Court on Google? No flaw

Well, isn´t this a proper mess!

The EU Court ordered Google in a ruling in May to remove links to information on the Internet if the perosn concerned find it “outdated, irrelevant or no longer relevant.”
The case in question was about a Spanish lawyer who didn´t want info popping up on the Internet on his house having been repossessed a few years earlier when his finances were in rather a bad way.
He felt it harmed him in his new career.

Google was confused.
People actually have this “right to be forgotten” that the EU legislators have been going on about but never managed to get put down properly in a law?

Google swiftly removed the links and some others upon request, for example to some articles in the Guardian. But then Google had to put them back after protests from the media.

“The ‘right to be forgotten’ will be abused to curb freedom of expression and to suppress legitimate journalism that is in the public interest,” Robert Peston of the BBC wrote in a blogpost.
´The court has gone too far´, says Eric Schmidt, head of Google, ´it has struck the balance between the right to know and the right to be forgotten, wrong.´

What this makes for, concludes an editorial of the Financial Times, is a flawed privacy ruling.

No, it does not, FT (and the rest of you).
What this makes for, is a flawed privacy legislation.

The court cannot give exact directions as to what links to remove and which one to let stand.
That´s not its´place.
What the court can do on the other hand, and has done,  is to point out that EU citizens have a right to privacy.
Since it seemed everybody had forgotten that.
Google for one, wasn´t bothered about that right before the ruling. After the ruling, they have to be.

The current rules in the matter date from 1995 – the Stone Age as far as the Internet is concerned.
The European Commission made a proposal for updated rules in January 2012.
Lobbying against the EU legislating on details of this “right to be forgotten” has been unprecedented in its intensity and its aggressivity, not least from the US government.
And from Google.
So much in fact, that the proposal was watered down before it was even presented to the European legislators.

The European Parliament concluded their position on the proposal in October last year, needless to say, also under heavy lobbying.

We´re still waiting for the EU governments to do their part of the work.

It´s no secret why the governments have let this one slide.
The European Parliament has been up in arms over protecting peoples´ privacy. The revelations of Edward Snowden on how the US and their global companies spy on all of us, really got the EP going.
They wanted to put an end to it… or at least put some obstacles in their way.

The EU governments on the other hand, weren´t too bothered. Many of them, it turned out, was more or less aware of the spying (but probably not the magnitude of it…surely, not?)
Some governments were even helping out (the Swedish government and the British government among others).

Even the French government, which you can usually rely on not to let the US have its own way alltogether, appears to have fallen under the charms of Google and Facebook.

The calculation in the Council of Ministers seems to have been:
If we drag this thing out, a new Parliament will be elected and with some luck – and with time passing which always helps – the new MEPs won´t be so obstinate in defending that o-so-holy privacy.

Of course, the European Court has now thwarted that bit of scheming, reminding everyone that citizens do have rights.

Not a flawed ruling, at all.
Quite the opposite.
It forces the hand of the EU government as well as the new Parliament. Legislate properly or leave Google and Co in a real mess.
Your choice.

 

 

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How not to win friends and get your way

“Vous avez raté une bonne occasion de vous taire”, French President Jacques Chirac famously told some of the Eastern European candidate countries.

Missing the moment to shut up seems to be epidemic, these days.

Here´s somebody who is really off the mark: The US embassador in Berlin.
Registering the strong suspicions in Europe of the future Free trade Agreement with the US (the TTIP),
he tweets: “You are pro the TTIP and irritated over the negative coverage it gets?
Send us your ideas and we will subsidize you.”

What reception did he expect to this creative idea of conducting a democratic debate?…that is, the US paying people to present the American arguments.

He gets, of course, the response he deserves:
“@U.S. Embassy: Your TTIP PR will not save this project no matter how much money you paid.”
“@U.S. Embassy here is my proposal: Democracy has never been so cheap: On sale at only €545 per year per household!”

