Monday, December 19, 2011

European Quality Charter on Internships presented in Paris

European interns working outside or after formal education should earn at least 60% of the median income or the national minimum wage of a European country, say the European Youth Forum, MEP Emilie Turunen and a range of other stakeholders in the new European Quality Charter on Internships that was presented at a Youth Employment conference in Paris last week.

The signatories stress the fact that internships and apprenticeships should be a learning experience to integrate young people into the labor market, not a means for companies to replace a full-time position with an unpaid internship. Therefore, they should normally take place within an educational programme and be appropriately remunerated.

At the Youth Employment conference organized in partnership with the OECD, panelists from the European Commission, the European Parliament, Trade Unions and youth organizations also debated the fate of Europe’s young population in the economic crisis. With youth unemployment rates between 45% in Spain and 7% in the Netherlands (September 2011 figures), young Europeans are disproportionately hit by the crisis. Reasons for this are the fact that the crisis first eliminated new job vacancies that could have put youths into employment, and that an employer’s need for particularly skilled personnel increases in a crisis, thus making it difficult for young people without prior work experience to meet the requirements.

To improve the situation for young unemployed, the European Commission is set to come out with a Youth Opportunities Initiative tomorrow, 20 December (update: now online here) working towards a “Youth Guarantee”, and a Youth Strategy in the spring of 2012. “Young people should be either in education, or in work,” said Jean-Louis De Brouwer, Director of the Division “Employment, Lisbon Strategy, International Affairs” in DG Employment of the European Commission, adding that they may be offered a qualification measure if they have not found a job after four months of unemployment.

At the conference, I interviewed the Member of the European Parliament Emilie Turunen, European Youth Forum Secretary General Giuseppe Porcaro, Santa Ozolina, in charge of the Quality Charter for Internships on the part of Youth Forum as well as Ben Lyons, Co-Director of InternAware. You can watch a round-up about the Quality Charter here and the individual interviews below. 

See the individual video interviews here:
  • Emilie Turunen, Member of the European Parliament
  • Giuseppe Porcaro, Secretary General of the European Youth Forum
  • Santa Ozolina, Policy Officer Employment and Social Affairs at the European Youth Forum
  • Ben Lyons, Co-Director of InternAware (will be available on Monday)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Youth urge leaders at Durban conference: GET IT DONE!

As the Durban climate conference is going into its last negotiations (follow them at the tag #COP17 on Twitter or via Google News), young people have been given the floor to speak on behalf of global youths, representing half of the world's population.

Global Youth's message to Durban is perfectly clear: Failing in climate negotiations is the "most stark betrayal" that a generation can commit against following generations. And its message is perfectly simple: GET IT DONE!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Durban summit: Is China becoming a climate leader?

Three more days of climate negotiations in Durban and the EU's hopes for a binding agreement are vanishing into the distance. Climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard already told the European Parliament in November that she did not insist on a binding agreement but was prepared to make concessions, if other countries agreed to a binding commitment from 2020 and a clear roadmap until then.

After no ratification of Kyoto and no progress in Copenhagen and Cancún, I am by now downright resentful of the United States that shot down the Green Climate Fund upon arrival in Durban and that now prefers to nag China before committing itself to any binding accord. I have laid out before my view that emission reduction cannot wait and that developed countries should lower their emissions irrespective of what developing countries do.

Now, the US has waited for so long that it seems China might not only outgrow its economy but also become a leader in emission reductions. On Monday, China stunned the world by announcing that it supported a binding agreement by 2020 (albeit in return for five conditions such as common but differentiated responsibilities and a continuation of developed country subsidies for developing countries).

The Chinese volte-face leaves the US and India in a cold shower, and it makes the US and Canada as developed economies look particularly isolated. As it currently stands, the US refuses a binding agreement, at this point as well as for the year 2020. It pledges to reduce emissions by 17% until 2020 given 2005 levels while China says it "achieved a 20 percent reduction in carbon emissions between 2005 and 2010 per unit of gross domestic product and planned to cut another 17 percent by 2015" (given that GDP is still growing at around 8%/year, absolute figures continue to be on the rise).

Even though Chinese emissions are still rising in the short term, signs are multiplying that citizens are becoming increasingly unwilling to put up with air and water pollution. Millions of Chinese citizens protested online yesterday after several days of severe pollution in Beijing that caused the cancellation of hundreds of flights across China. The government heavily subsidizes the installation of solar panels on rooftops in parts of the country and China recently became the world's biggest investor in renewable energy.

These developments indicate that something is changing in China. With capacity-building and technology from the EU, China is moving onto the path of sustainable environmental development. It might be on the way to becoming a climate leader within in the next decade. The US, meanwhile, continues to pretend that life will always go on as it has before. It thereby not only endangers its own citizens but also citizens of the rest of the world.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

European Financial Transaction Tax – the story of a broken dream

The G20 summit last week made significant advances in the introduction of a global financial transaction tax (FTT). Not only France, Spain and Germany but also Argentina, Brazil, Ethiopia and South Africa have declared themselves in favor of an FTT, or Robin Hood tax, which is set to take money from the traders and distribute it to the world’s poor. International NGOs like Oxfam, CIDSE and ActionAid build momentum around this tax that could for example be used to finance climate change mitigation in the global South. The European Parliament has long supported the introduction of an FTT. And even the European Commission has recently declared itself in favor of an FTT, albeit claiming its benefits for the European budget rather than for developing countries.

A pan-European financial transaction tax, however, always seemed unlikely because of the UK’s defiant veto in the Council of Ministers. The city, British politicians fear, would take a heavy blow if every transaction lost 0,05% of its value to the state. And this despite the fact that, according to Sony Kapoor, a trader who takes a 10-minute coffee break comes back to a far higher change in stock prices than just 0,05%.

