Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Interacting with politicians? It's possible

Germany is just struggling with a question of German-Polish relations. It's about the appointment for a cultural foundation that works on remembering European reconciliation after the second World War. The Chancellor wants a Polish-hostile CDU politician to sit in the commission; our Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle is against her appointment.

Inspired by a discussion on the news portal tagesschau.de and by Conor Slowey, I wrote an email to the minister, trying to give support. What was I thinking? Maybe my email is one of tens of thousands that arrive in these days. Maybe not. Maybe the foreign minister does not get a lot of popular feedback, apart from newspaper comments and articles. And these, as we all know, come from journalists in the high political echelons that are remote from the common people. So I thought a little popular feedback might be a good think. Never expected to get a reply. But today it came, certainly written by his deputy staff rather than himself.

Dear Mr Feldhof,

thank you for your email on 6 December 2009 and for the support that you expressed. I was very happy to receive it.

As the German Foreign Minister, I have to represent the interests of our country. One of them is to increase relations with our neighbors. To me personally, it is an important point to project the profound relation that Germany has with its western neighbors to Poland as well. ... I will continue to support this direction.

Again, thank you for your email and your support. Personally, all the best to you.

Guido Westerwelle

(my translation)

It doesn't sound like a standard answer they send to all their respondents, does it?

I believe that everybody with the courage to voice his opinion can reach someone in political life. We just have to start writing emails.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Due respects to Herman van Rompuy

The new President of the European Council is changing the tone. For the first time, only the heads of state and government were allowed at the table of the European Council. Foreign ministers were banned from the room, as were all political advisors. What used to be a big circle of delegations sitting opposite each other now became a very cosy setting. The heads of state didn't need their TV screens any more to see their counterparts as all 27 convened at the same table in the middle of the room, writes Le Monde. It probably goes too far to say that Herman van Rompuy assembled his "cabinet" for the first time, but the new Council President has definitely made an impression on the country leaders.

His first tones are absolutely pro-European. Van Rompuy sees himself as a federalist, not shy of using the "f-word". In his speech at the dinner on Thursday, he clarified that he sees the European Council as a working institution, not a talking institution. "We have to focus on taking political decisions rather than our traditional conclusions", he said (my translation).

Next Tuesday, van Rompuy will fly to Spain to talk to Zapatero about the Spanish Council presidency - and to make it clear that he is in charge now, according to Le Monde.

My dear hope is that Van Rompuy will continue on this way and disprove his critics. Many thought he was too diplomatic and would not take position. Now, he will be judged by his achievements. Let us hope for the best!

Friday, December 11, 2009

French blogosphere organizing a No Sarkozy Day on March 20th 2010

The French press hasn't picked it up yet, the Italians were quicker. This article was in La Repubblica yesterday. After the success of No Berlusconi Day in Italy, organized through Facebook, French bloggers are up to do the same.
Their actions were less successful when they tried to mobilize people against the candidacy of Sarkozy's son Jean for the principal administrator of business district "La Défense". Yet, after public outrage was voiced through the media over weeks, Jean Sarkozy decided to drop his candidacy.

All the best to the French bloggers in organizing the protests! As the country with the biggest demonstration culture in Europe, France should be able to pull off a decent protest on March 20th.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Football and politics - an analogy?

I don't often go to watch football games, but today I did. Inter Milan - Rubin Kazan. Champions League. Interesting game. Inter won 2:0.

What I found just as interesting as the victory was the observations I made about the fans. The fans were the perfect barometer to show when the game was going well and when it was not going well. A Milan player lies on the ground, tries to defend the ball against two attackers, manages and plays it further. Applause, standing ovations. Another player has the ball, shortly before the penalty box, he could shoot it!! but he misses - a Kazan player takes the ball. Resounding whistles in the entire stadium.

Within a split second, the fans see the situation, understand it and react upon it. They become active and state their opinion. Why does this not happen in politics? You see that a minister screws up (my favorite at the moment is German education minister Annette Schavan, refusing to understand why German students would protest against the run-down university system), and within minutes of the press conference, thousands of protest emails block her mailbox, thousands of comments are posted on her homepage. It's not reality, is it? Instead, people leave it to the media to give opinions and directions.

But why leave it to the media? I'm not waiting for the media report to judge if the Inter guy really got fouled or not. I curse the referee if he doesn't call it. Instantaneously. And I'm pretty sure it really was a foul - if that gives my team a nice free kick.
If it is possible to form a wave of protest for a penalty or a free kick that wasn't given, why is it not possible for a more equal society? For fair immigration procedures without discrimination? For better pay of interns?

Sometimes football is described as politics on the grass. But maybe it's farther away from politics than it would seem...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Flip HD Camera and citizen journalism

For the Th!nk2 about it-competition on climate change, the European Journalism Center (EJC) gave every blogger a Flip Mino HD Camera to support the blogging. It's as big as a normal cell phone and produces videos of outstanding quality. The camera is especially good for interviews and picks up sound very well in a range of one meter, even if the environment is noisy. I recently used it on a trip to Trento (sorry Joe); have a look here to see the quality. Current market price for an HD cam (you want HD, not the regular one) is about 190 EUR in Europe, $160 in the US.

