Saturday 25 October 2014

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Cybersecurity in Europe must remain focused on critical infrastructures

Posted by on 20/10/14

By John Higgins, Director General of DIGITALEUROPE

The 28 member states of the European Union run the risk of undermining a new cybersecurity  law that will play a central role in protecting Europe’s critical infrastructures from cyber attacks.

Earlier this year, the European Parliament narrowed the scope of the proposed Network and Information Security (NIS) directive to focus more specifically on critical infrastructure – including banking, energy and transport networks. The Parliament’s version passed with overwhelming support.

However, as the three institutions – the European Parliament, Commission and Council – begin final stage negotiations on the wording of the directive, a growing number of Member States are pushing for the inclusion of so­‐called “over the top” services like cloud computing, application stores, search engines and social networks within the scope of the law.

Inclusion of these broader “information society services” would not only threaten the innovative capacity of this sector in Europe by creating a burdensome regulatory regime with no corresponding security benefit, it would also heighten the workload for often struggling regulatory agencies, and it would expose citizens’ personal data to unnecessary risk.

Incident data should be reported by the critical infrastructures themselves, as only they have a 360­‐degree view of the incident. They in turn pass on their reporting obligations to their technology vendors through contractual obligations.  This is what the industry advocates and is a proportionate way of protecting critical infrastructures.

Widening the scope of the directive to cover web­‐based services would mean that technology vendors would be obliged to pass customer data, including personal information, to regulatory agencies without any guarantees of what would happen with this data, or how it would be shared between national authorities in other EU Member States.

Many EU member states have limited capability to handle incident reporting within their government departments and agencies. It’s going to be challenging and costly for them to acquire enough capability to develop and maintain robust reporting systems just to cover critical infrastructures, let alone internet enablers and over the top services providers.

Calls for a broader scope of the NIS directive therefore risk undermining the law’s ability to protect what really needs to be protected. There are not enough IT-­security experts in the world today to protect everything that is connected to the Internet equally. While defenses have improved, attackers have also become much more sophisticated. In this constant race where cyber defence tries to keep up with cyber offense, prioritization is key.

Those who call for this law to “protect everything” will end up less secure than the starting point today. And Europe will have missed a unique opportunity to prepare itself for cyber attacks against truly critical infrastructures which could lead to catastrophic impacts on public safety, national security and the broader economy.

Mayors network listed – will Mayors take the lead on a climate deal?

Posted by on 19/10/14

National governments have proven that they do not have what is required to meet the global challenges of climate change and the unsustainable use of our planet’s resources. The shortcomings of the COP meeting since Copenhagen acts as testament to this. With the burden of recession and austerity, short-sighted national governments have thus far shown themselves unable to handle sustainable development issues.

Within the arena of sustainable development, the boundaries of responsibility are undergoing a monumental shift. This allows new actors to take pole position in the creation of new opportunities. Old infrastructures are being replaced by new ones that are better designed to cope with the challenges facing cities and regions.

We should stop directing our attentions and frustrations towards impotent governments. Instead we must focus on more localized models that simmer from below but come to influence and inspire national actors to greater action.

Better levels of engagement and the development of local and international networks have prompted a wider range of actors to become involved in sustainability, from both within and outside the market.

Over the past five years we have seen several strong international networks emerge from municipalities and regions. To get a wider understanding of this phenomenon I undertook some research that shows just how many locally-focussed organizations use their involvement in these networks to bring about sustainable solutions that can have a real impact.

Sweden’ s biggest Political Week event in 2015 – A Challenge for National Governments in front of UN Climate Meeting Paris

Next summer – between the 28 to the 30th of June – the Mayor of the Swedish Island Gotland will invite Mayors from all over the world to the event to debate and prepare to challenge national governments in front of the Paris UN Climate meeting in December 2015. The event is organised by Region Gotland, Stockholm Environment Institute, WWF, The Think Tank – Global Utmaning, The Nordics association, Kairos Future, Club of Rome and Respect Climate.

Send me an e-mail if you are interested to find out more –  kaj at embren.com.

Mayors 33 networks that can act are:

1. United Cities and Local Governments - http://www.cities-localgovernments.org/

2. United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLGA) - http://www.afriquelocale.org/en/about-us/uclg-africa

3. Federación Latinoamericana de Ciudades, Municipios y Asociaciones (FLACMA) / Latin American Federation of Cities, Municipalities and Associations of Local Governments - http://www.portalambientallatinoamericano.com/

4. UCGL Euro-Asian Regional Section - http://www.euroasia-uclg.ru/index.php?lang=en

5. UCGL- Asia-Pacific - http://www.uclg-aspac.org/

6. Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) - http://www.ccre.org/en/

7. UCLG-Middle East and West Asia (MEWA)  - http://www.uclg-mewa.org/

8. METROPOLIS Network (World Association of Major Metropolises) - http://www.metropolis.org/

9. Union of the Baltic Cities  - http://www.ubcwheel.eu/

10. Local Governments for Sustainability – ICLEI  - http://www.iclei.org and ICLEI USA / National League of Cities / U.S. Green Building Council’s Resilient Communities for America Campaign:http://www.resilientamerica.org

11. C40 (Large Cities Climate Leadership Group) - http://live.c40cities.org/

12. Clinton Foundation’s Climate Initiative - http://www.clintonfoundation.org/main/our-work/by-initiative/clinton-climate-initiative/programs/c40-cci-cities.html

13. World Mayor Council on Climate Change - http://citiesclimateregistry.org/

14. Sustainable Cities Network  - http://www.sustainablecities.net/

15. United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) - http://www.unhabitat.org/content.asp?typeid=19&catid=540&cid=5025

