Friday 24 October 2014

Currently browsing 'EU Citizens and Media'

A section examining the question of media freedom, EU media coverage and citizens in the EU.

 

The United Kingdom: An Excellent Country for Erasmus Internship

Posted by on 19/10/14

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

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

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

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

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

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?

 

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 [...]

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.

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

Venture-backed US media: over-funded & over here?

Posted by on 05/10/14
If you care about EU democracy you need to care about European media, particularly as the upcoming US media invasion gets underway. They’ll be pushing on an open door when they get to Brussels. Anyone interested in the Internet and/or media and/or democracy should have followed the development of media business models since at least [...]

Maternity leave directive, a cultural revolution

Posted by on 05/10/14
By Alessandra Flora Some 22 years after its entry into force the maternity leave directive seems outdated. The Parliament voted in October 2010 to extend maternity leave to at least 20 fully-paid weeks, but four years later this is still being blocked by governments in the EU Council. The European Commission now wants to withdraw the proposal.

Call for EU project for the next 5 years

Posted by on 30/09/14
Caught between the appointment of the new EU leaders (European Parliament, European Commission, Council) and global crises involving the Islamic State, Russia, energy, unemployment among young, and immigrants in the Mediterranean, politicians run the risk of forgetting the message given by the European citizens too quickly. In May 2014, four months ago, the European Parliament [...]

Launch of Next Europe

Posted by on 30/09/14

My new book Next Europe is now officially launched. Of course this comes with a modest campaign to create attention for the book.

I published several opinion articles, on news sites as well as in the Dutch paper Het Parool. You can read the ‘launch article’ at EurActiv (English) and on Opiniestukken.nl (Dutch).

The presentation took place on September 22 at the Press Club in Brussels. More than 100 people attended the event. First I gave a short summary (link to Prezi) of Next Europe to the audience, followed by the handover to Constantijn van Oranje-Nassau, chief of cabinet of Commissioner Kroes. A panel of experts – Shada Islam of Friends of Europe, Claude Grunitzky of TRUE, and Marietje Schaake of the European Parliament – gave their first responses.

Shada Islam: ‘This is an insightful study of Europe by a young, thoughtful EU Watcher.’

Dutch public radio 1 made a report on the launch event, you can listen to it here.

On October 14, Next Europe will be presented in Amsterdam, followed by a debate with Paul Scheffer and Adriaan Schout. Programme and registration on the site of Pakhuis de Zwijger

Photos of the Brussels launch, September 22 at the Press Club

 

 

Re-branding Greece: 7 Tips for Sustainable Nation Branding

Posted by on 29/09/14
By Stavros Papagianneas Between 2009 and 2011, Greece went from being seen as a full member of the eurozone to “Ground Zero” in the Nation Brand Index. Today, it is time for a rebranding of the country. Here's seven ways Greece can put itself on the map again...

Greece’s fiscal crisis and its impact on the public sector

Posted by on 28/09/14

Elina Zagou, Judicial, County Court Katerini, Greece
Fotis Zygoulis, Head of the Independent Planning and Design Department of the Municipality of Heraklion Attica, doctoral candidate at the University of Athens +302132000118, Greece
Email:  fotiszygoulis at gmail.com,  elinazagou at gmail.com

