Tuesday 16 September 2014

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Coordinating Europe’s social policies: not there yet

Posted by on 11/09/14
Guest blogpost by Alfio Cerami, author and former international consultant for Unicef. During the last two decades, the social policy approach of the European Union (EU) has witnessed significant changes. This has primarily included a major shift: from social policies of inclusion seen as a mere outcome of economic development to factors contributing themselves to economic [...]

Jean-Claude GSOH*

Posted by on 10/09/14
By Andrew Duff One knew, of course, that Jean-Claude Juncker is well possessed with a dry sense of humour. How delightfully on display is his sharp wit in the disposition of portfolios to his new college of Commissioners.

Lord Hill is the EU’s new financial services Commissioner – but what is his remit and who does he report to?

Posted by on 10/09/14
With the future of the UK seemingly hanging by a thread it is understandable that events north of the border are dominating attention, but today's announcement of the new European Commission also has far-reaching consequences for the future of the UK's EU membership and the EU itself.

As we set out in our flash analysis, the appointment of Lord Hill to the key financial services portfolio (pending approval by MEPs) is a win for the UK, and the general reformist outlook of the Commission, with other crucial posts (Internal Market and Competition) held by liberal, pro-free trade, non-eurozone countries, provides grounds for cautious optimism.

What will Lord Hill's portfolio include?
  • Overseeing the creation of the banking union – a crucial policy for the eurozone but also one which threatens to split the EU into euro-ins and outs. In his new role, Lord Hill can ensure this does not happen. That being said, this is a very tricky role to manage (with numerous competing interests), especially for a non-eurozone country.
  • Power to review the role of the European supervisory authorities, institutions which have been controversial in the UK since their creation.
  • Responsibility for a 'Capital Markets Union'. While this remains vague it could be a good initiative for the UK since London is already the centre of European capital markets. Lord Hill can base the union around the single market rather than the eurozone.
As the charts below show, the Commission has also been re-organised with a series of policy clusters, with the UK being at the heart of all the major decisions relating to the single market, jobs and growth and the Eurozone. Each 'cluster' will be headed by a Vice-President, previously a largely meaningless role but now with additional agenda setting powers and the ability to stop legislative proposals from other Commissioners.

Lord Hill will 'report' to two Vice Presidents who will "steer and co-ordinate" depending on the issue at hand - the new "Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness" VP Jyrki Katainen and the "Euro and Social Dialogue" VP Valdis Dombrovskis (both of whom are former PMs). In terms of the two VPs, Dombrovskis is likely to supervise the banking union aspects of Lord Hill's post while Katainen will oversee the more single market aspects, although even here, there is plenty of scope for overlap.

Lord Hill's portfolio also has some overlap (and therefore potential conflict) with France's new Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici .The potential for Anglo-French clashes within the Commission is relatively limited since Moscovici will be primarily tasked with macroeconomic eurozone policies rather than financial markets, but one potentially fraught area could the be Financial Transaction Tax or a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base. Juncker has asked Moscovici to finalise negotiations over both.

It remains to be seen how the relationship between VPs and different clusters will work in practice, especially as Juncker himself has insisted that "In the new Commission, there are no first or second-class Commissioners", and since decisions in the College of Commissioners have traditionally been taken by a majority of all Commissioners in a secret vote. However, Juncker also made clear that the Vice-Presidents “can stop any initiative, including legislative initiatives” of other commissioners – effectively acting as “a filter”.

Time will tell how potential disputes play out or are resolved and to what extent the VPs can truly veto proposals. What is clear is that the relationship between these four men could be crucially important.

Education and Youth are not a ‘small thing’

Posted by on 10/09/14

Today the European Commission’s president-elect Jean-Claude Juncker announced his “winning team”, a commission in which portfolios are given “to people, not to countries”. AEGEE / European Students’ Forum sees some good developments in the attention given to Citizenship, Mobility and Employment, but has concerns about Education being overshadowed,the total absence of mentioning Non-Formal Education for skills development and employment and the gender composition of the team.

