On the morning of May 14, EU competition officials raided oil companies BP, Shell, Statoil and oil price agency Platts, in search of evidence for price colluding. Suspicions are they´ve been fixing the price for crude oil for at least ten years.
While we´re waiting for the investigation to tell us if they´re guilty or not (Yes, yes, we are all thinking the same thing here), we can send a happy thought to the lawmakers that decided Europe needs a competition authority with sharp teeth, taking on the really, really big guys.
Who is taking on the big banks?
The EU competition people are. They´re investigating the Libor set-up whereby big banks (Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, Deutsche Bank, Rabobank…) have been colluding to arrange the interest rates on loans so it benefits them… at the same time of course, hurting everyone who has taken out a mortgage to buy a home.
Both basically had the same set-up. The big ones – banks/oil companies reported their transactions daily to an agency – Libor/Pratts – that then works out an average interest rate/ oil price which more or less everybody in the business of money/of oil applies to their transactions.
Only they didn´t always report the correct transaction price but a number that they preferred to be used as a benchmark.
Too bad for the consumers. At least we have the EU competition people to defend our interests.
Who takes on Google?, the almighty American company that keeps track of us all when we´re on the Internet and uses the information for commercial purposes?
The EU is.
Competition officials are investigating claims that Google uses its over 90% European market share to outcrowd competitors. Commissioner Almunia has demanded Google to address four points, including allegations that the company promotes its own specialist search services, copies rivals’ travel and restaurant reviews, and has agreements with websites and software developers that stifle competition in the advertising industry.
Who has taken on Microsoft?, the world dominant in computer software.
The EU competition people did, already back in 2003, forcing the American giant to open up their software applications to competition, to pay heavy fines (EUR 860 bn) and just recently – another EUR 516 bn in extra fines for not honoring a promise to correct its businesses practices.
Who took on MasterCard and Visa, companies controlling the bulk of the trillions worth of credit card transactions we make every day?
You guessed it, the EU competition people. In 2007 both American companies were sanctioned for overcharging credit card transactions. Appeals to the EU court didn´t work for MasterCard, a heavy fine being the result and the Visa case was suddenly looking bad…
This was not even the first collision between MasterCard/Visa and the EU competition authorities and only last month we found out that it will not be the last.
You can hardly expect national competition authorities to fight these giants. This is what we need Europe for. Cheers to the Brussels bureaucrats!
Great news that seems to have been lost in…the Europeans going on a few days´ holiday?, spring finally arriving? – the EU Parliament will revisit a particularly disappointing vote.
Surprising (can they even do that?) but it seems to be true.
It was last month that the Parliament decided NOT to save the European carbon trade, the system for making industry reduce CO2 emissions.
It has all the makings to become a great success, this idea to have industry either reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases OR pay for their pollution with emission rights.
The lobbying against it was fierce so the system was watered down to a ridiculous level but since introduced in 2005, it really has made the companies change their ways. Even though the carbon market was flooded with free or cheap emissions rights thanks to overly generous governments, the European industry reduced their CO2 emissions by 13% between 2005 and 2010. Well over expectations. And at a low cost, at that! Not one company had to relocate to China to stay in business.
And the world is slowly coming aboard. National or sub-national cap-and-trade systems are operating in Australia (which will join the European system in 2015), in Japan, New Zealand and in several states in the US. New Emission Trading Systems are planned in Canada, China, South Korea and Switzerland.
The EU-ETS could be the initiative which paves the way for a linking regional ETS’s so as to achieve a global mechanism.
Now, the benefits of the system will be completely lost if you keep handing out free emission rights to everybody. So the EU commission was quite right in proposing that this years´ auctioning of new emission rights must be postponed so the price for emitting CO2 starts to go up, thus making it a good idea to work a bit harder at reducing the emissions at the source.
Why would the European Parliament kill this sensible proposal?
No idea, but according to the voting records, the British Tories and the UKIP should take the blame along with the Swedish Conservatives (What were you thinking?! That the climate must wait for our economies to turn around?)
And as a result of the vote the price of emission rights slid from an already low level a further 40%…
But all is not lost! The EP environmental committee has decided to put the proposal up for a renewed vote in July.