16. United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) - http://www.unisdr.org/campaign/resilientcities/

17. World Bank - http://blogs.worldbank.org/sustainablecities/about-us

18. Cities Alliance - http://www.citiesalliance.org/

19. World e-Governments Organisation of Cities and Local Governments (WeGO) - http://www.we-gov.org/history

20. Mercociudades - http://www.mercociudades.org/

21. Unión Iberoamericana de Municipalistas (Iberoamerican Union of Municipality Authorities – UIM) - http://www.uimunicipalistas.org/#/sobrelauim.txt

22. Federación de Municipios del Istmo Centroamericano (FEMICA) – Federation of Central American Municipalities - http://www.femica.org/

23. Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA) - http://www.cdia.asia/

24. CAI-Asia – The Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities  and CITYNET (The Regional Network of Local Authorities for the Management of Human Settlements) - http://www.cleanairnet.org/caiasia

25. Committee of the Regions (CoR) and Covenant of Mayors http://cor.europa.eu/en/activities/Pages/priorities.aspx

http://www.covenantofmayors.eu

http://www.eumayors.eu/index_en.html

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/europeangreencapital/index_en.htm

http://cor.europa.eu/en/

26. MEDCITIES - http://www.medcities.org/

27. Association of Cities and Regions for Recycling and Sustainable Resource management (ACR+) - http://www.acrplus.org/

28.Brazil – Frente Nacional de Prefeitos (National Front of Mayors – FNP) - http://www.fnp.org.br/home.jsf

29.India – City Managers Association of India (CMA) http://www.umcasia.org/content.php?id=67

30. China – China Association of Mayors (CAM) - http://www.citieschina.org/en/

31. South Korea – Governors Association of Korea - http://www.gaok.or.kr/eng/e01_intro/intro010.jsp

32. Canada – Federation of Canadian Municipalities - http://www.fcm.ca/

33. Sweden – Klimat Kommunerna – http://www.klimatkommunerna.se/

Ask the question – mobilise network, organisations and give your voice below or at LinkedIn  Rio+

 

 

Personal and Private? Correspondence between DG Enterprise and the Pharmaceutical Industry.

Posted by on 19/10/14

Citing Regulation (EC) 1049/2001, I asked last month for access to the following documents:

All communications in any form, and notes or records in any form of communications between DG Enterprise and any pharmaceutical Industry association concerning the policy, draft policy or decision making process of the European Medicines Agency on the issue of access to clinical trial results, after the closing of a public consultation on that issue on 30th September 2013 and before 21st May 2014’

I got a reply on 17th October with a copy of just 6 (yes, six) documents.

Three of the documents were requests to individual officials in DG Enterprise to fill in survey questionnaires relating to access to clinical trial data – one survey with five questions, and one with seven questions sent to two different officials on the same day. The questions and the answers, if any, were not included.

The fourth and fifth documents were a copy of an invitation to join an EFPIA webinar on access to clinical trial data, and a summary of the discussions at the webinar.

The sixth was an e-mail to DG Enterprise dated 10th March 2014. It contained (part of) a letter from the US and EU pharmaceutical associations to four DGs, the EMA, FDA, and US Trade Representative. The letter contained detailed suggestions for the EMA transparency policy and argued that the same principles be applied when implementing the regulation revising the Clinical Trials Directives. The letter also requested the Commission’s assistance in interpreting transparency Recital 20A of the new regulation in the light of other provisions dealing with commercial confidentiality.

And that’s it. According to the letter from DG Enterprise, disclosure of all other dealings between DG Enterprise and the pharmaceutical industry “would undermine the privacy and the integrity of the individual” and was therefore subject to the exceptions in Regulation 1049/2001. This applies across the board, it seems, even to things that DG Enterprise might have said to the industry. No documents at all from DG Enterprise were released – apart from a list of the six documents that were released.

In refusing access to these documents DG Enterprise made no reference to Article 4.6 of Regulation 1049/2001, which states “If only parts of the requested document are covered by any of the exceptions, the remaining parts of the document shall be released”.

In response to requests in other areas, correspondence between industry and commission has been released. What is so different about the dealings between DG Enterprise and the pharma industry? Does DG Enterprise have its own interpretation of Regulation 1049/2001? Do most dealings between DG Enterprise and the industry over an eight month period contain such private or personal information that they cannot be disclosed? Can DG Enterprise not tell us even one thing they might have said to the industry over that period? Is this good administrative practice?

DG Enterprise did invite me to put forward arguments that disclosure of these documents, which I have not seen, would NOT undermine the privacy and integrity of (unnamed) individuals. Not an easy task.

Regulation 1049/2001 is part of EU law and confers certain rights on citizens and others. Those rights must be respected, and the regulation must be applied faithfully, by all EU institutions.

This case isn’t over yet.END

UK takes another blow over bankers’ bonus cap

Posted by on 19/10/14
EBA HQ in London
The European Banking Authority (EBA) on Wednesday released the results of its investigation into whether banks across Europe have been using ‘allowances’ to skirt the EU’s bankers’ bonus cap. This is obviously a hugely contentious issue in the UK and the fact that UK banks have been taking this approach has been well publicised and oft criticised by EU politicians. But it’s interesting to note that the EBA found 39 banks across six EU states had been using such allowances, so clearly it is an issue which extends beyond the UK’s big banks.

Nevertheless, the opinion does not bode well for the UK with the EBA concluding:
“The EBA found that in most cases institutions had topped up the fixed remuneration of their staff and had introduced discretionary ‘role based' allowances which have an impact on the limit of the ratio between variable and fixed remuneration required by the EU Capital Requirements Directive (CRD IV).”

“The report showed that most of the allowances, which were the subject of the EBA investigation, did not fulfil the conditions for being classified as fixed remuneration, namely with respect to their discretionary nature, which allows institutions to adjust or withdraw them unilaterally, without any justification.”
The report is much as expected, with the EBA making the case that the allowances are not permanent pay for a number of reasons: they are revocable with little notice, specific to the staff member not the role, often have forfeit clauses therefore not permanent and are often linked to proxies for the firms performance (such as the economic environment).

