Wednesday 22 October 2014

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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.

The beginnings of modern PR

Posted by on 16/10/14

Whitehouse Consultancy Associate Director and author of The PR Masterclass Alex Singleton discusses the beginnings of modern public relations.

To read Alex’s’ article, please click here.

The Whitehouse Consultancy is one of Europe’s leading public affairs and communications agencies.

Nobel Prize for Economics: a missed ex-aequo

Posted by on 16/10/14

Dr Jean Tirole has won the Nobel Prize for Economics having pursued studies centred on regulations suited to ex State monopolies, like Power supplies, Telecom, Gas, Banks…
Mr Tirole concludes that those sizable companies, once privatized, tend to accumulate excessive profits, often not decorously compatible with the community of citizens.
Hence the opportunity to legislate in a differentiate way, paying due regard to the potential excesses of a specific market segment.

However, we should ask ourselves if the privatization of utilities is the right way forward or rather, we should direct the glance (the study) toward a better management of State enterprises. If a State-managed utility is not efficient in administering its services to the members of the public it might need less politics and better management with adequate salaries. A political system that is not capable of managing its state-enterprises economically will, almost surely, waste as well a large proportion of the national budget.

Dr Thomas Piketty, another French economist, has achieved a research that demonstrates the diminishing growth of a country to the widening of salaries beyond a certain point. In other words, the excessive accumulation of wealth in a few, compared to the whole population of a country, causes a dwindling in the purchasing power of citizens, hence the diminishing income to the State. The difference in compensation along the professional ladder is positive to stimulate motivation but if this difference becomes excessive then the economic system misfires. The work is detailed in his book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”, a bestseller applauded by most economists and some of the political elite but insubstantially criticised by the “financial nomenclature”. Is this the reason for a missed ex-aequo? Dear Mr Piketty, the 21st century has just begun and you might enjoy a full bounty in the near future.

Four solutions to economic inequality

Posted by on 16/10/14

By Àngela Corbalán & Paul Creeney

Economic inequality is on the rise. Half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one per cent of the world’s population. In Europe, austerity policies across the continent designed to cut debt and stimulate growth could instead push the number of Europeans at risk of poverty up to 146 million by 2025 – over a quarter of the population.

The problems are severe, but we want to focus on the solutions. As part of Blog Action Day 2014 on the topic of inequality, we look at how to redress the balance in favour of the many instead of the few.

1. CRACKING DOWN ON TAX DODGING

At least $18.5 trillion is hidden by wealthy individuals in tax havens worldwide, representing a loss of more than $156 billion in tax revenue. Amazingly, more than two-thirds of this amount is stashed away in territories within EU boundaries, such as Luxembourg or Malta. This is just a fraction of the total tax loss, as it only reflects the amount of tax that individuals are neglecting to pay. It doesn’t include the tax dodged by companies, whose dodgy-dealings and negotiated tax breaks could cost Africa alone an estimated $100 billion a year.

At Oxfam, we want to see individuals and companies paying their fair share of taxes. For example, we’re calling for an EU blacklist of tax havens and an agreement from EU governments to impose sanctions against them and those using them. Governments should also compel multinational companies to reveal where they really make their profits and where they pay their taxes. In Europe and across the world, this extra tax revenue could be key to financing public services, like health and education.

2. MORE MONEY FOR HEALTH CARE

Investing in health and education is one of the most powerful ways of fighting global inequality. Spending on these services has the same inequality-busting potential in rich and poor countries alike, reducing income inequality by between 10 to 20 per cent. This is why cuts in these services around the world are so catastrophic.

While public services can mitigate rising trends in inequality, user fees and funding cuts in both the North and South have the opposite effect. Healthcare fees push 150 million people into ruin every year around the world.

3. MORE MONEY FOR EDUCATION


Despite all this evidence, between 2008 and 2012, more than half of all developing countries cut their education spending and two-thirds cut spending on healthcare. These cuts focus the pain of austerity directly at those who can least stand it.

Governments must value the impact of free public services and not introduce fees, budget cuts or other privatization of services that hit the poorest hardest, when inequality is already stacking the deck against them.

4. WORKING FOR THE MANY

Wealthy elites have co-opted political power to rig the rules of the economic game, undermining democracy and hindering economic growth and poverty reduction.

Economic inequality can lead to “opportunity capture”, which means that the best education, the best health care and the lowest tax rates will be claimed by the children of the rich.

If inequality is not addressed quickly, we will soon live in a world where equal opportunity is just a dream. Rather than leaving the rest of us to fight over scraps from the top table, the investments and policies needed to put right the imbalance of inequality must be addressed if the global poverty currently affecting over a billion people is to be truly made a thing of the past.