Education portfolio still pressured
As a stakeholder in the fields of Youth, Students and Education, AEGEE-Europe welcomes the establishment of the portfolio on Education, Culture, Youth and Citizenship; particularly after the previous information published at the end of last week by EurActiv (link) on the lack of education portfolio in the new European Commission. However, we would still like to emphasise the importance of Education. With Juncker claiming that he wants the Commission “to be bigger on big things and modest on small things”, we urge that education should not be considered a ‘small thing’ in a Union that depends on knowledge-dependant end-products and in which access to education is stagnating [1].

Combining citizenship into the same portfolio could be a good decision, as it paves the way for better civic education for which we see a great need in Europe. Reaching out to Erasmus+ and ‘Europe for Citizens‘ beneficiaries as a means to strengthen EU understanding, as is mentioned in the mission letter (link) to Tibor Navracsics, is highly welcomed. However, we urge that the focus of citizenship should not only be part of education, and mentioned beneficiaries should not be the only vehicle, but the work on citizenship should also encompass the inclusion of all citizens in the decision-making processes and consultations, including, but not limited to, improving the European Citizens’ Initiatives and facilitating pan-European media attention on European issues.

Juncker and Navracsics. Source: Google

Unemployment tackled, mobility boosted, non-formal education ignored
Mr. Juncker has prominently highlighted jobs as one of his top priorities, recognizing that the crisis has taken its toll on employment, leaving more than 6 million people without work. In his mission letter to Marianne Thyssen (link) he acknowledges that “unemployment has reached unacceptably high levels in many parts of Europe, particularly among Europe’s youth”. To remedy this situation, he proposes to present a jobs, growth and investment package within the first three months of the Commission’s term, emphasizing the importance of funding towards projects that can help youth get back to work in decent jobs, as well as accelerating and broadening the implementation of the Youth Guarantee Scheme.

As youth employment is one of AEGEE’s priorities in the upcoming years as well, we are happy to see Mr. Juncker recognizing it as an issue to be dealt with. As a measure to fight unemployment we also welcome labour mobility as an own policy field of Commissioner Marianne Thyssen. In order to deepen the European integration it is essential to promote free movement of workers, and AEGEE-Europe sees access to mobility as one of the fundamental rights of all residents on the European continent (link). One of the key issues in order to achieve labour mobility is the mutual recognition of qualifications. Therefore we strongly support that qualifications obtained in different countries have to be recognised for all European citizens.

In the context of employment, AEGEE would like also like to see an emphasis on recognition and validation of non-formal education, especially when it comes to youth. As a youth NGO and a provider of non-formal education, we believe that non-formal education plays a crucial role in helping young people develop a variety of skills useful and relevant in a wide range of workplaces. Working to get non-formal education recognised is now not explicitly mentioned at all in the mission letters to Mr. Navracsics and Ms. Thyssen.

Furthermore, we hope that the Commission will seek out to engage citizens in improving the current situation regarding youth unemployment. Youth organisations provide young people with skills and competences that help in preparing them for the labour market. Therefore, our opinion is that youth organizations could bring added value in fighting youth unemployment, and should be consulted and involved in this matter.

Gender Balance
AEGEE-Europe is pleased to see that three out of seven Vice-President positions were given to female representatives. This is definitely a good step in the direction of achieving gender balance. However, we still hold the opinion that nine female Commissioners, compared to 19 male ones, is far from equality, and it is not a progress compared to the composition of the Commission of José Manuel Barroso. Given the fact that women constitute over a half of the 507 million population of the European Union (104.8 women per 100 men; Eurostat, 2013) and 60% of tertiary education graduates (Eurostat, 2013), we find it astonishing that EU Member States did not manage to find more female candidates for the position of Commissioners.

Representation of women in the Commission. Source: European Commission

If there were truly equal opportunities, the probability of having more than 9 female Commissioners would be more than 95%. However, at the same time, we appreciate the efforts of Jean-Claude Juncker calling for more women representatives in the EC in the previous months and the inclusion of the gender equality portfolio in the DG Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality.

Despite the mentioned concerns, AEGEE-Europe sees potential in the change Mr. Juncker wants to make, and hope to see a positive effect. We wish for a fruitful cooperation with Commissioner Tibor Navracsics of Education, Culture, Youth and Citizenship and Marianne Thyssen of Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility. Lastly, we look forward to the efforts of the Commissioner V?ra Jourová in taking measures to achieve gender equality.