The last point in particular clearly chimes with concerns from banks that they will have less control over their costs at times of economic hardship. This is exacerbated by the point (number 37 in the report) below which is frankly just a bit strange:
"Some role-based allowances might only have been introduced to comply with the bonus cap introduced by the CRD IV while retaining some cost flexibility. Cost flexibility is of importance where the performance of the institution or a business unit is no longer considered adequate."
Surely, cost flexibility is always relevant for a business, particularly one in a very competitive environment, and not just when it is failing? We’re not quite sure what the EBA is getting at there.

What happens now?
  • The opinion isn’t binding, although the EBA has said it expects national regulators to make sure that all banks are in compliance by the end of the year, however, it has no legal way to enforce this (yet).
  • The EBA is currently reviewing its guidelines on the issue and will hold a public consultation before the end of the year with the new official rules being published in the first half of 2015 (at this point they will be legally binding).
  • In particular, if banks want to continue using allowances they will have to be “predetermined, transparent to staff and permanent”.
  • Ultimately, this throws a bit more uncertainty in the mix with banks uncertain over exactly how and when to adjust their allowances.
What does this mean for the UK?
  • Clearly, this is a bit of a blow for the UK. That said, the issue has already to an extent moved out of the EBA’s hands. The UK is challenging the original proposal at the European Court of Justice. Even if this proposal fails it could challenge the updated guidelines/rules which are used to implement the cap. Banks themselves could of course choose to launch legal challenges although this looks unlikely at this stage.
  • Banks will ultimately find a way to pay their staff the market rate. This will likely end up being in the form of higher base salaries, something which will make banks less flexible and push up their average costs. This could potentially harm competitiveness and possibly force banks to pass on such costs to consumers.
  • The biggest concern is a broader one of precedent and where laws are really made. The bonus cap was a specific law tagged onto a much larger piece of legislation to which it is largely unrelated. This significantly aided its passage through and watered down scrutiny. Then given the technical nature of the rules a lot of the holes were filled in by the Commission and the EBA in setting the exact parameters for implementation – providing a lot of power to the two institutions. The temptation to take such an approach with complex financial regulation is obvious and circumvents the little accountability and control which member states have.
This debate surely has some way to run yet but this looks to be one battle which so far the UK is losing.

Building a career in non-institutional EU Brussels

Posted by on 19/10/14
Brussels hosts more than 100.000 persons working in EU affairs. Only 50% of the jobs are to be found in the EU institutions. The other 50.000 EU actors work at industry federations, consultancies, media, corporate organisations, non-profit organizations, think tanks, region and city representations. The objective of these entities is to advocate and communicate their [...]

A Power Shift in China and the EU

Posted by on 19/10/14

Just how fast can China and Europe change? And just how fast can the relationship between them change? The answer, at least sometimes, is very fast.

A recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicting that solar PV could, in one scenario at least, become the largest single source of electricity generation by 2050 made something of stir recently in the media. The report forecast that at solar PV could possibly account for as much as 16% of global electricity generation by 2050. These forecasts will almost certainly be revised as much can happen in the technology and economics of electricity generation in the next 40 years, but they are an indicator of the possibility for change.

Apart from the possibility that solar power will become a major source of energy, something else in the in the forecast is striking. As the following chart from the report shows, by far the largest growth in solar PV power will come from China. According to the report, at its peak China will contribute about 40% of electricity generation from solar PV in the world in 2030.

Chart 1: Forecast regional production of solar PV electricity Source: IEA

This suggests that in the future China will help change the world. However, that future is already arriving. In 2013 China was already the largest single market for solar PV installations in the world, accounting for 30% of net installations (new installations less facilities retired from service).

Chart 2: Share of net solar PV installations in 2013 Source: Earth Policy Institute

This fact reminds us how fast China, and the world is changing. Only a few years ago China accounted for a negligible share of installations. In 2009 China’s share of new solar PV installations was only 2%. The key cause of this change is that since 2011 the Chinese government has vastly increased support to the solar PV generation sector.

Chart 3: Share of net solar PV installations 2003-2012 Source: Earth Policy Institute

In the EU, the opposite has happened. As recently as 2010 the EU was estimated to account for about 80% of global installations, but it has now become a minor market. In 2013 the three leading markets were China, the US and Japan, which together accounted for 61% of installations. In 2009 Germany by itself installed over 50% of the solar PV added in the world, but in 2013 it accounted for only 9%. One of the main reasons for this has been a sharp reduction in support for the sector across Europe, especially in the eurozone, following the onset of the crisis in the EU.

Whatever these figures may say about the future of solar PV electricity generation, If nothing else, they are a reminder that nothing in China is constant, nor even in Europe. And the relationship between them, and their position in the world, can change rapidly.

Germany turning into an Electricity Importer

Posted by on 19/10/14

Germany is in the beginning of its nuclear phase-out to be completed by 2022.

To that end, it has to replace nuclear power accounting for 18% of its electricity supply, compared to more than half from coal, by higher energy efficiency and renewable energy.

It will also have to close some 30 conventional coal- and gas-fired power plants with a total capacity of 7 GW, which can no longer compete against wind and solar electricity.

To cope with these closures north-south grids  will be necessary to transport large volumes of wind power, but their construction suffers delays because of technical hiccups and public opposition. German utilities have therefore begun buying electricity from Austrian, Italian and French sources for the winters 2014-2016.

This is to be applauded. European power producers have an intrinsic interest to trade electricity according to daily and seasonal availabilities and costs.

The wider the geographic scope for trading wind and solar electricity the easier will it be to do without “stand-by” power plants: somewhere in Europe hydro, biomass, sunshine or wind should normally  be available. Gas-fired stand-by capacities should be an exception, as they are expensive to operate because of low capacity utilisation.

