The UK's Daily Telegraph has outdone itself. Here is the latest example of why the "serious" press in the UK can't claim to be giving Brits the coverage of the EU that they deserve.
The article seems not to have been written by a Telegraph correspondent (no author is identified); it may have come from one of the news agencies. But it refers to a "Leonard Orba", who is identified as the man "in charge of the EU Bookshop project".
Of course the man's name is Orban and not Orba, and he isn't just some project manager. He's a European Commissioner. OK, so he's not Commissioner for Agriculture, or Competition, or Environment. He's Commissioner for Multilingualism. Not exactly high profile. But you can't call yourself a serious publication if you allow errors of this type into reports.
Perhaps just as bad as the misreporting of his name and job is the missed opportunity that the report represents. There is a lot to say about the EU Bookshop and the broader Europeana project. For example, some see Europeana as a strategic European counter to the cultural threat represented by Google's efforts to digitise the world's libraries. There are some serious cultural and economic issues at stake.
But all in all, what the Telegraph provides here is pretty much worthless. Shame on them.
Monday, October 19, 2009
The UK's Daily Telegraph has outdone itself. Here is the latest example of why the "serious" press in the UK can't claim to be giving Brits the coverage of the EU that they deserve.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
So President Klaus has set a condition for his signature of the Lisbon Treaty - he wants to get an opt-out for his country from the Charter of Fundamental Rights. There's no way this concession will be granted. Is this the final curtain for the Treaty?
And am I allowed to say, "I told you so" yet?
Friday, October 9, 2009
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
The consensus out there (FT Blog, Daily Telegraph, the very interesting Seifert/Litobarski podcast, Centre for European Reform) seems to be that Czech president Václav Klaus will cave in to pressure from all quarters and complete his country's ratification of the Lisbon Treaty ahead of a general election in the UK. The election is likely to put a Conservative government into office that is deeply hostile to the treaty and has promised to hold a referendum in the UK if it has not been fully ratified.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
But I have been very disappointed by Open Europe's anti-Lisbon Treaty campaign. Whereas the bulk of the organisation's research throws some light, albeit with a strong eurosceptic bent, on real issues and proposes real solutions, the pieces on the Lisbon Treaty, as well as the blog, seem to have been written by a political party and not a serious think tank. The most recent piece of research focuses on the amendments that the Irish government sought, but failed, to get included in the Lisbon Treaty. On the surface, it is detailed, well-researched, and powerfully argued. But anyone with the slightest interest in objectivity would immediately ask whether the Irish experience of treaty negotiation was so different from that of other Member States. Open Europe is a British outfit, so you would have thought that at least some UK material wouldn't be too hard to find and use. But this question does not appear anywhere in the paper. It's clearly meant more as a direct appeal to Irish voters in the context of the second Irish referendum than as a piece of research on how (un)satisfactory the process of treaty negotiation was for various countries. In fact, I can't find a single mention of any other Member State in the whole paper. In other words, this paper boldly takes the Irish experience of the negotiations out of all context, with a transparently tactical objective: getting the Irish to vote No. If Open Europe had been true to its ostensible mission, it would have provided such research for more Member States. OK, so you could argue that it was only worth investing the necessary resources in a paper on the Irish case because only Ireland was voting. But then they should at the very least have included some comparisons with other countries' positions.
In the months leading to the second Irish Lisbon referendum, the blog has plumbed the tabloid depths. Apparently the end (getting an Irish No vote) justified the means. Because I don't know how a serious think tank can take an honest look at its blog and not cringe with shame. Take a look at this piece on a Labour candidate's criticism of the UK government for failing to hold a referendum on the lisbon Treaty. It's fairly factual, but it does stray from a discussion on the merits of the Treaty into politics.
Then there's this post on the organisations that campaigned for a Yes vote in Ireland, seeking to discredit them by pointing out that they get funding from the Commission. When I questioned in a comment why funding from a body that has a treaty mandate to promote European integration should be considered improper, the Open Europe blog team was silent. Only an anonymous commenter accused me of being an "apologist". He/she obviously hasn't read this blog or my comments elsewhere.
This piece came back to the theme of the alleged "issues" with the Commission "paying organisations to come up with policy ideas to feed back into the Commission". Hang on a minute. So are they saying they would like the Commission to receive feedback only from business or from privately-funded think tanks like them? And why do they assume that the feedback the Commission is going to get is going to be "pro-EU", as if the pro- or anti-EU debate was really what people in Brussels spent their time worrying about every day? Why ignore the fact that a lot of the Commission's funding goes, for example, to environmental NGOs? The Commission does indeed get policy ideas from such organisations, and they have indeed been used in Commission policy-making. But these NGOs overwhelmingly provide input on policy, and not on an obsessive questioning of the EU's structural problems.
