Friday, August 27, 2010

Taking a break

After one and a half years, this blog is taking a break. A new personal project leads me to China where I will be far away from European affairs and politics in general.
I will continue following European blogs where I can and hope to pick up writing again when I come back.

It's been a great time and I've enjoyed blogging very much. Keep up the good work fellow bloggers, and show them that a Europe of the citizens is possible after all.

Best wishes,

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Unpaid internships - soon forbidden by the EU?

Unpaid internships in Europe could be abolished soon - or least reduced in number. Following a report by Danish Green MEP Emilie Turunen, the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs passed a resolution in which it

"calls on the Commission and the set up a European Quality Charter on Internships setting out minimum standards for internships...These minimum standards should include an outline of the job description or qualifications to be acquired, a time limit on internships, a minimum allowance based on standard-of-living costs in the place where the internship is performed that comply with national traditions" (p. 21, my emphasis).

Now the ball is in the Commission's camp. It has to come up with a European Quality Charter for internships and bring it through the Council. Admittedly, even a final proposal would not be binding upon the member states, so that it will still be possible for enterprises to offer unpaid internships. But once member states have publicly endorsed the principle of paid internships, it will be more difficult for them to backtrack.

For the moment, Turunen's initiative meets opposition from the Liberal Group and business representatives, according to the German Süddeutsche Zeitung. They claim that an internship is a learning experience and therefore should not be paid. They also argue that many businesses could not offer internships any more at all if they had to pay their interns.

But take all interns off from Brussels for a week and see what happens. Nobody taking the phone calls in the offices of the EP, nobody maintaining your company's social media profile, nobody drafting letters in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian any more - ask yourself if the value produced by those interns is really lower than the cost of "educating" them.

In addition, an enterprise that doesn't offer internships brings about its own fall. It cuts off its own future. For its own self-interest, it is bound to keep recruiting young people, otherwise it will cease to exist, or create an age gap and explode its transfer cost for knowledge.

In my view, therefore, a payment guarantee for internships is absolutely fair. Enterprises need to understand that they cannot request value without compensation. It is time to end the advent of the precarious society and offer young people a fair transition from education into the labor market.

The responsible directorate general is László Andor's DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. I suppose we should start lobbying so that the Commission does not take the minimum payment back out of the proposal. Here is Commissioner Andor's email address, his cabinet can be found here.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The French ban of the burqa is a good thing

The French ban of the burqa has received a lot of attention and a lot of criticism. The European Citizen says that a ban is disproportional and paramount to a publicly imposed dresscode. And the Council of Europe sees an infringement of the right to personal identity and freedom of religion as they are stipulated in the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR, articles 8 and 9) and threatens to go to the European Court of Human Rights.

But I think that it is a good thing that the sovereigns in several European countries forbid the full-body veil by law. I agree with the European Citizen that official programs to integrate Muslim women into Western societies are absolutely necessary. But I also believe that the European sovereign may give himself the right to ban a full-body veil from European streets by law.

Personally, I would feel awkward and nervous asking a completely veiled women for directions in the street, probably just as much as if she was completely nude. The burqa threatens the openness to look somebody in the face, to see their reactions, to allow them interactions with others on an equal level. As little as I would walk through the streets dressed as General Grievous, I want to be subjected to a person that speaks to me through a veil. I see the freedom of peaceful coexistence and interaction in a multicultural city threatened by the fact that I have to speak through a veil and interpret my interlocutor's words via their intonation.

Viewing the case from another perspective, the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe believes that the prohibition of the burqa is "alien to European values". I completely agree that tolerance of religion has to be guaranteed and the ban of the burqa should in no way be interpreted as a discrimination of Islam. Instead, everything should be done to integrate Muslims into European society where this has not already been successfully achieved (let's not forget that most Muslims are perfectly integrated).

But on the other hand, a commitment to multiculturalism and tolerance must not turn into a European carte blanche for every conceivable bit of cultural influx. A lot of cultural influx into Europe is not harmful, and it would be ridiculous to ban Americanization by law. But Ayaan Hirsi Ali, former Muslim and an passionate fighter for women's rights in Islam, asserts for example that the Dutch government closed its eyes to Muslim honor killings on its own soil for too long due to a commitment to a tolerant, multicultural society. European society cannot close its eyes before this; and I believe the European sovereign has a right and a duty to set clear borders to the tolerance that it extends to others and that it enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

As a last remark, in Iran it is absolutely inconceivable that a women dresses in shorts and a t-shirt. In Vatican City, shorts are forbidden because they dishonor the Holy See. I don't mean to say that the European sovereign should give himself the right to install a European dresscode. But in my view, it must be possible to forbid the fact that on certain streets in Paris or London, it is only possible to speak to a piece of cloth where you try to make a conversation.

Update: An interesting round up of different voices can be found here

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Maastricht, NL: An example of cultural integration gone wrong

On the verge of leaving beautiful Maastricht after three years of study, it is interesting to look back at life in this mini-Europe on the border between the Netherlands, Germany, Flanders and Wallonia, because it shows interesting implications for European togetherness in general.

In my first year in Maastricht, 12,080 students were enrolled here, 37% of which were non-Dutch (most of them were actually German). In the English-language programs, the share of international students already exceeded 50% in 2007. In 2008, 39% of all UM students were non-Dutch; the share of foreigners in the English language tracks crept further upwards. The current figures are not out yet but I'm sure they show another surge as the university continues its publicity campaigns to get more of the esteemed German Abiturienten.

In my understanding, cultural integration runs along simple lines. You come to a country, learn the language, meet locals and curiously let them introduce you into the culture. Meanwhile, the locals play the host, are happy to share some of their culture with you and help you a bit in your language efforts.
And now imagine you're a 17-year-old Dutch high school graduate in a group of 100 fellow countrymen (and women), and 250 19-year-old Germans parachute into your city, speaking German all over the place. Kind of turns my understanding of cultural integration upside down, doesn't it?

In practice, many Dutch students fled into the Maastricht student fraternities and sororities which are a defining factor for college life in the Netherlands. From what I've been told, Maastricht has the highest enrollment figures in the Netherlands.

Those Dutch students brave enough to make German friends soon find themselves in a need to make a step towards their new friends, rather than drawing German curiosity for Dutch culture. One of my best friends (a Dutchman) learned to speak German without accent - by living in Maastricht for three years.

We even conducted a survey among our fellow students once and proved that "cultural integration happens not from the side of the guest culture, but from the side of the host culture". For example, 50 % of the Dutch and 66 % of the Belgians we questioned had signed up in the German community StudiVZ; not a single German participant had decided to enter the Dutch community Hyves, even though it is also offered in English while StudiVZ is completely in German.

Criticism on all sides has risen as the student community drifted farther apart over the years. My program European Studies is rather progressive, at least from what our research said. There are many intercultural friendships and non-Dutch students also read the Dutch-language University Newspaper Observant (10 pages in Dutch, 2 in English). But in the programs "International Business" and "International Economic Studies" with a German share of - apparently - close to 80%, integration has been difficult to bring about.

