Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Happy Europe Day!

Who would have thought that Europe would come this far, when Robert Schuman gave the Schuman Declaration.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Is Martin Schulz emerging as a new leftist leader in Europe?

On the morning after François Hollande was elected president of France, Martin Schulz sat in his office at 7h50 and gave an interview to Deutschlandradio. Then his press team sat down to write an opinion peace for Project Syndicate. Not only François Hollande wants to move away from austerity, Schulz said. The European Commission under Barroso is also convinced that more growth cannot come about by austerity alone. And the European Parliament, with Schulz, an (albeit impartial) social democrat at the top, is also coming out in favor of less austerity.

As a German commentator observed on Sunday, the word "super election day" several years ago meant elections in two or three large German states. Today, it means elections in France, Greece and Serbia (and Schleswig-Holstein). In an integrated European economy, national policies can no longer be shaped in isolation; policy-making has to shift from the national to the European level to remain efficient. Mathew suggested that we have seen the emergence of a truly European debate on economic policy in the last few months - more austerity against more growth programs instead of more Europe against less Europe. I think he is right. And now that Hollande's rise to power shifts European policy-making from austerity to growth, the president of the European Parliament appears well-placed to broker and negotiate this transition within the European institutions. He could emerge as new leftist leader in European policy-making, if not in front of the cameras then at least in the hallways of the institutions.

The next European Council will have growth programs on its agenda. And Martin Schulz has been fighting for the inclusion of the EP president in the negotiations of the fiscal pact. It will be interesting to see how much he will use his position and his intra-party networks to help broker a growth program in Europe.

And then? National elections in Germany are next year and if the European mood, inspired by Hollande's election, turns toward growth programs, then the German elections might sweep the former social democrat finance minister Peer Steinbrück, an efficient pro-European, to power. Might be a very interesting constellation for social democrat governance in Europe: Hollande - Steinbrück - Schulz.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

What must be said

With his poem "What must be said", to be found here [DE], German nobel prize laureat Günter Grass stirred up a heated discussion in Germany. At the core of it: Can Germany, the country that bears responsibility for the Holocaust, criticize Israel? 

Public opinion in Germany seems to answer this question with a yes. Although I cannot find the figures, the majority of Germans looks at Israel's aggressive foreign policy with unease (and shows empathy with Palestinian citizens in the West Bank and the Gaza strip). When Günter Grass now writes that the "atomic power Israel endangers a world peace that is already crumbling" and criticizes the German shipment of a nuclear submarine to Israel, he speaks out what many German citizens have thought for a long time.

In other countries, this would not be a problem. But in Germany, where chancellor Merkel has declared Israel's security a piece of Germany's raison d'état and where a recent study has found "a banalization of antisemitist practices and rants that reaches far into the middle of the society", such a piece of criticism cannot be uttered without being called an antisemitist. German criticism of the state of Israel and of its government is always understood as criticism of the Israeli electorate, the Jewish nation. 

And yet, the state of Israel is evidently in breach of several UN resolutions that deal with Israeli settlements in the West Bank and has repeatedly expressed its desire for a preemptive strike on Iran which would defy the intentions of the UN Charter. You could conveniently argue that every world citizen with an interest in peace should have the right to criticize Israel for its policy, regardless of their nationality.

What Günter Grass therefore advocates in his capacity as a global citizen is to put both the Iranian and the Israeli nuclear programs under the scrutiny of an international authority. If you look at the situation without a Western bias, the question is justified: Why subject the Irani nuclear program to external control and make an exception for Israel, although its attack could endanger Iranian citizens just as much as an Iranian attack would endanger Israelis?

As a German or non-German, what do you think of the question?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

EU-China summit: Advance on Market Economy Status, retreat on Economic Partnership

At the EU-China summit in Tianjin, José Manuel Barroso, Herman van Rompuy and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao agreed
that a rich in substance EU-China investment agreement would promote and facilitate investment in both directions. Negotiations towards this agreement would include all issues of interest to either side, without prejudice to the final outcome. [Both sides] agreed to work towards the start of the negotiation as soon as possible.
One the one hand, this is an interesting development. In the past, bilateral investment agreements have allowed European enterprises additional security in their overseas investments, given that they could directly seek arbitration with an international tribunal.

