Friday 30 January 2015

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What should the EU’s overall priorities be? Or those of the next Presidency? And what should the EU Council really be talking about when they next meet.


Short and mid-term economic policies of SYRIZA

Posted by on 26/01/15



Courtesy: Dimitris Arvanitis ©

SYRIZA’s landslide is definitely something many media and political analysts would not expect. Over 900 correspondents from European and international media were in Athens these last weeks to cover one of the most interesting and crucial elections in the Union. Why? Because the radical left party of SYRIZA, a party that until 2010 was around 5-7%, achieved to immensely increase its electoral appeal, reaching around 37% and making history in Greece. In the center of the debate was the economic program of SYRIZA, with the majority of media correspondents  struggling to clear up what the priorities and policy planning of the new government are.

As the next weeks and months will be -once again- of paramount importance for Greece, it is vital to know what the short and mid-term goals are.

Short-term Goals

1. Restitution of the minimum wage of 75o euro in the private sector;

2. Restitution of collective agreements in the labour market;

3. Introduction of bill protecting these vulnerable parts of the population having overdue debts (i.e. mortgage loans for first home/propriety), along with the establishment of regional / peripheral resolution committees dealing with fiscal claims;

4. Reinstatement of legislation that protects employees from being subject to massive layoffs;

5. Reinstatement of the minimum pension wage of 36o euro for those not being covered by social security nets;

6. Resolution of social security burdens for the self-employed and people with disabilities;

7. Re-issuance of licensing for media corporations from zero basis to combat against corruption, bribery, nepotism and bring about financial and administrative transparency and capacity;

8. Granting of free electricity for 300,000 households that cannot afford the relevant bills.

Mid-term Goals

1. Introduction of growth clause as prerequisite for debt repayments and public debt cut on its biggest part (i.e. provision aligned with the Maastricht Treaty’s limit of 60% debt on GDP);

2. A 5 billion public-led investment program to soar and invigorate the domestic economy and create 200,000-300,000 new job positions;

3. Combat of corruption and tax evasion, while increasing taxation for highest incomes and pushing-up minimum non-taxed annual income to 12,000;

4. Re-evaluation and rationalization of property taxes to address the real capacity of tax payers.

The broader aim of the party is to re-balance wealth distribution, create conditions that will increase consumption, facilitate state’s income burdens in order to financially support the most vulnerable parts of the population, and bring liquidity in the state’s social security funds.

Personal Comment

The IMF has officially and repeatedly admitted grave mistakes in Greece’s aid packages, especially with regards to the improper planning that did not take into account the special conditions of the domestic economy and market.  In addition to that, the previous government did not implement structural reforms, therefore leaving the major side-effects of spending cuts and increased taxation to the shoulders of tax payers.

In this respect, the Junker’s stimulus plan and the quantitative easing of ECB’s President Draghi can be both considered as clear decisions that acknowledge the weaknesses of austerity and the need to address growth and soar the economy through massive investments, not only through borrowing.

What is more, we need to point out that excessive and destructive debt rates is not only Greece’s problem. It only takes to have a look on Italy’s, Spain’s, France’s public debt to acknowledge the depth and gravity of the problem. Therefore, the discussion over an EU Debt Relief Summit will soon come into Eurogroup’s agenda. Departing from that, Eurozone needs an investment-led convergence and recovery program to avoid a complete collapse, and not some short-term, frivolous, and irrational remedies.

To contact the author:

Dimitris Rapidis at

Two Scenarios on Draghi’s Quantitative Easing and the Greek Case

Posted by on 21/01/15
By Dimitris Rapidis Mario Draghi announced his intention to implement the so-called “quantitative easing”, adopting a similar decision of the US Fed to calm down pressures over the bonds market. Two ways this could develop...

There is life after €uro

Posted by on 20/01/15

With Greek election only a few days away, I am reminded of a friend’s prediction that this time even loyal voters may vote for a different party that they used to. After having to leave Athens because of the crisis, he is struggling to keep his doctors practice afloat on the small island of Aegina.

Since the early 80’s the Greek state has been managed in a deplorable way by the two major parties in the republic. A closed circle of politicians monopolized power and alternately governed the country. During these years, they developed an extreme political clientelism with as result the creation of two parallel administrations.

This practice, which de facto substituted the official state, is one of the major factors of the actual social and economic bankruptcy of Greek society. If we add to that : (1) the large amount of debt accumulated by public and private spending ; (2) the reckless lending to Greece by dangerously under-capitalized northern European banks and ; (3) euro zone’s blindness and visionless economic policy dictated by Berlin that imposed unsustainable demands, then we understand Greek reality.

