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).