If a European financial transaction tax cannot be established, German and French politicians recently suggested that the Eurozone should simply go ahead and introduce the tax on its own. Other parts of the world would certainly fall in line behind the biggest economy in the world once the tax had been introduced. However, not only does the EU's impact assessment show that the Eurozone would lose 80% of its financial transactions to London and other stock exchanges according to Dr. Bart Van Vooren, Assistant Professor of EU law at Copenhagen University. The introduction of a universally applicable FTT would also heavily conflict with the freedom of capital mobility enshrined in the European treaties: “(A)ll restrictions on the movement of capital between Member States and between Member States and third countries shall be prohibited” (Article 63 TFEU). Countries may discriminate between inner-European transactions and foreign direct investment, but within the common market, an FTT would not stand before the European Court of Justice, says Dr. Bart Van Vooren.

The only means of introducing a Financial Transaction Tax therefore seems to be a global agreement. But would elected governments ever trust an international organization to enforce the first global tax in history? Realism seems to win this battle in a second.

See below my video interview with Dr. Bart Van Vooren:

Update 08-11-2011: The Economic and Financial Affairs Council today debates the Commission's proposal for an FTT. But according to Sony Kapoor and Dr. Bart Van Vooren, the FTT is a welcome object of political talk. Public opinion is in favor of it, and its implementation reaches beyond the political life of most heads of government and ministers. Talk about a European FTT without the UK's consent is therefore not much more than cosmetics. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Youths challenge European leaders on EU foreign policy

Fed up with widespread political apathy of the young generation, the editors of the European blog Europe & Me dared a bet: If they could mobilize 10,000 young Europeans to fill out a 4-minute survey on European Foreign Policy, its results will be presented at the Berlin Forum on Foreign Policy organized by the German foreign ministry, and discussed with European foreign ministers.

The survey not only asks young people to state their perception of current EU Foreign Policy ("who do you perceive to be the most prominent actor?", "is EU foreign policy easy to follow?") but also asks what young people perceive to be the most important challenges for the EU in the future.

At the time of writing this blogpost, there are just about seven days left to complete the survey. Might I invite you to give your opinion as well?

Some young Europeans, by the way, are not idle and politically apathetic at all: The European Youth Forum, together with MEP Emilie Turunen, the Young European Federalists (JEF) and other partners, are drafting a Quality charter for internships at the request of the European Parliament. Once this charter is established, every intern will be able to hold up a document to his future employer and demand his rights as they are written down. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

EPP heads of govt retreat to Belgian castle to discuss European Council

It’s a busy weekend in Brussels. Yesterday’s Economic and Financial Affairs Council cleared the path for today’s European Council/Eurozone Summit, while the General Affairs yesterday discussed (PDF) economic policy and finalized the EU positions for the G20 summit in Cannes in November and the COP17 climate conference in Durban in December.

Angela Merkel's badge is waiting for her
Source Flickr CC BY-NC-SA mounteulympus

Somewhere in between, 13 heads of state and government belonging to the European People’s Party (EPP), reinforced by José Manuel Barroso, Herman van Rompuy and Jerzy Buzek, took a retreat to a beautiful castle outside of Brussels to save the Euro over a decent dinner.

Journalists were waiting in front of the castle nervously as the first shaded limousines pulled into the driveway. One by one, heads of state and government got out of their cars and walked past the journalists to the castle entrance. Angela Merkel, Finland’s Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen and Austria’s Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger stopped to explain their expectancy of the summit, while Silvio Berlusconi put on a grin and ignored the journalists as his bodyguards walked him to the door. MEP Elmar Brok opened his passenger door alone and walked up to the castle by himself. By the time of his arrival, the journalists’ interest had waned and they were comparing their notes of the Merkel interview.

Your blogger had access to the advisors’ chamber, so over dinner I plugged into some interesting conversations. The advisors themselves were not fully aware of what was going on behind the closed doors of the meeting room, either. “Sometimes, very important progress is made in between the negotiations, in bilateral conversations in the hallway,” said German government spokesman Steffen Seibert. And after heads of government have negotiated a compromise among themselves, each of them returns home to win the approval of their Parliaments. “For those governments with a narrow majority, that can be quite a struggle,” Seibert said. Indeed, one reason for the postponement of the European Council to Wednesday is that Angela Merkel has not secured the approval of the German budget committee yet.

Throughout the dinner, buzz was high about the tête-à-tête between Sarkozy and Merkel after the EPP summit. Sarkozy did not participate in the summit but was due to arrive in Brussels later in the evening. According to media reports, however, the meeting only achieved little progress.

It seems that a lot of work remains as heads of government meet for the European Council today. And if the leaked conclusions prove to be true, there will not be an agreement on the recapitalization of the banks today.

Friday, October 21, 2011

MountEUlympus at the EPP Summit

In the footsteps of Julien Frisch, Joe Litobarski and Andrew Burgess, your humble blogger will cover the summit of the European People's Party (EPP), held this Saturday evening in preparation for the European Council on Sunday (and Wednesday).

Angela Merkel at the EPP Summit in June 2011
Source: Flickr CC BY europeanpeoplesparty

The EPP currently brings together 17 of the 27 European heads of state or government, among others Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, Donald Tusk and Silvio Berlusconi. Discussions at the summit will mainly center around the Eurocrisis, which already brought one EPP government down last week (Iveta Radicová's liberal-conservative coalition in Slovakia). Will EU leaders, Merkel and Sarkozy most of all, be able to come to a sustainable agreement? Will they be able to produce a consistent solution that appeases the markets and brings back politicians' credibility? These are the questions that this blog will address at the EPP summit.

I will be live-tweeting directly from the summit (follow my account @mounteulympus or the hashtags #epp and #euco) and provide you with a round-up in the aftermath of the summit on this blog. You can send me your questions, comments and remarks by comment function, via Twitter or through the contact form, and I will try to address them at the summit.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Macroeconomic convergence in the EU - ok, but what about structural funds?

The macroeconomic stability regulations that the European Parliament passed in late September, better known as "sixpack", lay down severe penalties for countries whose economies exceed the European average by too much. This could hit overachieving Germany just as much as underperforming Greece.