Greece enters the eighth year of deep recession. The human toll of the economic crisis is huge. Unemployment is above 25 per cent, and among those aged 15 to 24 it is close to 60 per cent. A study published in the European Journal of Psychiatry in March 2014 provides evidence of a 55, 8 per cent increase in suicides between 2007 and 2011.

Despite the austerity, that has been extremely intense and inhuman, the Greek public debt has increased and now exceeds 170 per cent of GDP. The country lost 25 per cent of its GDP since it has been undertaken by the Troika program.

Here are 5 reasons why Greeks will vote for anti-austerity in the upcoming election:

Greeks don’t buy the fear campaign of #Grexit

The strategy of fear that the actual government is campaigning on clearly does not work. Endorsement of this strategy by European politicians and EU institutions does not help. In the contrary, it has a boomerang effect. Greek citizens are not buying that the opposition constitutes a danger. The EU institutions failed to take into account the social and political implications of the severe austerity programs they imposed in countries like Greece.

Lack of trust towards government coalition

The simplest definition of trust from the perspective of the citizens is the personal confidence and absence of disbelief. When trust is absent, like in Greece, it is replaced by uncertainty, lack of confidence, and the expectation that actual political leaders will do things that are adverse to the interests of the people. Greece has much more debt than the country could ever hope to repay. Denying this reality condemns Greek citizens to a very long period of misery.

EU and the euro lost their credibility

In May 2012 Mario Draghi, the head of the ECB, declared that the crisis had exposed the inadequacy of the financial and economic framework set up for the euro monetary union launched in 1999. The euro was meant to bring convergence to the economies of the EU. Yet it has caused even greater divergence. The emphasis on austerity might have been politically necessary when the debt crisis began, in order to discourage governments from expecting more EU bailouts. However, this policy has also brought EU growth near to zero, encouraged deflation, fed exasperation across the continent and led to the impoverishment of large parts of the Greek population and, other euro zone countries. Under present conditions, the question of staying or not in the euro zone may not be very relevant to the average Greek. Nevertheless, Greece will probably stay in the euro, whoever wins the election. If it doesn’t, I am sure that there is life after euro, even if this will demonstrate complete lack of cohesion and integration inside the euro zone.

Troika is seen as foreign intervention

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission (EC), form the so-called Troika, which intervened in 2010 to keep Athens from defaulting on its debts and having to leave the euro zone. Greece was put under a system of forced administration. In 2013 the IMF admitted that it made major mistakes on the first bailout, setting excessively optimistic expectations for the country’s economy and underestimating the effects of the austerity measures it imposed. The rescue package kept the country afloat, but it came in exchange for exaggerated austerity measures that have deepened recession and encouraged extremist political parties and polarization.

Leftwing Syriza is moving to the center

In every opinion survey leftwing Syriza is in the lead. The difference with the second party is 3 to 4 per cent and it does not seem to close. Syriza, is retreating from leftist rhetoric by confirming that no unilateral decisions will be taken on obligations towards creditors. It would not be the first party to become more pragmatic once in power. However, many of the party’s policies are unlikely to be accepted by the Troika, despite Syriza’s position having moved to the center recently.

The belief of the leader of Syriza, Alexis Tsipras that there should be a transparent and sustainable re-negotiation of debt, has won applause from other parties in Europe and may lead to a pan-European large-scale anti-austerity strategy. Nevertheless, Tsipras will be obliged to do business with other euro zone countries if he wins the election.

New EU Commission work programme a thumb in the eye for Euroscepticism

Posted by on 15/01/15

Research Executive Elias Papadopoulos offers a reaction to the publication of the EU Commission’s new work programme.

To read Elias’ article, please click here.

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

There is no #Grexit, just another economic strategy

Posted by on 08/01/15

The major topic / concern of EU, international and domestic media towards parliamentary elections in Greece is -again- whether the country will stay in or leave Eurozone. Actually it is an artificial dilemma as front opposition SYRIZA, leading the polls, never claimed against the fate of the country in the monetary Union. Therefore, it is time to drop “Grexit” from the discussion table.

The most important thing we need to point out is that the political environment in Greece is extremely fragmented these last days and it is expected to be even more in the coming days. Nonetheless, I believe it is time to point out some fundamental policy concerns that the next government in Greece should inevitably take into account.

A. Economic Recession Must Finally Get Addressed

Unemployment, poverty, growth, and investment rates remain extremely low in, in comparison with tax rate and spending cuts that remain high. The effect of tourism in real economy is also low, even if it shares a considerable part of national GDP. Priority sectors such as energy, health, education, and social security are still faced with structural constraints and bureaucratic burdens, a fact that weakens the prospects for a business friendly environment.

The next government should re-negotiate the terms and conditions of the bailout programme in the EU Summit scheduled for February and emphasize on growth clauses and public investment to unlock productive forces and improve debt management.