In order to obtain energy security and sustainable supply Europe will need pan European grids and optimal energy efficiency. That will take time and huge investments. The EU has laid out a strategy until 2050 to that end. It should start implementation 2014-20 with support financing from EU structural funds.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 10/10/2014

The United Kingdom: An Excellent Country for Erasmus Internship

Posted by on 19/10/14

Article by: Hacı Mehmet Boyraz (Turkey)
Edited by: Stefan Alijevikj, Tatiana Mrugová

In Turkey, there is a question “Who knows better: the one travelling more or the one reading more?”. After his Erasmus Internship in the UK, the young university student Hacı Mehmet Boyraz from Turkey says, that the one who travels more knows better, because as in his situation, he touched the things he saw in the pages directly, and now he is writing his own observations and experiences. This is Hacı’s 4-months Erasmus Internship story where he explains how to enjoy in the UK as well as provides some relevant information about his internship experience:

I am studying International Relations with Political Science and Public Administration as a double-major student at Gediz University in İzmir. In my first year at the university, I decided to make a research in the UK, but as you know, conducting a research in the UK is expensive. In the time when I was thinking about this, thankfully, the Erasmus Office of the university declared, that the exam for those students who were interested in having Erasmus or Erasmus Internship abroad would take place, so I applied to take this exam and passed it. However, the main issue was not based on passing the exam; the problem was in regards to where I would get my Internship. Luckily, I found a professor, the Leader of the Politics and Applied Global Ethics Group of Leeds Beckett University, who accepted me as a research assistant in the Group.

Because it was my first time in the UK, I had some problems with accommodation. Before coming to the UK, as much as I remember, most of the dormitories were closed, so the best and cheapest choice for accommodation in the UK is always to search “Rooms for rent” online. In this way I found a big and cheap room. I was sharing the home with 5 Polish people who were all really nice and helpful

I have finished my Erasmus Internship a few weeks ago. During the Internship, I worked with many important social scientists at the Leeds Beckett University. This opportunity changed my mind towards academia. With their support, I have written approximately 20 works including articles, corner posts and interviews with well-known people living in the UK and Turkey. Moreover, beyond my job at Leeds Beckett University, I visited Oxford University – African Studies Centre, and University of London – School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). I was really excited about visiting these institutions because both of them host the most important experts on African studies, which was one of my research areas, as well as experts on the EU, Conflict Resolution, and Turkish Foreign Policy.

Uncertain times

Posted by on 16/10/14

Oil prices surprise us again as Brent falls to below USD 90 on Thursday (9/10). What is going to happen next? Will the downward trend continue? Or should we rather expect the prices to hit USD 100 and above again? The answer depends on the time frame of expectations. In the short-term perspective, three sources of uncertainty may be distinguished. First, there are the geopolitical factors which have caused oil production in six North African and Middle Eastern countries to decline by a total of 3.5 million barrels a day, resulting in an escalation of tensions on the global oil market, which has been historically dependent on Saudi Arabia’s sizeable crude reserves – a bulwark against sudden price upswings. There are many indications that the production slump has reached its lowest point. The possibility of these missing barrels of oil returning to the market produces a price decline risk. The word ‘risk’ is used, because whether production in the region will continue to rise or not remains a major source of uncertainty. When I discussed oil prices a month ago, there were few reasons to believe that Libya’s crude production would go up. As it did, rising to some 900,000 barrels a day at present, the unexpected upsurge in oil supply of more than 500,000 barrels a day reversed the upward price pressure triggered by the Islamic State’s offensive in northern Iraq. However, considering the precarious political situation in Libya, the country’s oil production can fluctuate widely and is unlikely to increase any further.

Interestingly, IHS reports that the Central Bank of Libya currently has all of oil production and oil terminal staff on its payroll and is financing militia forces to protect vulnerable locations. With the central bank’s involvement, crude oil production and supply can be expected to continue uninterrupted over the short term. Although the turmoil and rioting in Libya persists, the unrest has been moved away from oil and gas infrastructure and city areas, which has further reduced the risk of production stoppages in the near future. In the long-term perspective however, the situation remains uncertain as the forces which will eventually gain control of the country may also attempt to take over its oil revenues. While the House of the Representatives, Libya’s democratically-elected and internationally-recognised government, has power in the east of the country, the west is governed by the General National Congress, which also controls Tripoli, where the central bank resides. For now, the central bank is willing to pay salaries to maintain oil supplies, but retains most of the revenue from selling the commodity in an attempt to forestall the conflict between the two rival governments. Currently, neither side is trying to take over all oil revenues, but the situation is bound to change some time. When one of the factions lays claim to the money, the country’s oil production may shrink significantly.

Libya is not the only country whose oil production has the potential to rise above expectations. Iran is still blocked by sanctions, which prevent some 1 million barrels of oil from reaching the market every day. As negotiations with the P5+1 (United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, France + Germany) continue, addressing the sanctions as one of many issues, the oil market is struggling with more uncertainty. This also applies to countries whose oil production has so far not suffered any long-lasting slumps on a scale which could materially affect the global oil market, such as Nigeria, Venezuela, Russia, and Iraq, the last country’s situation being the most worrying in the short-term perspective.

As for the sanctions imposed on Russia, they will likely have their toll on the global oil market in one or two years as the effects of stymied investment in oil production become apparent.

The second source of uncertainty has to do with how fast oil production is going to increase in the United States. The country’s rising oil production, along with the increasing supply from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, more than offset the slump seen in North Africa and the Middle East, which has been instrumental in bringing relative stabilisation to the oil market. According to IHS, the potential increase in US oil production depends on whether the ban on American oil exports is lifted or not. The effects of the ban could be seen in the fourth quarter of last year, when the country’s market saw a steep decline in oil prices relative to Brent crude on the back of a seasonal decline in demand associated with repairs in American refineries. While unconventional oil extraction methods make drilling more and more wells necessary, low oil prices discourage any such investments. Lifting the ban on US oil exports could change the situation, as I argued in one of the previous posts.