Now all we need is for the European Commission to also think again when it comes to punishing Chinese built solar panels for being cheap. First of all – we want them to be cheap. Second - this will not help European industry but hurt it.
Remember you did the same things some years back on Chinese low energy light bulbs so as to protect European production in German Osram and Dutch Philips? …only it turned out that Philips had their light bulbs manufactured in China and paid the price for your “protection”.
You are about to make the same mistake again- hurting European jobs when you think you´re punishing China.
Face it – we´re all so connected nowadays that you need to forget about anti-dumping and find other ways to win trade.
”Rise in terrorist attacks in 2012” exclaims the headline of one of the latest Europol press releases.
Terrible. And scary.
After the Boston bombers, are we next in line?
The press release goes on:
“Findings from Europol’s latest strategic analysis product – the 2013 EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report – show how the total number of terrorist attacks and related arrests in the EU significantly increased in 2012, in contrast to previous years. This and other findings in the report describe a threat from terrorism that remains strong and varied in Europe.”
And there are statistics to back up the claims:
* The number of EU attacks in EU states were 219, up from 174.
* 537 individuals were arrested in relation to terrorist offences, up from 484.
* 17 people died in 2012 of terrorist attacks, the most prominent of which involved a religiously inspired solo terrorist, who shot and killed seven people in France.
Let´s be honest. “Religiously inspired” reads “muslim” to most of us, doesn´t it? We remember the tragic events from last year when a lone madman from France in cold blood killed little children for going to a school of a different confession. He was a solo murderer but not the only one:
“In the course of separate investigations, weapons and ammunition were also found with other religiously inspired cells in 2012.”
Better read the report then, find out what we are up against.
167 of the 219 attacks last year were separatists of some kind. The Irish kind, the Basque kind and the Corsican kind.
About half of the individuals arrested for terrorist offences last year were also separatists.
Add to that 18 attacks from left-wing or anarchist terrorists and 2 attacks from right-wing terrorists.
Out of the 437 people that stood trial for terrorist offences in 2012, 95 were “religiously inspired”. 278 individuals were separatists, 59 were left-wing.
Not so religious then. And not overwhelmingly muslim either. The major threat to us Europeans is our oh-so-old political infighting.
Here´s a phrase summing up the situation that I also found in the report but that somehow did not find its way into the press release:
“Attacks by terrorists and violent extremists have not markedly increased since 2008”.
So what can we learn from this? Well, to always read a full report, of course.
That the Europol press people are good at putting a spin on facts so as to make sure the report gets a mention in the press, is not really surprising. “Not markedly increased” is simply not good news.
The press officers´ good work paid off, the headline “Terrorism is on the rise in Europe” was spread through the world thanks to the news industry.
Not quite true maybe, but good for Europol when they ask for more funding.
You could blame lazy journalists if you wanted, for misleading the public. But you would find then that they hardly have time during a working day to scrutinize reports. Especially not when it comes attached to a well written press release, ready to print.
Already in 2008 Nick Davies of the Guardian showed us in his book “The Flat Earth News“  is that journalists had been outnumbered by press officers.
The ratio journalists versus press officers have gone from bad to worse since then according to several studies , n the US going from 1.2 to 1 in 1980 to 4 to 1 in 2010. In Brussels there are 300 less accredited journalists today than 5 years ago, reports AIP/IPA.
In a nutshell: More people are being paid to put a spin on things than are being paid to check facts.
So “quality journalism” finds itself an endangered species, not for lack of quality in journalists but for lack of time.
Until quality journalism finds its place in this fast changing news world, I guess we´ll just have to read all the reports ourselves.
 Publisher Random House. Great read!
A friend of mine, illustrator by trade, was asked by a company to sign a permanent lease for them to use one of his drawings as their logo. In exchange for a small amount of money. He was happy to do so until he found a clause in the contract saying that if the originality of the drawing was challenged in court, he would have to accept all responsibility.
No worries, right? He knows he drew the logo.
Except he doesn´t know how to prove that he did, should it be challenged on court.