B. Media Should Focus More On Quality Information

Ten days now European and International Media irresponsibly re-produce the term “Grexit”, completely ignoring what is at stake in Greece. Instead, analysts and political commentators should invest on presenting the programs of the political parties, the different strategies, the profile and ideas of candidates and political leaders of the parties. At this stage, and all the way towards the election, what the European public should learn is that the Greek economy is faced with a deadlock while mounting grievances are spread in the society. Media correspondents should also seek for alternative sources of information in the country, bloggers and independent analysts, as a great part of domestic media is split between or siding the political camps.

C. Hear What The Greek Youth Has To Say

While discussing about the devastating effect of austerity over unemployment, there are no channels of expression for the majority of Greek youth. Media and political parties systematically ignore what the youth demands, dreams of and envisions. In this respect, all apolitical parties have pledged to revitalize their candidates’ lists with young people, but none of them did so. Therefore, for one more time, this group will be underrepresented in the Parliament.

D. Why Business And Investments Do Not Come In Greece?

The answer is simple. It has nothing to do with “political instability”, but primarily with a broad perception that Greece since 2012 is at a constant state of defaulting, which is that there is always the fear (and risk) that investing in Greece will be a waste of money. Capitals flee from the country, whereas labor-intensive investments are “on hold” waiting for a full normalization of the Greek economy. Such “normalization” will not come as long as the European leadership cannot properly understand that the national economy -and, to bring it further, the European economy- need to re-evaluate and re-set the goals of the Stability Pact.

E. SYRIZA Does Not Pose A Threat To Lenders And Political Stability

Neither SYRIZA nor any other party – other than extreme right parties – pose any threat to the lenders of the country or to political stability in Greece or Eurozone. The party has the strong ambition that it can re-negotiate the terms of the consolidation programme towards a better accommodation for all parts involved, especially for the Greek society and economy. In this respect, the great risk is to misconceive or mix the determination and the alternative economic policy that SYRIZA is planning to implement with a default on the consolidation programme. More possible would be an extreme upheaval in the Greek society and the rise of fascists should the current economic mindset in Europe remain, than a complete collapse of the Greek economy.

The EU in deep trouble with its top court

Posted by on 07/01/15

Something rather shocking has happened. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has just confounded its friends as well as its foes by blocking the EU’s efforts to sign up to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In Opinion 2/13 delivered on 18 December, the Court ruled that the draft accession agreement between the European Union and the Council of Europe breaches EU law. In so doing, the judges defied the combined will of the European Commission and the European Parliament. They also demurred from the advice of their Advocate General Kokott who had recommended, with qualification, that the deal be accepted.

Although we may assume that several EU member states were and still are ambivalent about the project, the European Council (24 of whose member states intervened separately in the case) was bound to follow the treaty which says that the Union ‘shall’ accede to the ECHR. Difficult negotiations on the draft agreement were concluded between the EU and the Council of Europe’s 20 non-EU signatories in April 2013, and the Commission then asked the ECJ for its advice on the compatibility of the agreement with the EU treaties (under Article 218(11) TFEU).

The Opinion is long and complicated, as it might well be considering the long history and high political importance attached to the matter in hand. It is worth recalling – especially because the Opinion does not do so – that the goal of EU accession to the ECHR is to strengthen human rights protection in Europe. That the EU requires the adherence of all its member states to a Convention to which itself is not a party is an anomaly. It has been argued for decades that the EU needs to conform explicitly to the original human rights document of post-War Europe in the interests of legal certainty, uniformity and effectiveness. The EU borrowed and copied the ECHR when it drafted the Charter of Fundamental Rights in 1999-2000, and signing up to the ECHR was made a quid pro quo (not least at the insistence of the prickly British) for allowing the Charter to be made binding in the Treaty of Lisbon. Indeed, the ECJ demanded a change to the treaty in a 1996 Opinion precisely in order to make accession compatible with EU law. This was achieved at Lisbon (Article 6 TEU & Protocol No 8).

Does it matter?

The effect of the EU’s adhesion would be to accept the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) as the external supervisor of the ECJ in the matter of fundamental rights when and in so far as the exercise of EU competences were concerned. The EU’s own mandatory Charter is already cited in much ECJ litigation, and although the EU is expressly permitted in interpreting the Charter to go further in more extensive rights protection, the jurisprudence of the ECJ and the political and legislative actions of the EU institutions must not contradict the earlier Convention. It is also presumed that after accession the right of redress for a breach of rights will be quicker and cheaper at the ECJ in Luxembourg than at the ECtHR in Strasbourg. Optimistically, one could foresee ECJ jurisprudence establishing the best rights regime in the world.

