Thursday 2 October 2014

Currently browsing 'EU Citizens and Media'

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

 

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.

Once the dust from Scotland’s ‘No’ settles, what are the implications for the UK’s EU renegotiation?

Posted by on 21/09/14
Act in haste - repent at leisure?
The big question over Scottish independence may have been settled but the campaign has thrown up a whole host of further questions concerning the UK's constitutional settlement that will need to be addressed in the near future. We look at some of these questions and at how they could impact on the UK's EU reform agenda. 

What’s the plan and schedule for devolution negotiations and implementation?

When it looked like a 'Yes' vote might be on the cards, the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems pledged a new raft of powers for the Scottish parliament over areas like taxes, spending and welfare, with proposals due to be tabled in January. Speaking this morning, Cameron announced that discussions over a new settlement for the rest of the UK and England in particular - would take place "in tandem with, and at the same pace as, the settlement for Scotland".

Given that this will include - in Cameron's words - "a decisive answer" to the long-standing West Lothian question (ensuring "English votes on English laws"), it remains to be seen whether this timetable is realistic (some MPs are calling for a full constitutional convention). Labour have said they are committed to "looking at the issue" but the party is divided, with some senior figures including Gordon Brown and Douglas Alexander rejecting the option of Scottish MPs being excluded from votes only affecting English matters (which could deprive a potential Labour government of a majority on such votes). We simply do not know how far-reaching this shake-up will be and a quick and amicable cross-party consensus cannot be taken for granted.

Could this spill over into the general election campaign?

If the devolution question isn't on the way to being settled, it could conceivably play a large role in the general election campaign; the Tories and UKIP would take up the English cause, Labour and the Lib Dems would be stuck somewhere in the middle while the SNP would play the 'another broken promise by the Westminster establishment' card (unless the Scottish and English questions are considered separately). Not only would this displace debate about EU reform from the campaign, but growing English resentment at Scotland's privileged position within the UK could further boost the UKIP vote. Nigel Farage is already deftly positioning himself to take advantage. A strong UKIP vote would of course put pressure on any government (particularly a Conservative one) to take an even tougher line during the EU renegotiation.  

How will it impact the EU renegotiation/referendum timeline?

If the Tories end up back in government but still have to wrap up the constitutional questions it could prevent the government from hitting the ground running on EU reform and renegotiation. Given the scale of the challenge this is far from ideal. Furthermore, as we have warned before, we believe that Cameron is already behind the curve on finalising targeted reforms and road testing them with governments and business across Europe. In the end though, it is hard to see how Cameron could get away with shelving his planned 2017 EU referendum, given the pressure he would be under from his own party.

Rapport annuel ECRE: 435,385 demandeurs d’asile dans l’UE

Posted by on 21/09/14

ECRE, réseau paneuropéen consacré aux émigrés et réfugiés et demandeurs d’asile, a tenu une conférence, le 9 septembre dernier pour présenter son deuxième rapport annuel 2013/2014 (AIDA):" Mind the Gap: An NGO Perspective on Challenges Challenges to Accessing Protection in the Common European Asylum System". Il s’agit d’une analyse comparée des systèmes d’asile des 15 EM. Il dénonce les limites du ‘Common’ European Asylum System et les violations graves des droits fondamentaux. L’Union saura-t-elle faire preuve d’imagination pour faire évoluer l’approche actuelle ?

 Contexte.

 Lors des discussions européennes sur le future de l’Espace de Liberté Sécurité et Justice, les institutions de l’Union, et les acteurs consultés, ont lancé un message fort et partagé par tous: le moment est venu de mettre en œuvre les instruments politiques et normatifs en vigueur. Les Conclusions du Conseil Européen du juin 2014 le confirment : la priorité est d’ « assurer la transposition cohérente, la mise en œuvre effective et la consolidation des instruments juridiques et des mesures existants ». En particulier, le CEAS (Common European Asylum System) est considéré comme une des meilleures réalisations au cours de l’année 2013, comme le constate la Commission européenne dans son Vème rapport sur l’immigration et l’asile. Désormais , il est temps que toutes ces mesures deviennent effectives.