[1 http://euobserver.com/news/125536

A bad start for the New Commission

Posted by on 10/09/14

Some years ago, DG Sanco, the health directorate for public health, took over the lead role for medicines and medical devices from DG Enterprise the industry DG, which was responsible for promoting industry, including the pharmaceutical industry. The change was a good one, enabling a clearer focus within the Commission on medicines as an essential element of health policy.

Now in his line-up for the new Commission, Mr Juncker has announced that the units dealing with medicines, medical devices, and health technology will be moved back to DG Enterprise!

In the new Commission, DG Enterprise will be responsible for promoting the European pharmaceutical industry and for Commission policy on medicines and medical devices. Other DGs will have a say, of course, but DG Enterprise will take the lead and will be the main interlocutor with the industry on medicines and medical devices. This is a good day for the pharmaceutical industry, but a bad day for public health. The industry has great influence across a wide range of government policies but typically rather more influence on industry departments – and this is not to imply any impropriety on the part of DG Enterprise.

One DG should not combine the lead role for medicines policy with the lead role for the promotion of the pharmaceutical industry. This is not the way to achieve clarity in public health policy. The difficult task of balancing the interests of public health and the (legitimate) interests of the pharmaceutical industry should not take place within the one DG (and should not be well hidden from public scrutiny) .

There is also the difficulty of ensuring the right mix of skills within the one unit or DG – combining specialists on public health with expertise on industrial promotion.

This was how the change was announced:

Units SANCO B2 (Health Technology and Cosmetics), SANCO D5 (Medicinal Products – Authorisations, European Medicines Agency) and SANCO D6 (Medical Products – Quality, Safety and Efficacy) move from DG Health and Consumers (SANCO) to DG ENTR.

You can see the full announcement here.

The Commissioner–designate for Health and Food Safety is Vytenis Andriukaitis a former Minister for Health in Lithuania – and a surgeon, but he will not have responsibility for medicines, medical devices or health technology. That will be the task of Elżbieta Bieńkowska, a former Deputy Prime Minister of Poland, who is the Commissioner–designate for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, to give her full title.

The new Commission-designate must be approved by the European Parliament and I hope there will be strong voices there who think that medicines should be seen first and foremost as a matter of public health policy.

There is still time for the Commission to re-think this appalling decision. END

Merging energy and climate change services under one Commissioner is an overdue change

Posted by on 10/09/14

The division of Commission services into one dealing with energy policy and another one with climate change policy has always been an artificial one: to influence climate change policy makers have to rely on energy policy.

It is therefore positive to recombine the two sides of the coin under a single command and put an end to internal disputes and overlapping created during the past 10 years.

European energy policy must serve foremost the interest of European citizens with energy security and sustainability of supply being the overwhelming targets.

But in a global and long-term perspective, European energy policy must also take climate developments into account. That is why it makes sense to aim at abolishing C02 emissions by the middle of century, which implies phasing out fossil energies, enhancing energy efficiency and switching to renewable energies and completing the network of long-distance power transmission and low-cost power storage .

A single command structure should therefore make the EU more effective. It will become operational just in time for the two main issues the EU will be confronted with very shortly: reducing the dependency on Russia as the single most important supplier of energy and contributing to a successful outcome of the climate conference in Paris in late 2015.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 10/9/2014

Jean-Claude Juncker unveils his new European Commission, and it’s good news for Britain

Posted by on 10/09/14

Whitehouse Consultancy Political Consultant Alessandro Fusco provides an analysis of the new European Commission unveiled yesterday in Brussels by President Jean-Claude Juncker.

To read Alessandro’s article, please click here.

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

The revolving door turns in both directions

Posted by on 10/09/14
As the new Commission team sets up in Brussels, the Risk-Monger would like to take the opportunity to congratulate those who have served the European Union over the past years. Many of them will take up positions in the private sector. Good on them!!!

Broadband and broadcast: getting on the same wavelength?