The accession process was always going to be fairly complex. The EU, needless to say, is not a state: but its status in international law, the fact that its own supranational law has primacy and direct effect, the given nature of EU citizenship and its institutional arrangements (not to mention a single currency), give the EU a perfectly adequate standing to become a party to the Strasbourg Convention. If not a state, the Union is certainly, and increasingly, state-like. While the EU will not join the Council of Europe, the Commission will sit in the Committee of Ministers, which is the control body of the Convention system, an EU judge will join the Strasbourg Court, and MEPs will join the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) for the election of judges.

So what’s the problem?

The Court of Justice, which in any case tends to exaggerate the uniqueness of the EU’s constitutional order (as if no other federal system has ever existed), takes a lofty view of its own importance. According to the Opinion, the draft accession agreement fails to preserve the specific characteristics of EU law; it does not adequately ensure that accession to the ECHR will not affect the share-out of competences between the member states and the EU or the powers of the EU institutions. The ECJ fears that the ECtHR could interlope into domestic EU matters. In particular, the Court’s powers to give preliminary rulings on the application of EU law (Article 267 TFEU), and the obligation for states to deal with their disputes exclusively at the ECJ (Article 344 TFEU) are deemed to be jeopardized by the draft agreement.

The Opinion complains that the mechanisms to ensure proper coordination between the Luxembourg and Strasbourg courts are not spelled out, at least where the ECJ would be asked by the ECtHR for its prior involvement in a case to assess its substantive and procedural relevance to either the primary or secondary law of the EU. The ECJ dislikes the freedom given in the draft agreement to the ECtHR to examine the plausibility of an EU state’s eligibility to become a co-respondent to a case, believing that both the EU and an EU state should have an automatic right to intervene in relevant Strasbourg litigation. And the Court of Justice worries that the habitual and mutual presumption that each EU member state respects fundamental rights to the letter, especially in the field of justice and home affairs, will be undermined by the arrival on the scene of a bossy external supervisor.

Lastly, there is the thorny issue of the common foreign and security policy (CFSP) where the ECJ’s own powers of judicial review are greatly restricted under the terms of the EU treaty (Articles 24(1) TEU & 275 TFEU). After accession to the ECHR, the Strasbourg court would have much more power than its counterpart in Luxembourg to interpose on (the fairly numerous) breaches of human rights in the area of CFSP. The Opinion finds this state of affairs distasteful.

What’s to be done?

The practical effect of the shock judgment of the Court is to kill off the draft agreement and to postpone indefinitely the EU’s accession to the ECHR. The Commission would be wise, however, not to let the matter drop. Improvements and clarifications to the issue of coordination between the two courts can be made to the draft agreement if the other members of the Council of Europe agree. They should be attempted. Despite the bad state of diplomatic relations between Russia, Turkey and the EU, the accession agreement would give those states the right to intervene at the ECJ; and their voting rights are to be well protected.

Furthermore, the EU must now complete the negotiation of its own internal rules that will govern how the institutions deal with ECHR affairs in the future. These rules, which will have to be agreed with the European Parliament, ought to satisfy the sceptical lawyers that the due process of legitimate governance under the treaties will be respected. The rules of procedure of the Council and Parliament will need to be modified, as will the Statute of the Court.

And, lastly, the EU treaties should be changed. Adjustments to Protocol No 8 aside, two other amendments would immediately help the installation of a decent fundamental rights regime at the EU level. First, the woeful restrictions on the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice in the field of CFSP should be lifted. Second, we need a new clause to oblige the member states to respect the constitutional identity of the European Union, not least in terms of its values and principles. Let us call this the Viktor Orban clause. That would certainly make our Union more state-like.


Andrew Duff took part in the drafting of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Treaty of Lisbon. Pandora, Penelope, Polity: How to Change the European Union is published on 19 January.

Guterres: «Il faut des voies de migration légales»

Posted by on 06/01/15
EU-Logos António Guterres, patron du Haut-Commissariat pour les réfugiés, demande à l’Europe de se mobiliser davantage pour sauver les migrants naufragés en Méditerranée. Et de donner aux réfugiés la possibilité d’immigrer légalement.

Prioridades y emergencias de Europa en 2015

Posted by on 29/12/14

El año que concluye pasará sin duda a la historia de la construcción europea y lo hará por la celebración de las primeras elecciones europeas de las que además de concluir la composición del Parlamento europeo, han determinado la designación definitiva del nuevo presidente de la Comisión Europea, el luxemburgués social cristiano, Jean-Claude Juncker. Nunca hasta ahora los votos de la ciudadanía europea habían influido de manera tan clara y precisa en la composición del motor de las decisiones comunes. Además, en enero del pasado año el nuevo marco presupuestario para los próximos siete años entró en vigor y el ambicioso programa europeo de I+D+i, el Horizon 2020, dio sus primeros pasos. Con nuevo presupuesto, con nuevo Parlamento y, finalmente, desde el 1 de noviembre, con nueva Comisión, Europa afronta un nuevo período decisivo para la convivencia en el continente. El 2014, pues, ha sido un año de renovación profunda tanto de personas como de métodos de trabajo, un año de cambio cuyos primeros frutos debemos ver en el venidero 2015.