Two of the six pieces of legislation are relevant for this, the Ferreira regulation and the Haglund regulation. The Ferreira regulation allows for the establishment of "an alert mechanism for early detection of emerging macroeconomic imbalances" within the European Commission, but under consultation of the European Systemic Risk Board. This mechanism "should be based on use of an indicative and transparent scoreboard comprising indicative thresholds, combined with economic judgment" (see the exact rules for the scoreboard in the regulation).
    If a Eurozone economy exceeds the European average by too much, and for too long (meaning that it ignores several warnings from the Commission), it will be heavily fined. Within the Euro area, "the yearly fine [...] shall be 0.1% of the GDP of the Member State concerned", according to the Haglund regulation.

    The aim of the two regulations is among others to bring the macroeconomic policies of the 17 different Eurozone economies closer together. While one country lowers taxes, establishes a minimum wage and gives out subsidies to make people spend more, it should be safeguarded that its neighbor doesn't raise taxes to keep its purchasing power at home (Germany has been pretty good at that over the last decade, and France was rather angry about it).

    While the structural funds of the EU (European Regional Development Fund, European Social Fund, Cohesion Fund and two others) are not directly related to macroeconomic policy of the member state governments, they also have an important role in bringing European economies closer together. The Commission has just published its proposal for the structural funds 2014-20, which are expected to have a volume of 336 billion EUR. Three different types of regions are to profit from the funds, namely
    • less developed regions, whose GDP is below 75% of the Union average (this will continue to be the top priority for the policy)
    • transition regions, whose GDP is between 75% and 90% of the EU 27 average
    • more developed regions, whose GDP per capita is above 90% of the average.
    This is probably not fair, and I am not an expert on structural funds, but on a polemic note it strikes me as funny that Germany's North-Rhine Westphalia (whose Brussels representation you see below, next to the Latvian embassy) has already been promised funding of some sort for the period of 2014-20...

    Latvian embassy in Brussels.
    Source: The embassy's Flickr page
    North-Rhine Westphalian Representation
    in Brussels. Source:

    Update (10/10/11): The Commission's 6 October proposal does incorporate a suspension of cohesion funds if macroeconomic criteria are not met. Read more here.

    Sunday, October 2, 2011

    Finally - a debate about the future of the European Union in Germany

    For one and a half years, debates on the European Union in Germany could be largely summed up as "we always pay, we never get anything back". Not only is this wrong, the pure limitation to financial aspects also obstructed the view upon a more important question: In a world where the European Union "will account for only 18% of world GDP in 2020, signifying a decline of 28%" compared with 2000 levels, are citizens prepared to give the EU strong multilateral institutions? This question has long been left unanswered in Germany. The Lisbon treaty was nodded off without debate.

    Thanks to finance minister Schäuble, the debate now seems to take a new turn. Schäuble has always been one of the most fervent supporters of more European integration. After his initiatives for a European Monetary Fund (more or less granted), a European rating agency (still negotiated) and an economic government for the Eurozone (granted), the German finance minister yesterday pursued that the answer to the European debt crisis can only be more Europe. For once, I've got the feeling that the debate is not directed against fellow European countries but towards the degree of competence to be given to Brussels.

    Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a one-hour televised live interview last week in which she explained the reasons behind the EFSF. This doesn't happen very often, and it may have given many people a new view upon the EU and Germany's role in. People begin to understand that the country profits a lot from European integration and stronger institutions do not necessarily mean less democracy.

    The time is right to pursue this debate and to wonder what Europe will look like in the future. Bavaria's CSU, in dire need of voter support, warns against a "European superstate", but it was apparent from the EFSF vote last week that there is room for more Europe in large parts of CDU, Social Democrats and Greens.

    Unnoticed by many, chief German constitutional lawyer Andreas Voßkuhle recently gave an interview in which he predicted (14min30) that Germany may pave the way for stronger European institutions (within the next 10-20 years, roundabout), and give itself a new constitution to accommodate these changes. The time hasn't come for such a quantum leap, but I've got the feeling politicians start laying out the cobble stones to get there.

    I hope that there will be an honest debate about the future of the EU, not only in the Parliament but also in the public sphere. After Schäuble started the debate, the next few days will show if other parties are prepared to exchange some serious arguments on this.

    Sunday, September 25, 2011

    It's good to live in a shared European Union

    Verdun, 24 September 2011
    CC BY-NC-ND André Feldhof

    much better than to live in a Europe of hostile nation-states

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011

    75% of European interns are unpaid or insufficiently paid

    A new survey by the European Youth Forum reveals that three out of four young Europeans are either unpaid or do not receive sufficient compensation to pay for their living expenses. Only about 25% of all respondents were able to pay all of their living expenses with their internship allowance. The European Youth Forum conducted a 4-month survey and obtained slightly over 3000 responses.

    According to the survey, a large majority of employers did not give a particular reason of why they could not pay their interns, prompting 64,7% of the respondents to rely on funding from their parents. From the survey results, it becomes clear what employers are banking on. Taking out a loan of 4000 EUR for a 6-month unpaid internship deters those applicants whose parents cannot finance them. Employers thereby ensure that applicants will come from a wealthy background and preferably received a high degree of informal education via their personal environment.

    From a recent Twitter exchange with the World Development Movement, a small development NGO based in the UK, I gathered two things:
    1. WDM refuses to pay its interns despite 139,217 in last year's accounts
    2. When I confronted them, they pointed to the small size of their organization and more importantly to the fact that "we only recruit internally, thus giving interns a much stronger chance of employment with WDM" and that "if we had to pay wages to interns, it would be unlikely that we could offer an internship programme".
    In other words, this NGO asks its interns to pay their way in. On the other hand, where would they get highly-qualified personnel if they didn't have the luxury of a 6-month scrutiny of the intern's capabilities, paid by the intern him or herself?

    WDM is only one of the examples for insufficient treatment of interns and for bleak inconsiderateness about the world's future qualified labor pool. There are many more.

    In cooperation with MEP Emilie Turunen and other partners, the Youth Forum is elaborating a Quality Charter for Internships at the request of the European Parliament. It will be non-binding, but if there is a clear measuring rod, interns have a document to which they can point when they demand their rights in future.

