Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Work, sweat, pay - Internships in Europe

The European Youth Forum has produced an interesting short film on internships in Europe.

Internships are not a way to save money but a way to build up future leadership. If you're in favor of paid internships in the EU, join the European Youth Forum in their fight. If you have done an internship yourself before, please share your insights by filling out this survey.

I may add that young Chinese are facing similar problems as young Europeans. An interesting issue to raise during the EU-China Year of Youth.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A swimming pool for a kilo of beef

The Environment Committee in the European Parliament today established clearer rules for food labeling. Most importantly, on most meat products like pork or chicken, the place of origin must be indicated, including the place where the animal was born and the place where it was slaughtered. Furthermore, energy content, amounts of fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugars, protein and salt must be shown on the label as well. If the Council gives its ok, the EP Plenary can adopt the regulation in July 2011 (update: done).

You may remember that in June last year, the center-right in the EP strictly opposed a “traffic light system” on food items that would have meant that unhealthy products would have carried a red light and healthy products a green light (rapporteur then and now was Renate Sommer, EPP). The new regulation-to-be is certainly a good thing with regard to information, provided that it will apply to imports just as it applies to EU products. But I am still missing information on products, namely water and carbon footprint.

I would like to know that by choosing to consume a kilogram of beef, I am consuming 100,000 liters (equivalent to a 10m x 10m x 1m swimming pool) of virtual water. And when I choose to eat pork, I want to be aware that it requires around 8.8 kg of CO2 emissions/kg, transportation not counted. As a consumer, I want to have the possibility of making an informed choice, even though I admit that some consumers would probably be overburdened and confused with so much information.

But my hope is that one of the most important areas of our daily life, namely food quality, could be put under the same kind of political control as the public sector. In the past, enterprises in Europe have repeatedly broken food safety regulations to make a profit, and demanding a transparent production process would force more cheating enterprises out of business.

Calculating environmental data will undoubtedly be expensive for an enterprise*. Yet, it doesn’t appear so difficult for a food chain to conduct worldwide price analyses and to conclude sourcing agreements without taking externalities into consideration. Including water and carbon cost into the analysis only takes it a step further. And maybe, some enterprises would reconsider their sourcing decisions when they are put into the bright light of popular scrutiny.

But for all that, we first need to elect a more radical kind of European Parliament.

*Have a look here (p.15) how Arjen Hoekstra calculated the water footprint.

Update (20/04/2011): Between "set-back" and "right decision" - read here what MEPs say about the package that they adopted. 
Update (12/07/2011): It appears that there is some cautious movement on water footprint and carbon footprint labeling. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Leaving a European country in the lurch

At the European Council in Tampere, October 1999, European Head of States agreed to establish a Common EU Asylum and Migration Policy. “The European Union needs a comprehensive approach to migration addressing political, human rights and development issues in countries and regions of origin and transit,” they said. “The European Council calls for closer co-operation and mutual technical assistance between the Member States' border control services, such as exchange programmes and technology transfer, especially on maritime borders, and for the rapid inclusion of the applicant States in this co-operation.”

At today’s Home and Justice Ministers Council, nothing of that European spirit was left. Today it was politics, dirty bargaining at its best. Germany and France rejected Italy’s demand for a European solution and told the country to deal with its Tunesian migrants on its own. Yesterday, Bavaria’s home minister had already said that Italy is large enough to accommodate 23000 Tunesian migrants, threatening border controls at the German-Austrian border.

Certainly, both countries have accepted more migrants than Italy in the past (Germany from Afghanistan, Iran and the Balkans, France from the Maghreb) and therefore have powerful arguments against Italy. And there is a thing called the Dublin II Regulation stipulating that migrants have to ask for asylum in the country through which they enter the European Union (a debate for another time). Still, all this doesn’t justify leaving a European country in the lurch. There are many more ways to deal with the problem than allowing Tunesians into French or German social systems. Providing technical support, ships or equipment to Italy to deal with migratory flows, for example. But ministers today chose confrontation over cooperation.

We pride ourselves with an integrated European market, with free flow of goods, with a high standard of living that is achieved through cheap imports from abroad. We pride ourselves with the possibilities of investing and withdrawing millions of Euros from companies all over the world. We gladly take the benefits that globalization has to offer. But when it comes to people entering into Fortress Europe, every country has to deal with migration on its own.

What we need is a common European effort, a common European approach to the challenges. The Home Ministers Council was a step in the wrong direction.

Update: The Council Conclusions are here (but I haven't had time to have a look yet)

Update (10 May 2011): Everybody sometimes heads in the wrong direction and my viewpoint has changed with more information. I maintain that we need a European migration policy and a European response to North African migrants, but I see Italy's role far more critically now. While other European countries have dealt with far more than 25,000 migrants, Italy is creating a problem where there shouldn't be a problem. And Sarkozy is happy to blow up the migrant issue to a security question. To get a better idea of the issue, I can only recommend today's debate in the EP (from 15h25), and there in particular Mr Weber, Mr Schulz and Mr Verhofstadt.