Now, he´s an over imaginative guy, what are the odds?, really? But that´s the way he is. And when it dawned on him that he is always liable for his illustrations, whether he signs a contract or not, that really hit his peaceful nights. What if someone says he stole the idea for an illustration from them?
Well, I think he shouldn´t have to answer such an accusation. Ideas should be free to steal, copy or be inspired from.
Not one of us when we come up with a creative idea comes up with something uniquely original. We sample, we copy, we take inspiration from what others have done and add our own twist to it.
Such is the creative process. It´s not stealing.
Even the latest research tends to not be original. As Mark Lemley of Stanford Law School has showed, almost all significant new technologies are invented simultaneously or nearly simultaneously by two or more teams working independently of each other. (By the way, I pinched this piece of info from the blog TechDirt by Mike Masnick).
It tends to be a coincidence who registers the idea first, in a system that also permits inventors to delay others working in the same field.
The argument in favour of copyright and patents are of course that nobody will have an incentive to innovate if ownership of an idea is not guaranteed by law. Without it artists would not survive. Worse than that; music, film and literature would not survive.
So how come this is not true for the fashion industry?
They´re making billions and billions with no copyright, no protection against people “stealing” their design and reproducing it. Fashion designers don´t seem to need ownership to create and innovate.
How come the perfume industry can survive without copyrights? And the fast-growing “cooking-shows-in TV and books”-industry? Recipes are not protected by copyright.
And what about the extremely creative and even faster growing tattoo-business (worth 2-3 bn US dollars)?
They all “steal”, sample, copy and rework what their colleagues are doing and no one seems to be the poorer for it. Or any less creative.
The Internet and new technology – such as 3D-printers! – has already made it near impossible to keep ideas and their execution under wraps.
Some people go along with this development. Young scientists are throwing out centuries of tradition of protecting scientific ideas and opening up their data bases on-line as well as their thinking processes in exchange for input, criticism, new ideas.
Ah, but who gets acclaimed for coming up with the right answer in the end, earning a good career boost on the ticket?
The young scientists don´t seem to worry, seeing that clever people tend to be noticed and find their way forward even in this new, strange world.
Professor Jörgen Örström Möller at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies argues that these young scientists are part of a new development – the world is moving into a new era with the economy based less on material resources (becoming more scant day by day) and more on knowledge.
Based on ideas.
This is where we should be directing our efforts, not on going in the opposite direction.
I´m even tempted to think it is too bad Italy and Spain didn´t win their attack in the European Court on the newly created European Patent.
Their arguments were absolute rubbish but it would have put another hamper in the EU efforts going on for 40 years now, to find stricter ways to protect European ideas.
What Europe needs it not more of protecting ideas, it is more of sharing ideas.
 ’HOW ASIA CAN SHAPE THE WORLD, from the era of plenty to the era of scarcities’, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore 2010.
 I They claimed it could undermine existing EU laws on the single market or on its social, economic and territorial basis. Or interfere with the rights and responsibilities of member states.
China has just signed a free trade agreement with Iceland and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang declares along with Icelandic president Johanna Sigurdadottir that this will: ”…further deepen their mutually beneficial co-operation in the fields of trade and investment…”
Mutually beneficial, really?
China has 1,354 billion inhabitants that can buy Icelandic fish. The size of the Icelandic population is 0.002 percent of that.
It´s a population so small it needs an app to make sure people don´t sleep with their cousin.
Now, of course Iceland has something else to offer besides free trade: Its´ all-of-a-sudden perfect location in the middle of the Arctic, these days coming to live with the warming up of the oceans.
Only last autumn the first ships managed to make it to China through the Arctic waters – no longer frozen most of the year and next summer there will be a regular Chinese shipping route here. This will cut the time and the cost for shipping Chinese goods to Europa by half.
In exchange for selling its fish on the enormous Chinese market, Iceland also signed several agreements on cooperation over different Arctic issues and promised to support the Chinese ambition to take place in the Arctic Council.
Like the agreement of the 15th of April says:
“Iceland reaffirmed its support for China’s application for observer status in the Arctic Council. The Chinese side expressed appreciation for this support.”
Lucky timing here, the Arctic Council is to vote on applications for observer status for a number of applicants next month.