This camera offers new opportunities for euroblogging as well. Raymond Frenken of EUX TV has been using it for short reports in the car or from a train station. Furthermore, we've been at the election night in the European Parliament with a small webTV-team from Maastricht (even though we used a bigger camera then) and found a lot of interesting people to talk to. These people would normally never be heard. But through short interviews with the Flip Cam, the world of the grey suits in the EP or the Commission can be illuminated.

Some NGOs like the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) already use videos to enhance their communication. Some MEPs also use videos. The same is possible for a witty blogger attending a panel discussion in Brussels.

And if the quality of the video is decent and the message is interesting, the MSM might even take interest in your footage!

Update: My excuses for providing a wrong link to the "tricky situations"-video. The correct link has now been put in.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Franco-German friendship: Symbols are not enough

Three months ago I was ringing the alarm bells for the Franco-German friendship by enumerating the problems between the two countries:
  • the difference between French deficit spending and German frugality,
  • the different security politics within NATO,
  • and the ministerial shift of pro-German agriculture minister Bruno LeMaire.
I might add another example for controversy with the German solar power plans in northern Africa, rivalling with French nuclear power plans in Morocco. And what about division between Merkel and Sarkozy about the future President of the European Council?

But given the new German government and its expansionary fiscal policy, Sarkozy fell in love with Germany again. Now France and Germany are demonstrating symbolic unity: The chancellor flew to France first thing after she was sworn in. Sarkozy will be in Germany to celebrate the 20th annivesairy of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 11, followed by Merkel travelling to France, commemorating the end of the First World War.

For Sarkozy the honeymoon could well go a little bit farther than that:
  • German ministers joining French cabinet meetings and vice-versa.
  • A French minister for Germany and a German minister for France.
The SPIEGEL 45/2009 writes that this goes too far for Merkel's new government. French love for symbolism meets German love for pragmatic and output-oriented organization. In the chancellory, they don't think it would lead to any concrete results to have a French tourist with a political opinion at the cabinet table.

I like the message that would emanate from a French minister for Germany and vice-versa. But rather than on symbolism, the Franco-German friendship has to be based on concrete political results (as in the cooperation on the CAP). It has to be based on common positions in the international organizations and the EU. A German ministry for Europe, as argued by Deutsche Bank Research, could coordinate the positions of the German ministries in the Council and create more coherence between them. It could thereby coordinate policy with the French government which already has a ministry for European affairs.

In addition, the Franco-German partnership should support a strong diplomatic service of the European Union. If the European motor states don't back a common European position vis-à-vis China, India and the United States, Europe will become marginalized on the international scene. Recent actions by the US government show this very clearly.

But more important than political cooperation between France and Germany, there has to be a continued exchange between the citizens of our two countries via sister cities, study exchanges, language courses, scholarships and internship opportunities. The Franco-German friendship can only last if the citizens do not lose the interest in one another.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Deutsche Welle Radio quit Euranet consortium

In 2007, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and the French counterpart Radio France International launched "Euranet", a consortium of European radio stations. The cooperation gives national radio stations access to valuable information about other countries and makes joint radio productions about European topics possible.
I was shocked to learn that Deutsche Welle quit the consortium only two years after it came into existence. I love to listen to the German language podcast "Treffpunkt Europa", a weekly 25-minute radio show about European cultural life. Now it's cancelled, without any explation in the podcast or on the Deutsche Welle website.

In a document of the German Bundestag (the radio is publicly funded), I learned that Deutsche Welle quit the radio network on 30 June 2009 because Euranet had turned into the legal form of a European Economic Interest Grouping (EEIG), which can directly accept commissions by the European Commission. In other words, the network has moved from an independent news provider to a client of the European Commission. On the Euranet website, I only find a short article commenting on the decision (in Spanish, all others seem to have been removed from the cache), which doesn't really explain anything. Apparently, the EEIG was established in the so-called "Warsaw Declaration on Pan-European Cooperation and Communication", but a short notice on a Polish radio station website is all I can find about it.

I saw that Thierry Vissol, advisor of the DG Communication in multimedia communication, had also been present at the meeting, but I couldn't find any information about the meeting neither in Commission documents, nor in enquiries of the European Parliament Education and Culture Committee (of which I doubt whether it has any rights whatsoever to enquire actions of Euranet as a non-EU body).

So in the end, the degree to which the Commission may influence Euranet productions remains vague. We should probably be more cautious in using Euranet now. I'll rely more on EUX.TV; there I'm absolutely positive that it's an independent news provider and that it will remain like this for a while.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A German commissioner Peer Steinbrück would be a wise decision

After the German elections are over, the question is on the table who will be the German commissioner for the next Commission. The names put forward in the press have not been very convincing. They include
  • neo-liberal finance expert Friedrich Merz (CDU, without support in his own party),
  • MEP Elmar Brok (CDU, little known to the public),
  • MEP Martin Schulz (SPD, unlikely after losing the European Elections),
  • interior minister Wolfgang Schäuble (with no interest to go to Brussels)
  • economic sherpa Peter Hinze (CDU, little known to the public).