 En conséquence, la dimension concrète de la politique d’asile et l’impact réel sur la vie des individus concernés, deviennent extrêmement importants. Les décisions prises à Bruxelles doivent se rapprocher des défis et des nécessités rencontrés sur base nationale où les gouvernements locaux interviennent dans la pratique avec le soutien des nombreuses ONG. Elles offrent un point de contact direct avec la situation sur le terrain, c’est pourquoi leur voix a acquis une crédibilité croissante auprès des institutions de l’UE.

Le rapport ECRE-AIDA 2013-2014

Afin d’accroître leur pouvoir d’influence auprès des institutions européennes, the European Council of Refugees and Exiles a créé un réseau qui ressemble 82 ONG d’Europe, engagées dans la protection et la promotion des droits des réfugiés, demandeurs d’asile et des personnes déplacées. Leur mission principale est de surveiller la mise en œuvre des politiques européennes d’asile, dans le plein respect des droits fondamentaux ; en particulier ECRE en collaboration avec ses membres, dénonce leurs violations, tout en proposant des solutions plus efficaces et durables.

 En vue de réaliser cet objectif, ECRE a créé la base des données Asylum Information DAtabase (AIDA), qui permet un échange d’informations et un échange des pratiques entre les acteurs concernés, notamment sur l’application des procédures d’asile, les conditions d’accueil et de détention. Le 9 septembre dernier, ECRE a lancé son deuxième rapport AIDA ‘Mind the Gap’ 2013-2014 qui offre une analyse comparée des systèmes nationales d’asile de 15 pays d’Europe (Autriche, Belgique, Bulgarie, Chypre, Germany, France, Grèce, Hongrie, Ireland, Italie, Malta, Pays Bas, Pologne, Suède et Royaume Uni).

 Tout d’abord, il présente la situation actuelle et les défis majeurs, sur la base des statistiques alarmantes sur le nombre des migrants, les demandes de protection internationale introduites, les délais de réponse ainsi que les conditions d’accueil qui devraient être garanties sur la base des engagements de états.

 Selon les données Eurostat, reprises par le rapport, en 2013 le nombre des demandeurs d’asile dans l’Union Européenne était de 435,385 personnes. Il a été enregistrée une augmentation constante, 30% par rapport à l’année précédente; toutefois il représente un chiffre minimale, si on le compare avec celui des réfugiés qui sont accueillis dans les pays tiers (86% de la population des bénéficiaires de protection internationale). Le déséquilibre est présent aussi au sein de l’Union même, où cinq états (Allemagne, France, Suède, Royaume-Uni et Italie) reçoivent 70% des demandes. La plupart de ces dernier sont d’origine Syrienne à cause du conflit qui perdure dans le pays : la prévisibilité du phénomène requiert une solution systématique et durable.

 Pour faire face à ces défis, au fil des années, l’Union Européenne a développé une politique commune en matière d’asile. En particulier, elle a finalement mis en place le Common European Asylum System : le système qui « offrira un meilleur accès à la procédure d’asile pour ceux qui recherchent une protection, des décisions sur les demandes d’asile plus équitables, plus rapides et de meilleure qualité, et des conditions dignes et décentes tant pour ceux qui demandent l’asile que pour ceux auxquels est accordée une protection internationale dans l’UE ».

 Par contre, ECRE, dans la deuxième section du rapport AIDA, s’interroge sur l’effectivité du système ‘commun’ d’asile et présente de manière critique les choix politiques et opérationnelles de l’Union.

 La décevante réponse européenne

La tragédie de Lampedusa en octobre 2013, (ledrame de la mi-septembre n’était pas encore connu) comme souligné par Kris Pollet, Senior Legal et Policy Officer ECRE, a mis à l’épreuve la capacité de réaction de l’Union Européenne, notamment sur le plan opérationnel. Cependant, dénonce Pollet reprenant le contenu du rapport, la Task Force pour la Méditerranée , qui a été lancé en réponse immédiate, présente l’ensemble des mesures et instruments déjà en vigueur, comme le système Dublin III, très critiqué pour ses inefficacités. De plus, les éléments plus innovants ont été fixées de manière très générale : en particulier, le rôle de l’agence EASO, ou encore, la prévision concernant les voies d’immigration légale alternatives.