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011

    II Youth Convention on Volunteering

    On 8 September, the II Youth Convention on Volunteering kicks off. More than 1500 registered participants are expected in the European Parliament in Brussels and on the Esplanade in front of it from 8 to 11 September. Many more young people from Brussels and its surroundings will visit workshops, events, discussions and free concerts on the Parliament Esplanade from Thursday afternoon to Saturday evening.

    For those based in Brussels, the Convention offers a great opportunity to find information about volunteering and volunteers' rights, to join workshops, events, discussions and free concerts and to meet young people from all over Europe.

    Those outside of Brussels may be interested in following the live blog of the event. Over three days, a young blogger team (disclaimer: I am one of them) will follow events, discussions, workshops and concerts for online readers.

    Hope to see you online or offline - at the II Youth Convention on Volunteering.

    Saturday, August 6, 2011

    48 hours of blogging action against East Africa food crisis

    This blogpost is part of the 48 Hours of Action against the famine in the Horn of Africa. It currently has a value of five working hours and 40 EUR of donations. Please let me know via the contact form if it influenced you to donate; I will adapt the figures.

    In the 1980s, towards the end of the Cold War, Somalia was heavily dependent on food aid. After the Soviet Union stopped supporting the dictator Siad Barre, the United States saw their chance. The US and other Western countries planned to make Somalia a hub to increase their influence into the Indian Ocean; in particular, they tried to buy influence through food aid.

    UK Secretary of State for Development,
    Andrew Mitchell, in Dadaab refugee camp
    in Kenya CC BY DFID
    In consequence, the "value of foreign aid to Somalia soared to $80 per person, equivalent to half the gross domestic product," Martin Meredith observes in his book The State of Africa. "Leading loyalists [of the ruling clans] made fortunes from food aid, appropriating it then selling it on the market. A World Bank study, published in 1988, estimated that the growth of food aid was fourteen times higher than the growth of food consumption. From being a country self-sufficient in food grains, Somalia became dependent on imported food, all to the advantage of the ruling elite."

    Until today, it has been difficult for common people in Somalia to access healthy, nutritious food. The country remains ruled by various clans and torn apart by civil war. What is new in the current crisis is that climate change has aggravated the situation. It means that consumption behavior and mobility preferences in industrial states are now directly related to food insecurity in developing countries.

    A mother with her children
    in Dadaab refugee camp
    CC BY Oxfam

    Our immediate humanitarian impulse should be to wire the equivalent of a night out in the pubs to the donor agency of your choice – please see the buttons – to provide food to the starving population of Somalia (plus Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda). But in the long term we have to urgently stop climate change. This year will hopefully see commitments to significantly reduce emissions at the COP17 Conference in Durban. The EU and China are progressing in emission reductions (the EU rather cautiously, China at an impressive pace), while the US has relegated climate change mitigation to the back row.

    Farm animals in Somaliland died
    from undernutrition -
    CC BY-NC-ND Oxfam
    Reduction of GHG emissions are not a luxury but a security question. With every additional day that companies and airlines are allowed to pollute the environment, we are more likely to see droughts, rising temperatures, freshwater scarcity, unpredictable rain and monsoon, a rising sea level and more. In his movie An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore has mapped out the consequences of 100 million climate refugees. The EU is already overburdened with 25,000 migrants.

    It is time that the highest polluters per capita (2008) such as Qatar, Trinidad & Tobago and the United Arab Emirates, but also the US, Canada, Australia and several EU countries, realize the urgent necessity of fighting climate change. Otherwise, climate refugees may come and occupy their farmlands.

    Update 08/08/2011: See the Guardian's take here: Is climate change to blame for famine in the Horn of Africa?

    This blogpost is part of the 48 Hours of Action against the famine in the Horn of Africa. It currently has a value of five working hours and 40 EUR of donations. Please let me know via the contact form if it influenced you to donate; I will adapt the figures.

    Tuesday, July 26, 2011

    Monitoring and web communications toolkit

    Due to requests from some friends, in this post I put together a toolkit for monitoring EU affairs and communicating via the web. Using Google, Delicious, Twitter and some intelligent research commands can cut your research time in half.

    Beside subscribing to newsletters, the first thing you could do is to use RSS feeds. Jon Worth's post over here tells you why. RSS feeds are common for most news websites; once you've subscribed, you receive the latest news automatically. To read them, though, you will need a feed reader. There are a few out there, such as the Google Reader; see Jon's post for details. Tell me more

    Second, create Google Alerts. This little program will crawl the web and send you emails as soon as a new item with your search terms goes online. If you created a daily alert for 'EU agriculture', for example, you will comfortably receive your search results pertaining to EU agriculture in your inbox, structured in news results, blog results and web results. Tell me more

    Third, to save time during your research, you can use intelligent search commands (for Alerts or regular searches). Among the more interesting ones are searches within a particular website. The search command Obama will show you every mention of Barack (or Michelle) Obama on the New York Times. You can also look for "Barack Obama" and will only find mentions of the President himself. Tell me more

    Fourth, to keep track of all that you read online, you could use, a tool that allows you to create bookmarks. You can access these bookmarks from any computer, allowing you to quickly find online articles that you read before.

    With your monitoring tools thus set up, there are also many means to publish and publicize content. The easiest form to publish content is a blog, while the easiest way to spread it is via Twitter. The EU is now very active on Twitter; you can find a list of EU twitter contacts over at La Communication Européenne.

    When you have produced content on your blog, programs like Twitterfeed, Hoot Suite or RSS Graffiti allow you to publish it to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter (could be very useful for those MEPs who stopped tweeting after the 2009 elections but who still maintain their websites). If you feel like it, create your own daily newspaper through Google Analytics and other programs allow you to keep track of how many people visit your website. Be help of Feedburner, you can let readers subscribe to your website by email. Yahoo Pipes allows you to aggregate news feeds from several blogs or websites and even to translate them into other languages. I recently started using If this then that to combine different online tasks. I greatly love it, but it's still in beta phase and will evolve over time. To manage your Twitter account professionally and to quickly target new followers, you could use on of these programs, unfortunately none of them is free. Finally, to measure your online influence, have a look at

    While you're defining your target audience, don't forget to sign your website/blog up to several blog aggregators such as or See more

    In the end, however, getting readership is mainly about interaction. Reacting to blogposts and comments, retweeting other people's messages - this will draw a wider audience than if you only resort to automated publishing tools.