Àngela Corbalán is Oxfam’s Head of EU Communications and Paul Creeney is Oxfam’s EU Communications Assistant.

Sermons on Jewish holidays

Posted by on 16/10/14

In his article “The community of expulsion” (INYT, 7 Oct), Roger Cohen complains that he did not hear any sermon about Israel and the Palestinians when he visited his reform synagogue in London during the recent Jewish high holidays. Although he understands that these holidays “are days to look inward”, he thinks that the rabbis should have addressed the recent Gaza war in their sermons.

We should be happy that they did not. Most people follow the news from Israel. They are not interested in listening to political sermons in the synagogue – whether pro- or anti-Israeli government – and to be told what to think. During Rosh Hashana and Jom Kippur they want to come closer to their religious sources and listen to sermons on spiritual and moral topics.

Cohen’s quote from Stefan Zweig on how all Jews, irrespective of belief, origin and age, became a “community of expulsion” during the Nazi regime is touching. He could however have added that the Jews became a defenseless community of people condemned to death by the Nazis. Surely Cohen does not claim that the Palestinians, though many of them in exile, face the same situation.

Brazil drought must set off global climate alarm bells

Posted by on 16/10/14

In 2009 Antonio Sobre, one of Brazil’s leading climate scientists, warned his citizens that if the country did not stop deforestation it would experience a catastrophe in five years. Five years later, in October 2014, the centre and south-east of the country is experiencing its worst drought since 50 years. Sao Paulo, with 12 million people the biggest cities of the Americas, is running short of drinking water, one oft its main water reservoirs having only five per cent of its capacity left.

The drought will have a negative impact on agriculture, energy and economic development. The coffee and sugar harvests will decline while prices are bound to soar.

It is absolutely home-made, deforestation being the major cause.

Despite all warnings, Brazil has cut 22 per cent of the Amazon forest, even 90 per cent of the Atlantic region, overlooking the vital functions it fulfils for the country in terms of humidity, water supply and agriculture.

It serves a huge hydrological pump for the country, especially the southern agricultural parts no longer covered by forests: 20 billion tons of vapour are daily being generated by the forest trees, which,after moving into the sky, are blown westward, blocked by the Andean mountains to be diverted south where they pour down in form of rain.

The 2014 drought demonstrates the fragility of this millennium-old system.

Brazil has therefore not one day to lose before taking action to contain further deforestation for logging and agricultural land. It must be the top priority for the next government.

Deforestation must also be a priority for the 2015 Climate Conference. What is happening in Brazil today is bound to happen in other countries tropical rainforests, from Indonesia to Congo and Gabon.

The international community must therefore decide to put an end to deforestation without further delay. This is no longer a matter of individual countries, no more than carbon dioxide emissions from China, Europe or USA.

The world expects actions from Paris in December 2015.The major countries responsible for climate change must finally put their signature to a text that must be prepared long before.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 15/10/2014

Welcome and Good Luck Mogherini

Posted by on 13/10/14

It was not long time ago when Federica Mogherini took office in Rome as the Foreign Affairs minister, and soon after she found herself to be the “chosen one” to cover a role as tricky as scorching in Mr Juncker’s “team” – as the incoming resident of the Berlaymont building rather calls the Junker Commission. Her former “chief” moved fast from being mayor of Florence in to take over the role of Italian Prime Minister, as well her career has markedly speeded up when she has been appointed to lead the EU external relations system, not only Italian foreign affairs.

 Italian FM Mogherini attends EU parliament hearingShe has been picked out of a bunch of overqualified names to make the difference. And indeed she differs from the old-fashioned attitude to appoint to the role of Commissioners “dinos politicians” on the edge of the retirement after a long honoured national career. The EP has loaded on her shoulder huge weights, made of great expectation and big tasks. Although this time, from great responsibility does not subsequently come great powers. Overcoming national interests in the management of foreign affairs may be her mandate’s first snag. One of her main claim during the EP hearing on Monday 8th October was to bear in mind that EU interests shall match national interests. It is the time to think big, and to act subsequently, as she answered to the question arisen by ECR group EPM, Tannock.

 Mogherini’s recent past in the national politics has endowed her with the classical taste for mediation and prevention of crisis stemming from the Italian systemic political instability.

It is vital to coordinate and act coherently so to react and counterweight properly threats against EU’s peace and security. In the previous five years, the disconnected actions undertook by 27 actors -then 28 with the Croatian accession- made of the EEAS a second fiddle playing a background melody in the general orchestra. Due to a dangerous mix of national interests and limited legal basis grounding its competences, the EU external service action’s scope has been bordered on a minor set of possible actions.