 La Commission a privilégié la coopération avec les pays tiers et l’action de l’agence FRONTEX. A ce propos ECRE soulève de nombreuses critiques contre l’externalisation de l’examen des demandes d’asile et la sécurisation des frontières extérieures, qui ne seraient pas cohérentes par rapport à une approche respectueuse des droits fondamentaux, centrée sur les individus.

 Malgré ces critiques, le rapport AIDA, reconnaît les progrès accomplis par l’Union Européenne dans la dernière année. Un parmi les plus importants est l’accélération du processus d’approbation des règles   pour la surveillance des frontières maritimes extérieures dans le cadre des opérations Frontex (Règlement UE 656/2014) qui consacre plus d’attention au respect des droits fondamentaux. Notamment l’art. 4, lié au respect du principe de non-refoulement, spécifie les comportements à suivre avant un débarquement éventuel dans un pays tiers, avec une considération particulaire des individus plus vulnérables, comme les mineurs non accompagnés, les femmes enceintes ou avec des enfants en bas âge.

On a fait remarquer que la mission Frontex TRITON, qui sera lancé dans les prochains mois, laisse ouvert le dilemme sur le sauvetage des vies en mer. Cela ne semble pas être la priorité, au contraire de Mare Nostrum qui est intervenu dans la même zone maritime. Le rapport, toutefois, rappelle que l’action de sauvetage en mer intervient après que les migrants, et parmi eux, ceux qui ont droit à la protection internationale, aient pris le risque du trajet dangereux vers l’Europe. Pour cette raison, il propose le renforcement et la multiplication des voie d’accès légales à l’Union (comme les programmes de réinstallation (resettlement) ou le mécanisme d’entrée protégée).

 Un autre point critique, soulevé par le rapport ECRE, porte sur les dysfonctionnements du système d’asile Dublin III qui règle l’attribution de la responsabilité de l’examen des demandes reçues, entre les états membres. Pour ECRE, il y a une dichotomie entre accès au territoire et accès à la protection elle-même : le demandeur d’asile est lié au territoire de premier accès. Par contre, la reconnaissance mutuelle du statut du réfugié serait plus favorable aux intérêts des individus : une fois délivré dans un des états membres, le bénéficiaire serait libre de choisir le pays où s’installer.

Cependant, le rapport constate le contenu décevant des lignes directrices du Conseil de fin Juin 2014 et des derniers documents publiés par la Commission : l’Union et ses membres démontrent la complète absence d’une volonté politique réelle qui vise à réaliser les solutions suggérées.

…et les états ?

Encore plus insatisfaisant est le cadre qui résulte des analyses approfondies sur les 15 états concernés par le rapport (Autriche, Belgique, Bulgarie, Chypre, Germany, France, Grèce, Hongrie, Ireland, Italie, Malta, Pays Bas, Pologne, Suède et Royaume Uni). En effet, les Directives européennes, Accueil (Directive 2013/33/EU), Qualification (Directive 2011/95/EU) et Procédures (Directive 2003/32/EU), ainsi que la Directive ‘Retour’ (Directive 2008/115/EC) qui, même si elle rentre dans la lutte contre l’immigration irrégulière, a un impact sur les demandeurs d’asile, fournissent des normes minimales qui ne sont pas toujours correctement transposées par les Etats. La marge de manœuvre qui leur est réservée, est parfois assez large, d’où des garanties procédurales, des conditions d’accueil et d’intégration, divergent de pays à pays.

Plus précisément : les procédures d’examen de la demande, administratives ou judiciaires, la présence d’un traducteur, le temps d’attente d’une réponse ; la disponibilité des places dans les centres d’accueil et les conditions de détention ; la qualité de l’assistance judiciaire, le droit à un recours effectif, dans le cas d’un rejet de la demande, sont mieux garanties dans certains pays (Suède, Allemagne) par rapport à d’autres, notamment ceux qui ont subi les coups les plus fort de la crise économique actuelle (Bulgarie, Grèce).