“@U.S. Embassy: Some detailed information from the negotiators would help the debate. Lack of transparency…”

Here are some other people else who would have done well to follow the suggestion of President Chirac;
The US President Obama, Hilary Clinton and the Chinese Premier Li…
They all have in common that they felt they should advice the Scots on how to vote on the question of Scottish independency.
Turns out the Scots, if their Twitter remarks are anything to go by, would prefer to vote independently…

Obama, Clinton, the Pope all have a ‘view’ on #indyref
Seriously, guys, don’t you know we’re poor, wee and stupid and hence beneath notice? ”

“So Cameron begged Obama,Putin&Queen to attack right Sovereign Scottish people to decide own future #Coward
If Clinton, Obama et al REALLY want to leave #indyref to Scots, they’re welcome not to express an opinion on how they should vote #VoteYes

“Hillary Clinton has said she’d “hate” to see Britain “lose” Scotland http://fw.to/yBcdEBUDear Mrs Clinton, Scotland is not a possession.”

“Keep them coming, our polling just went up after Obama’s intervention. #indyref

Why, even the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt felt he had to chip in and explain to he Scots the issues at stake about  (you people are going to cause the “Balkanisation of the British Isles”).
Scottish Prime Minister Alex Salmond swiftly came out, calling his remarks “insulting” to the Scots as well as to the people in the Balkan and also “foolish”.

Carl Bildt is of course notorious for shooting his mouth off, as opposed to  the British who have a reputation for running a very clever diplomatic corps.
No more.

Clearly not picking up on when “trop, c´est trop!, no less than the “most senior of British diplomats”,  Mr Ivan Rogers, heading the UK representation in Brussels, takes it upon himself at a dinner party to warn his European peers that that if they accepted Mr Juncker as Commission President against the will of the British Prime Minister, this was “political dynamite that could push the British towards the exit door”.

You can almost hear some of his dinner guests sighing:
If only!

That´s how you lose a battle.

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And the winner is… a woman! (any woman)

Funny how in politics things can twist and turn and make everything come out topsy turvy.

The European Parliament was all set to DEMAND that the heads of state “listen to the people” and pick the front runner from the biggest parliamentary group as the next President of Commission.

They made a decent case for their cause –no one could accuse them of simply aiming for more power – since the Lisbon treaty does say that; `Taking into account the European elections…the European Council shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission`. (Art 17.7)

The European Parliament soooo had the moral high ground…yesterday.

Then the people seem of Europe to have come out and said pretty loud and clear, that they are deeply sceptic towards the whole EU project at the moment.
Picking the old hand and EU veteran Jean-Claude Juncker for Commission President no longer appears to be the most logical choice in the face of the election result.
On top of it all, even if the EPP group did end up bigger than all other groups in the elections, they still lost some 20% of their votes compared to 2009.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is fighting for his political life and can absolutely not face his voters having accepted any of the federalists that the EP brings forward; Jean-Claude Juncker or Martin Schulz.

Normally, nobody would care two ticks about the career of David Cameron but as the political game unfolds, in this very case, hiding behind him cleverly covers up the fact that the heads of state really would like to refuse both names for the sole reason of the power game, for wanting not to lose their prerogative to pick whomever they chose.

(Take Chancellor Merkel, for example. She has been decidedly lukewarm all along to the prospect of having Juncker as a Commission President but facing harsh critisism at home over the fact, she can afford to ´endorse him after all` and trust Cameron to veto him, a political win-win.)

Now, already in a good position to turn the Parliament down, the heads of state need in order to close the deal new names to put forward.
What better and more politically correct way can there possibly be than to go forward and propose a woman for the job?

Could the European Parliament even consider going against such a proposal?, when facing the argument that the EU leadership otherwise will be all male (because, obviously, no one thinks for a minute that Baroness Ashton is going to be invited to carry on) and therefore badly in need of a woman on a central post.

I think not.
Watch out for Danish Helle Thorning Smith and French Christine Lagarde.

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The mathematics of a special case

`The UK is Europe’s “special” case, and EU leaders should find ways to accommodate its “specificity”`, EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said, seemingly opening up for the British to renegotiate their membership.

Fine.
Lets.
But take just a moment, beforehand, to ponder the equation that Spanish professor Carlos Closa serves up in a recent paper (“Between a rock and a hard place: The future of EU treaty revisions”).