Las instituciones europeas tienen por delante una agenda de prioridades a medio y largo plazo, pero también le urgen una serie de emergencia que no pueden esperar a la planificación porque llevan demasiado tiempo llamando a la puerta para su resolución. A modo de recordatorio para todos conviene echar un vistazo a temas y calendario:

  • Emergencias:

  1. Conflicto con Rusia: es evidente que de los contenciosos de la escena internacional que mayor preocupación pueden causar a la UE, el surgido a raíz de la desestabilización de Ucrania, es el más relevante y grave. Los errores cometidos por la Unión y, muy especialmente de algunos Estados miembros como Alemania, al subestimar la capacidad de reacción de Rusia ante los cambios políticos producidos en Ucrania, tuvieron como consecuencia la anexión rusa por la fuerza de Crimea mediante un acto de fuerza que a todas luces resulta censurable. Este cúmulo de despropósitos que ha tratado a una población como meras piezas de un trágico ajedrez, nos han situado en un escenario incierto, repleto de trampas que deberíamos empezar a desmontar a toda velocidad en el primer trimestre del año. Así las cosas, un Putin atacado en su orgullo patrio, se ve ahora acorralado por una situación económica nefasta en su país a raíz de las sanciones económicas y comerciales impuestas por la UE y por el descenso trepidante de los precios del petróleo, al que no es ajena una EE.UU. que empieza a saberse energéticamente autosuficiente. El principal problema de la UE a fecha de hoy consiste en convencer a Obama de la necesidad de dar una salida digna en el conflicto a Putin y con ello al oso herido ruso, pues, seguir humillando a Rusia podría comportar serios riesgos fronterizos a Estados miembros europeos. El nombramiento de Donald Tusk como presidente del Consejo Europeo a instancias de las canciller Merkel, no ayuda mucho, dado el claro afán antiruso del político nacionalista polaco.
  2. Reactivación de la economía en la zona euro: dentro de nuestro propio espacio de decisión, tras más de cinco años de crisis, el temor a una tercera recesión obliga a tomar medidas de inmediato que fomenten el crecimiento y, sobre todo, la creación de empleo juvenil. En este sentido, la estrella de las medidas que pueden ponerse en marcha entre todos, es el llamado plan Juncker, Se trata de un plan de Inversiones para Europa: plasmación legislativa del Plan anunciado el mes pasado, que desbloquea inversiones públicas y privadas en la economía real por un importe mínimo de 315 000 millones en los tres próximos años.
  3. Soluciones a la inmigración: la presión de miles de personas que día a día se acercan a las fronteras de la UE en busca de una esperanza de vida mejor requiere de una respuesta coordinada e inmediata para paliar su perverso efecto dual: el drama de los inmigrantes y la creciente ola de xenofobia promovida por grupo políticos populistas en muchos Estados de la Unión. Por ello la Comisión se ha comprometido a poner en marcha una Agenda Europea de Migración: para crear un nuevo planteamiento en materia de migración legal a fin de hacer de la UE un destino atractivo para las personas con talento y competencias y de mejorar la gestión de la migración  mediante una mayor cooperación con los países terceros, la solidaridad entre los Estados miembros y la lucha contra el tráfico de seres humanos.
  • Prioridades: no de menor trascendencia, pero si con un calendario más holgado.

  1. Mercado único digital:un ambicioso paquete de medidas sobre el mercado único digital: para crear las condiciones para una economía y una sociedad digitales dinámicas, complementando el entorno normativo en materia de telecomunicaciones, modernizando las normas sobre los derechos de autor, simplificando las normas sobre las compras en línea y digitales para los consumidores, mejorando la seguridad informática e integrando la digitalización en las políticas.
  2. Unión Europa de la Energía: para garantizar la seguridad del abastecimiento de energía, integrar en mayor medida los mercados nacionales de la energía, disminuir la demanda europea de energía y descarbonizar la combinación de fuentes de energía.
  3. Un enfoque más equitativo en materia fiscal: un plan de acción para combatir la evasión y el fraude fiscales, que incluye medidas para evolucionar hacia un sistema por el cual el país en el que se generen los beneficios sea también el país de tributación, así como el intercambio automático de información sobre resoluciones fiscales y la estabilización de las bases del impuesto de sociedades.
  4. Reducción de la burocracia y eliminación de las cargas normativas: la propia Comisión reconoce que los ciudadanos desean que la UE interfiera menos en su vida cotidiana, sobre todo en aquellos sectores donde los Estados miembros están en mejores condiciones para actuar y ofrecer soluciones. El programa de trabajo para 2015 refleja el compromiso reforzado por parte de la Comisión de mejorar la normativa, partiendo del programa de adecuación y eficacia de la reglamentación, que tiene por objeto reducir la burocracia y eliminar las cargas normativas, contribuyendo así a crear un entorno favorable a la inversión.