Les dispositions européennes, en outre, permettent aux états membres de renvoyer le demandeur d’asile vers un pays ‘sûr’, selon une liste prévue par la loi nationale (Directive 2003/32/EU art. 36-39). Comme le dénonce ECRE dans son rapport, il est évident que le concept du pays ‘sûr’ se prête à des interprétations subjectives par les états membres.

Des conséquences encore plus graves résultent du traitement des individus plus vulnérables, notamment les mineurs, qui souvent sont soumis aux mêmes traitements que les adultes.

Le rapport consacre Une large partie du rapport est consacrée aux effets négatifs des pratiques divergentes, qui peuvent entraîner de graves violations des droits fondamentaux à l’égard des individus (et en premier lieu le droit d’asile à l’art. 18 de la Charte des Droits Fondamentaux de l’UE), sans qu’il y ait des garanties suffisantes, ni un système efficace de sanction. (pour une vision plus approfondie je vous invite à lire le rapport :voir « pour en savoir plus »).

Recommandations

En conclusion, le rapport démontre que les systèmes d’asile sont très différents entre les Etats membres de l’UE, ce qui remet en cause le caractère ‘Commun’ du CEAS. De plus, il dénonce les graves violations des Droits Fondamentaux des migrants demandeurs d’asile. A la lumière de ce cadre très critique, malgré certaines exceptions, la politique d’asile de l’Union a échoué sur plusieurs aspects. Cependant, compte tenu des Conclusions du Juin 2014 et des réponses opérationnelles sur le terrain, l’UE n’a pas été capable de relancer une stratégie plus effective, cohérente et adéquate aux besoins des individus, notamment une stratégie centrée sur le respect des droits fondamentaux, comme demandent ECRE et ses partenaires.

 Pour appuyer l’ensemble de ces considérations, lors de la conférence, Iliana Savova, Directrice du Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, a témoigné de la situation en Bulgarie, où, en réponse à la demande de soutiens européens face aux pressions migratoires aux frontières turques, l’Union a envoyé une opération Frontex, dont le but principale est le contrôle des frontières. C’est seulement dans un deuxième temps, que l’Union a envoyé une mission EASO chargée de la formation et du soutien financier : deux mécanismes qui n’ont pas d’impact direct et immédiat sur la situation d’urgence des individus. De plus, a dénoncé Savova, les fonds ont été investis dans la construction d’un mur qui a bloqué physiquement les entrées, construction à laquelle l’UE n’est pas favorable et a refusé de donner des fonds..

 Malgré l’approche sécuritaire qui semble être privilégiée, Christopher Hein, représentant du Conseil Italien pour les Réfugiés, a voulu démontrer la compatibilité possible avec des objectifs humanitaires. Lors de la conférence ECRE, a souligné la nature militaire de La mission Mare Nostrum, chargé du sauvetage des vies en mer. L’opération italienne a été capable de relancer l’importance du débat politique sur les droits fondamentaux, ce qui pourra avoir une influence sur les prochaines actions de Frontex.

 De surcroît, l’Union Européenne doit tenir compte de la diversité des s différents éléments afin de développer une stratégie plus adéquate et, donc, efficace. En effet, comme démontre le cas chypriote, présenté par Corina Drousiotou du Future Worlds Centre, les exigences du contexte actuel et des éléments historico-politiques spécifiques du pays ne peuvent être négligés.

 Enfin, le rapport AIDA, élément repris lors de la conférence, dénonce le gap entre la valeur déclaratoire des intentions générales et les pratiques réelles des Etats membres de l’Union Européenne. En conséquence, si l’Union veut tenir sa parole et développer une approche véritablement orientée vers le respect des droits fondamentaux, elle devra prendre en compte le résultat de ce rapport : le point de départ des évolutions stratégiques futures résident dans la prise en compte des différents contextes et des situations des Etats membres, ainsi que des limites de la politique d’asile européenne en vigueur.

 

(Elena Sbarai)

 

Pour en savoir plus :

  • Eurostat Statistiques 46/2014 – 24 March 2014 (EN) epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu             Aida Report 2013-2014 (EN) www.asylumineurope.org

 Commission Européenne 5ème Rapport annuel sur l’immigration et l’asile (2013) EN http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/e-library/documents/policies/immigration/general/docs/5th_annual_report_on_immigration_and_asylum_en.pdf FR http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/e-library/documents/policies/immigration/general/docs/5th_annual_report_on_immigration_and_asylum_fr.pdf

- Site de ECRE http://www.ecre.org/

 

 

 


Classé dans:Conditions d'accueil des réfugiés, IMMIGRATION, Politique d'intégration

Scotland votes, Catalonia waits: Will there soon be another independence referendum in Europe?