“Because size DOES matter…”

 Accordingly to this geopolitical assumption, as the time passed by and the EU actual shape outlined, its role has been fixed into a picture showing an economic giant with a weak political punch. Globally speaking indeed, this fragmentation has leaded the EU to be considered a significant actor within regional striking distance. Maybe, the day has come for the UE to counterbalance other global powers and gain the political shine that deserves at international level.

Shared goals and team-working shall involve not only the 28 Member States, but also the EU as a whole, getting rid of the dualistic dialectic of “us and them”, that apparently has been separating the work of the EU institutions for too long. As her sentence “there is no us and them” proves this assumption as well as gave the ground to the claim that all EU’s policies and Commissioners’ portfolio are somehow interconnected having at certain extend an external impact—such policies related to energy, migration, trade, respect of human dignity, recognition of the rule of law. Nonetheless, from a legal point of view, this holistic approach looking at the external and internal security related policy as a unicum, may find the opposition of the art.40 TUE (1).

 Miss Mogherini mentioned several times during the hearings that the EU plants its roots in a set of shared values and founds itself on the respect of the international law principles.

Actually, she sounded to experts and to part of the MEP hawkish when she had to answer the questions addressing her on the Russian territorial aggression against Ukraine (2).

 Some analysts argued that her position was more direct and the message easily intelligible this time to openly get rid of the alleged label of “fellow of Moscow” stuck on her brow due to her early reactions to the break of violence in Ukraine. Nevertheless her smooth reaction at that time was respondent to the Italian strategy, cautious to maintain good diplomatic relations with Moscow in the name of political realism and economic interests. Additionally, the Russian Federation is an essential interlocutor from the wider perspective of the enlarged Middle-Eastern chessboard, particularly for the relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria.

 At this time, no holds barred if the counterpart begs to differ from the European undisputable principle of respect of the rule of law, as pointed out by Lady PESC, the “Signora” forced to recklessly dance at a winter ball with the Russian Bear (3).

 Her answered to the number of questions raised by the MEPs last Monday drawing up her receipt to the lack of prompt solutions and ability to act in the event of a crisis. Particularly, the question asked by the British S&D MEP Howitt, addressed the designated HR on which attitude she deemed valuable to face the Russian Federation, and how it would differ from the line drown by her predecessor, the Baroness Ashton. “Europe needs a mix of assertiveness and diplomacy […] the balance would also depend on the reaction of the Russian bear” as she thoughtfully answered, we may expect a steady shift in the EU-Russian Federation relations, or at least until Russian change of groove or, maybe, until the next big international crisis blows off. Mogherini underlined that at the moment the UE cannot consider the Russian Federation as a partner any longer or at least, till they keep up with the violence and territorial occupation in Ukraine. But answering to the question of the Romanian MEP of the EPP group Preda, she clarified that it is not simply all about finding a definition to describe partners, allies and whatsoever, but the concern is embedded on the third States’ behaviour and interest to “get along” with the EU establishment.

 Because crisis are not so kind to queue in front of your door and ask “may I burst into?”:

 Additionally to this diplomatic crisis involving the area of the Eastern partnership, the Mediterranean region has continued to boil during the summer. Besides the breeding grounds of violence already burning in Libya, Syria, Gaza, the self-proclaimed Caliphate leaded by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi started its compelling march launched to conquer territories and minds of the Muslims. Threatening with acts of pure violence and declarations against the “Imperialists”, the self-proclaimed ISIS Caliphate has been the other main geopolitical concern during the consultations. Indeed, this gave the floor to Mogherini to make clear that the EU must develop a marked sensibility to prevent crisis, to be ready to cope with the upcoming situation or, at least, sit the table of talks with a single coherent political view. The comprehensive strategy she claims must turn around a series of remarks she clarified during her audition, namely to activate a multitasking attitude towards the global scenario as a whole.

 Working simultaneously on the dossiers East and South shall be European priority at the present time, because crisis are not so kind to queue before knocking at your doors, they may erupt in the blink of an eye, everywhere, concurrently. By giving a hint of what the “Mogherini’s doctrine” will be, she sketched a series of instruments that the EU, as big payer in Middle East, may use as leverage to become, eventually, a big political player as well.

 Then, in concomitance with the International Gaza donors’ conference in Cairo of October the 12th, her plead has been not to focus merely on the economy and the material re-construction of Gaza, as case study valuable for many other post-war scenarios. What the EU should do, and actually is enabled to do, is to work together with regional actors so to build up political and social frameworks, which the stability and prosperity of the post-crisis scenarios can thrive through.