All of these candidates would not find a lot of support by the public and cause a further distance of the citizens towards the European institutions. And I doubt whether they could negotiate with a Baroness Ashton on the same level.

The idea to nominate former finance minister Peer Steinbrück (SPD), put forward by MEP Jo Leinen (SPD), is a good option for both political competence and public acceptancy. Steinbrück has been on of the central figures in the financial crisis and earned respect of politicians all over Europe for his far-sighted positions. In Germany itself, Steinbrück was probably the SPD minister closest to Angela Merkel. The finance expert would be one of the first to hope for a nomination by the chancellor. And he is not only respected in politics but also viewed as an honest broker by the German public. Steinbrück speaks out what he thinks and I perceive him to care about future generations as much as for current unemployment figures.

The Commission post would fit Steinbrück's CV pretty well. He was economy and finance minister in several German states, then became minister president for the state of North-Rhine Westfalia in 2002. When his state government was voted out of office in 2005, Steinbrück didn't have to wait long to get his next job. The national elections in the same year brought him to the post of finance minister in Germany. Becoming European commissioner now seems like the next possible step in a steep political career.

The question remains, what portfolio Steinbrück would get. A major industrial country, Germany is pressing for the portfolios industry, economics and finance, monetary affairs or trade. But I could also imagine him being the head of the common market portfolio and of competition policy - it fits very well given his watchdog role as a finance minister in Germany.

Monday, September 28, 2009

German elections - what a disappointment for the young generation!

The election campaign in Germany is over. Three months of luke-warm campaigning between the two outgoing parties of the grand coalition have come to a close. Throughout the campaign, it became evident that a great share of citizens would support Christian-Democrat Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose campaign had little content and was based on her mere personallity. But she was perceived as an honest broker during the financial and economic crisis and people seemed to trust her and wanted her to go on. The CDU got a share of 34% and will be the strongest group in the new parliament, going into an alliance with the liberal FDP. Why so many citizens (almost 15%) voted for the FDP which advocates just those measures which led to the crisis will forever stay a miracle to me.

What really angers me with the election results is not the fact that the Social Democrats had to take their leave. It's also not the fact that the grand coalition is over. What really angers me is the fact that a number of dog-owners and Sunday strollers with two children and a BMW family limousine on their drive just impeded the future of many prospective university students from low-income family. The new government will improve conditions for those who already have money, and make life harder for those who don't.

And what angers me most is the fact that the SPD and the Greens would have given a sensible contribution to the Copenhagen climate change conference. The CDU and FDP parties said that they would definitely continue nuclear power and reverse the exit strategy conceived by the 2002 red-green coalition. The progressive law subsidizing renewable energy sources on public roofs and sustainable heating systems for private citizens were also a product of the red-green coalition and leading into the right direction.

When I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, I get disappointed remarks from almost all young people that I know. The CDU/FDP government will drive those brainy students out of the country who were already doubting if they could afford the study fees. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that, if I went into an average rural German city pub, you'd find a lot of very happy people today. They just got the confirmation that they won't have to change their consumption habits for another four years.

Of course, they won't pay the bill in 30 years time. It will be today's young people who will pay the bill. This election victory for the CDU/FDP came at the expense of the future generations of the country.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Chinese in Europe - a glimpse of the future

Trying to familiarize myself with my new home in Milan, I took a stroll around the city and finally ended up in the Chinese district in the north of the city center. Ever since I read that Milan supposedly has the second biggest Chinatown in Europe, I've been very excited to get there and to see what was going on in there. The Financial Times journalist James Kynge believes that China is slowly taking over Italian production of fashion, starting with the manufacture of clothes in China, and ending with outsourcing the design of Italian fashion.

When I got there, I could see that incredible Chinese activity firsthand. Chinese workers, putting huge boxes of clothes into fashion stores, waiting to sell them to the next customers. Chinese men biking across the main road with heavy boxes of clothes loaded onto their bike. Chinese housing agencies, selling and renting out buildings and apartments of the district. And everywhere you see small offices with the label "Import - Export". I couldn't help thinking that they there was an entire city district, working hard to import Chinese products into the European market, and working even harder to export European money back to China. Kynge holds that many Chinese workers came here illegally to work in small jobs and earn money for their families back in China, slowly shifting wealth from Europe to southern Asia. And I could see myself that those workers tirelessly unloading more boxes of clothes were very committed to their job, even on a Saturday evening at 5 p.m.

I'll start surveying that Chinese district a little and try to find out more about it, try to find out why Chinese people came to Europe and how they harmonize with Italians in Milan. I have an inkling that this Chinatown gives a first impression of what the world may look like - maybe not in 20 years, but probably in 50 years time.