Posted by on 10/09/14

As a finite and limited resource, spectrum is naturally a most valuable commodity for the ICT and the broadcasting communities. At Huawei, we have been eagerly awaiting the results of the work of the EU High Level Group on the future use of the much-coveted UHF band.

We welcome the publication of the report presented by Mr Pascal Lamy to the European Commission on 1 September: it is an important milestone to securing the long-term development of high-speed wireless broadband services in Europe and we are glad to see that there is broad agreement on this key issue.

We regret that stakeholders were not able to agree on a common way forward with regard to the deadline for releasing the 700 MHz band or on the approach to utilising the 470-694 MHz ranges. However, we fully understand the reasons for this lack of consensus. It is now up to the new Commission to continue the forward-looking initiatives to resolve these differences for the benefit of the European citizens.

At Huawei, we believe that the mobile broadband community requires decisive short-term action on the 700 MHz band, while taking a longer-term approach to allocations in the 470-694 MHz frequency range.

The 700 MHz band is key for the future development of mobile broadband networks and for achieving the Digital Agenda targets by 2020.

To drive the development of high-speed networks in Europe, it is important to allow member states that are ready to do so to implement mobile broadband networks in these frequencies starting from 2017/2018. At the same time, it is necessary to ensure that the other member states will follow within three years, in line with the principles of the Telecoms Single Market.

In the spirit of compromise, as first step, the Supplemental DownLink option could be a reasonable way forward on the 470-694 MHz band. It would allow for the co-existence of traditional broadcasting services in this frequency range with other downlink-only electronic communications services (i.e. base station to end user devices). This option could be used in cases where the demand for DTT at a national level is declining, as suggested by the “flexibility option” in the Lamy report.

With regard to the international discussions, some important administrations including the USA have already declared their support for primary allocations to mobile services of the 470-698 MHz range in the context of the ongoing preparation for the World Radio Conference 2015 (WRC-15). This will lead to technical harmonisation work in the future.

Huawei believes that Europe would benefit greatly from participating in this process.

With respect to the WRC-15, the EU should therefore consider supporting a co-primary mobile allocation in the 470-694 MHz ranges that would become effective after an agreed number of years.

This would ensure economies of scale for the longer term, allowing Europe to remain at the forefront of mobile communications development by providing necessary spectrum regulations with a sufficiently long lead time, while implementing a viable strategy for the long term.


- Alessandro Casagni
Alessandro Casagni is Head of EU Wireless Regulatory Policy, managing wireless regulation issues within Huawei Wireless Strategies and Business Development Department.

Mr Casagni holds a Master’s degree in electronic engineering from Rome University.

During the period 2007 to 2009, he worked at Huawei’s WiMAX and LTE Product Line departments with a special focus on European regulation matters.

Prior to joining Huawei, Mr Casagni held several marketing and technical positions with Mediaset broadcasting (2006 – 2007), Siemens mobile communications (2002 – 2006) and Accenture ICT consulting (2000 – 2002).

On the corridors of the global recession’s labyrinth. The Sustainable welfare policy

Posted by on 10/09/14

The concerns on the “old continent” or the United States referring to the current economic, financial and societal downturn are based on different realities, but the main debates and concerns go the same path. Except that, following the general line, the American approach is more pragmatic and result-oriented.

Roads that obviously lead to nowhere. What is a road that leads to nowhere? We’ll try a somewhat simplistic definition. Let’s say it’s a route generated by sterile and ineffective options (even if at first glance they seem intelligent, timely and desirable). Route that doesn’t go to heaven, neither to Hell. It lands in a gray area, in a purgatory, the moment when all participants are trying to convince themselves and get used to the idea that Hell is not that bad and that they could not reach the Heaven (that may not exist). Meanwhile, somewhere deep inside, everyone knows that yes, it will be bad.

But there are individual solutions, aren’t they?

Transition from Purgatory to Hell will be done in time. But in this case, time doesn’t heal, it condemns. Definitively and irrevocably.

What do we lose?

The economy, the system, the global order? None of them. The economy will adjust itself, even if it goes back to the origins of primitive barter, the “system” will reinvent itself and the global order will remain the same, with some hue temporary adjustments.

We lose people, we lose generations, we lose consciousness.

Do we care?