We all know that to change the EU treaty it takes a YES from all 28 member states governments.
That´s a lot.
Here comes more:
25 of those are coalition governments. I make it a total of 86 different political parties that will need to agree on a YES.

Then every national parliament in 28 countries will have their say. Several of those have more than one chamber and each one must agree, so we need a YES from no less than 52 chambers.

Now, with all these wobbly political majorities, you know how you in some places get these small – often on the extreme side of politics – parties that have just enough votes to tip the balance and change the outcome?
Well, they all need to be convinced as well.

To top it all, referendums.
In Ireland it is mandatory, in Denmark almost (or else five-sixths of Parliament in favour) and in several countries it will be unavoidable for political reasons: The Netherlands for one, Germany seems like a strong candidate this time around, France once again…
We must add to our list 50 % of an unknown number of million voters that must deliver a YES to changing the EU treaty.

So there´s our little equation.
An extra ordinary amount of people hold the veto card for a treaty change.

If all above agree that the UK is a special case and so should be exempt from any specific rule that the British do not like…and by consequence, accept that their own nation is NOT special and therefore must abide by all the current rules, then, well then there will be a deal.

We all love the UK but I´m not holding my breath.

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…dizzy, my head is spinning…

Oh, what to choose, who to pick…
The political campaigning of the Commission President candidates is in full swing, they´re travelling all over the place – Mr Jean-Claude Juncker (EPP) in in his blue campaign bus, Mr Martin Schulz (s) in his shockingly pink bus. Berlin, Bucarest, Paris, Helsinki, Athens… here we come!

And they get so excited both of them, happily promising the moon and the stars too.
Mr Juncker, on a stop-over in Finland recently, got so carried away he even promised to sort out the Finnish Prime Minister Katainen with a good European job..

Mr Schulz, drowning happily in applause at a French socialist rally, mimicked the clever election slogan of French President Holland: “Moi, President!”, he stated proudly and went on to promise the end of social dumping. Yes, and he will rewrite the rules to fix the “posted workers” problem. And the 27 million unemployed can rest assured that he will find the economic growth they need to find jobs.
(No need to be superstitious and remember that Mr Hollande had to eat his words, having sworn that if “Lui President!” he would sort out the unemployment… which since has only gone up.)

By the way, that´s pretty much what Mr Juncker promises as well, growth and more of social consideration.
“Not only Socialists have a heart”, he tells us on twitter.

Things have to change, Mr Juncker adds. It is time EU high flyers became more sensitive to the concerns of the citizens. Mr Juncker – if president – will put up a fight to see no more bureaucrats at the helm of the European Commission, all Commissioners must be politicians.
(A change badly needed, I think we can agree with Mr Juncker, seen as a whopping 4 out of today´s 28 current Commissioners are not former politicians.)

Martin Schulz promises – if He President! – he will make sure that financial transactions are taxed and corruption ended.
(And he may have recently rather brusquely stopped people from bringing up a suspicion of corruption among his own entourage in the European Parliament, but that was because the timing was not right.)

Mr Juncker on Twitter hails an EP decision:  “The bell has tolled for roaming charges – this is a great European achievement”, he tweets proudly.
It was indeed a strong decision to stop telecoms industry overcharging us.
Visiting Finland, however (home to the struggling telecoms giant Nokia) Mr Juncker declared his firm belief that we mustn´t hinder the telecoms industry to become profitable, so the EU commission will ( “if Lui President”) henceforth implement competition rules “in a continental spirit”.
Mr Juncker is the man!

Or is he? Martin Schulz promises to end the EU meddling in national affairs if he becomes President. But then again, so does Jean-Claude Juncker.

Oh, the things you are tempted to say when you meet the voters!
It´s the excitement of it all, I think. The carousing around, all the nice people you meet.
But of course, they both know that most of what they are promising is waffle.
Mainly, because a Commission president can not deliver on any of the above promises.

No harm done. Everybody tends to promise stuff to better their chances to get a nice job. Voters know that, they won´t be holding their breaths for Mr Juncker or Mr Schulz to deliver.

Only one little remark, however, to remind you of the European set up, that you have been important parts of for many years, both of you.
Not only is a Commission President not able to deliver of any of above promises, more importantly he/she should not be able to.