As many Germans turn their back on Maastricht and spend their summer vacation at home, the Observant this week published an edition written by the chairs of the four Maastricht fraternities. The four "pillars" of Dutch student life enjoy broad coverage while the dialogue between Dutch and non-Dutch student groups is limited to an English language interview about the clichés of Dutch fraternities that echoes the old confrontational lines: "German students have a different mind-set. They only come here to study, whereas Dutch students also want to enjoy life as a student. They need to be more open. Why don’t they try it just once?"

Leaving mini-Europe after three years of study, it is clear that much remains to be done to bring these groups closer together. Of course, Maastricht student life is far from the cultural clashes of Belgium/Belgium, Slovakia/Hungary, Estonia/Russia (getting better), Croatia/Slovenia (also getting better), Northern-Ireland and Bosnia, but it clashes nonetheless.

Finally, after a lot of criticism from student representatives and critical coverage in the media, the university established a project group for the improvement of student relations. I really hope that this will help to create closer bonds between the students at the university. The beautiful educated city between the Netherlands, Germany, Flanders and Wallonia does not deserve to be the place where cultural integration fails.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Accountability through the media - what is the value of science?

Two publications of political science that I recently had on my desk made me wonder where science stops and where investigative journalism begins - or vice versa.

In the first article "The Quint", Catherine Gegout investigates the secretive decision-making of Germany, France, the UK, Italy and the US in an informal working group before 2002. The group took decisions and more or less imposed them on the other Member States in the Council of Ministers without the possibility of them participating. Gegout interviewed multiple members of national bureaucracies under cover of anonymity and could slowly make sense of the informal body that Germany, France and the UK did not acknowledge at all and Italy and the US only mentioned in passing on the national websites.

The second article is Gijs Jan Brandsma's PhD thesis "Backstage Europe" in which the Dutch researcher brings light into the secretive comitology system of the European Union. National representatives are often not held accountable for decisions and yet they have a wide discretion in their actions:

(W)ithin only a few minutes the committee rushes through five official votes related to the points discussed before lunch, and the meeting closes instantly. Then Van Veen [name replaced] turns to me and smiles: ‘You saw that? We just spent 50 million here’ (p. 29).

Like Gegout, Brandsma based his research on personal interviews with decision-makers in national bureaucracies - under the cover of anonymity.

For me, these two papers provide a check on decision-makers in the way in which investigative journalism puts a check on them. But they are published in a scientific journal and will only reach the academic community and a few students. In consequence, this check is confined to an elite community. Will any policy changes result from these articles? Is that the intention of the scientist? Does he intend to saw the chair of a decision-maker, or does he see himself as the person providing the saw? And if he wants to actively saw, do policy-makers feel more threatened by revolting scientists than by revolting masses (i.e. classical journalism)?

You could argue that an important function of the European blogosphere is to find the little flaws in European policy-making which slip through the filter of the MSM, thereby providing an additional check on policy-makers. Science has the resources to provide the same.

But it is not enough to debate hot scientific findings in the scientific community. In the interest of public accountability, I would like those discussions to reach the media and the blogging community as well.

Update (30 January 2011): Don't miss the interesting take on the topic by Kosmopolito. And his add-on published here (3 March 2011).

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Challenging internship for an international employer

Are you looking for a challenge and want to prove yourself in an international environment? Do you want to make a contribution to make the world better? Do you have a working mentality and approach administrative and practical problems with equal thrust? Can you work at an outstanding academic and organizational level throughout a week of 65-70 hours (excluding occasional overwork, i.e. for special occasions and conferences)?

Then we are looking for you. Ideally you:
  • have a Masters' degree at a renowned European or international university in economics, political sciences, law, social sciences or related subjects with outstanding grades
  • have six years work experience in international environments, at least two of which in a developing country and at least two of which in a leading position
  • are socially active and have founded or at least contributed significantly to several NGOs, social initiatives or emergency funds
  • have outstanding soft skills, allowing you to organize a team even under high time pressure and can present references to prove this
  • speak English, French, German, Russian, Chinese and Spanish like your mother tongue and are fluent in Japanese, Indonesian, Arabic and Farsi, while you have a good working level knowledge in the remaining languages of the European Union as well as most known dialects in Africa and India
  • are 20 years of age or younger
  • consent to postponing the foundation of a family at least until your 45th birthday
  • bring your own car and consent to paying your travel expenses
  • bring your own computer (newest model, newest hard- and software is an asset)
  • bring in a statement from your parents testifying their willingness to back you up with up to 10,000 EUR per month in case of intensive financial demand for travel and other expenses related to the position you hold
  • are still enrolled as a student at your university, eligible for an Erasmus grant and can make the European Union pay for you so we don't have to do it

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

France and Germany are again playing old power game in climate change

The refusal of France and Germany to back Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard's proposal of curbing emissions by 30% until 2020 stems from a backward logic and is detrimental to the EU's soft power. "The European Union is ready to adopt the 30 percent figure if other major economies make comparable undertakings," French industry minister Christian Estrosi is quoted by EUObserver after a joint press conference with German economy minister Rainer Brüderle.

Estrosi and Brüderle want to play the old power game that led to the failure of Copenhagen: "We don't budge if you don't budge." Yet, it was apparent already at Copenhagen and also after Copenhagen that China was really not impressed by the EU's power play, to put it politely. The EU lost its multilateral negotiation power in Copenhagen and playing power games now does not get it back. Those of you who are familiar with game theory will understand that after a look at the rudimentary game tree below:

It is clear from the game tree that China wins if it chooses not to regulate its emissions, regardless of what the rest of the world does. It is also clear that "(m)ost of China's policy initiatives that affect climate change have come about without any direct reference to international frameworks, but have been driven by domestic policy needs" (Freeman and Holslag). Meaning that power games are rather useless.

There is only one thing that China wants and doesn't have. Technology. European comparative advantage is in technology. And if Freeman and Holslag are right that "the EU considers the combat against climate change . . . as a source of soft power", policy-makers are well-advised to start leading by example. The North-Sea Grid and the Desertec Initiative (which btw also extends to China, the US and Australia), for example, have not been paralleled by comparable projects initiated in the States or China, and progress in these projects can lead to more soft power for the EU.

Leading by example means leading by successful implementation of ambitious programmes at home. An ambitious target of 30% emission reduction entails a lot of research into best practices, consumption habits, carbon capture and storage, market mechanisms in environmental protection and other fields. An ambitious target is therefore a significant factor contributing to development of technology and thereby soft power.

Let alone that refusing an additional 10 base point emission cut where it is technically possible is not a particular sign of respect toward the population. It is true that developing countries face a trade-off between economic development and environmental protection (i.e. one declines as the other grows), but developed countries with a high degree of technology are less subjected to this trade-off and can prioritize economic development AND environmental protection.

And it is not a sign of particularly intelligent government communication that Chancellor Merkel is currently wandering through the eco-city "Masdar City" learning all about intelligent sustainable development while her economy minister rejects a stronger engagement of the EU in favor of old power games.