We should! Because in the end all these losses will be paid by us. Or by our descendants.

This concept of “road to nowhere” is available in the economy and politics alike. If we want to answer the question “what phase of the crisis we are in?” we won’t do it only by looking at the numbers supporting a sluggish economic stimulus.

The recession we are talking about has chronicized, extended and transformed. The crisis is economic, financial, societal, educational, behavioral, identity and political. Our economies and societies are in that Purgatory.

A small inadequacy example. The lighthouse we follow in the analysis of the dynamics of national, continental or global economies is GDP’s evolution, with all its disclaimer variants. Although we know that this indicator doesn’t have the capacity to assess economy’s evolution, and less, of our societies.

Thus, what would be important to follow is not the recession’s phase, if we come out of recession or if it return – it is still in the chronic phase – but rather what policies to put in motion, what should be our new way of thinking, what should be the analysis perspectives, what are the necessary measures, detailed by stages and milestones, from where to start the systemic action, etc.

We live with evidence: the recovery, the return does not occur or, at least, doesn’t show to occur in a balanced and healthy pace. The finance people continue running after the most risky investments, but with high yields; the banks seem to have completely forgotten their place and role in the economy; the industrial production remained a “Cinderella”, being relocated to the suburbs which offer reduced costs and relaxed rules of the game.

The politics still holds the magic wand. It can still make decisions and choose what policies to implement. But does it? Why the politics isn’t using the power it actually holds? Due to the lack of solutions, lack of will, the desire to remain in the comfort zone, or all together?

The picture of the austerity’s impact presented by Caritas Europa in a report “The European crisis and social costs – A call to the correct alternative solutions” reveals that the programs implemented in Spain, Italy, Romania, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and Ireland haven’t led to economic recovery but deepened the recession’s effects, revealing unprecedented unemployment, increased poverty level and impediments in economic and societal development, and even a significant setback.

We have seen the death of “infallible” neoliberal policies. Did we replace them with something? To a small extent. Basically, both Western Europe and the USA are keen not to accept the evidence, still claiming that this policy typology is alive and viable.

The Caritas report is an atypical one because is made from a collection of stories and not from just a set of numbers. It states that the consequences of the recession translated into reality through “houses that weren’t able to afford heating in winter”,an unprecedented lack of access to social services, including health services” and “serious psychological problems observed in society”. Through these descriptions we approach the first level of a more widespread reality, one that must not be delayed.

The same report shows that Romania “has a widespread and deep poverty problem” and “the VAT increase from 19% to 24%, introduced by the Romanian government in 2010 under the EU-IMF, affected the incomes of poor by increasing basic commodity prices”. All this is worsened by the high percentage, 35%, of Romanians living in low income families.

The social risks are huge and growing, the social systems don’t meet the current challenges, the social cohesion is a very distant principle and all these create a structural problem whose projection in the future may be long, persistent and serious.

The vicious chain austerity – unemployment – poverty – social polarization – isolation -extremism is the great challenge of the following years.

The current problem is the lack of major alternatives to austerity. What sould we put instead of austerity? The populist discourse of development, without solid foundation, prolongs the trend of irresponsibility.

Many of these errors actually come from misunderstanding the concept of austerity. “Neoliberal thinkers” did not bother to explain. Austerity does not mean cutting the spendings, hunger, social dramas, employment blocking, eliminating important chapters of the budget etc.

Austerity means removing those unproductive expenditure and prioritizing the productive ones, considering their expected results, prioritization of investments based on their expected value added, setting up a bureaucracy leaner, more flexible and definitely higher qualification (even if this means an additional investment in human resources).

Austerity means modesty, opportunity and accounting.

Furthermore, it requires but a profound rethinking of the internal market and new targets for the external one.

In other words, austerity cannot be an objective. The austerity policy may be a tool, a measure.

Austerity, a welfare instrument. Paradoxically, right?

If we have understood the necessary policies to be implemented in the right way, we would have gained several years of our development. But most importantly, we would save a lost generation.

This is the new economic concept that we need to promote and apply. But certainly won’t be called “economic austerity”.

We will describe and define it as “a policy of welfare intra and inter-generations“. It sounds pretentious, but the concept and implementation are handy.