If Europe needs to be less about austerity and more about social consideration, this will happen following a political decision made by elected politicians i. e. EU governments and the European Parliament.
Not because a Commission president – blue or red – wants it.

Nations rule on taxes in the EU. Not the civil servants of the Commission.

Competition rules do not change according to the whim of a Commission president.

And if you Mr Juncker, or you Mr Schulz, as Presidents, were to introduce less meddling from the European Commission, this would basically mean trying less hard to implement the decisions made by elected politicians,
neglecting democratic decisions as well as the very task that the EU treaty confers on the Commission.

The EU treaty may well say that the next Commission President should be nominated taking into account the result of European elections.
It does not say however that the Commission President – the highest placed civil servant in the institutional set up of the EU – should all of a sudden start to implement his own personal political ideas.

But of course, all your voters are surely aware of this so what you are doing on your European Tours is just a bit of fun, a bit of harmless campaigning.
Carry on!, I´ve not made my mind up yet.
Now, who to pick…?

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Those are crazy ideas, US!

Free trade with the US?
Sure. Free trade is a good thing and bigger markets to sell European stuff has to be a good thing, right?
Open borders?  I´m in favor, the more circulation, the merrier.
And it is going to bring us tens of thousands of new jobs as well as € 120 bn in cash, I hear.

Still. How exactly will a free trade agreement with the US achieve all that since there are very few barriers in place between the EU and the US in the first place?
As the European Commission puts it: …”the economic relationships between the United States and the European Union can be considered to be among the most open in the world…”

Yep, the US is our biggest trading partner and we´ve done away with most customs and trade barriers ages ago.
The barriers we´ve bothered to keep in place are for our own protection.

For example: The US farmers feed their livestock antibiotics from birth, just in case. This we don´t allow in Europe because we know that people eating the meat off those animals will most likely become resistant to antibiotics and not respond to treatment, should they fall ill.

The US allows growth hormones for animals – the bigger, the more meat to sell! – whereas Europe has put a stop to that, not wishing to have humans stuffing themselves with hormones.

The EU has all sorts of cumbersome hygiene rules for handling chicken and other birds where the US has only one: The birds are dipped in chlorine before being shipped out to stores, so as to kill off all germs and bacteria.
The EU does not allow any chicken dipped in chlorine on its territory (thank god!)

But apart from a few of those life style choices, Europe is pretty much an open market for any American goods or services.
So I can´t think why these very same European rules and regulations keep popping up in documents on the negotiating of a future Free Trade Agreement with the US.

“…most importantly, regulatory differences for goods and services act as greater impediments to transatlantic trade and investment flows…”

Yes, they do that, act as impediments. This is how we want them to act. No chlorine chicken here, please!

“…can result in additional burdens for EU and US businesses.”

Obviously. But for a good reason. So let´s take them off the table at the outset, OK?

The bulk of US exports enter the EU market at very low tariff rates and the EU services market is already very open. Therefore, the US is likely to aim at achieving its objectives by concentrating on the remaining tariff peaks (mainly for agricultural products) and on certain aspects of regulatory measures…”

OK, right. So the US may want to use the negotiations to make us remove these “impediments”.
But we don´t.
Remember, we have the upper hand here. The EU has had a surplus in its trade with the US for years. A surplus of €92 bn only last year, for example.
(Well, what can you do, that´s capitalism for you. We must be selling better stuff to them than they to us – the market forces rule.)

Also, did you notice that trade to the US is falling?
“Between 2000 and 2011, while EU exports of goods to the world increased at an average annual growth rate of 7.6%, EU exports to the US only grew by 1%. Meanwhile, the purchases of goods from the US represented 20.8% of the total imports of the EU in 2000 and they only accounted for 11.1% in 2011 (a reduction close to 50%).”

It´s China, you see and the Brics. We are redirecting our forces. Besides, doesn´t it come into play at all, the fact that the US is heavily indebted?
Basically, we have no reason to accept just any old demand from the US.

The US demands more of us in these negotiations than that we change our current rules?
They are asking for ……”the establishment of a bilateral process through which the US could provide input to the EU’s process for setting standards, norms, and systems in a variety of fields…”

They ask to have a say in how we legislate in the future? They´re not shy, I`ll give them that.
Well, they can forget that!