One the other hand, opening new investment negotiations suggests that the 2007 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) talks are all but dead. At the time, the EU wanted to update the 1985 agreement that governs Sino-European economic relations, and adapt the partnership to the changed trade patterns of the 21st century (increased trade in services, increased volume of foreign direct investment, questions of intellectual property, China's entry into the WTO in 2001 etc.). The 2010 EU-China summit still referred to the PCA, but this year it was not mentioned a single time. Are economic relations between the EU and China running smoothly if a comprehensive economic agreement is silently scrapped and replaced with the promise of a potential investment agreement? I don't think so. 

Another import point at the summit was Market Economy Status (MES) for China. Despite China's WTO membership since 2001 (analysis: here), the EU has long withheld MES for China and used it as a bargaining chip. Now, it appears that Van Rompuy and Barroso are ready to scrap their opposition if China steps up its help in the Eurozone crisis in return. Granting MES to China would inter alia strengthen Chinese enterprises in anti-dumping cases. The ALDE group is particularly unhappy to see the EU's bargaining chip vanish, but it would soon disappear anyway, given that under China's WTO accession agreement, the EU agreed to grant MES automatically in 2016 (even though this is contested).

Overall, I do not have the impression that this summit was a great advance in EU-China relations. But then, good relations across different cultures are not created overnight. Instead, many small initiatives such as dialogues in climate change, energy, urbanization etc. continue to bring the two partners closer together. In the long run, I would hope that the EU and China, two of the biggest trading blocks in the world, can use the summits to give their voice to global trade and global sustainable development. But in the short run, I believe that bilateral cooperation will continue to take place on the micro-level.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Here are the Eurobloggers is celebrating its third anniversary tomorrow, 26 January 2012. The website brings together 904 blogs in the different languages of the EU, written by individuals, journalists, Members of the European Parliament, European Commissioners and many more. They are looking at the European Union from different angles, giving themselves a sectional, party-political, cultural or regional focus when they translate the mass of communication that comes out of the European institutions every day.

But why would you bother to write about this stuff if you don't even get paid for it? Here are some of the blogger profiles I have come across.

Blogger A

I am a journalist working for a national newspaper or an audiovisual media. I am caught between the political discussion in my member state and the discussions in the hallways of the European institutions in Brussels. My media asks me to translate what I hear in Brussels so that my home audience will understand it. But many of the ideas and solutions that I hear about in Brussels are not relevant for my home audience. I put them on my blog.

Blogger B

I am a professional working in the European institutions or a lobby group. In my daily life, I have a lot of meetings behind closed doors in which European politics is decided day by day. This strikes me as utterly undemocratic and I feel like I should do something about it. So I gave myself a pseudonym and am writing down some of my daily experiences and thoughts on my blog - in the hope that it will make these European institutions a little bit more transparent.

Blogger C

I study the European Union. My day involves reading scientific articles about the number of votes that are necessary in the Council of Ministers to get a piece of legislation adopted. My desire is to switch the side of the desk and become a part of this European world myself in the future. I feel fervently pro-European and take a lot of pain in the way that reality differs from my ideal model of a harmonic European Union. On my blog, I can say what I think about all this. Maybe someone will read it one day. Maybe they will offer me a job. 

Blogger D

I don't care about the European Union. All this institutional bla bla bla bores the crap out of me. I have my own agenda, what I care about is my personal freedom, freedom to travel, freedom to say what I think on the web, freedom to obtain the information that I want to get. But this freedom is in danger from a few grey hats in Brussels and some more grey hats in America, and that's why I am raising my voice. My voice is a mixture of well-placed needle pinches and indignant rioting. If one of those grey hats that I am talking to actually reads me blog, that's even the better. But quite frankly, I don't care.