The designed keystone is the engagement of civil society and political structure towards a fruitful outcome of stability, notwithstanding the role of transnational and regional actors which may enter and alter these structures. From this perspective, it may be easier to appreciate Mogherini’s call to empower and set up solid region-to-region frameworks of debate, so to engage also those Countries of modest international impact. The logical conclusion of her rational political exercise is to fix solutions on the short-term but planning the long-term strategy to settle problems, so to work on their roots. As she underlined in the written answer to questions submitted by MPEs’ in early September, EU policy together with the agreements it has with third parts may positively affect the roots causes of humanitarian disasters, on the top the root causes of displacement.

 Unfortunately, those tools are only symbolic and so they will remain till the day will come and the Global Approach of Migration and all the mobility partnerships affecting the life of migrants and the whole institute of free mobility become effective (4). In addition, the insurgent issue related to the Jihadists return to their Countries of origin shook the EU policy-makers. Especially true for the conservative groups, as the Italian Northern League EMP Borghezio, he urged to search a new pattern to tackle the problems related to this menace. Mogherini’s remarks following the question underlined the need to find solutions to the uprising issue, although stressing that these set of interventions must not upturn the basic and fundamental EU rules on the free movement. In this sense, the need for an integrate approach and inter-bodies enhanced dialogue become a pressing issue. The interconnection of national orders in the European area of freedom, security and justice grants of course the freedom of movement and the common management and respect of individual freedoms and public security. Seen the return on the stage of security as key element of the contemporary States and consequently of the European democracy, to preserve the right balance between freedom and security turns to be a significant challenge to the European policy makers.

Although the focus was obviously on the two on-going crises emerging from the direct European’s neighbourhood, some MPEs’ questions addressed the designed High Representative on other geo-regions such as Asia, Gulf Cooperation Council, MERCOSUR as to launch a new foreign policy mantra that it may read “neighbours of our neighbours, are also our neighbours”.

 The MEP Lunacek of the Group of the Green, enlarged the scope of the interrogation by adding the EU’s prerogative to establish partnership within a legal frame and being assure of the third part respect of the so-called low politics, such as freedom of speech, respect of the human dignity and human rights. Besides, being of extreme importance for the Greens is, of course, the dossier related to the green energy; her question targeted the Azerbaijan, deemed to be the backbone of the energy supply diversification for the EU. Keeping an eye on the upcoming winter, Mogherini stressed once again the necessity to diversify the suppliers States group. Seen the potent leverage owned by the Russian Federation as huge energetic supplier, as well as acquainted with the Mediterranean instability, especially true for Libyan difficulties in producing and exporting gas, our neighbour partners in the South Caucasus may counterbalance the supply part in the energetic value-chain towards Europe (5).

 Additionally, she mentioned at least once the next big issue affecting the EU institutions and public opinion debate, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), referred as “trade is not only an economic but also a strategic instrument”. But it has still to be widely discussed, as the TTIP turned out to be a thorny point in the already extremely knotty point of the EU’s external projection network, as she answer to the legal issue brought up by the Italian MEP Castaldo, EFDD Group. The Transatlantic partnership, as well as the EU partnership with Israel and EU relations with its challenger, the People Republic of China, revealed how complex will be the forthcoming 5 years of work at the Barlaymont building, for the whole Junker Commission.

A mix of human rights-related issues and protectionist concerns flavoured the atmosphere when the audition touched the themes associated to the EU strategy towards Asian Continent. EU’s task should be to convince Asians that Europe is strategically important for them and not vice-versa, as Mogherini said.

 The quiz is over and Mogherini brings home the Jackpot

 Mostly, the committee’s questions addressed very specific geopolitical and strategic issues, covering pretty much every region in the world requiring foreign policy attention, in the present or prospectively in the next future, the Arctic included.

She remarked that none asked of her intentions on how to manage in particular the EEAS-EP relations. Standing article 218 TFUE (6), the EP should be “immediately and fully informed at all stages of the procedure”. Notwithstanding the clear legal base, it never happened since the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon. Hence, she expressed her availability and interest to take part at any committee meeting and to keep the EP constantly posted on the evolution and affairs going on in the EEAS. She appeared calm, charmed the audience and sounded thoughtful without contributing too much in terms of concreteness and substantive policy. Although, an EP hearing is never the place to have an in-depth discussion on policy and where to hear well-structured action plans. Eventually, it was common perception of a person fitted for the role. She set the priorities and prepared the path to be trotted to frame forthcoming five years of actions and decisions.
(Anita Nappo)