Do they not know that there´s a heated debate on in Europe precisely on how European legislation is conducted?
Have they not heard British Prime Minister David Cameron, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and recently, com to think of it, German Chancellor Angela Merkel?
They all argue most vociferously that the EU is meddling too much in member countries affairs.
They demand to renationalize powers.
They will not have outside forces interfering in their countries and how they are run, so there.

So you see, there´s really no way that they would hand over the very same powers to a foreign state.
No way.
Because if they did – what´s next? China is rapidly becoming our largest trading partner and China too wants a free trade agreement.
Are we going to give China a say in the security of toys, maybe?
Shouldn´t think so!
No way the UK, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands would give up sovereignty in this way.

Yes, I admit, it is a bit of a paradox that the very same leaders are also the most vociferous campaigners for a free trade agreement with the US – and they all despise the French for wanting to safeguard some sectors – but when it comes to the crunch, they will defend our sovereignty…I think……right?…

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And now, points for the British entry

Brussels, 20th of March 2014.
Office of H.Van.R.

To the hands of: UK government
Regarding: EU summit

Thanks for your contribution, UK! Great idea, this: “The EU needs to wean itself off its dependence on Russian energy.”
To think that no one has thought of this before!, … oh, yes, that´s right. The Brussels bureaucracy did.

Planning for how the EU can wean itself off its dependence on Russian energy has been going on for some time now.
The European Commission produced a plan in 2006, for example. Remember, the cold winter when Russia turned off the gas taps for Bulgarians and Poles? It seemed obvious for anyone interested not only in what´s going on under their own noses, that the EU needed such a plan.

You may have noticed the subject coming up at every Energy Council where it is a standing point on the agenda? Too bad you haven´t had the opportunity to support it until now. The EU might have come a long way already, since 2006.

But let´s not be petty, at least the idea came to you now. (I´m just a tiny bit surprised, seen as you normally feel that the EU shouldn´t meddle so much…but we can all change, can´t we?)

You even have new ideas on how this can be done, UK. Great.
And your idea is that we buy more energy from the USA, some of their surplus shale gas and also to buy natural gas from Iraq.
Ah.
As I mentioned, the European Commission had a plan too, back in the days. However, it did not involve simply getting more dependent on another foreign source of energy, such as you propose.

What´s that?, not so foreign really, seen as your British companies are heavily involved in American shale gas and in Iraqi natural gas?
Good for you. I believe though, it still means that non-European states would hold a key to energy supplies.

Thanks anyway, for giving the whole thing a thought.

But while we´re on the subject of weaning-off-Russia, may I suggest that you also start weaning yourselves off your dependence on Russia?
I´m not talking energy. You don´t buy gas  off the Russians, do you ? so your plan would, of course, not force you to change much at all.
Your plan asks only of others to change.

Nor would it demand any effort, by the way, of the two EU governments that have come out in support of your weaning-the EU-off-Russian-energy-dependence-plan, Sweden and Denmark.
Sweden buys no energy from Russia and Denmark next to nothing.

(Incidentally, both countries are doing exactly what we suggested the whole of EU should go for back in 2006 – they have been expanding the renewable sector so much they´ve heavily reduced their need of importing energy.
How much have you raised your share of renewables, UK – from just under 5% in 2009 to…really? 4.1% last year?)

Sorry, lost the plot there for a while, I was saying… yes, about the weaning-off-thing. Russian money, you are rather  dependent on it, I understand?
* Russia’s oligarchs, business people and senior officials have become one the largest national groups of buyers for London properties worth £10m or more.
* These individuals have also become a key customer segment for London’s wealth management industry.
* There are now 113 companies from Russia and the broader CIS region with shares quoted on the London Stock Exchange.
* City-based banks are also engaged in Russia, through funding lines.
(I´m not trying to make you look bad, just quoting your press here, the Financial Times.)

So, if you do your homework and – if I may be as bold as to suggest – try not to get in the way of others doing their homework with your constant bickering about how Brussels interfere in national matters – I think we will be able to get somewhere.