Oil demand, which outside of the US has been growing at a slower rate than expected, will be the third factor of uncertainty in the coming years. What is uncertain in this case is economic growth in the Eurozone, which is facing the risk of deflation, and the condition of Asian economies, particularly China, which are grappling with an economic slowdown. The oil market is rapidly affected by stymied growth in the region due to still narrow refining margins. Russia and Brazil also contribute to the decline in crude oil demand.

However, there exist some concrete factors which will prevent crude oil prices from declining over the long term. Of these, production costs are the most important – if prices decline to a point where they are lower than production costs, oil production will be reduced, which will in turn cause the prices to go up again. A scenario where oil production declines due to low prices is particularly relevant in Saudi Arabia, where unconventional deposits account for a vast majority of the country’s reserves, and the United States, whose reserve potential is also unconventional in nature. While in Saudi Arabia the decision how much oil to produce is made arbitrarily (depending on economic factors), in the United States the same is based on individual decisions made by numerous independent entities, which are currently most affected by the oil export ban. This makes the US oil export policy, and any potential amendments to it, a crucial factor in shaping the situation on the American and global oil markets in the coming years.

 

Seven reasons we love Slovenia’s new Commission nominee Violeta Bulc

Posted by on 16/10/14
By Open Europe Violeta Bulc, Slovenia's new Commissioner-designate, will be grilled by MEPs on her suitability for the Transport portfolio, next Monday. Here's our 7 reasons why she might shake up the Brussels bubble.

EU BANS TEDDIES IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS!

Posted by on 16/10/14

True? False? Who cares?

It’s a great headline. With many shops, particularly in the UK, already displaying Christmas baubles in their windows it’s a timely news item certain to grab reader’s attention – especially that broad demographic “parents” who are already fretting over how to fill their children’s stockings in time for Christmas.

The answer of course is false. Let us spell this out clearly: No. The EU is not proposing to ban any teddies in time for Christmas. There is no such proposal on the table. No debates in Parliament. No member state pushing for it in the Council. No ECJ judgement imminent. Some years ago it nearly became headline news but that was a long time ago now…..

….in the mid-1990’s Emma Bonino, the chain-smoking radical feminist who, until recently was Italy’s Foreign Affairs minister, worked as the EU Commissioner for Consumer Affairs. At the time I was working for a public affairs consultancy. Late one Friday afternoon I got a panic stricken message from a client whose job it was to oversee the safety of toys sold across Europe. You can say many things about manufacturers, corporations and industry, all possibly true, but the one thing you can not say of the toy manufacturers is that they do not take safety seriously. If anything goes wrong it’s belly-up for them. Toy safety and the Toy Safety Directive was something they worked on round the clock. Each manufacturer had a dedicated safety officer in charge of designing safe toys and ensuring that all toys sold on the EU market met the safety criteria set out by the Toy Safety Directive.

That Friday afternoon the boffs were in disarray, panic was spreading amongst the ranks, disaster was nigh. Calamity sizzled in the air. Some lowly official in the Commission had proposed an amendment to the Toy Safety Directive that would have classified all toys with long hair as too dangerous for circulation in the EU. Were the amendment to go ahead it would have meant an effective European wide ban on all Barbie’s, teddy-bears, dolls and countless other toys that have fake hair attached to them. Something had to be done. Quick. I was to sort this mess out. Now. I rang the lady in the Commission responsible for the amendment. She didn’t deign to talk to me. I tried calling a few MEPs working on the proposed amendment. None of them were around; nor were their assistants particularly interested in helping me out. I tried to talk to some people higher up the command structure of the Commission. To no avail. No one was in the least bit interested in returning any of my calls or answering any of my urgent requests for more information on this proposed amendment. In the meantime I had the client on my back asking if I had any news? Desperate, I sent a fax to Emma Bonino’s spokesperson. In the subject line I wrote:

COMMISSION BANS TEDDIES IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS”.

Within five minutes I had a meeting with none other than the Commissioner Emma Bonino herself. Result. The meeting went well. The toy safety team presented their case. Satisfied that EU consumers were not at risk from toys with long hair the amendment was scrapped. Readers will be pleased to read that in the intervening twenty years or so there have been no reported cases of children being maimed by or killed by toys with long hair.

A rather long anecdote to make a simple point: when it comes to tabloid head-lines the Commission runs scared. For good reason. The press have been brilliant at ridiculing, belittling, mocking but above all misrepresenting Europe. How easy it is for some bored, ignored Brussels journalist to make up a little story that feeds into the populist mood and grabs the attention of the misinformed.

Then again, if the EU is too stupid to develop it’s own independent media to present it’s case then really it deserves all it gets. More of the EU communication budget goes on paying expensive Consultancies to prepare glossy corporate-style brochures than it does to supporting an independent pan-European media outlet capable of presenting independent, newsworthy stories on a daily basis that readers can identify with.

Yet, at the same time it has to be admitted that a profitable pan-European media is notoriously hard to develop. Many have tried. Many have failed. In the early 1990’s Maxwell launched “The European”. Eight years later it was dead in the dust. In 1995, The Economist launched European Voice but sold it last year to a French company. One of the few survivors has been EurActiv, founded in 1999. EU Observer is perhaps the only other survivor. Neither are large enough to take on the entrenched, media giants that dominate the national landscape and who shape voter’s perceptions of the EU.

There has been much talk in Brussels recently of the new Axel Springer-Politico Joint Venture that will create a new pan-European wide media. Will it succeed where other have floundered? That remains to be seen. More on that later.

In the mean time, in a spirit of mis-information, half-truths and misleading headlines euperspectives has been scouting around for some good, newsworthy stories to boost reader numbers and has come up with some highly probably stories that are bound to engage readers.

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson bans Londoners from speaking English!

The Greater London Authority has announced that the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, wants to turn London into a “mini-Holland”. Were in not printed in black you’d think they were making it up – but the headline clearly states “Mini-Holland trial starts in Walthamstow!”