I have to admit that I was also seduced by all the cheap stores at the end of my visit, and I went to do my share of shopping. By now, maybe my money will already be invested in import-export businesses in China, fashion production in Shenzhen or maybe in high school and university education for Chinese students.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Blogging for Th!nk2 about it

For the next three months, I will be blogging for the European blogging competition thinkaboutit.eu, which is organized by the European Journalism Centre (EJC) in Maastricht. The competition brings together 91 bloggers from the European Union, Brazil, India, China, the US, Kazhakstan and South Africa and will discuss topics relating to the Climate Change conference in Copenhagen in the middle of December. Heads of government will meet in Copenhagen in December to work on a agreement which replaces the Kyoto agreement and aims at reducing carbon emissions and counter global warming.

From January to June 2009, there has already been another blogging competition on thinkaboutit.eu on the topic of the European parliamentary elections in June. The blogging competition is held in English and tries to pool national discussions on the European elections or climate change. Bloggers with a background in journalism or politics will share their views and portray the discussions in their countries, so that a veritable European debate can take place.

Until now, it has been difficult to create a common European debate on pan-European topics. National media often report about European topics when they hit the nation-state, and pan-European media like Euractiv.com and EUObserver.com are limited to an English-speaking elite. Thinkaboutit.eu therefore uses young people as multipliers in order to break down European topics onto the nation-state level and to bring the national discussions onto the European level.

The first competition has had a remarkable quality of posts, says Anne Autio from the European Journalism Centre. In the second competition, journalistic competence will be put together with scientific knowledge in order to inform, educate and entertain a European audience. To enhance the blog posts, all bloggers received a High Definition Flip Video Camera and are supposed to use them to give insights into public opinion in their home countries.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

New axes in political spectrum?

In a very interesting interview with Le Monde, the secretary general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Pascal Lamy, talks about the global problems of social democracy. He says that social democracy has to renew its criticism of the capitalist market in order to reach the citizens again.
Over an entire page in the French daily, the former director of the European Commission lays down his visions for a new social democracy in Europe. It could start with a reinforced Party of European Socialists (PES) which allows direct membership, says Lamy.

What I found particularly interesting is his assumption that the old political spectrum left-right (i.e. equalitarian vs. libertarian) has been joined by two new political axes. The first one is the axis expensive-free. The discussion about free access to newspaper articles, books and entertainment facilities play exactly into this axis. They have led to severe discussions on the restriction of the internet in France, Germany, Sweden and other countries and led to the emergence of the pirate party at the European elections.
The second axis that Pascal Lamy sees is consumerism-anthropology (he says "economy-anthropology"), namely the question if money is really the ultimate donor of happiness.

I'm not sure if I'm following him in this analysis. But yet, I tried to graph it. And you will notice that I added two other axes that I find important: pro-European/anti-European and pro-immigrant/anti-immgrant. I would invite you to copy and modify this graph and to imagine further axes which are important to citizens today. Maybe, in a joint effort, we can find out how citizens "function" today, and what aspects are important to them in an election.

Simple bitmap-file. The font is Georgia, 8 pt.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Inglorious bastards - What a shame for European actors

If you decide to watch a film by Quentin Tarantino, you mostly know what you're up for. You know Pulp Fiction, the celebrated black comedy in which a guy in the back seat gets his head blown off because the car hits a bump in the road. You know Kill Bill, in which hundreds of people get killed by Uma Thurman in a revenge fight. You know that Tarantino films are bloody, macabre, funny and far off reality. That's what you're expecting when you decide to see a Tarantino.

But the new Tarantino film is totally different. This time, the fun is not so far off reality, and that's what makes the film a very gruesome experience - at least if you watch it in Europe. The first twenty minutes show a nerve-wracking scene. A Nazi officer, played by Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, discovers a Jewish family in the house of a French farmer and has them murdered. Unlike former Tarantino films, a long intensive and deep-reaching dialogue in French and German language preceeds the kill. This is not fun. This is good acting of highly qualified actors. After watching that dialogue, you don't feel like laughing about the kills any more.

The film continues with a weird interplay of trash-talking American-style Brad Pitt humor, fighting scences and a serious and well-acted character study of the only survivor of the farmhouse massacre. That HAS to touch you as a viewer if you have an inkling of historic sensitivity. It's not a problem for me to parodize Nazi history, if it's done in a sensitive way. But Tarantino doesn't really choose if he wants to show an irrealistic black comedy or a serious revenge story in a historic setting.

If it was only for that, you could still shrug off the film as an uninformed American-style war movie. But the really sad part is that highly qualified European actors sign the movie with their name. German actors Til Schweiger and Diane Krüger as well as my personal favorite Daniel Brühl and Austrian actor Christoph Waltz have a high potential and have starred in outstanding films before (let me just remind you of Daniel Brühl in "Goodbye Lenin"). Of course it's their right to appear in funny and parodistic films. But a history-based film like this one also sends a political message. An American's vision of Europe and European history is often shaped by Hollywood movies like this one. And many Americans will now get to know the actor Daniel Brühl, one of the very few German actors with a reputation outside of the country, in the role of the self-loving Nazi whom he displays in the Tarantino movie.