Greece in the year 2014 is now in the seventh year of recessionary economic cycle, which causes adverse effects on the social, economic and political spectrum. The crisis served as a catalyst for structural reforms, especially for countries like Greece, which signed agreements on international and European aid that posed as a prerequisite a number of radical changes concerning the organisation and functioning of public administration.
The current financial crisis exposed the weaknesses of the Greek political system regarding patron-client system. The dominance of the patronage system characterized during the previous years both the recruitment of public servants and the public administration’s attitude towards society and economy.
Greece’s economy in the last 40 years was based on excessive consumption, external and internal public borrowing. While European funding had been channeled primarily to consumption, without taking into account the needed investments, the country’s economic development and infrastructure, the improvement of good governance, the state was overloaded with an army of public servants. An unequal distribution of public administration’s structures emerged which resulted in a wastage of public expenditure, loans increasement, a huge debt and a gradually reduced efficiency of the public sector.
The peculiarity of the Greek public sector is the large size and exorbitant public expenditure on wages, but also the low efficiency along with extremely low quality services to citizens. However, the efforts of Greece since the end of 1990 to introduce the Economic Monetary Union reflected in quantitative restrictions on employment policy in public administration. Recruitment had been diminished, and in many cases the replacement of the outgoing staff was limited to one to three or one to five (although these measures were not applied across the whole public sector, applied unevenly and in some cases gradually abandoned).
Since 2009, due to the Fiscal Memorandum with Troika, there was applied a strict replacement staff rule in the public, (one to five). The Medium Term Financial Strategy Government Program extended this rule for the years 2012-2015 and “strengthened” in one to ten in 2011.
In the recent years an attempt was made to adapt to the Troika. So there has been a beginning of a series of serious reforms leaded by the Ministry of Administrative Reform, in order to evaluate both the structure and staff of the Public Service in order to remove structures that have nothing to offer to society or coexisting with other sharing the same powers and lastly to evaluate the public administration’s personnel . Also in the framework of the Memorandum with Troika, traditional public structures have been abolished under the ‘mobility’ project in order to fill positions of government, which were in an emergency state.
The economic and administrative restructuring project in Greece involves the following steps:
Reduction of the operating costs of central government by 200 million
Reduction of public investment program by 400 million euros.
Introduction of the rule 1:10 concerning the recruitment in public interest’s enterprises
Reduction of staff salaries in the public sector by 22 per cent
Reduction of 150,000 civil servants
But the crisis has worsened the economic situation of civil servants with the upcoming reduction of the average wage and the number of salaried personnel by the state budget. The simultaneous reduction of the amount of earnings made unattractive the public sector to the existing personnel. The moreover wider obsolescence of human resources, inevitably led to a drop in morale and a reduction of the employee productivity, while it is often associated with increased incidences of corruption.
The unemployment rate in Greece and in the EU (2000–2012)

European Union (27 countries) Greece

 

Source: [Eurostat, „Unemployment statistics‟,
 http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statist...]

The proposals which have been implemented during the last six years concern: Management by objectives – Suspension and recruitment limitation – Meritocracy in the selection and promotion – Motivation Productivity – Enhancing mobility – Simplified pay system – single payroll – Redesign education systems for public officials.
Greek financial crisis is a window of opportunity to promote reforms. The decrease of the average wage and the number of salaried by the state budget is the main priority in the period of last three years. Cutting salaries (average more than 35percent), while the number of salaried by the state budget has been reduced by 9.9% (76,408 persons) in relation to 2010 has leaded to a massive exodus of Greek public servants to retirement.
The reduction of the number of civil servants in Greece was not accompanied by radical changes related to the modernization of HR management. The lack of goal setting, performance measurement indicators and the continued patronage of the State with regard to the appointment of heads of organisational units in Greek government has canceled the practice of this kind of numerical and quantitative limitations operations and has not contributed to an improvement of the quality of services offered by Greek civil servants.
The effects of reduction of the salaries of civil servants in the Greek economy Greek economy has been described in the OECD report entitled: Fairly Sharing the Social Impact of the Crisis in Greece 2014 which clearly shows that the salaries of civil servants by 2010 were incomparably higher than those of their colleagues in the private sector contributing thereby to great inequality among workers. However the salaries of civil servants channeled mostly to private consumption. For this reason, the reduction of the salaries of civil servants affected both the corresponding reduction in private sector wages and general economic cycle.
The ongoing crisis has dramatically affected all structural deficits that characterize the Greek public administration. The decision-making system, structures for implementation and monitoring of public policies which, because of their systemic nature, may be considered as “standing weaknesses” of the entire framework for the organization and the functioning of public administration. Problems such as poor utilization and misallocation of human resources, the absence of modern methods, techniques and tools administration and lack of the public sector coordination led to the current disease situation of the state.
The problem of the Greek Public Sector neither is determined nor is based only on the size which can be solved only through a reduction in staff or salaries of public employees. The hot task today is to upgrade the quality of services provided to citizens and businesses through a rationalization of structures. The administrative burden of the operation of the Greek public bureaucracy is seriously affecting the economic growth more than the reduction of salaries of Greek civil servants.
Bibliography
Fournier, J.-M. and I. Koske (2012), “Less Income Inequality and More Growth – Are they Compatible? Part 7. The Drivers of Labour Earnings Inequality – An Analysis Based on Conditional and Unconditional Quantile Regressions”, OECD Economics Department Working Papers, No. 930, Figure 11.