This can only mean one thing – Londoner’s are going to have to learn Dutch. Dutch is a guttural language that does not lend itself to estuary English or cockney so we went out to ask what ordinary Londoners thought about the idea. Pete, a cab driver from Lewisham hadn’t heard of the plan but when explained that Johnson intends to turn London into a mini-Holland he was furious. “If Johnson thinks I’m going to learn Dutch he’s got another thing coming. Who does he think he is to tell me what language to speak!”

Sheila Connors, a GP in Hackney worried that many of her patients would not be able to understand her. Hugh, a city worker in Canary Wharf took a more pragmatic view pointing out that Holland had better cycling paths than London so perhaps it was time for Londoners to start behaving more like the Dutch and less like Londoners?A good place to start would be to switch from English to Dutch.

Given the sensitivity of turning London into a mini-Holland we caution Johnson to think carefully about where this plan is heading. What starts out as some loose plan to offer Dutch-style cycling paths in London will soon lead to the complete Dutchification of London. Londoners are just not ready to abandon English in favour of Dutch. At the very least they should be given an “in-out” referendum so that their voices can be heard.

Farage in secret talks with tobacco industry to feature UKIP colours on cigarette packaging

If you’re worried that your teen-age kids might be discouraged from taking up smoking or from drinking cheap alcohol because of proposed plans to introduce plain packaging and minimum alcohol pricing then fear no more. Vote UKIP. Farage, the charismatic leader of UKIP, well known for his love of a pint of lager and a packet of fags is totally opposed to plain packaging of any form. According to the UKIP website the party opposes all “plain paper packaging’ for tobacco products and minimum pricing of alcohol.”

So delighted is the tobacco industry with Britain’s latest rising political star, rumour has it they are in talks with UKIP to use their bright colours, purple and yellow, on all cigarette packages before the end of the year. A spokesperson for the industry said, “Nigel Farage is a role model to all young people. He is a fine example of what a success you can make of yourself if you learn how to smoke more than twenty a day and drink in the pub at lunch time. We would most certainly welcome closer ties with UKIP.”

Farage has never made a secret of his love for drinks, smoking and women and he has not completely denied that he accepted a donation of EUR 25 000 from a British e-cigarette company. He later went on to make a You Tube video promoting their product.

True? False? Who cares?

 

EU-Russia Relations: Reloading again?

Posted by on 16/10/14

The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) will be held on October, 16-17, in Milano (Italy). German Federal Chancellor, British Prime-minister, Presidents of Ukraine and France confirmed their participation at the forum. Russian Prime-minister Medvedev was declared as a participant but at the very last moment President Putin announced his arrival to Milano.

Russians also confirmed that Putin was planning to meet with EU leaders as well as with the head of Chinese Parliament Li Kecian. There is also possibility of Putin-Poroshenko talks.

Putin’s primary goal in Milano is to convince EU leaders to lift sanctions imposed by Europe. It is worth to add that the future of these restrictive measures will be the main issue at the EU foreign ministers meeting on October, 20, in Brussels.

According to Kremlin’s official statements, Putin is going to offer for Europeans to ‘reload’ EU-Russian relations. The Russian economy has entered into recession. Russia should intensify its political and economic dialogue with Western countries, otherwise the decline of its economy cannot be stopped. The main source of the Russian budget income is oil & gas export (nearly 50%), but due to the latest trends in the oil markets Russia has lost profits – up to five trillion rubles. The Russian budget was based on oil price of $114 per barrel, therefore budget-2014 revenues will be reduced by 20-25%.

Trying to redirect its cooperation vector, Russia chooses China as the main strategic partner instead of EU. Lots of agreements were signed between Moscow and Beijing during last few years. The gas contract is one of the most important. The contract is worth $440 billion and the period of its validity is 30 years. However, gas deliveries will be possible not earlier than in 2018. But by that time, the Russian economy will not be able to survive without economic and political cooperation with EU.

“Reloading” of European-Russian relations is positively assessed by EU. But the Ukrainian issue is still open. A few European countries support lifting of sanctions against Russia: Hungary, France & Slovakia. Most of the EU members agree that sanctions against Russia must not be lifted until the situation in Ukraine becomes stable.

EU representatives consider that it is not the time to begin a new “Cold War”. All parties interested in resolving the Ukrainian conflict should carry on the effective dialogue. Only political negotiations can bring results.

The issue of economic sanctions lifting will be discussed during the meetings between EU leaders and Putin. Sanctions can be canceled under the only condition: Russia should withdraw its troops from the territory of Ukraine. This condition concerns not only the Eastern Ukraine, but also the annexed Crimea. So, EU-Russia relations reloading is possible but in case of fulfillment of this demand.

According to EU experts, Ukrainian and Russian economies bear loses due to the protracted conflict in the Eastern Ukraine. The countries have deeply integrated system of co-production in many industrial fields.

ASEM in Milano may become the starting point of the Ukrainian conflict resolving. Putin face a dilemma: to support EU peaceful initiatives and to create conditions for sanctions to be lifted or to destroy the Russian economy.

Ukraine and Russia may become a reliable economic bridge between Europe and Asia.

Participation Success Factors: a quick followup

Posted by on 16/10/14
What happened when 60 odd people had a go at the Participation mindmap? The Europecom session went well yesterday, judging by the Tweets. I’d never even been to an event run on World Café lines, so thank goodness the others knew what they were doing. In the end the mindmap – which started out as [...]

The Syrian tunnel and the Spring

Posted by on 16/10/14

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When the first spontaneous explosions of the Arab democratic revolutions erupted in Tunisia in December 2010, many were hoping that this revolt might usher in a new beginning for the whole region. When Egypt joined Tunisia a few weeks later, hopes mounted and everyone started to think that the long-awaited moment had finally arrived. This feeling further intensified with the Yemeni revolution and the early stages of the revolutions in Libya and Syria, and a new order was anticipated. Nevertheless, the trajectory of events took things in a completely different direction. Some opted to see the recent downward spiral as a conspiracy theory, while others saw in these events a natural outcome of an ignorance planted by corrupt rulers over decades.