Now, the Arctic Council is open strictly for countries in the Arctic region so observer status it will have to be but China feels it is a near-Arctic state so the Chinese are going for a ´permanent observer status´ so as not having to mix with the other 26 observers without any say in Arctic matters.
In case the permanent observer thing doesn´t work out, a Chinese company has bought land on Iceland, perfectly located for a shipping marina for passing ships but intended according to the buyer as a tourist resort for Chinese tourists.
China has also promised to help Iceland drill for oil in waters close by.
The Arctic region is believed to have the largest remaining oil and gas reserves in the world, only now surfacing because of the melting ice.
It also has large deposits of rare minerals.
Iceland is very grateful to China. Should this Arctic Council ambition not work out, Iceland – just the other day, lucky timing again – created a brand new assembly dubbed the Arctic Circle, to give non-Arctic countries like China, India and Singapore a forum for influence in the region.
And just in case that is not enough, China is investing heavily in Canada forged a “strategic partnership” with Arctic-Country Denmark only last year and sends its Prime Minister on a rare visit to current-Arctic-President Sweden a few weeks before the crucial vote.
It makes sense for China to try and secure the Arctic region for its commercial interests. But what about the European position in all this, you ask?
Well, do you remember the European position in the 1990s when the US courted European capitals and offered bilateral deals for their national airlines? The European Commission argued that it should negotiate for everyone so as to get the best agreement possible from a position of strength.
The EU countries in question were of the opposite view; they should negotiate their own deal, by themselves. Which they did.
With the Arctic it´s the same story over again.
The European Commission has been asking for a permanent observer status in the Arctic Council for five years but in spite there being three EU members in the Arctic Council (Denmark, Finland and Sweden), the request has been denied so far.
Canada seems to be against granting the EU an observers´ status in the Arctic Council on account of the EU banning seal hunting.
Russia is just against in general.
The US is also against and lobbying the EU countries within the Arctic Council, saying that having the EU onboard would undermine their national interests.
The EU does not have millions of euros to turn hesitant countries into allies like the Chinese can.
All it has is the hope of European solidarity prevailing.
A clever trick – used often – when a politician is worried about his party´s ranking in the polls or maybe wants direct attention to something else than the sorry state of affairs in the country he is running, is to point finger at immigrants.
It usually pays off really well.
Italian electoral candidate Silvio Berlusconi asked his fellow countrymen to vote for him so as to “stop leftwing parties opening the country´s borders wide to immigration”. This was the very same Berlusconi that during his three stints as prime minister of Italy pushed his country to the brink of economic disaster.
However, on the strength of his electoral arguments (one presumes…) he once again managed to win a strong hold in the Italian Parliament.
The actual fact that immigrants are leaving recession-ridden Italy in droves did not come into the matter.
Facts usually don´t count for much when immigrants are the subject of discussion.
The Danish public debate every now and then works itself into a frenzy over some immigrant related matter. Recently it was the fact that 45 young boys – born to Muslim parents – allegedly has been fighting in Syria alongside the rebels.
Yes, Denmark supports the Syrian rebels over the regime.
Yes, some 25 000 Danish boys have fought abroad since 1992 or as the US central command puts it: “…compared to the size of the Danish population (5.5 million), Denmark is among the leading countries in the world when it comes to participation in international operations.”
But facts don´t count for much when faced with the threat of 45 Muslim boys potentially turning back to Denmark, now trained in how to shoot.
Politicians from most political parties swiftly promised that if the boys survive and return to Denmark, they will be under constant surveillance by the Danish intelligence services. Xenophobic Danish Folkeparti that has lost ground in the polls lately tried to outdo them all with a promise to deport the boys straight away.
The Dutch enjoy a good blame-the-immigrants-game as well. To go with any article about immigrants – meaning any suspicious-looking-therefore-possibly-Muslim boy – the Dutch press have found the perfect illustration. Article after article on the subject of immigration is accompanied by a photo showing such boys proving their shameful ways by covering their face.
Only this picture, pulled out of the archives, was actually taken when 150 Moroccan youngsters visited the Dutch concentration camp in Westerbork, covering their faces in shock as they listened to a camp survivor telling of his experience.