All in all, this makes me feel like we are far away from using the resources we have, and far away from making sustainable development a source of soft power.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Jean Quatremer: Barack Obama is the new president of the European Council

We thought that for once Europe had taken bold measures. We thought that for once Europeans had pulled themselves out of the swamp by their own hair. We thought that for once our leaders had taken far-sighted and wise decisions. But nobody has ever pulled himself out of a swamp by his own hair.

Now the Coulisses de Bruxelles revealed that the American president temporarily took over the job of the European Council President by personally convincing Merkel and Sarkozy to provide funds (and Zapatero to cut the Spanish budget). What is the purpose of paying a Herman Van Rompuy more salary than Barack Obama, if Barack Obama himself has to do Rompuy's job?

Angela Merkel just called the Euro-crisis the potentially greatest challenge since the signing of the Rome treaties in 1957. But even 60 years after the inception of European integration, Europe still cannot stand on its own feet. To quote Jean Quatremer: "Obama's intervention in European affairs shows to what degree the Union is defunct, due to the absence of powerful leaders who advance the common interest and not only their national interest" (my translation).

What a humiliation that is.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Joining the Ministry of Magic

Last week Harry Potter had an interview with the Ministry of Magic to become a junior assistant in the Department of Muggle Relations. Defeating Voldemort may have benefitted the wizarding world; it certainly did not secure Harry's future. So the young wizard left the walls of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Bruges and took the Hogwarts Express to Brussels.

After a stopover in Brussels Central and a metro ride to Schuman, Harry stood outside the impressive four-winged building of the Ministry of Magic. He was well-prepared for the interview; not only had he taken extensive courses in European Muggle Administration, but also passed the wizarding concours that made him a part of the secretive wizarding community in the center of Europe. Harry had moreover subscribed to the Economist Group's Daily Prophet throughout his time of education in Bruges. This had greatly helped him forge a wizard identity.

Harry was excited. Being raised by Muggles, it had taken him a long time to integrate the wizarding world, and he was prepared to use his competencies to bring the wizarding world and the Muggles closer together. However, he was one of very few who had these ideals. Most of the Muggles did not know anything about the wizarding world, or considered it distant and dangerous. Likewise, those who had walked the path of wizard education were content with the position they had reached and did not put too much emphasis on integrating the Muggles any further.

Harry knew that it would not be easy to achieve his goal. The wizarding world was small, disliked changes and would not forgive mistakes easily. Antagonizing Slytherins during his time in Hogwarts could induce them to take revenge when they had obtained a high position in the Department for the Harmonization of the Blood Status. Changes would have to come slowly and carefully.

Nonetheless, Harry knew that his only way to bringing Wizards and Muggles together was by changing the culture of communication between both groups and he was certainly prepared to work hard towards this goal. Harry entered the Halls of the Ministry and was greeted by Arthur Weasley from Luxembourg who took him into his office for the job interview.

We don't know if Harry passed his job interview or not. But I hope he did, and that he will bring Muggles and Wizards closer together.

This post is inspired by a lecture given this week at Maastricht University about the secretive "Brussels bubble" and by Julien Frisch's posts about the same topic (here and here)
I would never go so far as to criticize the entire state system

Monday, May 10, 2010

Germany enters consensual politics

The elections in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia on Sunday might not have had as much coverage as the UK elections last week, but they may turn out almost as important. In North-Rhine Westphalia, the center-right government composed of CDU and FDP fell as the CDU went from 44,8% to 34,6%, and the FDP - although it went from 6,2% (2005) to 6,7% in North-Rhine Westphalia - badly lost in comparison with the national elections in 2009 where it obtained 14,6%. The Social Democrat SPD slightly lost from 37,1% to 34,5% while the Greens are the big winners of the elections, almost doubling their score from 6,2% to 12,1%.


Now the parties are in negotiations. A black-yellow-green coalition has been ruled out by the Liberals and the Leftist party would never be asked to enter into coalition with the CDU, meaning that every possible formation necessarily has to include the SPD.
The SPD is happy about its electoral success and would like to send the minister-president who will be in charge of the regional government. Since the coalition party with the highest percentage gets to send the minister-president, this would exclude a grand coalition, and the SPD is currently hoping for a red-green-yellow formation including the liberals or a red-red-green formation including the Leftists. However, the liberals have made the election promise not to go together with the SPD and the Greens, and they have a record of sticking to their electoral promises (except for tax cuts). And it would be plain political suicide for the SPD to coalition with the Leftists after the huge political scandal in the state of Hesse where the party was stupid enough to dare the game.So in the end, my educated guess is that it will be a grand coalition, meaning that the SPD has to sacrifice the post of the minister-president. Incumbent minister-president Jürgen Rüttgers (CDU) lost 10.2% and had to admit a range of political scandals in the run-up to the elections, so my guess is that he will eventually have to cede his post. Former integration and equal opportunities minister Armin Laschet would be a good candidate for the post since he could moderate between CDU and SPD. I believe that he will become the next minister-president.

Much more importantly however, the regional elections upset the balance in the second German chamber, the Bundesrat, where all states are represented by a number of voices according to their size (see chart). With North-Rhine Westphalia ("Nordrhein-Westfalen" in the chart) moving from black-yellow to black-red, center-left parties are represented in 10 of 16 regional governments and control 38 of 69 votes (32 of which are controlled by the SPD alone).


According to the basic law, delegations have to cast their vote unanimously. A failure to find an accord within the state delegation leads to the vote becoming invalid. Since motions can only be passed with an absolute majority of more than 50%, abstentions will automatically be counted as a "no". Delegations are normally supposed to represent their state rather than their party, but the issue remains that the center-left now has the possibility to block legislation if they act as a union. If they now gets their acts together, they can be a powerful force. They can block unpopular legislation coming from the center-right government.

This means that the government will have to seek the consent of some of the opposition parties at times and lead to a more consensual style of politics than before. No agreement can be done any more without the consent of at least one opposition party. This may make the system less transparent, as a lot of negotiation, bullying and lobbying will go on behind the scenes. There will be less open conflicts between the government and the opposition. On the other hand, this may be an option for the center-left to regain its power. It only has to do what we've been urging the EU to all the time: to act as a common body.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Europe Day!

We are celebrating Europe and European integration which has tremendously benefitted the citizens in the Member States. Not only is the EU a guarantor of peace, it has also established a strong emotional interconnection of the European citizens compared with the pre-EEC days. It has made traveling across the borders absolutely self-evident for all of us. It has endowed us with a common currency and become a strong, value-based civilian-power force in international relations. Other regional organizations such as ASEAN and the African Union are looking at the EU with envy for the achievements that have been made in the integration of various policy fields. The EU is not only the largest economy in the world but also the largest donor of development aid and the global frontrunner in environmental policy.

While many things can and need to be criticized about the functioning of the EU, we should bear in mind that all of these achievements have created a great international and intercultural project that is unmatched in the world.