Blogger E

My media team is handling my blog for me. They also handle my Twitter. Our media analysts told us that European citizens all start going online. We have tried press conference for a long time and even set up our own TV station, but we only get coverage when the EU is in trouble (granted, that happens a lot lately). My blog allows me to reach the citizens directly. I am providing my own voice, and I know that citizens appreciate this. I know that I could do more to interact with them, but I have business leaders and national politicians to meet as well. I am faithful that my media team is doing a good job, and they collect a good load of valuable feedback from the readers of my blog that I can use in my daily work.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

MountEUlmypus post no. 100

I just realized that my previous post was MountEUlympus post no. 100. After two and a half years of writing about the EU, this blog is still here, and it is here to stay for a while. Just a few musings about EU blogging before I turn back to proper content in my next post.

It is a rewarding experience to blog about European affairs. The last 30 months in blogging have seen me challenged by Prof. Andrew Moravcsik, reprinted in the newspaper New Europe (New Europe pdf unavailable), responded to by development economist Ha Joon Chang, participate in the Th!nk about it 2 blogging competition on climate change, publish a bachelor thesis on the European blogosphere, become a co-editor of, discover the workings of the Council of Ministers, cover the EPP Summit and many other experiences. Most of all, however, blogging has put me into an international community in which new ideas are put forward and debated every day and thereby significantly increased my knowledge of European affairs. 

As I said, it is a rewarding experience to be a blogger and I can only encourage every citizen reading this post to think about starting his or her own blog. Given that European politics are rarely debated in national public spheres, European debates frequently develop in the blogosphere from where they are sometimes upscaled to national media. Even though the European blogosphere might sometimes appear a little like the electronic version of the Brussel bubble, participation is open to everybody and new entrants are welcomed and listened to. Maybe you will be next?

A cultural war between China and the West?

The Chinese word for coffee - 咖啡, pronounced kafei - is a good example for the way in which Western culture has slowly crept into Chinese society. While the idea of drinking tea ("cha") has developed through centuries of Chinese history, coffee came from outside the Middle Kingdom. In phonetic terms, it has always remained on the outskirts of Chinese culture.

But when you walk through any bigger city in Eastern China, you will see Western coffee chains and fast food restaurants invite young Chinese into what is essentially a space of Western culture. With English being the international lingua franca, many Chinese people working in the export industry come into contact with Western values, send their children abroad for college and start celebrating Christmas (albeit as a largely secular holiday). Consumerism, Western entertainment and Western dating mentality have long reached Eastern China. Without doubt, they are a powerful force tugging at the foundation of a family-based society with a high degree of discipline and sacrifice.

When Chinese president Hu Jintao now speaks of a Western desire to divide Chinese society through ideology and culture (see here and here), one could of course respond with a shrug. Western influence comes to China as a result of market exchange in a globalizing economy. One could say that China pays the price for its participation in the WTO and its export-led development with cultural influx from its trade partners (while truly Chinese products have simply not incited Western demand yet).

But then, the story is more complex than that. Globalization has a significant influence on the structure of the Chinese economy, an economy that has for some time devoted all its resources to the demands of the rest of the world while neglecting domestic demand. Globalization has led to enormous migratory flows from the Western plains into the Eastern metropoles which are connected to the global markets. To put it a little plain, China has in some regards neglected its own culture in the interest of export-led economic growth. 

It therefore appears legitimate to raise the question how a country can brace itself against cultural influence from other countries. France, for example, has established a law that requires its radios to play 40% French music titles. In my view, Hu Jintao is correct to worry about the erosion of Chinese culture through Western influence. But it does not appear very helpful to speak about "international hostile forces [that] are stepping up the implementation of China's Westernization" (Google Translated). A cultural war between China and the West would really not be a smart thing, but then I don't really see it happen either.

As a final remark, the concept "the West" which is often used in China (closely associated to the idea of a Westerner, or laowai), is by no means culturally homogeneous. The US and Europe show immense cultural differences, in the way in which they consume information, in the way in which they view leadership and in way in which they view the ideal state, to name but a few aspects. And to return to kafei mentioned above: While coffee might be considered a Western product in the Middle Kingdom, its production is crucially important to guarantee the livelihood of many smallholder farmers - in Africa and Latin America.

I have focused on the economic aspect of Westernization; maybe my Chinese friends would like to comment on the cultural aspect of Western influence?