Returning on the realm of numbers and analyzes, we have the World Bank report from June on the global economic outlook for 2015-2016 which concludes that the main engine of growth in the Euro area remains external demand, with the amendment that the worsening tensions between Europe and the Russian Federation can change the problem’ data. The banking institution’s forecast was conducted on the existence of a stress scenario that will not worsen. And probably will get worse.

However, there is a major concern about conflict developments in Ukraine and their effects on the world economy. Apart from the implications for the energy market, the agricultural market is put under serious pressure. Russia and Ukraine are significant grain exporters, accounting for 11% and 5% of global wheat exports. Ukraine has a share of 14% in corn exports.

As for Russian gas exports, the World Bank calculated a loss of 10% of GDP in the Russian Federation and a minimum 50% increase in gas prices needed in Central and South Eastern Europe. These figures are available without taking into account other possible sanctions and their effects.

The Russian gas price increase will blow yields and productivity of European companies and the prices of goods and services, including public deliverables. The European population will impoverish again.

How will react the European societies at this new wave of poverty and polarization? Will they explode or implode?

Hard to say at this time.

Consequently, the economic development forecast for this year has been adjusted to 3.2% from 2.8%. The often adjustments with very small percentages confirm us  that there is no effect on long-term actions and lasting positive developments are incidental. And probably the estimates will continue their descending pace.

The markets are fragmented, with a credit contraction and high cost of borrowing, economic growth of the Euro area is subject to several types of risks, internal or external shocks that inevitably affect market confidence, economic recovery and trigger off deflation, all these being mentioned by the International Monetary Fund report published in July 2014.

Another fault signal is activated by Jaime Caruana, General Manager of Bank for International Settlements, which captures the same ferocious hunting after high yields, the same dangerous practice that favored the crisis. He adds the economies liabilities which grew by 20 percentage points to 275% of GDP and looks very concerned about companies that borrow heavily just to redeem their shares, 40% of syndicated loans being granted to companies and institutions whose ratings are not recommended for investment, this rate being higher than in 2007. Even the emerging Asian powers cannot act as shock absorbers for the global economy as happened during the Lehman crisis; there is an expectation that they can turn themselves in danger sources.

We note that now there are numerous indicators in a worse state than pre-crisis period, which would naturally lead to a negative forecast.

The inter and intra-generations sustainable welfare policy must be understood correctly and quickly applied. Otherwise, the dominoes pieces of economy and society will not only tilt, but collapse.

Let’s not forget that this moment, time is not our ally!


With Tusk, Poland has reached a tipping point

Posted by on 09/09/14
By Adam Czyzewski As of this May, Poland has been a member of the European Union for 10 years. Our membership in the EU has already brought us tangible economic, social and political benefits. A clear testament to the latter is PM Donald Tusk’s appointment as the President of the European Council, which is not only a great personal success of the Prime Minister and of Poland’s economic policy, but also a tremendous diplomatic accomplishment.

UK Conservatives shouldn’t abandon the green agenda

Posted by on 09/09/14

Whitehouse Consultancy Director Carl Thomson argues that the UK Conservative Party should continue to support investment in renewable energy in an article for the Huffington Post.

To read Carl’s article, please click here.

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

Secrets are Lies v The Right to be Forgotten

Posted by on 09/09/14

“Don’t be evil”, Google slogan

“Evil is what Sergey (Brin) says is evil.” Google CEO Eric Schmidt quoted in Wired.

Secrets come in all shapes and sizes. Some are well intentioned, others not. Some relate to state security; others to highly sensitive commercial secrets. Some are personal, petty and irrelevant. Some mean the difference between life and death. Some keep secrets to evade the law. Some keep secrets to avoid having “their dirty linen washing in public”. What can be said for sure is that secrets do not come neatly packaged in standard size and kit. They are as varied and as different as any organic matter that exists on earth.

Regardless of the context – and when it suits its business interests – Google is more than happy to push the view that complete transparency is “good” and secrecy “evil”. No where is this more evident than with Google’s continued obfuscation, obstruction and resistance to EU on-line privacy regulation. Each and everyone of us has elements of our past which we would rather not share with the global on-line community. Dirty linen. Washed in public. An age old saying which seems particularly pertinent in a modern technological context.