But thanks for joining in, for once.
Best H. Van R.
P.S. Yes, yes, yes…of course, I will add your paper to the summit documents and I have no doubt many heads of state will applaude your contribution heartily so you can declare yet another victory in front of your national press.

 

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Am I in an episode of Game of Thrones?

I do enjoy the TV series Game of Thrones but I also find it testing. Extremely testing, I lose patience with it sometimes.
Who´s the good guy here, who I am rooting for?
With every new twist of the story, the formerly-good-guy reveals himself as just as selfish and cruel as the bad guys. Then the story takes a new turn and the good-guy-turned-bad is treated abominably by the bad-guy-turned-good and I have to switch allegiance   again.

It´s very much like watching peoples in our neighbourhood struggling for democracy.
I´m following the development on my screen, hoping for the good people of Ukraine, Turkey, Syria and Egypt, cheering with them when things go their way, thinking yes!, this is when EU with its soft power steps in and shows the way towards democracy, rule of law and eventually prosperity too.

But then there is a twist and I lose the plot.
Half a Ukraine remains untouched by the protests and many of the people there are pro-Russians? There are Fascists among the brave people of Kiev? Someone in the current interim Ukrainian government has hired snipers to shoot at civilians?
The Syrian rebels are (already) fighting among themselves? And al-Quaida has taken over parts of the uprising against tyrant Assad?

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan who stood up to the military rule and introduced rights for Kurds is a villain now, trying to impose all sorts of vaguely religious rules that the Turkish people do not want. Who is the good goy now then?, surely not the military again even though they seem to stand for the secular society that people appear to desire.
The Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt that protested alongside the young people in Thahrir Square try to install a new dictatorship as soon as they´re in power and the only recourse is going back to being ruled by the military?

It´s Game of Thrones all over again, I can´t keep up.

Seems there was a time, not long ago, when it was easier to take a stand. The left took the side of any popular uprising, the right went with whatever party the USA chose to side with.
This was before the Internet.

Do I wish for the EU to take a stand against Russia in the Ukrainian conflict and offer Ukraine a good deal? Absolutely.
But who to make a deal with?
Is it safe to go with the self-proclaimed leadership of Kiev or will they turn, as others have done, and show us a scarier side to them? Angela Merkel seems to prefer some of them to others, why?

Do I want the EU and the US to help the rebels against Assad? Of course, I do. The Syrians deserve our help.
But how? And who will we be helping exactly?, will it be people that later on reveal themselves as hard-liners just as the Muslim Brotherhood did?

Maybe the European Union not having a common foreign policy worth the ink of the paper it´s written on, is not the worst thing in the world.
We know that when the going gets rough, it takes a good while for the EU to get going. 28 countries must agree, all with different historical ties to the concerned, and probably more importantly, all with different commercial interests.
That does accord us time to discover new twists of the plot, time to decide what´s the better way to go about things… or to get even more confused.

For confident advice on how to handle the situation, please turn elsewhere.

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The win-win of EU bashing

I was at a seminar in Copenhagen the other day… no, I should probably admit that I was one of two people leading this seminar.
(It is not out of modesty I hesitate to mention that. The discussion somehow got away from us and the whole thing turned out a bit of a shambles.
My apologies to everybody present for that.)

Anyway!
The subject was the licorice pipe-story. You may have come across it, it is yet another of those news of how the EU I banning this, that or the other. They´re usually good fun so they get enormous coverage in the media and politicians are never shy about popping up and giving the EU a good old bashing for it.
You know the kind of thing I mean.

We had a number of these headlines at the seminar and if not informative, (you´ve seen one, you´ve seen them all) at least we had a good laugh:
”The EU is banning vacuum cleaners”, “The EU is banning the Queen from our bank notes”, “The EU is banning the United Kingdom” (I kid you not).
Most of them came from the British press and used words to describe the EU or Euro MPs as “bonkers”, “crackpots” or “madhatters”.

By the way, the EU is not about to ban licorice pipes. Of course not. I feel a sudden urge to emphasise that because these stories do have a persuasive note to them.
And this is precisely why they really are more than just a bit of fun.