Having said that, it is of course necessary to point the finger at the failures of the EU at all times, because it seems that the fleet of Member States drifts away from one another as soon as the slightest breeze comes up. The most worrysome news for me in the last week has certainly been the loss of appreciation for the EU in the United States. Spiegel Online wrote that the incapacity of the EU to handle its crises (ash cloud, Greece) in a swift and consistent manner cause American policy-makers to increasingly shake their heads in disbelief. That should be perceived as a tremendous shame by all governments involved in the process! The Union that has just endorsed the creation of a European External Action Service discards wise and far-sighted coordination measures for short-term gains in regional elections (Angela Merkel in the case of Greece) and short-term economic gains for the airlines (although I agree with Julien Frisch that Eurocontrol handled the information of internet-savvy citizens rather well). Yet, the failure to coordinate more closely is a shame!

A strong navigator is needed, a navigator who focuses his eyes on the horizon while staying in constant communication with all of the vessels, paying attention that the demands of their crew are equally met. It is time this navigator started to emerge.

It so happens that the Euro Model United Nations Conference (EuroMUN) in Maastricht, one of the largest MUNs in Europe, coincided with Europe Day. In the assembly of the European Council, we focused on the hot topic of financial aid for Greece (me filling in as Greece at the last minute) and international speculation. Far-sighted, and with a view to protect the various crews, the Heads of State and Government "condemned" international speculation against the Euro, paved the way for a European Monetary Fund and a tobin tax to finance it and urged the Central Bank to acquire government bonds. I wished that the real European Council would sometimes take these kinds of bold decisions as well...

I would also like to make you aware of an article on my travel blog about recent measures in the US which may seriously impede future high school exchanges into the US (German, English as translated by google).

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Four years without freedom

The 25 June 2006 must have been about the date when I held my high school graduation in hand. Since this day I spent a year in a voluntary service and almost finished a three-year bachelor. I traveled, have lived in different countries, met a lot of new friends, used my time for education, leisure, work and did whatever things I could imagine.

The 25 June 2006 was also the day that the Israelian soldier Gilad Shalit was abducted by Palestinian terrorists. Gilad Shalit has my age. His freedom ended when my school handed me the passport to discover the world. He cannot pursue an education, work for a living, start a family. Palestinians use a mask of his face to push for their claims (see image) and he's been without contact to his family and friends for the last four years.

A lot of smart people have lost their faith over the Israel-Palestine conflict. It's been on the minds of politicians and citizens for decades, and it will probably stay for another few years.

But this young man deserves his life back.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

The precarious society

Yesterday, the European Youth Forum (YFJ) invited young European citizens to a debate on the precarious working conditions for young people. The video that they spread before the event shows the urgency of action:

40% of young Europeans (15-24) are on a temporary work contract, 25% are at a risk of poverty, 20,6% are unemployed. And as they grow older, precariousness does not stop. College graduates spend years going from internship to internship. They are highly qualified, highly capable and highly productive. The college graduates among my friends are far away from a stable living environment. There are simply so many qualified graduates, that enterprises and public bodies can recruit them without paying. I picked this from a random European job website: "favourable consideration will be given to applicants who are eligible for funding via Erasmus or other programmes". In other words, please give us your knowledge, your enthusiasm and your working time...oh, and please get taxpayers to reimburse us the cost.

Even those who are firmly established in an enterprise cannot settle and start a family. They are dispatched to a particular city for six months, then dispatched again. In Düsseldorf, Germany, there is a new market in shared apartments for young business employees. With their signature on the contract, young employees also buy a network of like-minded young travelers - a new temporary family so to speak.

Is this the end of bourgeois civilization, if not everywhere then at least among university graduates? Are families now founded at age 40 instead of 30, or not at all any more? The futurist Matthias Horx suggests that young citizens have to accommodate these changes and take out the positive implications. He concedes that the job market is becoming more complex; citizens have to be flexible and react to the changes in demand as they occur. If demand arises for a wellness consultant, then citizens should specialize in this field. And re-specialize if demand falls again.

On the other hand, Horx believes that flexibility allows citizens a greater liberty and a more self-determined life. Work must not be the only factor of personal identification and satisfaction, he says. Temporary occupations allow citizens to refocus on themselves and on their own skills rather than the needs of their enterprise. Thus, saving money during working periods may allow a few months of reflection phase or training when a temporary contract has terminated. But not all young citizens have the possibility to save if they need to care for a family at the same time.

Certainly, a more flexible society also bears opportunities. Life in a shared apartment with young, highly qualified business employees will provide more contacts, more network and maybe more creativity and technology than a family home. But shouldn't the choice be left to young people themselves?

The audience at the New Energy Debate of the European Youth Forum answered that question with a resounding "yes!". In questions to Commissioner Maroš Ševčovič (inter-institutional relations) and the chairman of the Parliament Intergroup on Youth, Damien Abad, MEP, members of international and national youth organizations demanded quick action on youth unemployment. They also demanded that non-formal learning and a combination of university and vocational education be given a formal status, and recognized by European employers. This way, they hope, young citizens will be able to clearly present their skills to the market. Damien Abad (30) recognized the needs in his answers to the audience and proposed two further ideas: an Erasmus for apprentices and a European status for interns.

Those can only be small steps on the way to a more secure future for young citizens in Europe. It is clear that there is no way back to former patterns of bourgeois society. Education, consistently following the development on the market and reacting to new situations - these are the patterns of the knowledge society. But it is up to politicians, enterprises and organized civil society to make these changes socially sustainable. The initiative of the Youth Forum was certainly a first step in the right direction.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

LIMIT - What is the energy future of our world?

States lose their sovereign exercise of power. The future belongs to global enterprises. Business and investment opportunities outrank local development concerns and consumer protection. We still vote for elected politicians, but our vote no longer has any importance. The votes we take with our wallet determine what happens in the world.

And most importantly: The future belongs to a new kind of energy. The global enterprise "Orley Industries" owned by billionaire Julian Orley produces highly efficient Helium-3 on the moon and sends down to earth in a space elevator. A little ride away from the Helium-3 fields, Orley is about to open the first hotel in space.

The novel "Limit" by Frank Schätzing (currently only available in German, but most certainly translated within the next few months) shows the world as it might be in 2025. The author paints a slightly exaggerated but often enormously interesting and sometimes eyebrow-raisingly realistic picture of the world as it could be. Although the 1300-page book starts out rather slowly and readers have to remember a range of characters and places, the carefully conceived plot soon has you hooked and makes this book a page turner.

Yet, while the storyline is thrilling (a young Chinese dissident and blogger discovers a plot against Orley Industries with enormous economic consequences - and has to fear for her life as killers find her trail), for me the main value of this book is the brave new world it proposes. In between the action, Schätzing has his characters think back to "that minor financial crisis in 2008", discuss the demise of oil, ponder the eco-city "Dongtan" currently built outside Shanghai, breach the topic of the Chinese ankang and many more deeply interesting viewpoints, seen from the perspective of 2025.

And in contrary to Huxley's "Brave New World" and Orwell's "1984", Schätzing's "Limit" is not so far beyond the limits of imagination. Indeed, several times I found myself hoping that the world might become as Schätzing conceived it - while at other points you anxiously hope that our politicians won't cave in to global players as much as it is described in the book.