Here, Open Europe accused Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary of double standards for changing his mind on the Lisbon Treaty, conveniently ignoring the fact that its own white knight, Declan Ganley, had sworn he would retire from politics if snubbed at the European elections (which he was), only to return to the fray despite himself. A pretty obvious case of double standards in my book.
A really appalling example of tabloid journalism was the repetition of the claim made by the Irish Times that Commissioner Wallstrom had told Irish voters that the Lisbon Treaty was going to improve childcare. When Wallstrom's spokesman pointed out that the irish Times had got it wrong and that she had been talking about the Lisbon Agenda and not the Lisbon Treaty, did we get a retraction or an apology from Open Europe for the precipitous overreaction? Not a bit of it. We simply got more aggressive questions implying that the Commissioner deliberately sought to confuse Irish voters by making statements about the Lisbon Agenda in Ireland during run-up to a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Don't expect people to treat you as a serious partner for discussions if you question their good faith.
There are plenty of good reasons to reject the Lisbon Treaty. In my opinion, the worst thing about it is that it is so unreadable. The significance of the changes it makes are lost in a morass of legalistic text that no voter could ever understand. It also marks a failure by the Member States to grasp the nettle of reform as tightly as they should have. Some of the positive aspects, such as the simplification of the legislative process or greater involvement by national parliaments, seem like cosmetic changes when set in the context of grandiose new positions and the extension of QMV.
But sadly, here, Open Europe cast aside all pretence that it actually believed that the Irish should be persuaded to vote against Lisbon because it is a bad treaty. Instead, it expressed the hope that posters urging the Irish to vote No in protest against the government would be successful. Is this the message of a serious think tank taking a fresh, oprtimistic look at how the EU can be reformed? No. It's the voice of the worst sort of political cynicism. Shame on them.
Monday, September 14, 2009
So does the No camp in the Irish Lisbon referendum debate really believe that No means No? Just weeks after promising the Irish that he'd leave them alone if they didn't support his Libertas party in the European elections, Declan Ganley is singing a different tune. He says that he simply cannot stand the lies being told by the Yes camp. But weren't they largely the same things the Yes camp were saying last time around?
What I'm most curious to see is if he returns to his own old arguments about abortion, neutrality, and tax, or if he changes his tactics.
For the record, I am no great lover of the Lisbon Treaty. I'd just rather the debate be held on the basis of facts (on both sides). And in all objectivity, Ganley's first referendum campaign was the most striking example of a concerted effort at deception of the electorate.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Today the European Commission made the kind of announcement that we should see much more often. Surely this is a perfect illustration of the kind of work that the Commission should be doing - co-ordination of action by national regulators on a single, focused area of concern to consumers in the Single Market. In this case, it was a simultaneous probe by the regulators into the way online sellers of electronic goods do business with consumers.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
The title of this post ascribes the attack to France, which may or may not be fair, since Francois Fillon and Nicholas Sarkozy are not the same person, and neither is fully analogous with the country they lead. But what has come out of Paris, apparently from government insiders, is undoubtedly an attack.
Friday, September 4, 2009
The assault never happened, but my grandfather's notes remain, and I recently had a quick look through. They are filled with technical details about logistics and weapons, but also contain a diary in which he recorded some more personal impressions.
One of my favourite entries recalls a conversation with a Norman farmer, who complained that he had suffered more damage and property loss at the hands of British soldiers in 4 days of liberation than he had suffered in 4 years of German occupation.
A further remark was tha the discipline of American soldiers appeared to be much better than that of the British.
The first entry was interesting to me because it brought home the reality of war for an individual. I suspect the farmer was delighted to be liberated from German occupation. But that would not have lessened his anger at the British looters, and may have coloured his feelings of affection for the brave boys are so lionised in the UK for saving our allies.
And the second tickled me because the Brits love to think that Americans are uncouth and ill-mannered.
The truth is never as simple as it appears.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Here's a question for all you OECD observers out there. I came across this report in the FT today about the OECD urging Iceland to adopt the euro, and it struck me that the OECD might be sticking its head pretty far above the parapet here.
Monday, August 24, 2009
The episode is fascinating. Carroll's videos have been viewed well over 5 million times and have made it into countless blogs, Internet and TV news channels, and traditional print media. The man has reached a quite staggering number of potential United customers with a deeply embarrassing message, without the backing of large sums of money or a large PR organisation - in short, without any of the tools with which the corporate world is familiar. There is speculation that the recent drop in United's share price could be related to the campaign. although this strikes me at best as unscientific. In any case, United has apparently tasked one of its PR people to follow (and respond to) net chatter about the case, and is bracing itself for the promised 3rd and (they hope) final video in the series.
Carroll isn't your run-of-the-mill passenger, and United may feel unfortunate to have fallen foul of a man who, apart from appearing to be pleasant and reasonable, is clearly a reasonably talented musician. Worse, he just hasn't let go. The statement and Song 2 both express the view that United's efforts to "make this right" so far have been insufficient, thereby increasing the pressure on the company.