In fact, every Arab, except those who were benefiting from toppled regimes, was happy and hopeful with the so-called Arab Spring, and Arab thinkers started to draw optimistic scenarios for their future. On the other hand, despite initial hesitation and falling into the trap of duality — i.e., interests versus morals — the West ostensibly began to cheer and support these revolts. Even the staunchest critics of the Arab world saw these revolts bringing the region into the democratic club.

Nonetheless, with the beginning of the armed conflict in Libya, the picture was distorted somehow. That is, people started to question how far violence can justify the fulfillment of democratic aspirations. Similarly, in Syria violence escalated to an unprecedented level as regional and international actors tried to use the Syrian scene either to counter others’ influence or to find a foothold in the region.

To that end, there were no objections whatsoever whose hands the money and weapons would fall into, as long as Bashar al-Assad’s regime was weakened and as long as they maintained some sort of leverage in the ongoing action in Syria. This fact refutes, without doubt, the allegations of some states that accused others of financing and funding the jihadists in Syria, because simply, everyone paid and funded everyone and anyone who fights against Assad.

The conflict in Syria revealed the divergence and the convergence in the policies of regional regimes concerning Arab revolts. While the Saudis were in favor of regional Status-Quo except for Syria and Libya (who did not have good relations with), the Iranians were in favor of a revolutionary change in the region, aiming to re-clone their experience, except for Syria- the ally. Turks, on the other hand, were in favor of a gradual transition in the region in order to maintain their economic interests, but again with the exception of Syria which they opt for a drastic change and toppling Assad.

With the emergence of al-Nusra followed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the whole Arab Spring was fully hijacked. In other words, with the number of atrocities committed by these two groups, not one single Arab is left with the luxury of thinking of democracy or fighting their dictatorships, lest they suffer from similar troubles.

Although there is a consensus on the grave threat ISIS-IS is posing, there has been no real agreement among regional and global powers on fighting or eliminating the group. Some powers see that weakening ISIS-IS would not only mean that Assad will remain, but would also give him the opportunity to retrieve lost territories in Syria. Other regional powers find in fighting and weakening ISIS-IS an empowered of other groups like Kurdish PKK and other Shiite guerrillas, while other super powers find that eliminating ISIS-IS would remove any reason for regional countries to seek support and assistance in fighting those radicals.

And again, as the notion of the US was what provoked many Arabs to revolt against their regimes, which were long accused of being American stooges, the moment the United States launched its air strikes against ISIL, the number of new recruits in ISIL increased dramatically — as it is claimed that more than 6,000 new recruits have joined the organization since the beginning of the US campaign.

With its quick rise and control of a large swath and chunk of Iraq and Syria, ISIL inspired many conspiracy theories to draw the certain and undoubted role of the US in these events. Although critics of this conclusion refute this, claiming that the US is currently leading a campaign against ISIL, I tend to see the latter argument as both erroneous and illogical.

Aside from the document revealed by former contractor at the US’s National Security Agency (NSA) Edward Snowden, which said British and American intelligence and Mossad worked together to create ISIL in order to attract all extremists of the world to one place, there are still other signs. First, all observers have concluded that these strikes are not really harming ISIL. US Senator John McCain himself told CNN on Oct. 7 that the ISIL advance shows the “ineffectiveness and fecklessness” of the air strikes. Second, the US’s tardy decision to launch air strikes took months during which ISIL was expanding and gaining power day by day and despite all the atrocities committed by the group. Third, attacking ISIL does not necessarily mean that the US has no role in the formation and the rise of the group. To illustrate, throughout history, many US administrations attacked former allies when their interests conflicted, e.g., Manuel Noriega of Panama.

However, one should concede that without the widespread ignorance among the Arab population — due to decades of malevolent policies by corrupt regimes that were allied with the US — such groups would not have found grounds to propagate an austere interpretation of Islam and such violent acts. This fact does not, however, rule out a foreign imprint in the ongoing chaos in the region, and several incidents do support this argument.

For instance, in a letter sent from Patriarch Gregorios of Greece to the czar of Russia at the end of the 18th century, he said that abolishing the Islamic Ottoman Empire militarily was impossible. He suggested weakening the empire from within, mainly through ending the discipline and morale and importing Western ideas (from the French Revolution) of liberation and freedom. Tracking the ensuing developments, not only during the demise of the Ottoman Empire but also in modern times, one can notice that this policy has been implemented perfectly and used non-Islamic culture as a cover, either by importing the values of liberation and equality from the French Revolution or the values of US globalization of human rights and democracy in order to penetrate Arab and Islamic societies. Confronting such foreign infiltration occurred through recalling historical exploits and sometimes adopting radical agendas.

Another example is a strategically important document: the 1907 Campbell-Bannerman Report. Although the report was suppressed and has not been officially released due to its gravity, several sources revealed a number of its conclusions, which included that the Arab countries and the Muslim-Arab people presented a very real threat, and it recommended promoting disintegration, division and separation in the region; establishing artificial political entities that would be under the authority of the imperialist countries; fighting any kind of unity, whether intellectual, religious or historical; and finally a “buffer state” to be established in Palestine, populated by a strong, foreign presence that would be hostile to its neighbors and friendly to European countries and their interests.