It's a real shame to see the actors' talents wasted in a movie like this one.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Someone is taking the piss of the FDP's immigrant expulsion policy...

...or so you would think at first when you see this photo on Youtube and on other places where it's currently advertised.

Source: fdp-fraktion.de

The picture reads "20 years freedom of travel" - you would think someone malicious meant the trip back home to civil war stricken countries in the Balkans. But no: The picture is from the Homepage of the FDP group (Liberals) in the German Bundestag itself and they apparently meant something very different...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Some thoughts about the German election campaign

It's only a little more than a month until a new parliament will be elected in the largest state in Europe. European politicians are awaiting the election results in Germany before the European Parliament can approve the designated commissioners.

Germany is currently experiencing a very astonishing development. You could almost say that the voters have no clue what they really want. In the pre-election survey "DeutschlandTrend", the journalist Jörg Schönenborn observes that "the anger about banks and financial actors, the renewed feeling of injustice and the increasing wish for a more solidary society are normally signs for a [...] leftist majority. However, in the judgement of parties and persons, this is currently not reflected at all" (my translation). Quite the opposite, the more effort the SPD puts into its election campaign, the more the number of supporters seem to drop.

Before blaming the voters, it has to be said that the parties are not making it easy for them either. Over the last years in the grand coalition, it has become more and more difficult to divide the most important claims of SPD and CDU/CSU apart. While many citizens believe that the SPD has turned away from its social-democrat roots, the CDU has begun to talk about a social market economy. Not many of the common achievements in the grand coalition were attributed to either party and both sides are now trying to show what they have achieved over the last few years.

The young Green politician Jan Seifert believes that a new grand coalition may mean a further drop in popular support as voters perceive they don't have a real choice in the elections any more. Likewise, he believes that this could lead to a stronger radicalization of the small parties who lure the frustrated voters into their own camp with populist promises. I could add that those who vote for the small parties in order to end the grand coalition will lead to a weak SPD and CDU, which again will leave only triple coalitions (ruled out by all parties) or another grand coalition as an option.

What very much frightens me - and there I have to blame the citizens - is the hostility that voters show toward the election campaign in general. Politicians have to justify why the political parties - accepted vehicles for the aggregation of political ideas and the finding of solutions - dare to voice their proposals for the future of the country to the sovereign. For a week, the so-called "affair" about SPD minister Ursula Schmidt's business car has caused more attention than the political proposals of the parties. And in my view the German media have to take a share of the blame for that kind of coverage.

Final thought, I haven't seen any real campaigning emerge yet. Neither of the big parties has a real star. The CDU is trying to push the popular economics minister Theodor zu Guttenberg, but sooner or later in this campaign he will have to show his profile more clearly than he did so far. Commentators hold against him that he can say a lot of beautiful words without making a statement, but I believe that won't get him through the campaign.
The SPD has a few young talents, but I haven't seen them voice their ideas very clearly yet. We may have to wait a little more until the Steinmeier team really kick-starts.

Secondly, neither of the big parties has voiced a very clear campaign topic yet. The CDU is trying to gain voters with the promise of a vague tax reduction while the SPD is speaking out against nuclear power plants and in favor of renewable energy. I wonder if the topic of energy can be sharpened so much that there will be a public debate about it. Clearly, with the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen coming up in December and the recent Desertec initiative, there is a lot to talk about. But the issue will have to be framed by politicians and the media in a way as to appeal to the daily life of the citizens.

I think the next few weeks will be interesting one way or another. It'll be exciting to see what topics will interest the citizens the most...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The left - dead in two European countries at once?

Interesting coincidence, in two different countries the left is today being described as dead.

Firstly, Italian entertainer and blogger Beppe Grillo claims the Italian left is a "funeral vehicle" in an interview with the SPIEGEL. For him, the leaders of the opposition, the leftist politician Walter Veltroni and his successor at the leadership of the Partito Democratico (PD), Dario Francheschini, are only marionettes of Berlusconi and lock themselves in their homes for fear of the citizens. Grillo proposes to become leader of the leftist party himself but the PD plainly refused his membership application. Seemingly unimpressed, Grillo says he doesn't need support of a party. A large readership of his blog, millions of young citizens according to him, are supposed to be his campaign support.
Indeed, Grillo thinks that the Italian parties belong to the past. He stands for a new model of "democratic dictatorship" from below, which is based on consultations of the public via the internet. His blog, which is maintained in Italian, English and Japanese and which offers Grillo-merchandise to his fans, already functions as a point for consultations and reference. In future posts, this blog will further investigate the political rise of Grillo, his party program and his personnality.