OECD (2012), Economic Policy Reforms 2012 – Going for growth, Greece-country note, February 2012.
OECD (2011), Greece: Review of the Central Administration, OECD Public Governance Reviews, OECD Publishing,
OECD, (2012a) Public Sector Compensation in times of austerity, OECD Publishing, Paris
OECD (2012c), Greece: Review of the Central Administration (Greek version): OECD Public Governance Reviews, OECD Publishing, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264179158-…
OECD, 2012d, Developing Human Resource Management Strategies to Support Strategic Agility in the Public Sector
Ministry of Administrative Reform and E-Governance: National Strategy for Public Administration Reform 2014-2016
Unofficial Translation of the OECD report on the Greek Central Administration (2011) from the National Alumni Association of Schools of Public Administration and Local Government
Effects of restrictive policies on public services Athens 2013 Social Multicenter ADEDI
“Local Government: Economic Status of Municipalities, The Impact on human resources of the Municipalities’ Social Multicenter ADEDI 2014
“A new strategy for the management of human resources in public administration” P. KATSIMARDOU Buas INERP 2012
“Crisis and Reforms in public administration” Anthi Karagiannis, 2012 European Centre of Excellence, Jean Monnet Program
Karkatsoulis P. (2012) Administrative reform is necessary and feasible!, Paper presented at a panel discussion organized by ELIAMEP, Kantor and the Citizens’ Movement and Transparency International, Athens, April 3rd, 2012

Scotland, the rise of nationalism and European decline

Posted by on 28/09/14

Freedom of choice is one of democracy‘s greatest gifts. When free people give their assent to Community structures, it is because they trust them. Trust grows as a product of positive moral and ethical experience of the Community Model, its Method and the leadership within it. Yet politicians are tempted to return to their old, dishonest techniques. Many still think that they can only defend their positions by manipulation of history, dishonest discourse and corrupt practice. Take the example of the present crisis of Europe caused by nationalist fervour across Europe’s ancient States. It is now straining the constitutions of the United Kingdom and Spain with bust-up.

An unprecedented number of Scots and other residents of Scotland turned out for the referendum vote on Scottish independence on 18 September 2014. The 85 percent turn-out was the nation’s highest since 1951. What was the cause of this high passion and consummate interest in the unity of the United Kingdom? After all, Scotland has been tied to England for 300 years. Why does it now want separation?

Has it anything to do with the European Union and the poor way it is being run?

The evidence says Yes.

The result is clear. Residents of Scotland rejected the call for Independence by 55 to 45 percent.There will be no independent Scotland. But internally the result is even more seismic for the United Kingdom of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. More than Scotland is now involved. The whole British constitutional arrangement will have to be re-cast.

Following some late opinion polls when it seemed to the result could go either way, Westminster politicians made financial and political promises to get a No vote. Westminster government will ‘give’ the Scottish parliament Devo-Max, maximum decentralized powers. How generous of the Westminster representatives, the so-called servants of the public!

Politicians made the case that if Scots voted No, then the central government in London would be provide even more money from British taxes. They would reinforce the Barnett Formula, named after its author. It dates back to the 1979 referendum on Scottish devolution. However then the Treasury minister Joel Barnett  doled out extra money only on a temporary basis. It has no legal or democratic basis. Barnett himself described the formula as ‘a terrible mistake.’ It does not relate to votes or real facts on the ground. Now Westminster politicians want to give away more money that does not belong to them! They have promised a bigger ‘donation’ from unwilling English taxpayers. The Welsh who do not receive such amounts are also upset.

How did this politics of bribes and illegalities all come about? The political origin dates to the mid-1970s when James Callaghan’s Labour government lost its majority in the Westminster Parliament. To retain power it relied on the Scottish Nationalist Party and the Party of Wales (Plaid Cymru). In exchange for support, they demanded that their populations be treated more fairly by central government. They wanted their own parliaments. They wanted to preserve perhaps the oldest language in Europe and the 3000-year old source of many democratic principles of Common Law that Britons still treasure today.