That said, Ismael Hossein-Zadeh in his article “Planned Chaos in the Middle East — and Beyond,” which appeared in Counter Punch on July 18-20, 2014, suggests that the “incoherent,” “illogical” or “contradictory” policies of the United States are in fact chaos that represents the success, not failure, of those policies — policies that are designed by the beneficiaries of war and military adventures in the region, and beyond. Quoting Hossein-Zadeh: “The seeds of the chaos were planted some 25 years ago, when the Berlin Wall collapsed. Since the rationale for the large and growing military apparatus during the Cold War years was the ‘threat of communism,’ US citizens celebrated the collapse of the Wall as the end of militarism and the dawn of ‘peace dividends’ — a reference to the benefits that, it was hoped, many would enjoy in the United States as a result of a reorientation of part of the Pentagon’s budget toward non-military social needs.”

Unfortunately, with the intercalation of new elements in the scene, i.e., the Kurdish and the ethnic factors, all regional players succumbed to a form of paralysis with few options at hand, and thus the whole region is susceptible to further schism and deeper ordeals until everyone realizes that no one will be immune from the ramifications of this scourge.

Appeared in: Your Middle East, Today’s Zaman, the Daily Journalist, Arabian Gazette, News 24, Arab Media Network, Iran Review, Political Science Academy, Middle East Monitor, Tuck Magazine, Middle East Online, Pakistan Tribune,

Slovenia tries again

Posted by on 16/10/14

Some Europeans are deeply respectful of European institutions and serious about the jobs of the persons that lead it. It is a valuable project that brought peace, prosperity and democracy to the continent. It deserves full support. On the other hand, the Slovenian center-left was cheering to the song that refrains “Europe is a gang of thieves”. Somewhere in between these two understandings is the second nomination for the member of the European Commission from Slovenia.

Not serious

Ms. Bulc has had a political job for a few weeks only. She has zero political experience. She has never been involved in policy-making. However, Slovenia is a country of political opportunity. For some. After a poor performance of the center-left government of MS. Bratušek, the voters this summer did not give a chance to the opposition. Instead they awarded Mr. Cerar, a center-left “non-politician”, with a landslide victory. The current prime minister was never leading anything bigger than a chair at a University. He set up his party a few weeks before the elections. He now leads the country. The uneven political playing field in Slovenia makes this possible.

Why, then, could not an absolute beginner lead a portfolio in the European Commission? The decision to nominate Ms. Bulc could be interpreted as an indicator of a shallow talent base of the Cerar’s party and a result of poor understanding of the seriousness of the European project. Which I believe is the case.

However, it could also be interpreted as a sign of contempt and disrespect: as if being a Commissioner is a job that does not require any experience. As if just about anyone who did some public speaking could do it.

It is worth remembering that in August, when his opinion did not matter much, Mr. Cerar said he was supporting Mr. Potocnik; then Ms. Fajon and Mr. Erjavec. Now that his opinion matters, he pushes his party loyal Ms. Bulc through the process. Though even in the government there were 7 votes against her, 6 in favor and 2 abstained. But technically not a majority against.

Mr. Cerar won the national elections on the ticket of morality and ethics. He is becoming a politician fast. Sadly Ms. Romana Jordan, two time MEP, PhD in nuclear physics and a respected member of ITRE was never seriously considered in Slovenia though she could excel in an energy, industry or science related portfolio.

The sacred feminine

The second controversy that is accompanying Ms. Bulc’s nomination is her track record in the occult, in shamanism, in walking on fire, whispering to horses, annulling the second law of thermodynamics. The list of readings and links on her website is long and mind-boggling.

If she is appointed a European Commissioner she could inspire the next Dan Brown’s novel. On how the sacred feminine energy, symbolized by the Zeus’s mistress Europa is returning to the center stage of Europe. Yes, the novel would take place in Brussels, not Vatican, Florence and Istanbul. Perhaps there are some some underground corridors between Justus Lipsius and Barleymont for Prof. Langdon to navigate.

On a more serious note, I actually think Ms. Bulc’s appointment (a few weeks ago) into the Slovenian government – to a position similar to mine in 2007-2008 – was not a bad idea. At a non-portfolio post she could not do much damage but could bring some out of the box thinking to the government table. Which can be valuable.

The way I understand Ms. Bulc’s consulting, it is about making businesses more creative and innovative. Without going too deep into the theory and psychology of creativity, being creative means finding a solution, which as outside of the set of obvious solutions that a mind limited with rationality could come across. The mumbo-jumbo that she preaches could be a way to “overload” the rational brain and, with the shields of common sense and reason weakened, allow for “out of the box” ideas to emerge – in business, design, anywhere.

I do not know if she really believes in the unscientific quackery that she lectures about or is just selling that snake oil to (naïve) business customers to help them be more innovative and creative. If it is the second, Brussels could certainly use an occasional departure from the politically correct but often void phrases that dominate the bubble.

She will make it

The problem is the thin line between the irrational and the creative. If she can persuade Mr. Juncker and the MEPs that she can walk it, she will do just fine at the hearings. After all, it would be disrespectful and un-European to dismiss a second Slovenian in a row.

There might even be sympathy for her beliefs in the parliament. In the West the appreciation of shamanism, African cults, conversations with horses etc. is regarded open, tolerant and multicultural. She would be in much greater trouble had her blogs be about the visions of Archangel Gabriel instead of pseudo-scientific equations; and conversations with Virgin Mary instead of with the spirits of horses.

Commissioners were dismissed for less. In the European Parliament it is more dangerous to be a strict catholic (such as Mr. Buttiglione) than a shaman. It is worth noting that we are speaking about European and not African Union.

Personally I am sorry that Slovenia was unable to look beyond petty party interests in the nomination of its Commission candidates. Ms. Bulc is not the best choice but has broad horizons, is intelligent and will hopefully learn fast.

The lesson

What Europe should learn from the saga with the Commission member from Slovenia (and a few others) is, that the Commission construction process is dysfunctional. The president of the Commission should simply have more to say on who he/she wants on his team. Parliamentary rejection also should not be such an exception. After all, the success or failure of the Commission is not the responsibility of the member states. It is the responsibility of president of the Commission and, to some extent, of the Parliament. Powers, formal and grabbed, should be compatible with that.

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