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...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

North Sea grid: A test case for European leadership

With the new power grid that nine European countries are planning to install in the North Sea, the EU can easily increase the share of renewable energy to 30% by 2020, Justin Wilkes, policy director of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), told Deutsche Welle. It can only be hoped that the EU will indeed raise its commitments and start to be a veritable leader in the development of stable renewable energy sources.

Unlike the Desertec projects in the MENA countries and in Southeast Asia, the project headed by the Commission can produce results within ten years. Its success or failure will be an important milestone for the other two projects. It will show whether the ambitious projects can work or not. The essential questions for success or failure in the North Sea are:
  • will the participating countries fully cooperate, invest their resources and clear out legal obstacles? Or will fearful national politicians maintain a backdoor? (in which case everybody loses according to the prisoners' dilemma)
  • will the participating enterprises and credit agencies make a long-term commitment that can endure setbacks?
  • will citizens be prepared to give attention and donations to the project so that it can become a space for personal investment and personal identification?
  • will the media continue to report about the issue, so that the climate change discussion can maintain the momentum it has at the moment?
If the European aspiration is to be the leader in renewable energy in the world, this project must not fail. Since Copenhagen, the international negotiations are even less of a common effort and even more of a national power game. The Chinese lion has woken and will claim a greater say in global politics. After the soft power approach has failed in Copenhagen, the EU can win back its influence through enormous, astonishing success in its own front yard. The North Sea grid will be a test case: Can European countries unite for the greater good, or will we have another lose-lose situation as in Copenhagen?

Cross-posted on Th!nk about it