Posted by on 18/09/14
FC Barcelona supporters waving Scottish flags at Camp Nou
The world is watching Scotland today, and the Catalans will watch closer than most.

Spanish news sites are featuring pictures of FC Barcelona supporters waving Scottish flags during their team's Champions League game yesterday, and it is widely reported that delegations from the Catalan (and Basque) nationalist parties have travelled to Scotland to follow the latest developments on the ground.

This is because the debate around Catalonia's independence referendum is approaching its own moment of truth:
  • Catalonia's ruling parties agreed long ago that the independence referendum (carefully described as la consulta, the consultation) would take place on 9 November. However, the Catalan government has yet to officially call such a referendum. 
  • The Spanish government maintains the referendum is unconstitutional (and as we explained here, the Spanish Constitution is actually on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's side).
  • The Catalan government will tomorrow try to get around the legal obstacles by asking the Catalan parliament to adopt a new law on 'non-referendum consultations' (consultas no referendarias). Catalan President Artur Mas is then expected to convene one of these consultations for 9 November. However, the legal status of the result of such a consultation is unclear at the moment.     
  • Reports in the Spanish press suggest the Spanish government has everything ready to launch a legal challenge against la consulta at the Spanish Constitutional Court, as soon as it is officially announced.
  • If the Spanish Constitutional Court were to strike down the referendum (which is what Rajoy expects), the 'Plan B' of Artur Mas would be to resign and call early regional elections - and then present the election results as a referendum on Catalonia's future. Recent polls suggest the strongly pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, ERC) would come out as the largest party, albeit short of an absolute majority. For Rajoy, having to deal with ERC instead of Mas would be like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Are the Scottish and the Catalan cases similar?

There are similarities between Catalonia and Scotland. Both are proud regions with long histories of independence movements, and both have also been embedded in decentralised systems. Also with respect to the consequences of leaving there are similarities, not least the prospect of joining the EU and the difficulties that could potentially arise.

However, there are at least two fundamental differences:
  • The Spanish government has never considered accepting the outcome of an independence referendum in Catalonia. On the contrary, it is determined to use all the legal instruments at its disposal to stop the referendum taking place. Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo has not even ruled out making use of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution - which gives the central government the power to "adopt the necessary measures" to force a regional government to comply with its constitutional obligations. In practice, despite the planned date for the referendum being less than two months away, the Catalans still don't know whether - and in what form - it will actually happen.
  • Constitutional reform and greater devolution of powers to Spanish regions as an alternative to independence has so far not been discussed properly, mainly because the Spanish and Catalan governments have never really engaged in negotiations. 
Will there be a 'contagion effect'?

Pro-independence Catalans would no doubt get a boost in case of a 'Yes' victory in the Scottish referendum, whilst, naturally, Madrid would love to see the 'No' camp win. Irrespective of the outcome in Scotland, the status quo doesn't seem to be an option anymore for Catalonia. Just think of the 500,000 to 1.8 million people, depending on the estimates, who took to the streets last week to celebrate La Diada, Catalonia's National Day.
    Sooner rather than later, the Spanish and Catalan governments will need to give up posturing and start talking to each other. At that point, reforming the Spanish Constitution to give regions greater power to set and collect taxes may well appear as a valid alternative. The Scottish episode, whichever way the referendum goes, may ultimately serve to accelerate further devolution in Spain.

    Scotland teaches Britain to think federal

    Posted by on 18/09/14

    One positive result of the referendum about the independence of Scotland can be seen already now: the central government in London starts finally to think about a more “federated” United Kingdom, but nobody of the political class is using this term “federal’, because this word was misused as “centralization” in the context of transferring national competences and powers to the European level.