Put together the sheer number of these kinds of news stories and the amount of attention they are getting, then add to that the lack of attention and coverage that proper EU news get (f ex, 700 000 Europeans die from tobacco use every year, most of them started smoking as teenagers, the big tobacco firms are targeting the young and the children.) and you can start to see that the problem.
These mad stories end up being the ones that shape peoples´ perception of what is going on in the EU.

How can democracy work when people don´t know what is being done in their name or, are under the impression that what the EU legislators are doing is completely  irrelevant?
I don´t have to remind anyone of the fact that the EU nowadays regulates most aspects of our daily lives.
You may love or hate that fact, but you need to be aware of it since it concerns you.

So is there anything to be done about it and in that case, what?
Unfortunately, I don´t think there´s much we can do.

The way I see it, your average European citizen is two steps removed from the goings on in the EU. Between him/her there are two actors in our society that we trust to serve us with information on what´s happening.
First, the media. But media no longer serves this function in our societies.
You could blame the Internet for that, slowly killing off newspapers as we once knew them. Nobody subscribes to a daily paper anymore, we get our news on the Internet for free. With readers shifting to the net, so does the ads, making news papers lose out on their biggest income. This of course is forcing them to get rid of reporters in large numbers, leaving the few left at the news desk working that much harder, not offering them any time for research or background.

A licorice pipe story in this context is perfect for the news industry. There is no need to do time consuming research (throw in a mention of the first paper that printed is as source and you´re home free) but if you like, add a national politician saying how ridiculous this is and that Brussels must be bonkers.
It´s a fun and easy read, so it´s bound to get many hits on any website. And having a large number of hits on a website translates directly in to more income from ads.

Second, we have politicians. Most of them positively loooove the “EU-wants-to-ban…”-news.
Of course they do, their political life depends on being seen, getting attention, being in the limelight. How else are they going to win votes?
But in order to be noticed through the constant noise and chatter, they must express strong opinions, be firm, and preferably fight for something or against something. Being firm and strong generally carries a risk of stepping on somebody´s toes which is a thing no politician wants to do… the great exception to this rule, of course, being the EU.

There is no price to pay for a politician to come out in full fury, railing against the lunacies of EU. “The EU” is not very likely to answer back, to defend itself. No voters have ever turned against a politician for defending (what for the short sighted looks like) a national interest or even better, a long standing tradition.
Attacking the EU would appear to be the safest way for any politician to win votes. (Ironically, that is even true for politicians running for the European Parliament.)

There you are.
With the two main actors standing between the ordinary citizen and the EU actually gaining from this constant EU bashing, I don´t see how it is going to change anytime soon.

Oh, and by the way, my partner at the Copenhagen seminar, more practical minded than me, would have offered you a useful test for the next time a funny EU-story appears in the news:
Try replacing the word “EU” off the headline: “EU wants to ban vacuum cleaners/candy/walks in the park”, with the name of your Prime Minster or national parliament:
“Rutte wants to ban vacuum cleaners”… “Kenny wants to ban licorice pipes” …
Naah, don´t think so, right?
You may dislike the politicians running your country butat least you feel pretty confident  they are not outright crazy.

Well, if a news headline doesn´t stand up to this test, it most likely isn´t true for the EU either.
After all, it is the very same politicians, the same political parties that run our countries, who also run the EU.

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Wings of change

If the fluttering of a wing of a butterfly in Brazil can start a storm in Asia, just think how the turning of a wing of a windmill in the Baltic Sea may shape Europe´s political future.

Here´s how:
The former super power USA has lost interest in the Middle East.
Oh, they´ll say they haven´t but we first noticed it during the Arab spring when, after initially calling the dictator Mubarak a factor for stability and a strong ally, the US opted not to save their ally from the wrath of the people. The US would then have very little to do with intervening in Libya, President Sarkozy had to twist their arm to make the Americans at least threateningly park their battle ships on the coast line.
Then the US would not intervene in Syria. Now President Obama is talking soothingly to its long-standing enemy Iran.

For a while the change of course could be interpreted as being the work of a somewhat liberal president Obama. But we´ve since seen how powerless he is in Washington, so that clearly is not the answer.
Is it because the US is so poor they can´t afford to defend their interests?
That could be part of the reason surely, but they don´t act as if they are poor, still happily borrowing trillions (4 of them last year) of dollars and spending it.