    If you have other programs, blogpost links or ideas, please share them in the comments.

    Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    How the EU quietly empties African waters

    Making European fisheries more sustainable, stop overfishing and ban fish discards - those are the centerpieces of the new European fisheries policy. Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki presented it to the media and the European Parliament last week; now it will go through the institutions and the European lobbies. While fisheries lobbies, NGOs and the European Parliament are starting to haggle about new fisheries quotas (set to be auctioned in much the same way as CO2 emission allowances are now), little attention goes to the fact that the EU currently subsidizes European fisheries in third-country waters with 65€ per ton.

    The Commission regularly negotiates fisheries protocols with third countries, which are subsequently agreed between the EP's Fisheries and Development Committee (curtailed by the assent procedure, see Art. 218(6)(a) TFEU) and nodded off by the Council. In these protocols, lawmakers specify an upper limit of catches (e.g. 52000 tons per year in Seychelles). Up to this limit, the EU guarantees payment to the third country government, regardless of the number of total catches (fishermen add another 35€/ton). For every catch beyond the limit, the EU doubles its contribution to 130€/ton.

    In effect, this not only encourages fishermen to rid the Seychelles of a full 52000 tons per year until 2014 (if they catch less, you and me provide free money to the Seychelles government), but also encourages the Seychelles government to neglect their fish stocks and to pocket a full 165€ for every ton exceeding the limit of 52000 tons/year. The agreement with São Tomé and Príncipe is based on the same terms, while new agreements with Cape Verde and Gabon are currently in the making. Overall, 15 agreements with developing countries are in force today. The consequences of the EU's policies are disastrous: No more fish by 2030.

    In its new proposal, the Commission acknowledges that until now it had no information about other fisheries agreements concluded by the partner country, so that it was "often impossible to [...] determine the share of the surplus to be sustainably fished by the EU fleet". The new Common Fisheries Policy will subject EU vessels in foreign waters to the quota trading system, but the current agreements are valid until 2014 and the CFP reform is expected to take a few years until it is adopted. Therefore, in the short term, the EU will continue exploiting foreign waters and depleting African countries of the fish stocks.

    3 July was the day of the year on which we started eating non-EU fish. If we want to save fish stocks in Africa, we should get selective about the fish we eat.

    Update 16/09/2011: In a video interview, influential Development MEP Charles Goerens from Luxembourg told me that the fisheries agreements between the EU and African countries should in effect be phased out.

    Monday, July 18, 2011

    MEPs should have the democratic right to decide where they meet

    For those who haven't had a chance to read it over at PlaceLux.EU, here is the open letter that MEPs have sent to the new French secretary of State, Jean Leonetti (taken from MEP Raül Romeva i Rueda's blog).

    CM. Jean Leonetti
    Secrétaire d'Etat aux affaires européennes
    Ministère des Affaires étrangères et européennes
    37, Quai d'Orsay
    75351 Paris
                                                                                      Brussels, 14 July 2011
    Dear Secretary of State,

    MEPs should have the democratic right to decide where they meet

    Please accept our congratulations on your appointment as France's new Minister for Europe. We wish you success.

    There is now an Absolute Majority in the European Parliament in favour of a Single Seat. Following the vote on June 8 on the Multiannual Financial Framework, enough MEPs have now adjusted their record to achieve an absolute majority (373-285) on the paragraph pointing to "the significant savings that could be made if the European Parliament were to have a Single Seat". This Absolute Majority -as well as the 2012/2013 calendar vote in March- fundamentally shifts the debate.

    As you know, the EU Treaty requires the European Parliament to hold 12 monthly plenary sessions in Strasbourg. As a result, we meet in Strasbourg 48 days every year. From next year, this will be 45 days, following our vote to hold the two October plenary sessions during the same week to save money, time and the environment. This democratic decision of the Parliament is being contested by France before the European Court of Justice in closed proceedings.

    All of the Parliament's other activities take place in Brussels (with the exception of a part of the administration, which is based in Luxembourg). Brussels is where committee and political group meetings are held. It is where most of our staff are based. It is where the other two institutions that form the EU decision-making triangle (the Council and the Commission) are located. Over the last 50 years, Brussels has evolved into the EU's democratic capital. It is where companies, NGOs, national, regional and local governments, industry associations and trade unions all have their offices. It is where the EU press corps has its hub, including technical facilities.

    When the European Parliament started meeting in Strasbourg over 50 years ago, it was a consultative assembly with part-time Members who were not directly elected, it was purely advisory and had no powers. Today, it is on a par with the Council of Ministers when it comes to making laws and its Members are full-time legislators, directly elected by the peoples of Europe. Yet unlike national parliaments, it cannot decide when and where it wishes to meet.

    Recent votes in the European Parliament as well as several surveys have shown that a majority of MEPs believe the European Parliament should have a Single Seat, in Brussels. The Dutch and UK governments have publicly backed this view. More than 1,25 million European citizens have signed an online petition to this effect.

    Over time a number of parliaments have moved to reflect political reality: the US Congress moved from Philadelphia to Washington; the French Parliament moved from Versailles to Paris; and more recently, the German Parliament moved from Bonn to Berlin. We believe that in a modern Europe, the European Parliament must be able to do the same. We call on the French government to stop the political and legal posturing on this issue, and to enter into a real debate.

    All we ask is that MEPs should be able to exercise their democratic rights and decide when and where to meet. In return, we are ready to help identify alternatives for the city of Strasbourg, both in institutional and in economic terms.

    For Strasbourg, a better and brighter future lies ahead. The European Parliament has now far outgrown it. It would be better to find an alternative that matches its facilities and can be a more grateful guest.