After his two political books "The Swarm" (nature fights back at human beings) and "Lautlos" (highly sophisticated terrorist attack on US president Clinton), Schätzing again wrote a well-researched book that raises your political knowledge and keeps you entertained along the way. Definitely an interesting read for those people passionate about the future of our planet.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ayaan Hirsi Ali back in the Netherlands - and the Islam debate comes back with her

A few years ago the Somalian refugee Ayaan Hirsi Ali caused a major political uproar in the Netherlands. Within a few years, she went from being a refugee to becoming a member of parliament and she spoke out fervently against the - then - tabou topic of Muslim integration. Based on a pillar system in Dutch society in which Catholics, Protestants, secularists and Muslims live in parallel and without interference to one another, the Dutch state long turned a blind eye on mistreatment of Muslim women in the Netherlands, as Ali argues in her autobiography Infidel. After she long believed in Islam during her adolescence, the treatment of women led her to become atheist and she's fought today's interpretation of Islam ever since. Her film "Submission" led to many discussions and triggered the violent murder of her director Theo van Gogh in the middle of Amsterdam - stabbed multiple times in the chest by a radical Muslim, who attached to the knife a life threat for Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She subsequently left the country and fled to the US.

Now Ali came back to the Netherlands for a week to present her second book, Nomad. Like Infidel, it carries a lot of autobiographic traits, arguing that Islam is slowly croaching upon Europe and that Christians (led by the Vatican) and secularists have to join forces to push it back. "We have to bring Muslims away from Islam", she says in this interview regarding her book. I have not read the book yet, but the comments I read suggest that she is hitting a nerve again, and polarizing without wishing to polarize. With her former liberal ally Geert Wilders campaigning for the national elections, the atmosphere in the Netherlands is tense; fear comes up that Wilders may actually win the elections in June with his anti-immigrant propositions. Ali may have distanced herself from Wilders, but the tide of the time is absolutely unfavorable to immigrants and especially Muslims.
On the other hand, in a heavily secured television debate in her former university Leiden, female Muslim students took Ayaan Hirsi Ali under fire for her criticism of Islam. "Have you ever even bothered to read the Qur'an?" was the questions she was asked most of all. To polarize matters further, during her brief stay in the Netherlands Ali also accepted an award from the youth wing of the ultra-orthodox protestant SGP party which certainly drove Christians and Muslims further apart.

News coverage doesn't suggest that there is a completely new debate in the Netherlands - but the publication of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book at this time certainly has an impact upon political thinking and the elections. If it it will be for the better or for the worse - that remains to be seen.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Christine Lagarde is right

It is surprising how harsh the reactions were from the German side when French finance minister Christine Lagarde told policy-makers in Berlin to step up domestic consumption. German enterpreneurs suggested other Member States "do their homework" and step up their own competitiveness so that they wouldn't need additional German investment. The government and Commissioner Günter Oettinger agreed that German products should remain cheap as not to compromise its export revenues.

But in my view, Christine Lagarde is absolutely right. As I have expressed here, Germany's so-called "competitiveness" is essentially a public bailout of the enterprises on the shoulders of the working population. Of course it is true that Germany has the strongest economy in Europe and contributes much to growth in other Member States. But that can be increased by shifting resources back from the businesses to the consumer: A legally imposed minimum wage as practiced almost everywhere in the EU would raise aggregate consumption - and note that people have proven on various occasions throughout the crisis that they did not save the money they had at their disposal - which then means
  • more consumption of domestic goods and services
  • more consumption of foreign (inter alia European) goods and services
  • more possibility to invest in enterprises at home and abroad, and thereby a greater involvement of the citizens into economic decision-making and a greater democracy in some enterprises
Yes, it also means that enterprises have less financial room for manoeuvre and investment. It means that some enterprises will relocate, to European states with a lower labor cost (beneficial for inter-EU trade) or to extra-European states (bad for the EU). But as the high-skilled services sector is taking ever-increasing importance and businesses have already come back from Asia in fear of technology theft, a large part of enterprises will not compromise the conditions that they find in the education level, social climate and infrastructure of central Europe.

Therefore, Christine Lagarde is absolutely right. For the last ten years, German entreprises, withholding pay rises of the employees despite inflation and higher product revenues, have benefitted from a society that does not take to the street except against nuclear power and right-extremists. They have benefitted from a disunited, individualized workforce that can be easily put under pressure. They have benefitted from state contributions if they employed a recipient of social security.

Let's not talk about repaying those ten years. But it is about time the employees/consumers obtained their rights for the benefit of the rest of Europe.

Update: Couldn't say it better than Robert von Heusinger in this article (translation: Google Languages/myself):

"Let's take the economic growth as the epitome of wealth and power of an economy. Here the matter is clear: France grew by an average of 1.5 percent in the last ten years, while Germany only grew by paltry 0.8 percent. Also in terms of employment as the epitome of participation and self-esteem of the people, the country across the Rhine performed better: while France's employment grew by 0.8 percent per year on average, in Germany it only climbed by 0.5 percent.

Where does this French success come from? From domestic demand, private consumption. It averaged 2.2 percent, four times as high as in Germany (0.5 percent). How did France achieve this - in spite of globalization? Through higher wages, that's the simple answer. The slightly more sophisticated one: it was achieved through an economic policy that recognizes interrelationships instead of blindly reducing national debt, shrinking the state sector, and relying merely on competitiveness."

Update 2: Christine Lagarde is completely wrong, on the other hand, if she suggests to finance consumer spending through tax cuts. That would take money away from state services like education and research and development that dearly need it. Consumer spending has to be financed through the real economy. The money has to be shifted from the enterprises to the citizens, not from the state to the citizens.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


"Liebe Aktive auch alle anderen Freunde des ICJA,

ihr habt es geschafft! Wie wir gerade erfahren haben, wird es auch ab Sommer 2010 Förderungen für internationale Freiwillige geben!

Als Ergebnis des Drucks, den ihr alle mit Briefen, Protestaktionen, Anrufen, etc. aufgebaut habt, wurde heute, am 12. März 2010, ein spontanes Treffen wichtiger Entscheidungsträger einberufen und gemeinsam beschlossen, dass es auch im Sommer 2010 eine Förderung für Freiwillige im FSJ geben wird!

Das ist eine super Nachricht und ist der Erfolg vieler Menschen, die ihre demokratischen Rechte wahrnehmen, hinschauen und sich gemeinsam für eine Sache einsetzen!

VIELEN, VIELEN DANK an euch alle, die ihr euch auf vielfältige Art eingebracht und engagiert habt: mit Mailings und Briefen, mit Beschwerden und Anfragen bei Abgeordneten, der Organisation von Unterschriftenlisten und der Organisation von Flashmobs! Ohne euch wäre das nicht möglich gewesen!

Bitte leitet diesen Erfolg auch an diejenigen weiter, die vielleicht nicht auf unseren Verteilern stehen. Das heißt auch, dass Flashmobs und Briefaktionen nicht mehr notwendig sind!