Europa no está para muchas dudas, ni para pérdidas de tiempo en un mundo que se globaliza en tiempo real. El calendario de cada Estado miembro juega paralelamente todos los años y este será un ejercicio complejo el 2015. Elecciones generales en España (con seguridad autonómicas y municipales, pues las generales podrían ser técnicamente en 2016), Portugal, Reino Unido, Grecia y Suecia y regionales en dos pesos muy pesados en la Eurozona como Alemania e Italia. Este es el calendario electoral de un 2015 de muy alto voltaje que según los analistas tiene potencia de fuego suficiente para dinamitar los mercados financieros. El temor a unos resultados desfavorables a los partidos tradicionales se extiende entre los analistas, que por si acaso ya están recomendando infraponderar a los países cuyo riesgo es más alto. En cualquier caso, la agenda europea 2015 requiere audacia y pruebas inequívocas a la ciudadanía de la utilidad del proyecto europeo para sus vidas cotidianas. La Unión surgió del vértigo a las guerras, pero debe construir un nuevo relato pragmático al servicio del progreso de las personas, que le saque del marasmo de la superestructura política y la burocracia tecnócrata imperante en Bruselas.

What will be important in 2015?

Posted by on 19/12/14
From a European viewpoint… 2015 is officially the “European Year of Development”, but politically the upcoming elections in the UK (May 2015) will most likely intensify tensions in and reporting on the UK when looking at the European Union and even London’s EU membership. If 2014 was the year of the elections and new faces [...]

“Junker’s Stimulus Plan Is Unrealistic On Many Fronts”

Posted by on 18/12/14
By Dim Rapidis Dimitri B. Papadimitriou on ECB interest rates policy, deflation, Junkers’s fiscal stimulus plan, debt management and the Stability Pact, US economy, and the economic crisis in Greece.

2015—Can We Make It Different?

Posted by on 18/12/14

The beginning of a new year is a great time to reflect on where we are compared to where we want to be. A few days ago I came across a post by British MEP, Richard Corbett. He wrote about how the pragmatism of the EU is important for solving problems, but “when we focus exclusively on self-interested arguments, we risk forgetting the underlying motivation for what we do – and this is dangerous.”

Mr. Corbett describes three reasons why this is dangerous, and why we should avoid isolationism. I would like to focus on one particular suggestion that he makes there: “The best way to fight the negativity of narrow-minded nationalism is to present an alternative, positive story which shows the myths up [about Europe] for the nonsense they are.”

The problems of self-interest and narrow nationalism that Mr. Corbett points to are definitely on target. And yet, merely pointing out the problem won’t make it disappear. The forces that push for segregation are far greater and deeper than meets the eye, and require a conscious effort on the part of many organizations working in sync to provide a sustainable, long term solution.

Self-interest is at the core of our society. It is the mindset of every society, even social-democratic ones. It is at the foundation of human nature. It is not bad in and of itself, but when idolized and cultivated to an extreme, it becomes nocuous. This is where we stand now on every level—personal, social, national, and international. We’re living in the Me, Me, Me, era, a culture of narcissism. But every therapist will tell you that narcissists don’t see reality for what it is. When the whole of the Western civilization is approaching that state, it is very dangerous indeed.

The cure, therefore, has to include steps toward reversing that trend and establishing a more cohesive society, where solidarity and mutual responsibility are deemed greater than self-promotion. I do subscribe to Corbett’s words that “The best way to fight the negativity of narrow-minded nationalism is to present an alternative, positive story which shows the myths up for the nonsense they are.” And I believe that if we build an education program that gives people a personal experience of social cohesion, we won’t have to worry about narrow-minded nationalism, or any other narrow-minded self-centered approach.

At the ARI institute, we offer such a method, called Integral Education (IE), where people learn to communicate and relate to one another in a completely new way, and on a completely new level. We have implemented it all over the world, from the US to Europe, to the Middle East, and more often than not, in conflict weary societies. The results have been outstanding. Using a few simple rules of discussion, people discover, then cultivate, a new sense of kinship, and wish to preserve it.

The logic behind IE is simple: the world is interconnected and interdependent. Our values, on the other hand, are the complete opposite: self-indulgence, brutal competition, and alienation. By learning the new method of connection among us, we align ourselves with the reality of our lives. This eliminates the conflict between our need to feel superior (due to our ego-prone education) and the interdependent reality of life. When that happens, the “positive story which shows the myths up for the nonsense they are,” as Corbett so nicely put it, emerges by itself, effortlessly.