Secondly, in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche, the French Philosopher Bernard Henri-Lévy talks about the "death" of the French Parti Socialiste. In contrast to Grillo who seems like a political outcast in Italy, Henri-Lévy's popularity has made him widely known in France by his anagram BHL (like leftist politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn, DSK). For BHL, Socialist leader Martine Aubry is the "guardian of a morgue". In order to adapt to the changes of political life, the Socialist party has to change its identity, beginning with its name. The new identity should be re-founded on the three principles antifascism, anticolonialism and antitotalitarianism.
BHL was an adviser to the Socialist candidate for the presidential elections in 2007, Ségolène Royal, and would like to see her come back to power and recreate the party from the ashes.

His interview comes at a time in which the French Socialist Party is again struck in a deep crisis of identity. Over the last week, Socialist MP Manuel Valls has continuously criticized Aubry's leadership, giving the party a week of negative headlines in the French press. Meanwhile, the French MEPs in the European Parliament were the only ones in the S&D group to refuse MEP Jerzy Buzek as a new Parliament President, further undermining their questionable standing in the S&D group.
Only one person profits from the fall of the socialists: French President Nicolas Sarkozy who has a problem less to care about as the left is destroying itself.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Karlsruhe decision: end of the European dream?

In a recent editorial of Le Monde, the reputed political journalist Arnaud Leparmentier interprets the decision of the Constitutional Court as Germany's final word to European integration. Successfully rebuilt after 1945 and successfully reunited by 2009, Germany no longer needs Europe, European integration or the Franco-German axis, says Leparmentier. Germans have become happy, indifferent and inward-looking.

On a personal level, he sees the shift from Joschka Fischer to Angela Merkel and young economic minister Theodor von und zu Guttenberg as emblematic for the shift in German mentality. In 2002 there were heated debates about a Germany that had to be defended in Afghanistan. In 2009, the citizens' own pockets have become the main topic. Hence the spectacular rise of the economic hardliner Guttenberg to being the second most popular politician in Germany.
Where Guttenberg showed no solidarity for the domestic producer Opel or the mail order company Quelle, one may indeed ask how much solidarity Germans would bring up for Eastern Europe, Italy or Iceland. As one of the few European countries which consolidates its finances instead of pouring money into the market, Germany currently impedes imports from the rest of Europe. Finally, with the decision of the constitutional court, Leparmentier finds that the country has now put a resounding halt to any further political integration as well.

One may answer to Leparmentier that the politics of austerity is merely a phenomenon of the right. The SPD is committed to deficit spending if need be, and has even ridden over SPD finance minister Peer Steinbrück in this matter. On a political level, the SPD has criticized the populist stance of the CSU, currently abusing the Karlsruhe decision for election purposes.

In my view, Germany has not lost its European vocation; if any, the current proponents of the right may have lost it. Parliament will meet in the middle of the election campaign to vote the law giving the Bundestag a greater say in European matters at the request of the Constitutional Court. If the political debate about the European Union continues as it is at the moment, it may even become an important topic in the campaign. And then we will see which party is committed to the European project and which one isn't.

The irony is that Europe might be extensively debated during the national elections while nobody cared about it during the European elections.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Online consultation on learning mobility of young people

A couple of days ago the Commission launched an online consultation for young people on learning mobility. Interested by the topic, enthusiastic that the Commission cared about my view and even more enthusiastic that this message actually succeeded in reaching me, I went to the linked Commission page to give my opinion. More money for Erasmus, better acceptancy of international diplomas by foreign countries, a further reduction of travelling cost for young people and the like.

And then I stumble upon this: "First, the Commission invites stakeholders to provide responses to the open questions raised in the text, as well as further reflections and examples of good practice. You can send your contributions via e-mail to eac-green-paper-mobility@ec.europa.eu" (my italics).
Fair enough. The text in question is a 23-page long Green Paper. Reading and understanding that paper as well as finding specific answers to the open questions will take me at least an entire afternoon. And then I still have to formulate that in policy catchphrases and send it by email. Imagine how my enthusiasm ebbed away.

At least, there was a second. "Second, from 15 July there will be an on-line multiple-choice questionnaire, tailored to the wider public" (my italics).
Awesome! So I was just going to come back and fill out that questionnaire. But when I got back there today, I couldn't find the questionnaire. They seem to have forgotten to put it online. Not really a proof of how much the Commission values my or other young people's opinions.

Add-On, 16. July: The consultation is now online and can be found here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Revue de l'amitié franco-allemande

Jour de gloire pour la France et parmi les hôtes les plus connus à Paris, il y a le président allemand Horst Köhler. Sa visite en France est censé montrer que l'amitié franco-allemande persiste à travers la crise financier et économique. Pourtant, il y en a qui doutent de cette promesse. Au moment de fêter, ce blog ose faire la revue de l'amitié franco-allemande qui a déjà été plus profonde que maintenant dans l'histoire des deux pays.