    Especially the British media, and, Mr. Cameroun, now have a problem to explain that the proposals of “decentralization and regionalization” and the promisses to give more competencies to the Scotish government constitute finally a “federative approach”, which shall keep a more autonomous Scotland within a “Federated Kingdom” with the Queen and the Pound as common framework.

    Just to remember: Why the British and Americans had been keen after the Second World War to create the “Federal Republic of Germany”? – Not to create a centralized German republic, but to promote political decision making “from the bottom up”, from the local and regional political entities. The Scotish Referendum reminds the British to think about the original meaning of the word “Federal”.

    Federal means “democracy in diversity”, multi-level governance (subsidiarity) and solidarity; in particular, taking decision as near as possible to the citizen, a famous phrase in the Treaty of Maastricht creating the European Union. This also includes fiscal solidarity between rich and poor municipalities, rich and poor Region, Cantons or Districts, as well as at the national and European level, even in the international context.

    It does not matter so much whether this time the referendum about Scotish autonomy already will succeed, but the discussion has shown, that the centralized political structures of the United Kingdom need a “regional refreshment”.

    In any case, if this time the referendum would not result in autonomy, the Scots will have a second and even better chance to become a Member Country of the EU, as the “federal question” will come up for the British at least in 2017, when “all subjects of the Queen” might been confronted with the choice either to remain in a federally organized European Union, or, to see how finally Scotland will stay as “last part” of the United Kingdom in the European Union. The reason is simple; if in a regionally organized referendum a majority in Scotland votes for staying in the EU, this would mean an easy and “automatic entrance ticket” for the remaining part of the still existent membership of the United Kingdom in the European Union.

    Perhaps the discussion and the rethinking of the British about Scotland and about the question: What does federal finally mean? guides us, in the end, to an alternative approach of organizing the EU, in the direction of a Federation of States, countries and Regions, in short, a “Europe of countries and regions.”

    18.09.2014 Michael Cwik

    Not the best start for the new French government

    Posted by on 17/09/14
    The new French government, led by Prime Minister Manuel Valls, yesterday won its first vote of confidence in the National Assembly. That was expected, but the big news is that Valls and his government have fallen well short of winning an absolute majority.

    269 MPs voted in favour, 244 against, and 53 abstained. The absolute majority is set at 289 votes.

    Most importantly, the voting records reveal that 31 MPs from the Prime Minister's Socialist Party chose to abstain. Back in April, when Valls sought the confidence for his first government, he got 306 votes in favour. Hence, yesterday marked a substantial step backwards.

    The outcome of the confidence vote seems to confirm that the 'left wing' of the French Socialist Party remains opposed to the economic policies being pursued by Valls - which in substance means remaining critical of the approach defended by the European Commission, Germany and other northern eurozone countries.

    Incidentally, these divergences forced a cabinet reshuffle at the end of August - which saw the ousting of the three most left-leaning ministers, notably including Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg.

    French history shows that it is possible to govern without an absolute majority in parliament. Another Socialist Prime Minister, Michel Rocard (widely seen as one of the political mentors of Valls), did it between 1988 and 1991.

    However, it remains to be seen to what extent Valls will be able to push through the wide-reaching reforms and sizeable spending cuts demanded by the EU if he fails to win back the full support of his own party. As an alternative, he may try and strike deals with the smaller centrist parties in parliament - but the success of such a move would be far from guaranteed.

    Indeed, this is hardly great news at a time when the French economic situation is not encouraging, making it essential to move forward quickly with the necessary measures.
     
    The road to recovery may have just become longer and bumpier for France.

    Which MEPs voted against EU-Ukraine association?

    Posted by on 17/09/14
    By Georgi Gotev It were mostly extreme-left and extreme-right MEPs who voted against the ratification of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement yesterday, according to the monitoring by VoteWatch Europe. Have a look at the list.

    Could Springer/Politico succeed where most ‘European media’ failed?

    Posted by on 15/09/14
    By Christophe Leclercq Axel Springer (‘Bild’ and others, beyond Germany) and Politico (chiefly Washington, also NY) will jointly launch a media, covering Europe, probably branching out of Brussels. This new attempt is by two large companies with a lot of money and with professional teams. A difference with some, but not all, previous attempts. And an asset but potentially also a curse, depending on answering 10 key questions.

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