Before the illicit Lisbon Treaties — forced through against vocal and explicit public opinion — politicians had not tried such a power-grab that they could attain by distorting the European institutions to control every aspect of life with so little accountability.  Public trust did not matter when the treaties were agreed by party majorities — even though the parliamentarians had not even received a copy of the treaty. Even the European Parliament refused to publish the treaty before it had voted on it! The Lisbon process followed a decade of discontent with European politics.

In comparison aspects of National and Regional misgovernance had not roused opinion to the levels of today. The Scots who voted in favour in the 1979 referendum failed to get their parliament then because the turnout was less than the 40 percent required. The Welsh failed to reach a majority. They had to wait for a second referendum in 1997. It led to a successful implementation of a Scottish and Welsh Parliament in 1999.

In this period European politicians took on more powers but without proper accountability. Declining trust of decision-takers was also the very issue at the heart of British internal problems.

Nationalist movements like the Scots are now becoming more vocal across the European Union. Why?

The answer lies in another unprecedented event of 2014. That is the lowest electoral turnout in any European elections. Politicians have created a them-versus-us situation. The ‘us‘ is ‘We want none of the above mainstream parties on the voting paper.‘ A majority refused to vote at all. Despite some countries having compulsory voting the overall turnout was 42.5 percent. That is the lowest since voting was allowed on a restrictive basis in 1979. Then it was about two-thirds. It declined consistently every election to the present.

1979  1984    1989   1994    1999     2004   2009   2014

62      59        58     57      49       45       43      42.5 percent turnout

In contrast when Member States have held referendums on EU matters the turnout has been much more impressive. It is nearly always above half the electorate. When the United Kingdom had a referendum on membership of the European Communities, 67 percent of the voters gave their assent with a turnout of 64 percent.

When the politicians tried to monkey with the Community idea, the turnout remained high with the electorate roundly condemning malpractice. The referendum results were treated with contempt by politicians, who thought they had sewn up a new system called rule by the European Council in secret.

For example when Denmark rejected the Maastricht Treaty it did so with a turnout of 83 percent. Politicians told them to vote again! When in 2005 France rejected the present Lisbon Treaty (then called the Constitutional Treaty) by 55 percent, it did so with a turnout of 69 percent. The Netherlands rejected this treaty by 62 percent with a turnout of 63 percent. The Nice Treaty was also considered a bad treaty when the Irish rejected it with a 54 percent majority but only 34 percent turnout. They were told to vote again and turn out in higher numbers or they would be kicked about by their biggers and betters.

Thus the conclusion we can draw is that the public remains responsive and favourable to European unity but requires ethical and moral politics. Not tricks and fraud. The public refuse to ‘own’ something from the politicians that it knows is a lie. Nor can they. It does not depend on some false ‘social contract’ that in Europe’s history has led to autocracy and dictatorship. As Robert Schuman put it:

The new Community politics is based on solidarity and the progress of trust. It constitutes an act of faith, not like that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in the goodness of humanity which has been so cruelly disproved over the centuries, but an act of faith in the good sense of the peoples who at last persuaded that their salvation resides in an agreement and cooperation so solidly organized between them that no government will be able to evade it. (Pour l’Europe, p46)

The logic is also inescapable. Europe’s politicians are doing things wrongly and possibly fraudulently. The public is telling them to make their crooked practice straight — or else.

An unacceptably low turnout is now the present normal. It may be headed lower for the next European elections. The politicians tried to jazz up the vote by trying another illegal procedure — creating ‘Lead candidates’ or SpitzenKandidaten‘. This supposed pizzazz was to hide European undemocracy. It was the theme of Commission President Barroso’s speech at Berlin’s Humboldt University in May. It talks of three successive improved ‘versions’ of Europe as if every change in Europe, made by politicians, was like updating computer software!

Too many politicians suffer from the character defect that without them the world would stop. They are confused by egocentric ambition and less by the humility that characterized people like Schuman who said it was always wrong to tell a lie, even in politics. Inevitably lies lead to confusion and error.

The creation of the European Community in 1952 was based on solid moral and ethical principles. It was not ‘Europe 1.0′ subject to political change of morals and ethics in their own versions. Later autocrats like de Gaulle or even parliamentary democrats milked billions from European tax-payers to stump up for bribes and votes. This corruption led to Beef Mountains, Wine Lakes and useless regional infrastructure projects. These politicians did not make their Europe 2.0 of ‘Open markets and an open society’. They were already in the framework of the Community Method. The first open market came on 10 February 1953. The ‘open society’ preceded it. It was formalized in the Council of Europe’s Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of November 1950. It recognized citizens’ ancient rights to free speech to criticize any politician, any religion, any association and any State.