    Yours sincerely,


    Tuesday, July 5, 2011

    MEP Robert Goebbels: We don't move if others don't move

    Center-right MEPs today tore apart a report by Green MEP Bas Eickhout that would have asked the Commission to establish a 30% GHG emission reduction by 2020. The Greens ended up voting against their own report. Gulf Stream Blues has an interesting take on the vote and I have written about the 30% target last year.

    I came across this post by Robert Goebbels, Luxembourgish S&D MEP, who proudly notes that he voted against the Eickhout report. I would have liked to comment on his blog but the captcha didn't let me. So here is my answer to his idea that the EU shouldn't move on GHG emissions before other global actors don't move.


    votre position montre le fait que vous êtes prêt a envoyer les générations suivantes vers un monde rechauffé.
    Jouer des jeux de pouvoir avec la Chine et les Etats Unis dans le développement durable, cela n'a pas de sens. Une fois la planète rechauffée, il ne sert plus à rien d'avancer vers les 30%. Pour arrêter le changement climatique, il faut agir maintenant.


    your position shows that you are ready to send future generations into a warmer planet.
    Playing power games with China and the United States doesn't make any sense in sustainable development. Once the planet is heated up, it won't help any more to fix a 30% target. To stop climate change, action is needed right now.

    As a side remark, you may note that China is actually quite progressive (update: extremely progressive) in its sustainable development policies. The US remain the prime polluter in the world, failing to adopt an emission trading scheme in 2010 and now attacking the EU's emission trading scheme.

    Update (23/07/2011): Over at La Treizième Etoile, Andrew J. Burgess shows what happens to citizens who demand ambitious climate commitments from the EP. 

    Thursday, June 30, 2011

    The Hungarian Presidency's legacy: Bloggers allowed in the Council

    Today is the final day of the Hungarian EU Presidency. From tomorrow, Poland will set the agenda and organize Council meetings for the remainder of 2011.

    It is not my place to judge the overall performance of the Hungarian Presidency, but in one aspect it deserves a lot of praise. It was the first Presidency to allow bloggers into the Council meetings. Several times, bloggers Ronny Patz, Europasionaria and Litterbasket (Joe Litobarski) have reported directly from the Council, and in a handful of meetings with Brussels-based bloggers, the Presidency has made the inner workings of the Council more transparent (see a comprehensive blogtour by Mathew Lowry here).

    Although it would seem a basic principle of democracy to let citizens attend a Council and ask questions to their politicians, earlier attempts at transparency achieved one thing most of all: it allowed lobbyists to monopolize the floor. With social media taking a more important place in the European policy debate, the Council is trying to give a greater space to European bloggers. In future, the Council's deliberations go, citizen bloggers should be allowed to request access to Council meetings, but it has to be safeguarded that they don't wear a lobbyist's hat. Much is still under negotiation, but after the Hungarian Presidency paved the way, hopes are high that bloggers could more regularly report from the Council.

    We hope the Polish Presidency will be prepared to continue the work started by its predecessor. And we are highly thankful for the efforts of Gergely Polner and Hajdú Márton who devoted time and energy to European social media during the HU Presidency.

    Update (19/07/2011): See coloredopinions for an interesting discussion on Blogging as a Wheat and Chessboard Problem

    Wednesday, June 29, 2011

    The taxpayer offers the European Council a €240m Easter egg

    Sketch of the new Europa building/Source: Council
    Rejoice, austerity-ridden peoples of Europe. The European Council will obtain a brand-new €240m building at the place of today's Residence Palace in the European district of Brussels. Lavishly designed and with a prominent "beer belly" or "egg" in its center, the new Europa building is intended to host the president of the European Council, the Council presidencies, delegations and the press.

    After the 2004 enlargement, says the Council, more permanent office spaces is needed to accomodate new arrivals in Brussels. The European Council therefore decided in March 2004 to offer itself a new building and selected a proposal by the architects Philippe SAMYN & PARTNERS in September 2005. At the time, European leaders demanded that the the cost of the building remain below €240m.

    Faced with a frowning Angela Merkel and a fuming David Cameron, angry about the overall cost, the timing of the publication and the amount of €100,000 spent on an advertising brochure, Eurocrats were unapologetic during the recent European Council: "This was decided years ago, before the crisis. It will cost more now to cancel than to complete. It's good value."

    The Justus Lipsius Building where meetings of the European Council and the Council of Ministers currently take place has a surface of 137 960 m2 with another 27 130 m2 rented in other buildings. In April, June and October, Ministers shun Brussels to meet in the Kirchberg Conference Centre in Luxembourg.

    Although all EU citizens have a reason to be angry about yet another European building whose conference rooms will remain vacant between sessions (the EP building in Strasbourg is vacant in three weeks of four, except for visiting school classes), the really tough bit concerns Belgium. The Belgian government kindly agreed in the name of its citizens to cover the entire cost of the building and only claim reimbursement when it hands the premises over to the EU in 2014.

    Wednesday, June 22, 2011

    Kiyosaki's promise: Quit your job, let your money work for you

    Don't work for money, let your money work for you. That is the essence of an interesting book by Robert T. Kiyosaki called "Rich Dad, Poor Dad". Employment in a company with a fixed work contract, Kiyosaki says, will lead most people into a hamster's wheel. Looking to earn money to support their growing expenses (children, house, car etc.), most people tend to work harder to receive more pay. They promptly hand over a larger share of their income to the State as they enter a higher tax category. In 2010 for example, an average German citizen employed in a private firm was working for the government until July 4th, after which he started producing value for himself. If he decided to work harder, it might push Tax Freedom Day even farther away.

    Let your money work for you/adapted from
    Flickr CC BY esbjorn2
    Kiyosaki therefore proposes to a) cut spending and b) invest the money thus saved. His book can be criticized for many reasons, but the idea of "making money work for you" sounded appealing. I'm all in favor of investment with a moral backbone, so I scrapped speculation on oil, currencies, pension funds and food commodities in favor of stock options. I invested a fictional 7740 EUR into a portfolio of big stable European companies on May 7th (if I wanted to do that annually, it would require me 645 EUR per month in real life). Commission fees etc. of approx. 2% would put it down to 7585 EUR.