Supposing, by way of example, you were to google your name and up pops an image of you taken ten years ago looking very drunk and very naked. It has been posted by an unknown individual onto an amateur photography site where it is being shared and highly rated for being so ridiculous. The photo is grainy and thus inadequate, it is of no relevance and it is of no public interest what so ever. You are not a politician. You have no criminal record. You’re just an embarrassed individual with a reputation you’d like to uphold.

In May the ECJ passed a land-mark ruling. Google, which has 90% of the EU market share for on-line searches along with all other search engines, will be responsible for managing requests to remove links on individuals that are either inadequate or irrelevant or no longer relevant. The onus is on on-line search companies, not you the individual or the photography site that posted the picture, to determine on a case-by-case basis whether an individual’s request is either inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant. Following the May ruling Google must delete links to your photo. Quite a tricky, costly, administrative exercise. One which no sane company would wish to engage in. You may be able to build a Googleplex campus in California, you may have lofty ideas about the shape of things to come, but you sure as hell do not want to be stranded with the administrative head-ache of deciding individual requests for deletion.

Given that Google’s legal redress in Europe has now been exhausted they have decided to take the fight to the court of public opinion by arguing that the ECJ ruling is a deliberate attack on our freedom of expression. The Google PR interpretation of the right to be forgotten can best be described as SECRETS ARE LIES and the only beneficiaries of such a judgement are criminals, paedos and dodgy politicians. Eric Schmidt, Google Executive Chairman told share-holders in May that “A simple way of understanding what happened here is that you have a collision between a right to be forgotten and a right to know.”

A fight between freedom of expression and censorship sounds a lot more convincing than the more mundane truth that fabulously rich search engine companies do not want to bear the administrative costs of this ruling.

The fact is that each and everyone of us – to varying degrees – have elements of our past we would rather not share with the world. That does not make each and everyone of us criminals, liars and cheats. It makes us individuals who are vulnerable to having our reputations compromised on the flimsiest of past indiscretions.

The ruling still stands though. Google knows this. More worryingly for Google the ruling strengthens, not weakens, the proposed EU on-line data protection regulation, of which the right to be forgotten, is a key feature.

Brin and Page, no doubt brilliant mathematicians, technicians and coders may have over-stepped the mark when all those years ago, back in their proverbial garage, they dreamed that Google could define the concept of evil. That these two gentlemen are ambitious is beyond dispute. That they control 90% of the market for on-line searches is a testament to the standard of excellence Google provides. Wading into the subjective world of good and evil, two moral concepts that for better or worse, defy the logic of binary coding, was perhaps a step too far even for these ambitious intellecutally brilliant individuals.


Privacy is theft v A right to a private life

Posted by on 08/09/14

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, Alan Friedman

It’s free and we always will be, FB front-page

In the final part of  The EU v Palo Alto we come to the crux of the current tussle between Little Brother and Europe. As far as Palo Alto is concerned privacy is a proprietary right to be bought, sold and licensed at will. As far as the EU is concerned privacy is a human right which trumps proprietary rights and which can and must be protected from under-hand profiteering.

A license to Sell

“Your privacy means a lot to us,” states the privacy policy on all “free” on-line service providers. You bet it does. Your private life is what pays for the whole shebang. Although many are vaguely aware of Palo Alto’s sale of their personal data, many still do not fully grasp the extent to which Palo Alto manipulates that data to their own profitable ends and how exactly it is that they can own the personal data we generate. Particularly, teen-agers, the elderly and the uninformed.

Under the current, incomplete, regulatory system in the EU many of those who happily post, share and like their personal details on-line do not own their own lives. Palo Alto does and anyone who denies them the right to own our privacy are stealing their profits, hence the “Privacy is Theft” slogan in the fictional Circle. Where governments seek to protect the personal data of private persons the government is literally, not figuratively, stealing the profits of the big on-line commercial operators.