Le paquet de relance proposé par Nicolas Sarkozy fin juin est un des problèmes principaux entre l'Allemagne et la France. Alors que Sarkozy favorise la dépense des moyens d'Etat, le gouvernement allemand s'est octroyé une stricte discipline budgetaire. A long terme, une telle politique suscite l'inflation des prix en France et des amendes repetés de la Comission Européenne. En même temps, le chômage en Allemagne croîtrera. Ces développements demanderont des reponses différentes et compliqueront l'accord de la France et de l'Allemagne à l'ECOFIN. Je me demande comment les deux pays se comporterons pendant les négociations pour le budget européen qui doit être approuvé par le Parlement Européen bientôt.

Un autre désaccord entre les deux pays se présente au sein de l'OTAN. Depuis son retour militaire à l'OTAN en avril, la France compte parmi les grands et redevient un partennaire important pour les Etats-Unis. A l'autre côté, l'Allemagne peine avec son engagement en Afghanistan, qui est mis à disposition avec chaque report sur des nouveaux attentats sur des soldats allemands. Déjà, l'Allemagne ne s'engage pas dans les régions du Sud, et le gouvernement américain se montre régulièrement décu que l'Allemagne ne fournit pas plus de soldats. Il parait que l'Allemagne est le nouveau cas problématique pour l'OTAN pendant que la France s'aligne de plus en plus aux côtés des Etats-Unis. Il est rassurant que les deux pays apparaissent sur la même ligne par rapport à l'Iran.

Ce que je trouve particulièrement dommage est le licensiement de Bruno Le Maire en tant que sécretaire d'Etat aux relations franco-allemande et sa reconduction au ministère de l'agriculture par Nicolas Sarkozy fin juin. Ce jeune homme qui était désigné exprès pour sa maitrise de l'allemand et ses expériences en Allemagne a travaillé beaucoup pour l'entente des deux pays. Pour moi, sa reconduction est un signe assez fort combien les relations franco-allemandes valent pour Sarkozy en réalité.

Donc en tout, les images de Köhler et Sarkozy seront bien positives, mais la relation pourrait être beaucoup mieux. Si je peux faire un souhait pour la journée de fête, je souhaiterais que la France mette en place une équipe des jeunes talents politiques au sein du ministère des affaires étrangères. Des jeunes qui brulent pour l'amitié franco-allemande et qui revivent son importance en tant que moteur de l'Europe.

On verra. En attendant, bon anniversaire la France!

Ajouté: Contrairement à mes expectations, le nouveau job de Bruno Le Maire en tant que ministre de l'agriculture ne signale peut-être pas la fin d'une meilleur entente franco-allemande. Tout au contraire, il parait que l'agriculture est même un des sujets à travers lesquels la France et l'Allemagne pourront faire revivre l'amitié franco-allemande.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Desertec - Development for Africa

It's an ambitious undertaking which the German and international companies are going to launch today with the Desertec project. Until 2019, the project may be running and generate 15% of Europe's electricity needs. Until 2050 this could be enlarged to 20-25% of its needs.

If it works, the project could have remarkable political implications and benefit the world in three ways: Firstly, a successful project shows the maturity of renewable energy sources vis-à-vis conventional energy. In a first instance, it will allow Northern Africa and Europe to reduce their emissions, to preserve their environment and to export the successes of the project to the rest of the world. This takes away excuses from polluting countries to rely on carbon emitters and exerts pressure on reluctant governments and enterprises to change their policies as well. The success of the project can thereby bring a greater change in mentality than the catchphrases uttered by our heads of state at the G8.

Source: DESERTEC Foundation

Secondly, the investment by European companies not only benefits the climate, but it is also a tremendous help in African development. The security of a long-term investment and the need for skilled Northern African engineers and workers bring more knowledge and more purchasing power into the region. Other than development aid which has to travel through governments, the Desertec project directly benefits the local economies and stabilizes life for the citizens. Meanwhile, the international prestige of the project may force governments to support Desertec rather than to take the blame for failure. Whether this will also lead to more pressure for democratic governance...we will see.
Thirld, I think that the project and the economic boost given to the region will make other African countries want to take a piece of the cake. The southern line of the electricity grid runs far into the continent and could feed energy into sub-Saharan energy systems. Likewise, I am hoping that Desertec will incite more investment and research in solar technology in sub-Saharan countries. This can lead them to become energy self-sufficient and carbon-neutral in the long run.

However, the project also has enemies. The strongest one is the French nuclear lobby which would love to see French nuclear power stations rather than German solar panels in Morocco. After the recent quarries of Germany and France over the right way out of the financial crisis (Germany: budget cuts, France: deficit spending), I wonder in how far this new controversy will hamper the Franco-German friendship.
A second problem is the insecurity about the political development in Northern Africa. While Morocco has come closer to a base-democracy, Algeria and Tunesia still have de facto autocratic structures and Libya even more so. Critics - many of them Germans - would love to see the Desertec investment stalled until a functioning political administration can definitely be ensured. Yet, these critics don't consider the importance of an economic investment itself for stability in the region.

Overall, the project is definitely a milestone. Ahead of the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit in December, this is good news and a success for the defenders of the environment. The project will certainly meet controversy in future, but if it works the success will radiate across the world.