I encourage you to visit my site, where you will find more information about IE, and please contact me for further discussion about promoting Europe toward a better, more united future.

May 2015 be a year of positive shifts for all of us.


What was important in 2014?

Posted by on 16/12/14
From a European viewpoint… 2014 delivered on its promise of a full and exciting year at the European level: parliamentary elections in May, and the new Commission which took office this fall. This new beginning has come not only with new members in these institutions, but with a desire to increase the legitimacy and effectiveness [...]

Reforming rules on in-work benefits doesn’t require treaty change

Posted by on 11/12/14
Following David Cameron's speech on immigration, much has been made of his comments that the package of measures he proposed to reform EU free movement would require treaty change.

In some cases, the speech was ambiguous about what exactly was being proposed. For example, did Cameron really say EU migrants will need a job offer before coming to the UK? This is important because it has legal implications regarding whether some, all, or none of the proposals require treaty change, changes to secondary EU legislation or simply changes to domestic law. Although, politics will of course also play a major part.

In addition, some have questioned whether the proposal, outlined by Professor Damian Chalmers and our Research Director Stephen Booth and adopted by Cameron, to limit EU migrants' access to in-work benefits for a certain period of years could be achieved without treaty change, as the authors claim.

Today we have published  Chalmers' and Booth's assessment of the legal implications of the measures proposed in the Prime Minister's speech and a restatement of the case for why access to in-work benefits can be restricted via amendments to EU legislation rather than a treaty change.

Safe to say much of this is legally complex, but below is a summary of a summary of a longer legal note by Professor Damian Chalmers, which you can read in full here.


David Cameron's speech can be divided into four broad types of demand:

1. Four-year restriction on EU migrants’ access to in-work and child benefits

David Cameron mentioned two proposed reforms:

a) “once they are in work, they won’t get benefits or social housing from Britain unless they have been here for at least four years.”

This could be achieved via amendments to EU legislation: This is the most legally complex of the proposals but we argue that it does not require Treaty change for two reasons. Firstly, access to in-work benefits is currently granted in EU law by virtue of a piece of secondary legislation, rather than by the Treaty article on free movement of workers. Secondly, the Treaties grant considerable discretion to the EU legislature (the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament) to place restrictions on access to such benefits provided that the legislation facilitates free movement more generally (which the relevant Directive would continue to do), the restrictions are based on objective criteria and are not disproportionate to the objectives they pursue.

b) “If their child is living abroad, then there should be no child benefit or child tax credit at all no matter how long they have worked in the UK and no matter how much tax they have paid.”

Depending on what is sought this could be achieved under domestic law or amendments to EU legislation but if the objective is a hard and fast residence requirement this could be achieved via amendments to EU legislation rather than Treaty change.

2. Tighter restrictions on EU jobseekers

David Cameron mentioned two proposed reforms:

a) “We want EU jobseekers to have a job offer before they come here and to stop UK taxpayers having to support them if they don't.”

This depends on exactly what is proposed. If he meant that any EU citizen must have a job offer before they can come into the UK, this would certainly require Treaty change.

However, read in combination with the pledge to “stop UK taxpayers having to support them”, the proposal is better interpreted as suggesting that no social benefits will be granted to jobseekers. EU law already establishes that jobseekers are not entitled to social assistance and therefore such a reform would not require changes to EU legislation.

b) “We also want to restrict the time that jobseekers can legally stay in this country. So if an EU jobseeker has not found work within six months, they will be required to leave.”

In principle, the UK can already do this under its domestic law. EU law only grants a right of residence for more than three months to those who are employed, self-employed, and economically self-sufficient as well as their family members.

However, the ECJ has ruled that individuals cannot be expelled as long as they “can provide evidence that they are continuing to seek employment and that they have a genuine chance of being engaged”. While the onus is on the individual to prove this, clarifying what this condition means could be achieved by amending EU legislation. A hard and fast six month deadline would likely require Treaty change.

3. Abuse of free movement

David Cameron mentioned two proposed reforms:

a) “stronger powers to deport criminals and stop them coming back…and tougher and longer re-entry bans for all those who abuse free movement including beggars, rough sleepers, fraudsters and people who collude in sham marriages.”