Euer ICJA Team"

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Internationales Freiwilligenprogramm: Weitere Informationen

Nach meinem Post gestern hat Kosmopolito über die Pläne der Bundesregierung geschrieben. In den Kommentaren hat Felix das Anschreiben für die Abgeordneten etwas verändert, damit es in die Form bei passt. Abgeordnetenwatch ist eine einfache Möglichkeit, mit Bundestagsabgeordneten zu kommunizieren, allerdings muss man sich vorher registrieren. Ich kann jeden Leser nur bitten, von dieser Möglichkeit Gebrauch zu machen und auf seinen Abgeordneten und die in der Email genannten Politiker Druck auszuüben.

Die genannten Abgeordneten sind Mitglieder des Ausschusses für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend; hier geht es direkt zum Ausschuss auf Abgeordnetenwatch. Ich habe in der kurzen Spanne seit gestern abend schon drei positive Zuschriften von Abgeordneten erhalten, die das Vorhaben unterstützen und hoffe, dass es bald noch mehr werden.

Hier die aktuellen Positionen der Parteien zu dieser Frage:
  • Sönke Rix, SPD-Bundestagsabgeordneter im Ausschuss für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, setzt sich für eine Stärkung der Freiwilligendienste ein (Stand: 4. März 2010 bzw. 9. Februar 2010).
  • Florian Bernschneider von der FDP hat sich in diesem Interview mit der Welt (Stand: 3. März 2010) eindeutig für den Ausbau der Freiwilligendienste ausgesprochen: "Deswegen müssen wir die Förderung (bisher knapp 50 Millionen Euro) ausbauen, um die Stellen zu erhöhen und in ihrer Qualität zu stärken."
  • Die Position der CDU/CSU ist derzeit unklar, aber wie schon berichtet schreibt der ICJA Freiwilligenaustausch weltweit (ICJA e.V.), "dass man sich im
    Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend darauf
    geeinigt hat, noch im Mai diesen Jahres den §14c Abs. 4, in dem die Höhe
    der Fördermittel (421,50 €/TN-Mon.) festgelegt war, zu streichen".
  • Die Grünen lehnen die Mittelstreichung für den Internationalen Freiwilligendienst ab, sagt der zuständige Bundestagsabgeordnete Kai Gehring in einer Pressemitteilung: "Die Zukunft liegt im quantitativen und qualitativen Ausbau der Freiwilligendienste. Die notwendigen Mittel dafür stehen nur dann zur Verfügung, wenn die überholten Pflichtdienste endlich beendet werden."
SPD, Grüne und FDP kämen bei einer Abstimmung im Plenum auf 307 von 622 Stimmen, sofern tatsächlich jeder Abgeordnete gegen die Mittelstreichung stimmen würde. Das reicht aber noch nicht. Ich kann die aktuelle Position der Linken nirgendwo finden und habe deswegen meine Zweifel, auf welche Seite sie sich schlagen wird.

Das bedeutet im Umkehrschluss, dass Lobbyismus zwar überall zugleich ansetzen muss (wie gesagt, der persönliche Abgeordnete ist eine wichtige Macht), dass allerdings vor allem bei der CDU/CSU und der Linken Druck ausgeübt werden muss, damit sich die Positionen verändern.
Meine Hoffnung ist es, dass SPD, Grüne und FDP gemeinsam mit der organsierten Zivilgesellschaft und den Bürgern gegen die Mittelstreichung kämpfen werden damit das Ministerium seinen Vorschlag zurücknimmt.

Update: Auch europaeum hat einen Blogpost zu dem Thema verfasst.

Update 2: My apologies to all English readers of this blog. Despite an international implication, the cancellation of the international volunteer programs by the German government is essentially a domestic question. A communication campaign first has to target German politicians. This is why I chose to blog it in German.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Let's talk about EU!

Because it's not enough to talk about European politics in the hallways of the EP and the Commission. Because European politics can be entertaining, controversial and informative. Because in the EP elections last year nobody talked about Europe save for two exceptions. So let's finally talk about EU!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Dutch remain calm after Geert Wilders' election victory

After the Dutch anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders won the local elections in Almere and became second in the government city The Hague, political observers wonder what will happen at the June national elections.

Students in Maastricht are less concerned that the country may become anti-immigrant, but they see different problems if Wilders' party PVV gains votes in June.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Is the German public sphere Europeanizing?

The online portal is widely regarded as one of the most comprehensive and most-consulted online media for Germans. For readers in and outside the country, the website is one of the crucial actors in the German public sphere. In his daily German-language European review Politikportal, for example, Stefan Happer regularly refers to as one of the most trusted and most prominent sources. Furthermore, the website has started to involve common citizens by allowing for comments (after subscribing, however).

Over the last few months, I had the impression that this important actor of the German public sphere has gradually developed a more and more European and international stance. Since a medium only changes its focus as long as the news are continuously read, I take this as a sign that the German public discussion as a whole is becoming more Europeanized and internationalized. A few years ago, Stefanie Sifft still found a "predominantly domestic orientation of public discourses" in the Member States (see here).

Now I counted the number of European articles on (Sunday, 28. February, 2 p.m. CET). Besides the earthquake in Chile, I don't have the impression that there are a lot of highly-relevant international topics, so it might well be an example for an average day in Germany.

I counted:
  • 20 articles overall (only counting major articles, not those that support another one)
  • six articles with non-German, non-European actors
  • four articles with non-German, European actors
  • one article with German actors abroad
  • seven articles with purely domestic issues
For me, this is a sign that public interest in Germany is growing beyond the domestic focus that Stefanie Sifft diagnosed in 2007 in "Segmented Europeanization". Globalization finally seems to reach the common people in every aspect of their lives.

After a disappointing campaign for the European Parliament Elections last year, I have the hope that we are slowly moving towards Europeanized national public spheres, even if it will take a long time until a truly European public sphere reaches the common people.

The Lega Nord goes beyond any political decency

Recently traveling to Italy I was shocked about the posters that the racist Lega Nord (Northern League, party for the promotion of an independent Italian north) put up in the regional election campaign. The campaign posters show a native American next to the words "They also underwent immigration - now they live in the reservations".

André Feldhof/CC-BY

In my opinion, notwithstanding the usual populist nature of the Lega Nord, this goes beyond any political decency and I hope that Italians will cry out against these posters and in favor of more integration of immigrants. On the first of March, a social initiative called Primo Marzo (first of March) organizes events and marches all across Italy for the cause of the migrants. I dearly hope that many Italians will participate in these demonstrations!

Update: Please also see the video on my travel blog, which puts the posters into the context of recent immigrant riots in Milan.
Update(2): This article in the Saturday edition of Le Monde is absolutely worth reading for everybody with an interest in Italy. English version:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Minutes from Newropeans/Grillo meeting in Paris

Newropeans is a supranational citizen organization that wants to make the European Union more democratic. Rather than on societal problems, Newropeans mainly focuses on the institutional reform of the European Union. At the European elections 2009, the organization stood for elections in Germany, France and the Netherlands. However, they could bridge neither the threshold in Germany and France nor win a seat in the Netherlands (no threshold). Since then, not much has been heard of them.