No, the main part of the reason is more likely oil.
The US don´t really need the oil from the Gulf anymore, so why spend money and ressources[1] combating the unrest in the Middle East?

This is all thanks to discovery of shale gas and light oil, turning the US from the largest importer to the largest producer of oil in the world 2013. In 2004, the EIA projected that the U.S. would need to import 5 trillion cubic foot of liquified natural gas by 2025. The EIA now predicts that the U.S. will be exporting the same amount by 2025.

As a result of this American twist of fate, the status quo of the Middle East exists no more.

Israel has already got the message loud and clear and can see it is now on its own. Its politicians may spend their mornings railing against the USA, they spend their afternoons tying up new relationships, with France, with Russia, with Mexico, with China and Australia.

Saudi Arabia, no longer vital for maintaining stability in the region – this no longer being a priority -  nor for oil supplies, and therefore silently dropped by their great ally in the West, turned in desperation to Russia, hoping to make a deal, oil supplier to oil supplier.
It would seem the Saudis went about it the wrong way and clumsily angered Putin into becoming even more of an enemy than he already was (here´s an account of this, can´t vouch for it being true but it´s an interesting read).
The royal family of Saudi Arabia is also on its own. Will they be the next dictatorship to face the people´s wrath?

Or will it be Russia?
See, Russia is not in such a good situation either what with the oil price falling and its oil exports being priced out of the European market by cheap coal from South America (a commodity that used to sell well in the US but the Americans, rich on shale gas and oil, are not buying anymore).
So Russian export incomes are down… and the Ukrainians are thinking about signing up with the EU instead of Russia? That has to be stopped, pronto!

To convince the Ukrainian leader at the very last minute (remember?, the EU leaders were waiting with the agreement in Vilnius, pen in hand, sumptuous dinner set out for after) proved not so hard. A 15 bn bail-out and President Yanukovych was their man.
To convince the Ukrainian people is proving much harder. Just to make sure the EU doesn´t get any ideas of meddling further in this Russian-Ukrainian affair, the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov took to TV the other night and warned the Europeans to stay out.

Putin and Lavrov can rest assured, there may be harsh words from the EU but there will be no European intervention in the Ukraine. No European country has much appetite for intervening in other countries businesses (not quite true, French President Hollande would have us all storm over to the Central African Republic, ostensibly so as to save refugees from getting shot but really to save his terribly unpopular Presidency. Even with this war being about a really tiny enemy, he is not getting many offers from other EU countries).

Ah, but don´t relax just yet, Mr Putin.
Sure, the EU is not about to step up and try to be a super power/world police now that this position is wide open what with the USA on the decline[2] and China not ready to step in[3]. But far away from the foreign ministers and defence ministers, the EU is har at work, creating an energy single market.
And energy, as we´ve seen in this tale, is a vital part of politics and of independence of super powers.

Only two days ago, the EU commission presented a new master plan on climate and energy and guess what, Europe looks like it´s going full steam ahead with expanding the sector renewable energy (the UK is against, obviously but they do not win many fights in the EU these days).

Not realistic? Between 2008 and 2012, the EU countries rasied the total share of renewable energy to 12.7% (from 8,5%). Some countries are better placed than others to expand the sector of renewables – the Scandinavian countries have a surplus of energy, have between 23 and 50% of renewable energy in their mix already and are busy as bees building more and more windmills. This  will be useful for everybody now that the EU goal of 27% will apply to the whole Union instead of nationally.

And that´s how a fluttering of the wing of a windmill in the Baltic Sea may change our political situation, by buying us independence from Russia, the Middle East and others.


[1] …and there you have the “being poor” part of the argument.

[2] Oh yes, the debate on whether the US is in a decline is over. The debate is now on whether the US will stage a come-back. (I´m happy to be convinced but the US haven´t found THAT much shale gas, you know.)

[3] …and might never be. Let´s not count out the Chinese population. The idea of freedom is intoxicating, look at the brave people of Ukraine. And Turkey. And Egypt. And…

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