These original elements of the Community provided the ‘miracle of our times’ — the means to stop war among European States and create the bases for joint prosperity. The politicians’ concept of adding to this miracle by ‘reforming’ (corrupting) its fundamental Community form is ridiculous. It is as effective as trying to make a high speed train go faster by hitching some old, lame political camels to the front. The Community made a qualitative change that showed the politics of the past, the ‘stuff of politics‘ as usual is actually ‘stuff and nonsense‘. Party political cartels have always in the past led to war. Political nepotism as a governance system is only fit for the rubbish heap.

Mr Barroso’s third phase, Europe 3.0, dealing with the ‘fallout of the economic and financial crisis’ and gaining ‘power and influence to sustain Europe’s future’ shows that politicians have really lost the plot. Not all the past so-called ‘reforms’ to the Community method are positive. Some are outright errors, deceptions and foolishness. Politicians have yet to denounce these mistakes, made by politicians, for politicians, to the detriment of the general public and common well being. The flagrant abuse contained in the Lisbon Treaty is a case in point.

For more than sixty years have refused to follow the treaties they signed up to. Politicians aimed to:

Mr Barroso’s main plea was for the introduction of a measure that is completely illegal according to even the Lisbon Treaties. That is the idea of SpitzenKandidaten and with it the total exclusion of normal citizens from any post of importance inside the Commission and every other institution. Political control by main parties to the exclusion of others and every normal non-party political citizen curtails free speech and democracy, fairness and justice. It cannot succeed.

How can we be sure that the politicization of all Community institutions is totally contrary to real Community principles? Does President Barroso’s ‘emotion of being at the university of ‘Hegel, of Max Planck, of Albert Einstein‘ constitute any real political analysis of their contributions. Hegelian analysis contributed to both Marxism and Fascism, while the eminent physicist of the Quantum, Max Planck (who resigned his post in 1937 as a protest against Nazism) showed moral fortitude and a defence of supranational principles in science and in  public life. He resisted Nazi attempts to expel Jewish scientists and opposed the Nazi ideology that there was such a thing as Jewish science. There is only one science and it represents, like absolute Justice, supranational values.

As for Robert Schuman’s work at Berlin and his attendance at Humboldt University in 1905-6, not a word! Not a word of his work for Germany to prevent World War One. In 1912 he was deputy head of the German delegation at a conference supported by Nobel laureates on international law according to Christian principles. Not a word about the concept of supranationality which is the foundational principle of the Community, nor about the Great Charter of the Community defining this that the Commission and the Council has refused to re-publish for more than SIXTY years.

In this centenary year of the outbreak of World War One, the European public would have hoped Mr Barroso would have spoken of the contribution of Einstein throughout his life to build a supranational Europe. Together with Otto Buek and Berlin physiology professor Georg-Friedrich Nicolai and astronomy professor Wilhelm Julius Foerster, Einstein launched a ‘Call Up to Europeans‘ in October 1914 (Aufruf an die Europäer). It drew support from intellectuals and the public from around Europe. It called for supranational principles to be the core for treating the very sinews of war: the cartel control of the coal, iron and steel industries and the international armaments cartels that fed the pre-WW1 arms race.

The supranational Community solution provides all the elements to resolve the interrelation between regional, national and European interests. Unfortunately the politicians of today are more interested in dismantling what has been achieved since the Schuman Declaration of May 1950, the Great Charter of 18 April 1951 guaranteeing freedom of choice and public assent to European integration. They are thus aiming to destroy the very European democracy on which they depend for a livelihood.

 

 

 

Have the SPD and German unions endorsed TTIP? Not quite…

Posted by on 25/09/14
While the Labour Party's conference dominated the coverage in the UK over the past few days, its German sister party, the SPD, held its own 'mini' conference over the weekend. Opposition to TTIP - the EU-US free trade deal currently being negotiated - was a big factor at both, certainly we picked up on this in Manchester.

Ahead of the SPD's conference, several local and regional SPD associations tabled motions calling on the party leadership to suspend the negotiations due to concerns about investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) - a mechanism which allows investors to sue governments - as well as the potential watering down of labour laws and environmental standards.