    Now, the DAX which reunites 30 of the strongest enterprises in Europe's economic locomotive, Germany, grew by roughly 26% in 2009 and 17% in 2010 (my calculations). If I was lucky and my European company portfolio outdid the DAX by a third, I'd be between 23% and 35%. After a year of foregoing spending, I'd have gained 1745-2654 EUR (again subject to taxes).

    Let your money work for you? I couldn't quit my job and live on 2654 EUR per year. Nor could I do so after ten or 20 years. Investment, I guess, cannot replace a work contract. It can give you a bit of spending money, but it won't make you rich unless you put your money into high-risk endeavors like startups or low-priced stocks.

    Besides, for the last month all of my big European company stocks have only seen one direction: down.

    Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    What does the financial crisis have to do with Three Mile Island?

    A lot, if one believes the Financial Times columnist and book author Tim Harford. For his book Adapt, he researched the parallels between security in engineering and security in financial markets. Harford singles out three main issues which put the stability of the financial markets in danger: complex structures of financial institutions, interconnectedness of financial institutions and a lack of control through regulators.

    The more complex a financial institution, the more likely it is that risks will not be recognized until it is to late. Harford compares the meltdown of Lehman Brothers with the failing reactor at Three Mile Island in the United States. The reactor, he says, started overheating at 4 a.m. when knowledgeable personnel was absent, the control room was difficult to understand due to its impractical design and security systems reinforced the catastrophe rather than attenuating it.

    Controlled explosion of a bank/CC BY-NC
    In the financial meltdown of Lehman Brothers, Harford sees the same process. Pricewaterhouse & Coopers was asked to organize Lehman Brothers Europe's orderly insolvency but when its consultants arrived, they had no idea how to understand the complexity of the institution with its numbers of divisions, assets and real estate. They ended up following Lehman Brother employees around to understand what there job actually was.

    Likewise, politicians were not given adequate information permitting them to handle the financial crisis responsibly. Harford cites an example of Tim Geither, the head of New York FED at the time of the Lehman Brother collapse, who received the information about AIG's imminent breakdown at 4 a.m. after a transatlantic flight on a handwritten DIN A4 paper with a lot of numbers.

    Finally, security systems reinforced the financial meltdown. According to Harford, even small banks that didn't engage in risky speculation often took out an insurance with a re-insurer like AIG. The goal: if for whatever reason customers should withdraw more money than the bank had in cash, the remainder would be covered by the re-insurer. Given that most re-insurers were rated AAA, this also gave the small bank an AAA rating (as it was now absolutely certain that the bank could service its debt). However, in practice re-insurer A also had a re-insurance contract with re-insurer B, who had a contract with re-insurer C, who had a contract with re-insurer - A! At the moment where A's panicking clients withdrew money, it not only pulled B and C into the abyss, but also the small commercial bank. Its portfolio was suddenly no longer insured and became rated C; it did not obtain any more loans from other financial actors except for skyrocketing interest rates.

    The example shows two things. Not only was there a latent error lurking in the equation: The security system would fail exactly at the moment when everybody sold stocks and rushed to the banks to withdraw their money. But the security system also put players in danger that it was supposed to protect. Besides, it gave an incentive to insured banks to take a greater risk, certain that they would be covered if their speculation backfired.

    Harford draws four conclusions from his findings: it is crucial to
    • understand the structure of a financial institution to reduce risks and latent errors
    • not only understand but reduce complexity of this institution, 
    • decouple regular bank activities from risky activities so that they cannot be endangered by the collapse of the speculative sector and 
    • encourage whistleblowers within the institution to uncover risks and to communicate them. 
    I encourage you to listen to the entire talk Tim Harford recently gave at the LSE. You can find it here. 

    Friday, June 3, 2011

    Poland awaits a tough Council Presidency

    Another month and Poland will replace Hungary at the helm of the EU Council of Ministers. The new Presidency is yet to clarify its priorities, but the general lines are clear. Poland wants to focus on “European integration as the source of growth”, a “Secure Europe” and a “Europe benefiting from openness”.

    It will be a tough time. As Euroskeptics are gaining ground in Finland, Denmark, France and the UK, the European Parliament insists on an increase of the EU's funds for the period of 2014-2020. Further European integration will be difficult to bring about. In an analysis for the Polish foreign ministry, the authors expect financial negotiations "on all fronts", given that the reform packages of Common Agricultural Policy (between 44% and 40% of total budget in 2007-13), Cohesion Policy and other policies will be on the table by the second half of 2011.

    With regard to the European internal market, Poland has set high stakes for itself. It wants to "introduce a new model of economic growth, one that would allow the Union to secure appropriate level of economic development for the coming decades and guarantee the well-being of EU citizens". Focusing on the electronic services market and on the establishment of a European patent are two aspects that the Presidency wants to pursue in this regard.

    It will be particularly interesting to see the Polish contribution in energy policy. While most European countries are looking to expand renewable energy, Poland still derives around 54% of its energy from coal and wants to start a nuclear energy program. And yet, the government wants to make renewable energy and the development of a European energy infrastructure an important part of its Presidency.

    During the second half of 2011, many eyes in Europe will turn to Poland. Can it use the Presidency to be an honest broker and at the same time become one of the five big players in the EU?

    The government is somewhat condemned to success: a failure of European solidarity right now could be taken as a go-ahead for other countries to let European integration unravel. To top it, the Council Presidency is expected to be overshadowed by legislative elections in Poland which are set to take place in October 2011.

    Not an easy Presidency. But if it is successful, Poland will take a more central place in EU policy-making in future.

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    I throw away, you don't eat

    Between yesterday and today, 219,000 people joined the dinner tables all around the world. Tomorrow, another 219,000 new world citizens will join us on this planet and another 219,000 the day after. They are born into a world that cannot feed them any more and that asks for higher and higher entry fees.

