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" (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,

Long one (18 minutes, Deutschlandfunk)