In order to head off the opposition, the Economy Ministry - headed by SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel - issued a joint position paper on TTIP along with the DGB - Germany's trade union confederation including the country's largest trade unions like IG Metall and Ver.di. The paper praises elements of TTIP but pledges that any moves to eliminate non-tariff barriers to trade (such as parallel regulatory regimes) will not threaten Europe's high employment, consumer and environmental standards, and calls on both parties to ensure "compliance with core ILO standards" - something which has little hope of getting past Congress.

On ISDS, they key passage reads:
“Investment protection provisions are generally not required… In any case, investor-state arbitration and unclear definitions of legal terms such as ‘fair and just treatment’ or ‘indirect expropriation’ must be rejected.” 
The SPD and German trade unions have therefore endorsed TTIP in principle, although the mass of caveats that made this possible will hugely complicate the negotiations and could wipe out many of its expected gains. It does however remain unclear to what extent the paper is binding on the SPD, as it includes the caveat that the German Economic Ministry and the DGB "do not have the same stance on TTIP on all points”.

Significantly, in approving the paper, party delegates insisted that its provisions should also be applied to the EU-Canada free trade deal (CETA) which has already been largely concluded and due to be signed off by Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Canadian PM Stephen Harper later this month pending implementation. CETA, which many see as the blueprint for TTIP, includes ISDS and could therefore face last-minute opposition having largely flown under the radar up until now.

In a separate development, which could delay CETA even further, the German government and the European Commission are at odds over whether national parliaments will need to ratify the deal alongside the European Parliament; the Commission says no, but Berlin argues that as a "mixed agreement" with some of the issues, goods and services covered by CETA falling outside of the EU's sole jurisdiction, the Bundestag and Bundesrat should also get to scrutinise the agreement and vote on it. The German government has said that it is willing to go all the way to the ECJ.

All in all, it looks like progress towards concluding ambitious trade agreements with Canada and the US will be rather rocky.

Constant dying in the Mediterranean

Posted by on 22/09/14
By Bernhard Schinwald Two tragedies in which hundreds of boat refugees died on their way to European shores, caught the headlines of international media outlets. What has less attracted their attention are fatalities of comparably minor incidents. Between the beginning of 2014 and the end of August 2’000 people did not survive the passage to Europe.

How to unleash your coverage of the environment

Posted by on 22/09/14

Ekaterina Voynova, AEJ-Bulgaria

In the article you will find information on courses, journalist networks, grants and advice suitable for journalists and photographers, covering the environment.

If you work in environmental journalism you should be aware that it is almost as ungrateful a job as political journalism, and in Bulgaria they often overlap. In addition to knowing all dependencies, affiliation of interests and individuals, you should understand extremely specialized topics – from climate change to biodiversity to legislation for natural balance to scientific and technical discoveries and research. You are often marginalized – in very few newsrooms, especially in the current critical state of media, the environment is a priority issue, unless covered in relations to a human interest story. Or political scandal or another protest for another construction or legislative nonsense. The workload is a extensive, you cannot be an expert in everything, especially if you are just starting off as a journalist.

However, if you have entered this profession in the first place and you have chosen to deal exactly with “eco” journalism, you have stepped on (hopefully) a strong foundation of idealism, enthusiasm and passion. As in all other areas of this craft, it is very important to have a good network of specialists you can rely on for information, but this is not always enough.

Good work requires resources and knowledge. Therefore, I propose a non-exhaustive selection of courses, journalist networks and scholarships for journalists dealing with environment.

Courses

The journalism Institute Poynter offers a special course for journalists reporting on climate change. Covering Climate Change provides not only basic information on the topic, but also guidance about how to avoid inserting your personal opinion when preparing your report.

For the first time this year in Greece a summer school for eco journalism was organized. The training in Crete was conducted by several universities in Greece and Ireland and the European Journalism Centre (EJC). The Summer School is aimed at students and young journalists. There is currently no information about whether the training will be organized for the second time, but you can follow it on EJC’s webpage.

Environmental issues are complex and based on scientific arguments. The lack of understanding often leads to contradictions. The Online Learning Platform Coursera has several courses aimed at non-experts on climate change, sustainable development and energy efficiency:

Climate Literacy: Navigating Climate Change Conversations – course begins in late September 2014 and is an introduction to the main themes, patterns and predictions about climate change and the development of climate policies.