Say “no” to cookies and you’re not allowed to use the site. Say “no” to the sharing of your data to unknown third parties and you have to delete the whole account or refrain from using the internet. Refuse to license your copyright and it’s the high-way. User’s are in effect given only two options “in” or “out”. There is no option to pay for privacy through old-fashioned hard cash because that would destroy the myth Palo Alto has built up that their services are for free.

Go to the terms of service of any “free” on-line service provider, be it FB, Google, Instagram, Snapchat, What’s App and they all specify that “you own your own data.” Then comes the hard deal:

you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook

you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content

you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods, Twitter

The moment users agree to the terms of service, they license their copyright to Palo Alto who in turn have the legal right to change it, manipulate it – best of all sell it on to unknown third parties for a profit … pass it onto the NSA (though Palo Alto strenuously denies this claim). Millions in the EU are sleep-walking into handing over personal details and all facets of their private lives to Silicon Valley without fully grasping what it is they are handing over. The “free” message has hypnotised us all into gifting the family silver without regard to the consequences of this pact.

On-line services categorically are not free. Were they to be genuinely “free” under English contract law they would not even be a business and would have no right to legal redress in a court of law. Alan Friedman, in a modern context, may be minded to say “There’s not such thing as a free on-line service provider”.

Even for those who appreciate the sale of their data to third party advertisers the long-term effect of surrendering our personal lives to faceless parties remains unclear. Can we assume that Little Brother will always remain a well-intentioned, cheerful kid-brother?

What can be said for certain is that data leads to information which leads to knowledge and knowledge is power. Ownership of our personal information has given Little Brother an awful lot of power over each and every on of us. In the absence of clearly defined laws and the possibility of legal redress in a court of law the most individual users can hope for is that Little Brother will remain a cheerful, youthful kid-brother with his subscriber’s best interests at heart. But what happens when subscriber’s best interest clashes with that of Little Brother’s business interests? Which side of the line will our cheerful-chapy kid-brother then fall on?

Palo Alto set the business model – the EU has set out to regulate the terms of the contract

The EU had little or no say in the business model developed by Palo Alto in the early days of on-line commerce. The existing on-line data protection Directive was devised in 1996 – years before the emergence of internet giants such as Google, Apple, FB or Amazon. For this reason in 2012 the EU proposed a new on-line data Regulation that seeks to limit the extent to which on-line commercial operators can process user’s personal data.

Whilst the proposed new law does not expressly forbid the sale of personal data to third party advertisers it certainly strangles the assumption that Palo Alto can harvest user’s personal data with impunity through owning EU citizens’ data. New concepts such as the “right to be forgotten” will be enshrined in law. The proposed law assumes that personal data is private and not proprietary. As such on-line companies must seek user’s explicit consent, in simple unambiguous language, before they can process user’s data. Last but not least any breach of user’s personal on-line data can result in hefty fines amounting to 2% of world-wide profits.

Palo Alto is worried. Not only will EU regulation complicate their business model it could set a global standard that other regions may wish to emulate. Up until June last year when Snowden spilled the beans on how the US government is spying on European citizens through sites such as Google, Apple and FB, Palo Alto had begun a very effective lobbying campaign designed to scupper EU attempts to regulate personal data and our privacy. Washington was more than happy to help their kid brother out even threatening a “trade war” between the EU and the States if Europe went ahead with its intended regulations.

Since the Snowden revelations in 2013 both Palo Alto and Washington have been a touch more circumspect in their criticism of the EU preferring instead to lobby individual Member States to try and prevent the EU from putting a break on their highly profitable business model.

To conclude, as a society our perception of privacy is very different to those of our grandparents. Many may, or may not, be a lot more relaxed about sharing intimate details of their private lives in return for the fleeing attention it generates within our personal network. What can be said for certain is that knowledge of our private lives gives faceless corporations a huge amount of power over us as individuals. Unless that is we develop rigorous laws that prevent Palo Alto from assuming EU citizens’ private lives are up for grabs. That surely has to be something worth supporting?


Do we need a Commissioner for #Enlargement?

Posted by on 08/09/14
By Dimitris Rapidis Sweden’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mr Carl Bildt and other diplomats have expressed concerns over the decision of President-elect of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Junker, to abolish the position of EU enlargement commissioner. Are they right to be upset?