British Prime Minister David Cameron tried the same trick recently, desperate to have the country talking about something else than how badly the economy is faring and how little the government seems to be able to do about it. He too, came up with the idea to blame immigrants, hoping no doubt to win some votes off the xenophobic UK independence Party.
(Number of British expats in the world: approximately 5 Million.)
The trick worked less well for Mr Cameron. When he announced that he would stand up for his country and put a stop to Eastern European immigrants filling up hospital wards without paying, he was contradicted by none other than his own Health minister.
The fact, lost in the heat of the moment, is that NHS can always claim the money back from other EU governments.
It didn´t work too well for the Conservative party running the Swedish government coalition either. The Swedish public debate generally tend to react badly to politicians pointing fingers at immigrants but lately the Swedish xenophobic party has been climbing in opinion polls whereas the Conservative party seems to be losing out. Maybe blame-immigrants has become a vote-winner in Sweden too?
The youngest Conservative in government, also immigration minister, Tobias Billstrom was sent out to test the xenophobic waters, to see if any voters could be pulled in.
“It´s not blond and blue eyed people hiding illegal immigrants in this country”, Mr Billstrom stated.
The remark may not count as blatantly racist in some European countries but in Sweden it does. The reaction came swiftly and was harsh, the critics were vociferous and influential.
The Conservative Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt held back a couple of days but in the end had to come out and order the immigration minister to apologize, giving him a stern warning about making remarks of the kind and telling him that “he (Mr Billstrom) must stick to the party line of humane immigration policies if he wants to stay in office”.
Oh, well. It´s usually a really clever trick but it doesn´t always work.
I´ve never been in favour of introducing quotas to even out the number of women in boardrooms.
But then EU commissioner Viviane Reding took a beating trying to make it a EU directive. Now, the arguments against quotas were so silly, it finally convinced me.
“One-size-fits-all quotas interfere disproportionately with the freedom of companies and shareholders to organise their own affairs,” said Pedro Oliveira, legal adviser at Business Europe to the Financial Times.
How about the EU directives for companies on accounting, annual reports, auditing, valuation, mergers, how to respond to a take over-bid, disclosure of information relating to statutes and any amendments, to capital subscribed and to people in charge, on prospects for shareholders, on particulars of company directors, on employees representation on the board, on taxation and transfers between mother companies and subsidiaries, on when and how to convoke and conduct shareholders meetings…
Need I go on? I haven´t even started on the list of EU directives concerning their actual business activities or on worker safety rules, pension and parental leave rules…
We´re not usually shy of lawmaking in Europe. In this case 88% of European citizens believe that given that women are equally competent, they should be equally represented in positions of leadership. 75% are in favour of legislation ot achieve this.
Mr Oliveira had more to say on the subject of female quotas:
“They disregard the highly diverse conditions in different sectors/companies and do not take into account the way corporate boards function and are renewed.”
Too true! Quotas do not at all respect the fact that men choose other men for sitting on company boards.
But tell me – how is that an argument against quotas?
“Quotas aren’t the best way to get more women into boardrooms”, said Erika Watson of the Guardian in a column the other Sunday.
No? Come up with a better way then.
Because if we keep at it, at the same rate as today, it will be 2085 before we achieve gender neutral board rooms.
In “fiercely egalitarian” Norway (I´m quoting the Telegraph here), the government introduced a binding law of 40% of the least represented gender on company boards in 2008. The Telegraph met one of the most sought after Norwegian business woman, Mimi Berdal. This “smartly-suited blonde lawyer” (quoting the Telegraph again) is not in favour of quotas.
“On principle I do not believe in too much regulation on the private sphere. It would have been much better if this had happened on a voluntary basis.”
Yea. Me too.
But it´s not happening, is it? Apart from in your native Norway, where the law imposes it.
The House of Lords in UK discussed the idea of an EU directive on quotas (there are less than 16% women board members in UK companies).
No surprise there, the Lords were against. Not because they do not think that it would be preferable with more gender balanced board rooms. They do.
But they don´t want the EU to impose them.