Climate change – an inter-disciplinary course which goes into the social, economic and political consequences of climate change. It is presented by five professors from the University of Melbourne. The course has already started, but you can join before October 13.

Introduction to Sustainability – the course covers a variety of topics, including energy and climate change, ecosystem degradation, agriculture and water management, as well as GMO and the “Green Revolution.” The course ends October 19.

Journalist networks

Journalists’ networks are extensive resources not only as databases with scholarships, training courses, but also because of the vast experience that colleagues from around the world share with each other.

The blog of the International Journalists’ Network has practical tips for working with most topics that concern a journalist working on environmental issues. I recommend the article by Andrea Arzaba for the extraction of minerals. The article is a summary of the book Anya Schiffrin “Covering Oil: A Reporter’s Guide to Energy and Development”, in which she advises journalists who face this issue how to approach the information and information gathering.

Another interesting network is Earth Journalism Network (EJN). It is aimed at eco journalists from developing countries, advancing their skills to adequately report on environmental issues. While not directly related to the topics that are traditionally covered by Bulgarian media, the network provides access to systematic environmental information worldwide.

Blue Earth is aimed at photojournalists and supports their projects for critical reporting of environmental and social issues. The organization is open to journalists from around the world and although not directly granting scholarships, it assists photographers with advice and opportunities to raise funds for realizing their documentaries.

Other useful networks are those of investigative journalists – the Global Investigative Journalist Network and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, since important environmental issues need serious investigation. Moreover, the networks publish opportunities for scholarships, while BIRN gives out grants exclusively to journalists from the Balkans.

Scholarships

The deadline is approaching for applications to the Fund for environmental journalism, which provides grants up to $3,500 for projects on underreported environmental issues. The Fund is a membership organization, but for the grant application it is not mandatory. Non-members pay an application fee of $40. Documents need to be submitted by November 15.

Pulitzer’s Persephone Miel Fellowship is granted to journalists, editors, photographers, radio and television producers. It covers the cost for reporting on systemic problems in the applicant’s country that are presented as a general hypothesis rather than sporadic reports from various places. Fellows will participate in a training in Washington, the costs of which are also covered by the program. The deadline for applications for 2015 will be announced in December 2014.

Fund for Investigative Journalism also supports projects and although the deadlines for 2015 has not been announced, the application process requires significant preparation. The grantee will receive financial support and mentors who will advise her during the project. Mentors are members of organizations Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Grants from the European Journalism Centre are awarded to journalists from nine European countries, and although Bulgaria is not among them, Bulgarian journalists can apply in partnership with journalists and media in one of eligible countries. Application deadlines for 2015 will be announced soon.

Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation’s award for excellent reporting on biodiversity has become a prestigious and meaningful assessment of the good work of journalists in the last eight years. It also comes with a check for 500 leva. Nominations for 2014 have expired, but the new ones will be announced soon.

Tips

From my modest experience as an environmental journalist, I want to share how important it is to create good relationships with environmental organizations. They are a constant source of information and topics, and luckily Bulgaria has very well-working conservation organizations that are open and willing to assist journalists. Moreover, they often organize journalist trips, which help overcome the lack of resources in most newsrooms for travelling around the country. The more actively you work with environmental organizations, the greater the chance to include you in their activities.

One of the main oversights of many journalists, including mine, is that after an event or trip, more often than not, we don’t check the details of the information we publish, such as the names and positions of people or projects mentioned. Sometimes the topics are very specific and the terminology itself is sufficient to confuse any non-specialist, so a phone call after the event can save you an embarrassment.

Environmental journalism enjoyed a beautiful boom at the time when I was doing it, but as it happened with many areas, it was seriously hit by the financial crisis in media. Not many media have specialized journalists, let alone units that deal with these topics. Work together with the “competition” instead of against it. Information exchanges and collegiality among the journalists in this area is a well-established practice and if you are just getting into journalism, you will be surprised by this phenomenon. Resources are never enough, so any help is valuable.

I am biased, but environmental journalism is perhaps the most interesting and rich area of journalism. Here you can unleash your powers like nowhere else and like nowhere else you will learn something new and important for each topic on which you work.

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