastructures de rechargement seront également prochainement repensées. Outre les smart grids, la ville pourrait également faire le choix de décentraliser sa production d’énergies renouvelables à Brandebourg. L’augmentation du nombre de vélos et de voitures électriques en location s’accompagnera du développement de nouveaux types de batteries basés sur l’hydrogène et l’induction. Enfin, la dernière étape de la transformation de Berlin en une capitale mondiale de l’électromobilité passera par une large stratégie de communication. Évènements, salons, et coopérations internationales seront les pendants de cette révolution énergétique berlinoise. Paris n’a plus qu’à en prendre de la graine.

Combating climate change will be a long difficult haul

Posted by on 07/04/14

While the international community is due to finally take serious action against climate change it is worthwhile having a look at Denmark, Sweden and, to a lesser degree, Finland and Norway that have succeeded to generate two thirds of their electricity from renewable sources, mostly from wind and water.

But despite intensive efforts and favourable conditions – zero population growth, large forest areas, a very big hydro power potential and ideal wind conditions – they are still miles away from a fossil-free energy supply which Denmark aspires by 2050.

Still, the international community might learn a few lessons from their experience:

  • build a strong political and popular support.

Without such a support technical efforts will go nowhere. This support is there in each of the countries.

  • set long term objectives, buffered by short-time targets on which to focus concrete action.

    Thus by 2020 Denmark aims to cover one third and until 2050 its entire energy needs from renewable sources.

Similarly the EU operates with 2020/30 targets within a 2050 horizon.

  • put in place a strong institutional framework: a climate and energy ministry and energy agency.

    Denmark has led the way.

  • introduce cost-effective support schemes for accelerating the shift from fossil to renewable energy.

    Denmark has tried a panoply of measures, strongly focused on wind power, its principal renewable source, investment grants to enterprises shifting their energy supply from fossil to renewable sources and recently also premiums for solar power.

    Unlike Germany which has wasted huge amounts of subsidies for photovoltaic installations, not ideal in a country lacking sun during much of the year, the Scandinavian countries have concentrated their efforts on wind energy of which they have plenty. Such a focus on the most effective source of renewable energy is crucial for obtaining cost-effectiveness.

  • offer subsidies only for a limited period (10 years) and adapt them to falling production costs.

    Here too Denmark is a better example than Germany that has offered premiums unchanged for 20 years.

  • invest from the start in energy storage and interconnections for periods without wind or sunshine.

    Here Germany has also failed for a long time.

  • begin with renewable electricity even if heating and transport are more important energy consumers.
  • do not forget pushing for more effective thermal insulation of the building stock, where the Nordic countries have also been outstanding.

  • do not renounce mandatory action, for example energy efficiency standards if you can monitor their implementation.

  • last not least, phase out all direct and indirect subsidies for fossil energy.

In conclusion, if Humanity is serious with reducing green house gas emissions every major energy consuming country must without delay put in place the institutional and legal bases for reducing its fossil energy consumption.

To be effective it must draw up an appropriate strategy containing a long term vision and short term operational measures.

It is up to the UN to invite its most appropriate institution to help countries in that exercise and make sure that those countries implementing effective climate strategies will benefit from the financial assistance that has been promised by the international community.

But even with the most devoted efforts the Nordic countries` experience shows that it will take decades before such policies will produce strong results. Homework should therefore start without any further delay.