Fair enough. How about you British impose some quotas on yourselves, then?
Not likely. It seems the UK Business Secretary Vince Cable is leading a European campaign against the EU quota proposals. He´s got the support of Germany (16% females in the board rooms mainly thanks to the unions electing to send women as their representative on boardrooms.)
Sweden is against as well.
And the argument?
“This is not an area for the EU to regulate, this is national competence.” Says the Swedish gender equality minister Maria Arnholm ( 24 % of Swedish board members are female.)
Gender equality is right up there, among the top goals for the European Union: “..a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.” (Art. 2)
But here´s the argument that finally clinched it for me.
Mr Aron Modig of Young Swedish Christian Democrats says that it is highly risky business picking board members for their gender, not for their competence.
Could not agree more.
More women than men get a university exam these days. Still we have 91.1% of men in executive positions on company boards.
Judging from the way many companies are run today, it is high time we start to choose from more than only half the talent pool.
Enough with this informal system of quotas that fills the boardrooms with only men.
Commissioner Reding – you go, girl!
What´s with this new craze in Europe to cut corporate taxes?
The British finance minister George Osborne unveiled a fourth cut of corporate taxes since 2010. He rate will have gone from 28% to 20% since 2010.
To what good? It hasn´t helped growth so far, no new jobs are in sight.
Is it because Cyprus is a shining example of what really low corporate taxes can do for a country?
A tax rate of 10% has given 40 000 letterbox-companies that offers not one single job on the island and not one of them around to help out when trouble hits.
Ah, and there´s Bulgaria. Offering a 10% tax rate for businesses and the economy in such a state that it “may become Greece” according to some analysts.
Still, the tax race goes on.
Sweden cut corporate taxes to 22% this year which meant a loss of 1.6 bn EUR to the state coffers. No stampede of foreign companies so far, wanting to relocate to Sweden.
(Sweden, really?, you say, well known for its high taxation. You´re not wrong, the Swedish citizen pay a top marginal personal income-tax rate of 57%.)
Now, the Swedish state can afford to give money away, the state made a surplus of 0.3 bn EUR last year.
Denmark, on the other hand, has a budget deficit that won´t go away, no matter how much the government tries. Denmark recently announced a lowering of its corporate taxes from 25 to 22% amid an ongoing recession and its hard work to right the persistent budget deficits.
Having deficits doesn´t seem to scare any government from giving up tax revenues from the corporate world. Debt-laden Portugal has floated the idea of lowering corporate taxes to 10% – as low as Cyprus – for some months now.
The Spanish government has also had the clever idea to give up tax revenues in this way. (Both countries has to ask permission from their lenders though, so we´ll see about that.)
Meanwhile, most European governments are shifting the tax burden to their citizens. Someone has to pay, after all.
This is a race to the bottom. We will no doubt have to hit rock bottom before European governments can agree to give up their national prerogative to decide on taxes and harmonize at European level of corporate taxation.
Just the “level playing field” on the single market that the governments of UK, Sweden and Denmark keep banging on about.
The day couldn´t come too soon.
It´s a source of constant worry to the administration of the European Union that connecting with the. common citizen is proving to be so very hard.
It´s not for lack of trying.
The EU commission launches any numbers of activities to reach out – lately it´s been sending the commissioners out to each member country to debate the future of Europe. 30 Million Euros a year has gone into this during the last seven years under the ´Europe for citizens´ program.
Every year the Commission spends well over 100 Mill Euros in rather futile attempts to ´create a European Public Sphere´, or to ´provide the press with tools for better understanding´, including prizes of up to 10 000 EUR for articles ´promoting and stimulating a European identity or the work and thought processes involved in European integration or in European policies´.
Still not connecting with the people…
But of course the answer has been staring us in the face all along.
It only took the mention of the word “porn” in an obscure own-initiative resolution in the European Parliament, several pages long and only a few lines concerning this attention-grabbing subject, to produce headlines in most newspapers, radio and TV stations all over Europe.
´The EU may ban porn.´
No, it won´t.
Of course it won´t.
Own-initiatives never go anywhere, the European Commission is not going to take any notice and act on it.