Those deported at the time of conviction can be refused re-entry under existing EU law. Indeed, the German government has said it will use its domestic law to impose re-entry bans of five years for those who commit benefit fraud. The potential difficulty is for those EU citizens with family in the UK, who may be able to appeal deportation under the rights to family life guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

In the case of significant criminal offences where the individual has served a long prison term, the deportation may be several years after the offence, and it is open to the individual to argue that they are a reformed character. This poses difficulties as the individual threat to public policy must be a present threat. Albeit this requirement is currently imposed by an EU Directive, we believe that, if the provision were repealed, there is a strong chance that the ECJ would reinstate it as a Treaty requirement.

b) “We must also deal with the extraordinary situation where it's easier for an EU citizen to bring a non-EU spouse to Britain, than it is for a British citizen to do the same. At the moment, if a British citizen wants to bring, say, a South American partner to the UK, then we ask for proof that they meet an income threshold and can speak English. But EU law means we cannot apply these tests to EU migrants.”

This would likely require Treaty change: There are a number of judgments where the ECJ has stated that refusing to grant a non-EU national family member residence would violate the Treaty because it would discourage the EU citizen from exercising their rights to free movement.

Alternatively, it would be possible for new EU legislation to harmonise requirements on family reunification between EU citizens and non-EU nationals, so that the latter could only join the EU citizen in another member state if they meet certain requirements. However, this would entail harmonisation in an area (non-EU migration) where successive UK Governments have sought to limit the EU’s influence. Concern to prevent marriages to citizens from other member states being used as a vehicle for marriages of convenience can be addressed through tightening up existing EU legislation.

4. Tighter restrictions on migration from new EU member states

David Cameron proposed:

“So we will insist that when new countries are admitted to the EU in the future, free movement will not apply to those new members until their economies have converged much more closely with existing Member States.”

The UK could use its existing veto over new countries joining the EU to insist on these terms.

40 days and 40 nights of Jean-Claude Juncker

Posted by on 10/12/14
By Andrew Duff Juncker’s first forty days of his five year mandate have been anything but uneventful. But Juncker and his team will need lots of good luck to avoid real trouble ahead.

Prepare for the second wave of digital transformation

Posted by on 09/12/14

By John Higgins, Director General of DIGITALEUROPE

A second wave of digital transformation is coming.  The first one revolutionized the way we order information and spans technological advances from the advent of the mainframe computer to the arrival of Internet search. This second wave will reinvent how we make things and solve problems. Broadly it can be summed up in two words: Big Data.

The expression ‘Big Data’ is used to describe the ability to collect very large quantities of data from a growing number of devices connected through the Internet.

Thanks to vast storage capacity and easy access to supercomputing power – both often provided in the cloud – and rapid progress in analytical capabilities, massive datasets can be stored, combined and analysed.

In the next five years Big Data will help make breakthroughs in medical research in the fight against terminal illnesses. Per capita energy consumption will decline sharply thanks to smart metering – another application of Big Data.  Traffic jams will be rarer, managing extreme weather conditions will become more science, less guesswork. Makers of consumer goods of all kinds will be able to reduce waste by tailoring production to actual demand.

This new ‘data economy’ will be fertile ground that will allow many new European SMEs to flourish.

Broad adoption of such Big Data applications can only happen if the data is allowed to flow freely, and if it can be gathered, shared and analyzed by trusted sources. Size definitely does matter. The bigger the dataset, the more insights we can glean from it, so it’s important that the data can flow as widely as possible.

Some elements of Big Data might involve personal data. People need to be confident these are protected by laws and agreements (such as  safe harbour). All actors in the data economy must work hard to ensure that data is as secure as possible against theft and fraud.

The European Commission has taken an important first step in outlining possible elements of an EU action plan for advancing towards the data-driven economy and addressing Europe’s future societal challenges.

To complement this initiative DIGITALEUROPE has drafted a paper (click here to check it out) outlining what we see as the policy focus in relation to Big Data. We have identified eight priorities:

•    Adopt a harmonised, risk-based and modern EU framework for personal data protection that creates trust while at the same time enabling societally beneficial innovations in the data economy

•    Encourage the protection of Big Data applications from cyber-attacks, focusing regulatory efforts on truly critical infrastructures

  • Support the development of global, voluntary, market-driven and technology-neutral standards to ensure interoperability of datasets

•    Clarify the application of EU copyright rules so to facilitate text and data mining

•    Boost the deployment of Open Data by transposing the Public Sector Information Directive into national law by June 2015 at the latest (EU Member States)

•    Create trust in cross-border data flows by supporting the implementation of the Trusted Cloud Europe recommendations

•    Continue addressing the data skills gap by supporting initiatives like the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs

•    Continue encouraging private investment in broadband infrastructure and HPC technologies with public funding

DIGITALEUROPE is ready to engage constructively with the European Commission, Parliament and Council to help them formulate a European action plan for the data economy.

It is essential to get this policy framework right., but it is also important to move fast. While Europe is preparing the ground for widespread adoption of the new digital age, the rest of the world is not standing still.

Click here to check our DIGITALEUROPE position paper: Making Europe fit for the Data Economy article