Beppe Grillo is an Italian comedian, blogger and millionaire (see my post about him here), who believes that the future of democratic representation lies in the internet. In Italy, he has become quite popular among young people.

Newropeans and Beppe Grillo met in Paris on Saturday. It was the first time since the elections that they really raised their voice. Here are my comments to their livestream (or fast-forward to my analysis at the bottom of this post).

-Start at 14.30

-First twenty minutes: Grillo is poking fun at the world, entertaining the people. Laughs everywhere. The talk is in Italian and French. Most people in the audience seem to understand both. The panel is talking to an elite.

-Now he's talking about the development of his blog. 25 minutes into the talk. Still nothing tangible.

-Livestream viewers remain at about 20. Pretty stable.

-They got me via their Facebook communications. "Beppe Grillo, Franck Biancheri, Marco Travaglio en conférence-débat: La démocratie en danger: Italie-Europe, les citoyens résistent". So far, the discussion hasn't really mentioned where the danger to European democracy lies in the first place. Nor presented any solutions.

-Finally it's getting more tangible. They're talking about broadband internet access for citizens in Italy. Wish he wouldn't always scream like that.

-Grillo talks about the lack of objectivity in Italian media, naming Corriere della Serra as an example. The web offers a second entry into debate which is not restricted by media agendas.

-Grillo stopped talking. Time for questions.

-A citizen reassures Grillo of the solidarity of young Italians. Italy had a big public discussion when a university professor advised young Italians to better leave the country.

-Grillo talks about the potential of online campaigning. The web allowed the Swedish pirate party to gain support. It allows people to connect across different countries and continents.

-I wish he wouldn't scream like that.

-What happened? Viewers sprung up to 440.

-Over to Franck Biancheri, Newropeans president. Led the party into the European elections 2009; they stood for elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany.

-Biancheri talks about the young generation. Flexible, international, able to adapt to changes. A generation that wants to use its rights as European citizens.

-No other continent besides Europe in which cultures interact in a comparable way. Young citizens profit enormously, says Biancheri.

-Biancheri: The power places in Europe are not Berlin or Paris any more, but Brussels and Frankfurt. They are unaccounted for and don't reflect the opinions of the 500 Million citizens of Europe.

-The importance is to create a structure that allows a democracy from below, says Biancheri.

-Those who want to change something see the space for political action diminish in the nation-states and competences move to Brussels. The political debate has to follow to Brussels, according to the Newropeans president.

-Different electoral structures in the nation-states. Germany: 4000 signatures to put up a list for elections. Netherlands: Only very few. Italy: A lot of signatures. The electors in Italy and Germany don't seem to be equal, says Biancheri and wants to create a single electoral procedure in Europe.

-Grillo is back on. Criticizes the fact that there is no common European vision in Brussels.

-Grillo puts on a red hat resembling the hat of the Ku Klux Klan, and disappears from stage.

-Over to Marco Travaglio, Italian journalist.

-Firefox keeps on shutting down.

-Viewers are up at 600.

-Travaglio recommends an Italian blog,

-Back to Biancheri. He says that 80% of all French media are financed by the state.

-"Nothing is going on in the world [seen through the eyes of the French media]. Except an old lady run over in Southern France, a little dog somewhere in France..."

-Recruitment process in French media: "You take young people that aren't really up to the scratch. Fooling someone who doesn't understand is easy. Fooling someone who knows the subject is already more difficult."

-Journalist selection has to follow more specific criteria, he says.

-European journalism: A much bigger difficulty, since the policy area is more difficult to understand.

-Independent European journalists are necessary. The European institutions spend a lot of money to obtain only positive coverage about Brussels politics, says Biancheri.

-The "Erasmus generation" will need to move the EU out of the impasse. "The only language is translation ... We have a lot of young people who speak the five, six biggest languages in Europe. And we have the highest literacy rate in the world."

-My Firefox keeps on failing me. No chance to see the end of the video.

Overall, what I saw was an analysis of the French and Italian media democracy with media that they depicted as controlled by the government. They see the blogosphere as a way to bypass these limitations and create a second arena for public discussion. Projecting it to the European level, they said that a common European discourse had to be created via the virtue of translation, but they didn't really go into detail.

I would have liked to see some more concrete proposals for a democracy from below through the means of social media. Some polarizations could have been left out.

The idea of a common electoral system is interesting and definitely necessary to create a true European democracy. But there are a lot of legal obstacles. And then, public discussion about the EP candidates has to cross the linguistic borders of the nation-states. It will be interesting to see if Newropeans can make any concrete proposals for the piecemeal achievement of a common electoral system.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bye bye Moravcsik: Neofunctionalism is still on

Adapting to an unprecedented outcome at the first Lisbon vote in Ireland by calling another vote. Electing the Commission President with the Nice treaty, his Commissioners with the Lisbon treaty. Filling up the ranks of the EP with 18 phantom MEPs, unprovided for in any legal EU documents. Zapatero's plans for a (supernational) European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB). Possibly bailing out Greece with EU money, unforseen by any existing regulation.

All these are examples in which the EU reaches beyond the scope that was defined in the treaty framework or in secondary legislation. EU critics could say the EU exceeds its competencies. But you can also see it in a different way. The EU is again adapting to problems without precedence by taking bold actions without precedence.

Sound familiar? Exactly, that's the theory of Neofunctionalism, defined by Ernest B. Haas. As the first Commission under the EEC-Treaty of 1957 encountered problems that transcended individual DG portfolios and individual member states, a need for European integration in other fields became apparent. Hence, an economic and atomic cooperation evolved into the semi-sovereign construction that we have today.

Much has changed since the first years of Neofunctionalism; after a wave of EU enthusiasm under Delors in the late 80s, European integration can be rightfully described as stagnating throughout the last decade. There are no indications that the EU is moving closer to the citizens after Lisbon; the electoral mobility caused by the EP elections last year soon gave way to confusion again.

Yet, there are signs that neofunctionalism is back. The new faces installed by the Lisbon treaty, Van Rompuy's new methods, the federalist proposal by a national prime minister (Zapatero) and the increased power of a supranational vis-à-vis an intergovernmental institution are indicating a changing climate between the institutions. A change towards the f-word. Needless to say that many of the problems facing the EU today have become supranational as well. Climate mitigation, regulation of financial flows, sustainable energy provision, protection of intellectual property, the conclusion of the Doha round and food security to name but a few.

Therefore, it is not completely illusionary to expect another spillover with regard to financial regulation and climate mitigation. Especially regarding the latter, every single citizen can make a difference. A combined effort in private reduction of waste and emissions can make a tremendous difference with regard to reaching the 20/20 goal. Thus, a healthy integration process should involve citizens through social media and through established forms of pluralism.

Social media allow the EU to create a common feeling of belongingness, a space for personal fulfilment and identification. Desertec has been doing this by calling for donations, setting up a Facebook group, installing a blog and demanding people's opinions about the project. The EU could do the same thing without a lot of additional cost. What it takes is for the Commission to really start using web 2.0 - and for the heads of government to send Moravcsik to the dungeons.