The European Commission doesn´t even take much notice when they are handed a “Citizen´s Initiative” signed by at least a million citizens from at least 7 different countries, asking for a legislative initiative. The bar, you see, is set so high that so far no initiative has made it. (Reaching out to citizens is one thing, them reaching back seems to be quite another.)
Most journalists know very well the so-called porn ban is not going to go anywhere. But it is still a good story.
The CAP reform, on the other hand, being voted on these days, is not a good news story.
It may concerns all of us, CAP is after all the way the European countries control what our farmers produce and how they produce it – so basically what we are going to be served for dinner (horse meat anyone?)
But it´s not a story easily sold to news editors.
It´s not sexy.
Here´s an idea. If you sneek in the words ´free sex´ in one of the over 8 000 amendments of the legislative proposals for an agricultural reform, I bet you get the attention of media and the European citizens.
You may even get people realizing that a grand reform of the European agriculture policy is about to be decided on.
The EU will have gotten the attention of the citizens a lot cheaper than the yearly Communications budget.
(Declaration of interest: This story has been written partly in the hope of winning any future EU Journalism Award for ´stimulating thought processes involved in European policies´.)
Yes, hitting bankers over the head by capping their bonuses is very satisfying. It´s positively mad that there can be so much money floating around in one sector of business that people can be rewarded with bonuses of millions of pounds, dollars or euro.
But hang on, how come there are these enormous amounts of money floating around in that one sector? Because these sums really are enormous – in 2011 the European banking sector held assets of €45 trillion which is roughly 350% of the combined EU GDP (Interestingly, the number for the US banking sector was around 80% of the American GDP).
Something must have happened while most of us were looking the other way. During the last decade, the European financial sector grew in size by more than 85%. The rest of the European economy grew in average by 1.3% yearly.
Somehow banks managed to put their hands of billions and trillions of society´s combined fortune without giving all that much back in terms of products or services.
No wonder they can afford to pay million dollar bonuses to their employees.
Now, there seems to be a general agreement on keeping this system whereby we all entrust our money to a number of private businesses called banks and then count on them to act as middle-men or go-betweens so as to make the economy run smoothly.
Well, it hasn´t run that smoothly for a while. Surely we should rein them in a bit, seeing as they got a bit too excited last time around?
Capping bankers´ bonuses will hardly do that. The bankers have already demonstrated how very clever and creative can be, so they will no doubt find ways around bans on high bonuses (as soon as they´ve stopped complaining about it).
So maybe we could forget about the bonuses for a bit and concentrate our minds on three other opportunities to claw back some control over the banking sector.
The first opportunity is basically lost already. In fact, the very directive of which capping bonuses was a small part, tackled the important subject of how much capital the banks should be made to hold in reserve, so that next time they do lousy business, they can cough up rescue money themselves, instead of asking it from tax payers.
This directive (agreed upon this week at Ecofin) is a watered down version of international rules (Basel III) which earned the European Union open criticism from the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision for being too soft on banks.
By the way, the international version was in itself watered down, so much that bank shares hit a high on stock markets when the rules became known.
The bigger banks already fulfill the requirements, six years ahead of the deadline. The smaller banks have plenty of time to adjust.
The second opportunity, a future Banking Union introducing a much needed discipline on European banks, is being lost in negotiations. We may well end up getting the lamest of systems; A centralised (non-partial, non-nationalist) supervision while leaving to national governments to intervene if a bank gets in trouble.
Not so different from today then, where we´ve seen national governments hide their heads in the sand until the situation becomes absolutely impossible, dragging everybody else with them.
But the really, really scary bit is that we are about to miss the third opportunity to take control of the sector. The EU commission is reported being swayed by EU governments not to propose a proper separation of banking activities. As the Liikanen report of October 2012 rightly pointed out, as long as banks are allowed to use our savings for speculation, we will have a hard time avoiding having to bail them out when they crash. He suggested that banks should separate activities so that securities trading was kept apart, risking only the bank´s own funds when they felt like taking risks.
This is seriously bad news for all of us. We will be stuck in a system where banks profit in good times and hand over the bill to the tax payer in bad times.
Bank bonuses are peanuts, compared to this.