    Until 2050, demand for food is expected to rise by 70%, says Oxfam in a new report published today. And within 20 years, global food prices could double as a result of climate change. The consequences look like this:

    The EU has realized that it needs to act. At a food security conference organized by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) last week, Agriculture Commissioner Ciolos and Development Commissioner Piebalgs highlighted the responsibility that the EU has for food security in developing countries. The message is clear: agriculture in the global South has to become more efficient, more productive, more rewarding for the individual farmer and better governed through international, national, regional and local institutions. Sounds like an affair to be left to paper-producing bureaucrats.

    But the help that the global North can give is not only about "capacity-building", it's not only about "technical support" from government to government. It starts with things as easy as reducing food waste. According to a recent study by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN, a third of all products we buy are thrown away. But of course, demand for them drives prices up in the first place. Unless you are a trader of agricultural commodities, that should worry you.

    Now, do I really need a luxury buffet for my XXth birthday that allows my guests a choice between 50 different kinds of food? Or could I cut it down to 15? And if there are leftovers, couldn't I put them in doggy bags and give them to a shelter?
    And do I really need to throw away that two-day old cauliflower because I am leaving on a two-week vacation? Or could I put it in the freezer? There are a range of websites that offer advice on nutrition and consumer behavior, for example this one, this one, this one and a lot of others.

    We all make choices every day - since we live in a global market, our consumer choices impact directly on others. Ask Spain if you don't believe me.

    Shouldn't we be more responsible consumers?

    As a courtesy, please don't +1 my blogposts.

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011

    Happily walking into the bubble

    It’s Saturday and you’re walking through your favorite supermarket. You’ve invited friends for tonight and you’re planning to have a barbecue.

    The first thing you look for is meat. As you’re stepping into the meat section, a freezer pushes itself in your way. It bears a note saying “Your colleague chose spiral sausages and chicken filets last week”. You take a peak inside the freezer, your hand finds the spiral sausages and they disappear in your cart. Never did you notice the beefsteaks across the aisle that were on a 20% discount.

    Your hands push the cart further. You also need a proper barbecue grill to feed your guests. Just the other day, you remember reading about one in a leaflet and it that seemed quite nice. But as your getting to the section where barbecue grills are sold, only two of the available models are actually on display. All other are stocked on the shelves, hidden away in massive cardboard boxes. “Your mom bought me just yesterday” it says on one of the grills on display, while the other bears a sign “Three members from your football team bought me last summer”. Unnerved, under time pressure and unwilling to start unpacking the other models, you opt for the football team grill – it is less practical than the one you had read about, but it will work for tonight.

    You remember that you also need to get a shampoo. Once arrived in the toiletry section, you look for the shampoo you’ve seen in a commercial the other day. It was produced with 100% organic materials, and obviously more expensive than most of the bottles you’ve got in front of you on the shelf. But your brand is nowhere to be found and all shampoos are screaming in your face “Gregory bought me!”, “Cedric bought me!”, “Dean bought me!” Exasperated, you brandish your arm and send bottles flying. In the last corner of the shelf, you find the brand that you were looking for. You cautiously put the trophy in your cart and your glimpse goes back to the other bottles, still scattered on the floor. You believe you can faintly hear them shriek “but your friends also bought us, why wouldn’t you do the same?”

    Google +1 works with the same system as your shopping adventure. As you are searching information on the internet, Google puts you into a bubble of friends’ recommendations that obscure your view upon other options. The next time you search something, your friends' recommendations appear on top. This might not seem so much of a problem at first sight – isn’t it practical to have your social network prepare your decisions?

    But what happens if you’re a Parliamentarian with a day to work out your position on prenatal diagnostics? Would you trust your social network enough to blend out contrasting opinions? What happens if you’re a journalist, looking for speedy information on the revolution in Yemen? Can you trust your social network to have closed all the information gaps?

    The European Commission is currently investigating if Google illegally downgraded external services in its search results. By accepting +1, we would allow Google to upgrade information that we are prone to like and downgrade information that we’d likely oppose. Democracy doesn’t work like this.

    Update: For more about the importance of global information and knowledge management, you may listen to this podcast. Google is certainly the fundamental player in this business.
    Update II: Facebook has not paid me for writing this post.  
    Update III: I've just seen that Blogger now added the +1 button to my me a favor, don't use it.   
    Update IV: To see my love for Google as a research tool, see this more recent blogpost.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    The Parliament clings to Strasbourg

    MEP Ville Itälä is a brave man. In his report on "discharge in respect of the implementation of the European Union general budget for the financial year 2009" regarding the European Parliament, he proposed that the European Parliament

    • Takes note of the budgetary constraints many Member States face as a result of the financial and economic crisis and the need to critically review potential savings at all levels including at Union level; in light of this situation, stresses that real savings could be achieved if Parliament only had one workplace in the same location as the other Union institutions; indeed, in the report of the Secretary-General on Parliament's preliminary draft estimates for 2011, the estimated annual cost arising from the geographical dispersion of Parliament has been estimated at around EUR 160 000 000, accounting for about 9% of Parliament's total budget; draws the attention to the fact that currently the decision to change this situation - and to make some EUR 160 000 000 of savings annually as well as to considerably lessen Parliament's carbon footprint - lies exclusively with the European Council (Member States); calls on the President of the European Parliament and on the Members who are negotiating the Union budget on behalf of the Parliament, to suggest to the European Council that they make it possible for the Union to make these savings. 
    • Also points to the reply given by the Secretary-General to the discharge questionnaire, according to which the two sessions held in Brussels instead of Strasbourg in September 2008, due to the repair of the ceiling in the Strasbourg hemicycle, resulted in savings estimated at some EUR 2 500 000 ;

    To suggest to the Member States the idea of scrapping Strasbourg was too much to ask from the European Parliament. In the version that MEPs adopted on Monday 9 May 2011, it only says that the European Parliament
    • Takes note of the budgetary constraints many Member States face as a result of the financial and economic crisis and the need to critically review potential savings at all levels including at Union level; in light of this situation, stresses that real savings could be achieved if Parliament only had one workplace in a single location.

    Thanks to Eva for making me aware of the vote.  

    Update (13/07/2011): Now it seems as though a majority of MEPs wanted to axe trips to Strasbourg.