Please also see the discussion in the comments section, in which Professor Moravcsik reacted to the points expressed in this post

Update: In a recent statement, Commission President José Manuel Barroso takes the position that a de facto change of the institutional relationship between the member states and the EU instititutions has to take place, if Europe wants to maintain its place in the world.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

EU Bachelors-/Masters-/PHD-Portal

Since December, the European website has opened a search utility for bachelors and PHDs. On the website it is possible to compare European programs with one another to find the perfect education for yourself. The portal enters a niche left by the PLOTEUS portal which does not allow for a European comparison of programs.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

French and Italian Environmentalists oppose high-speed railway lines

As a part of the Trans-European Networks policy of the EU, the Commission is creating channels of transport and telecommunications along the main axes of the European continent (see map). 30 projects on the rail, on the road, in the water and in the air have been launched to give more mobility, better and more sustainable transport infrastructure and to create cross-border connections.

Source: European Commission

On Saturday, environmental activists and various political representatives marched through Suse in Piemonte, Italy and Hendaye, France in protest against the high-speed lines. In particular, they demonstrated against two lines currently under construction between Bordeaux and Madrid, and Lyon and Turin. Members of French Greens and members of the Italian Democratic Party (PD) and the Greens joined them in their protest.

In France, they signed a charter that is supposed to finds its way the the Commission and the European Parliament, calling for a stop of construction and a revision of the Trans-European Network policy. Next to endangering the environment, the demostrators criticize that the new railway lines will merely pass through the region without including small cities along the way. The French Greens in the region of Acquitaine (South-West) obviously use the situation to gain points for the upcoming regional election, while critical voices believe that they might soften their position in case a coalition with the Socialists should become possible.

In Italy, the millionaire and political blogger Beppe Grillo is one of the main figures in the "No TAV"-movement. To me, the movement appears a little polemic and the ten reasons for opposing the track ("Dieci grandi bugie" - Ten big errors) are more polarizing than explanatory. However, popular opposition to the track seems large and the Greens as well as some leftist parties support the No TAV -movement as well. Apparently there are some chances that the Italian movement will be heard by politics.

In my view, however, it would be wrong to reopen the debate about Trans-European Networks now. The decision to connect the biggest cities of the continent along the major axes via railway tracks is a good one. In the long run, transnational trains have to become as affordable and as fast as a plane to make European travel more sustainable. Until now, high-speed train lines can only compete with domestic flights. As soon as a the plane leaves the country, trains are no longer a serious competitor. When I was stuck on Milan Airport last December, some travellers decided to take a train back to Düsseldorf. It took them twelve hours and they paid more than 150 EUR (as opposed to 90 EUR for a round trip on the plane). There has to be a greater investment in the train network to make it a true alternative to the airplane.

Revoking the Trans-European Network policy now would be a step in the wrong direction.

This radio show by EURadioNantes inspired me to write the post:

Entry crossposted on Th!nk about it

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Germany, the poor man of Europe

Last week, Germany's finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble defended the 2010 state budget before the Bundestag. He plans an additional debt of 85,8 million to stimulate the economy, while he preferred to keep silence on plans for general tax relief (which will cost another millions of EUR in future).

As a member of the young generation in Germany, it's difficult to take CDU/FDP financial politics seriously any more. The government is selling off the future of the country in a feeble hope of rekindling domestic consumption. It is now doing something that has been neglected throughout the last decade: increasing domestic purchasing power.

Indeed, from 2000 to 2008, wage raises have been below inflation so that real income actually decreased by 0,8%. This trend continued until 2009. Proud of being export leader in the world, changing governments in Germany supported supply-side measures which would reduce wages and product prices and thereby create affordable products for foreign consumers. In other words, generally speaking, revenues for German enterprises have been generated on the back of the workforce for the last ten years. No wonder that domestic consumption broke down.

In a monetary union (MU), this kind of "beggar thy neighbor"-policy which gives one country an advantage over others due to fewer imports and more exports can only function for a few years. Afterwards, the lack in purchasing power (and thus, imports) has a tremendous impact upon fiscal stability in the rest of the MU and will start to drag the entire construction down.

Leading German economists have responded to this question over the last decade by stressing supply-side measures. If the wages remain low, the argument goes, enterprises have the room to invest and create new jobs which will increase aggregate purchasing power. However, the financial crisis has revealed that enterprises seldom used their discretion to create new jobs or invest in product development and R&D. Instead, they placed their export revenues into flawed financial products and ended up gambling away the fortune of the country.

Therefore, I think it's legitimate to say that enterprises have had their chance. They had their chance for the last ten years, throughout different government coalitions, and enterprises failed horribly in fulfilling their social responsibility. Supply-side measures were a failure, and the government finally understood it.

So it's all about boosting demand now. The best measure to increase domestic purchasing power would be a legally imposed minimum wage in Germany as it is the case in all EU countries except Cyprus. This would equalize purchasing power between Germany and the rest of the EU and prevent a race to the bottom in 2011 when the Schengen criteria are relaxed and more Eastern European workers gain access to the German job market.

However, the government is still too afraid to hold enterprises to their responsibility. Rather than financing purchasing power through the real economy, our current government prefers to reduce VAT for hotels while it finances domestic consumption through tax money. Borrowed money, mind, which future generations will have to repay.

Again, the government is bailing out enterprises like it bailed out the banks in 2009. As a young person, you cannot take this government seriously any more.

for supporting and contradicting viewpoints, see here

the political talk "Anne Will" (in German) had the same topic on Sunday evening, the audio file is here:

Update (10/02/2010): Herman van Rompuy, in a note seen by the German Handelsblatt, condemns the German beggar-thy-neighbor policy as uncooperative and calls for a model similar to the "economic government" proposed by France.

Monday, January 11, 2010

We need a truly European radio station!

The EP webstream doesn't work with my Mac, so I couldn't watch the Ashton and Piebalgs hearings in video. Ska Keller has been doing a live-ticker via Twitter, but I'm not a Twitter fan and a live-ticker is different from listening to the audition yourself.

In Germany or France, I would turn to the live-relay of a radio station. Both Germany and France have their own political radio stations; you get a live coverage of political events, party congresses and the like via radio.

What about the EU? Where's Radio EU? There are two consortiums, Euranet (which imho will suffer badly from Deutsche Welle dropping out) and the Association of European Radios, but there is no supranational European radio station. The only one coming close is EURadioNantes. But despite a lot of good content, EURadioNantes is a radio school, not an opinion maker.

We need a truly European radio station! We need a station that discusses policies critically, gives background information, finds interview partners and provides an overview over the actors and events in Brussels. The Commission, the Parliament and the Council all offer advanced workspaces for journalists; the Residence Palace is the perfect environment for the shaping of a supranational public sphere. All the location factors are met. So...where are the European radio stations?
Professional Brussels-based radios?
Brussels journalism school projects or student radios of the VUB or the ULB?
I don't see any.

It can't be that hard to organize a radio presence at the hearing of a Commissioner. After all it's possible to organize live commentaries and interviews at any random first-league football game in Europe...