Here are two more soundbites about it, both in German unfortunately:

Short one (5 minutes, Tagesschau.de)

Long one (18 minutes, Deutschlandfunk)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The implications of the Court decision

Even though the Lisbon treaty does not violate German basic law, it cannot be ratified rightaway. The Constitutional Court forces the German Parliament to introduce measures which give it a greater power in European decision-making before the treaty will be accepted. This concerns the influence of the Bundestag on positions of the federal government in the Council of Ministers in particular.

What does that mean? For the moment, the treaty of Lisbon is held hostage until the German Parliament has got more power vis-à-vis the Government. The ratification of the treaty is stalled on account of national controversies. Admittedly, the federal government is now under European pressure to devolve more power to the legislators.

But will it be possible to implement the law for more involvement of the Bundestag before the German elections on September 27, as Socialist MEP Jo Leinen hopes? He says the law could be discussed on August 26 and passed on September 8. But that's at the height of the election campaign and only three weeks before the elections...

Plus, that will be only shortly before the referendum in Ireland, so that European pressure for a positive outcome cannot apply solely to Ireland but will be applied on Ireland and Germany equally until Germany can submit the ratification form to Brussels in September.

Things could have been easier with a simple ok to ratification...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Welche EU in der Zukunft?

Ich weiß nicht ob es mich traurig oder freudig stimmen soll, wenn ich die Ausgabe vom Politikportal am 4. Mai lese.

Dort ist ein Artikel der Süddeutschen aufgeführt, in dem die Redakteure C. Bolesch und C. Gammelin beschreiben, wie Europapolitiker von nationalen Politikern bei gemeinsamen Auftritten marginalisiert werden. Obwohl die Europawahl in einem Monat stattfindet und die Bundestagswahl erst im September und obwohl das europäische Parlament weit mehr Macht als die nationalen Parlamente hat, spielt Europa für die politische Elite nur eine untergeordnete Rolle. In der Finanzkrise sind deutsche Arbeitsplätze bedroht; um deutsche Wählerstimmen zu sichern blendet man dann übergeordnete Ziele lieber aus. Stattdessen bearbeitet man den Wähler lieber in einer solchen Weise, dass er am einfachsten im September sein Kreuz an der richtigen Stelle macht. Bei den Wahlen im September geht es schließlich um 600 Plätze im Bundestag, statt um nur 99 Plätze im Juni im EP. Bei einer solchen Verdummung der Wähler muss man sich dann auch nicht wundern, wenn nur 34% aller europäischen Bürger überhaupt zu den Wahlen gehen wollen, wie aus dem letzten Eurobarometer hervorging. Die europäischen, und die deutschen, Bürger haben einfach Ahnung um welche Themen es bei dieser Europawahl überhaupt geht - da kann man es ihnen nicht verdenken, dass sie lieber gar nicht wählen als für Themen, die sie nicht überblicken können. Die Wähler selbst trifft daran die wenigste Schuld - eher noch sind die Politik und auch die Medien gefragt, europapolitische Themen bürgerfreundlich herunterzubrechen und zu erklären.

Dennoch gab es im Politikportal noch einen weiteren Artikel, der für mich in einem absoluten Gegensatz zur Marginalisierung von Europa durch die deutsche Politik steht. DPA meldet dass es noch nie so viele deutsche Studenten zu einem Erasmus-Aufenthalt ins Ausland gezogen hat. Das ist löblich und zeigt, dass es zwischen den Generationen im Bezug auf Europa einen himmelweiten Unterschied gibt. Die derzeitige deutsche Führungselite, Generation 55+, marginalisiert das Thema. Aber die europäische Identität wächst in einer neuen Generation von international orientierten und hoch qualifizierten jungen Deutschen heran. Die Volksvertreter der neuen Generation, wenn sie denn an der Macht sind, werden ebenfalls hoch qualifiziert sein, hervorragend mit neuen Medien umgehen können, in mehreren Sprachen sprechen, schreiben und denken und über nationale Grenzen hinwegsehen können.

Allerdings gibt es dabei auch ein Problem. Denn die gut qualifizierten jungen Menschen, die die Vorteile von Europa für sich erkannt haben, kehren Deutschland zum Studium oft den Rücken und sind auch nach dem Studienabschluss nicht mehr zurück zu gewinnen. Wo sind die deutschen Welterklärer? fragt sich deshalb die Zeitschrift Internationale Politik in ihrer aktuellen Ausgabe.

Hier gibt es Handlungsbedarf auf Seiten der deutschen Politik. Gerade ein Kanzlerkandidat, der als Außenminister keine Gelegenheit ausgelassen hat, die Vorteile Europas zu preisen, sollte im Hinblick auf die beiden aktuellen Wahlkämpfe dem Thema Europa einen größeren Stellenwert einräumen. Die junge Generation hat die Vorzüge von Europa längst erkannt. Es wird Zeit, dass Europa auch in der nationalen Politik eine deutlich stärkere Rolle einnimmt - und das nicht nur wenn Deutschland den Ratsvorsitz innehat.