(1)  Treaty of Lisbon, art.40 www.eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:12012M/TXT&from=EN (2)    Mogherini more hawkish on Russia in EP hearing www.euobserver.com/institutional/125933;

  • (3) Federica Mogherini questioned over EU-Russia relations

www.theparliamentmagazine.eu/articles/eu-monitoring/federica-mogherini-questioned-over-eu-russia-relations;

(4)    Some questions to the candidate High Representative for external relations (Federica Mogherini) www.free-group.eu/2014/10/05/some-questions-to-the-candidate-high-representative-for-external-relations-federica-mogherini/

Further readings:

-        [en] Exchange of Views on the situation in Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Gaza www.europarl.europa.eu/committees/en/afet/home.html

-        [en] Six things we like about Federica Mogherini, the EU’s candidate HRVP www.concordeurope.org/blogs/seamus-jeffreson-s-blog/180-six-things-we-like-about-federica-mogherini-the-eu-s-candidate-hrvp

-        [en] Priorities for the Next Legislature: EU external action www.ceps.be/book/priorities-next-legislature-eu-external-action


Classé dans:Actualités, CITOYENNETE EUROPEENNE, Questions institutionnelles

Ebola: Scary? Yes! Significant? No!

Posted by on 13/10/14
While the latest outbreak of Ebola is certainly a tragedy, its use by the media and political activists is sadly opportunistic. This crisis should provide the opportunity for us to consider fast-tracking development programmes in these poor West African countries.

Putting broadband on the road

Posted by on 13/10/14

The other day I had the pleasure of participating as a panel member in the international Connected Vehicles conference held in Brussels. Huawei was an official sponsor of the event, along with BMW, Mini and Ertico, the European network of Intelligent Transport Systems and Services stakeholders.

There were also participants from Renault, Toyota, Deutsche Telekom and Telefónica, automotive technology companies and road infrastructure operators, insurers, the European Commission and national governments, and others. This involvement from different sectors of society and the economy – whether they be users, mobile network operators, technology and vehicle manufacturers, road builders, insurers, or emergency services – will be vital to the cooperative effort of putting broadband on the roads. The emphasis must be on cooperation, getting consumer-focused and infrastructure-related industries to work together; even if, by nature, they work with very different technology life cycles.

Huawei is the leader in supplying telematics solutions to the automotive industry and we believe our LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology will play an important part in developing connected car services in Europe: vehicle to vehicle, motorcycle and pedestrian, as well as to infrastructure.

But it should be pointed out there is no single technology that can be used for vehicle connectivity. Huawei is thus in favour of hybrid, cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), where the cellular network plays a fundamental role. For critical services not covered by the cellular network, we are studying LTE, device-to-device and 5th generation technology (5G) currently being standardised under the 5G Infrastructure Public-Private Partnership.

Cars are already connected via cell networks. Road Side Units deployed must be upgradable to host and implement future services, supporting Software-Defined Radio for instance. And connectivity with these RSUs must be possible in different regions, cities and municipalities across Europe, whether for alerting emergency services in the event of an accident or just to find that elusive town centre parking space.

Standards and certification come into play here. A big push is needed to produce the technical standards to see broadband employed all over our roads. A good way to align technology development cycles would be to already deploy a common communication standard to enable different industries to interoperate and exchange data. A common, dedicated spectrum for automotive – the 5.9 GHz band is not yet reserved in Europe – would immediately stimulate this industry and reduce the risk of interference issues.

The huge effort required by the parties is justified by the benefits ‘Broadband on the roads’ will generate for society. Smart, connected vehicles promise to improve safety, security and comfort on board, fuel efficiency, traffic congestion and environmental impact. And think of the number of vehicle apps and software upgrades that will be bought from cloud services and the royalties paid for technology use.

The cake is big enough for everyone to share. This is a large, developing industry, which may create significant economic wealth for society through new business opportunities and jobs. The cooperation needed to make connected vehicles a reality throughout Europe should be possible given that there is normally more space for win-win cooperation rather than competition in this industry.

- Fabrizio Cortesi, Director of Strategy and Cooperation (Europe), Wireless Networks, Huawei

Dalligate: Barroso to the exit, with a toxic legacy

Posted by on 13/10/14
Guest blog post by Bart Staes and José Bové October 16th will be the sad and second, silent birthday of the day the European Commission president José Manuel Barroso gave in to manipulations of the Tobacco Industry by sacking Commissioner for Public Health, John Dalli. 700.000 Europeans that die every year of smoking in the EU and one sacked European Commissioner is enough.

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