I am in no doubt that the PR departments of a great many high profile companies are watching this with intense interest, and preparing strategies for PR wars carried out over the Internet. Perhaps more importantly though, a great many CEOs and senior executives will hopefully be taking customer complaints about service much more seriously.
This may not be a completely unique phenomenon - ratings (of sellers, content, etc) have been around for a while - but it is the latest and most powerful expression of the new reality for businesses: the Internet has created tools for grass-roots-led commercial accountability of unprecedented power.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
The EU already has several pieces of privacy legislation on the books. The ePrivacy Directive bans SPAM, requires an opt-in from consumers for ads over email, and obliges telecoms operators and ISPs to delete subscriber traffic data when it's no longer needed for billing purposes. The Data Retention Directive, with rather painful Brussels irony, requires telecoms operators and ISPs to retain the same traffic data for up to two years to help law enforcement authorities fight crime, depending on national legislation.
But the most important law is the Data Protection Directive of 1995. It sets out the rights of the citizen with regard to personal data, and the obligations of organisations that hold such data. Perhaps most importantly, the Directive sets up some institutions at national and European level that are supposed to help protect our privacy.
Now, almost 15 years later, as those institutions have matured and as privacy/data protection starts to become a hot topic in Europe and around the world, a turf war is brewing within and between the big players on privacy in Europe.
Like most EU policy, privacy is an area where the European Commission has the power of initiative in the "First Pillar" - i.e. the Single Market. The lead department of the Commission is the Directorate-General for Justice, Freedom, and Security ("DG JLS"). However, DG SANCO (which covers consumer protection), DG INFSO (the "information society - i.e. telecoms, Internet, and IT), and possibly some other DGs all have strong claims to at least part of the privacy portfolio.
So what is happening? It's pretty complicated, which is why I find it so interesting. Not only is there a developing internal turf war over privacy in the European Commission, but there is also a fight (more like a mass brawl) brewing between the Commission, Parliament, Member States, EDPS, and A29WP.
Before 1995, data protection belonged to DG Internal Market, and the EU's policy debate was primarily about the tension between civil liberties (or "fundamental rights") and essentially commercial interests. But after 9/11, as governments raced to ramp up electronic surveillance of terrorist suspects, concerns about abuse of personal data by commercial entities rapidly gave way to concerns about infringement of civil liberties by governments. Data protection was hastily moved to DG JLS. The unit sits responsible for data protection sits in the Directorate for Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. Under recent Commissioners Frattini and Barrot, this part of the DG has very much been dominated by the "sexier" Directorate for Security. The data protection unit has not been able to assert itself internally so far.
But while the internal security vs. privacy battle rages in DG JLS, DG INFSO, with responsibility for the ePrivacy Directive and a range of other ICT-related policies, and under the populist leadership of Luxembourg's Commissioner Viviane Reding, has got in on the act. Reding and her staff have managed a high-profile campaign to reconcile public concerns about the privacy impacts of RFID technology with the huge potential economic and social benefits they can bring. This culminated earlier this year with a formal Recommendation on RFID, proposing that retailers carry out privacy impact assessments (PIAs) on RFID systems, and deactivate tags by default if their systems were found to pose risks to consumers. More recently, Bulgaria's Commissioner Meglena Kuneva has taken an interest in the consumer protection aspects of data protection on the Internet, such as privacy policies, consumer redress, social networking, and child protection.
It seems that the EDPS and A29WP, which work closely together, have been making the most of the absence of clear Commission leadership on data protection to project themselves as the authoritative and expert, EU institutional voice on data protection. The Commission is not helped by the fact that the data protection unit at DG JLS has about one quarter of the staff (and probably also a fraction of the multi-million euro budget) of the EDPS.
With the possibly imminent ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and the resultant disappearance of the EU's "Pillar" system, all these institutions will be able to start playing freely in a new and exciting sandbox - law enforcement. In anticipation of the treaty changes and to respond to the need to update the '95 Directive, the Commission has launched a major public consultation on the entire legislative framework for data protection.
I have no idea what will happen (and I'd be interested in any insights that readers might have) - we don't yet know who the relevant Commissioners will be or how they will regard privacy. Nor do we yet have a firm handle on the new European Parliament. Almost the only certainty is that EDPS and A29WP will continue to seek to build their profile and stature, and perhaps even their formal powers.
Watch this space!
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
The big news from Strasbourg this week is that a Pole, the respected Jerzy Buzek, has been elected President of the European Parliament. This is supposed to be a watershed moment for the EU, since it's the first time that someone from a "New Member State" (i.e. one of the ex-Communist Member States) has got the top job in a European Union institution.
But this is hardly news - the deal to elect Buzek was made weeks ago, and the result was never in doubt. Much more exciting was the drama of the elections for the EP's 14 Vice-President jobs. As expected, most went to the two bigs groups - 5 for the centre-right EPP, and 5 for the Socialists, 2 for the Liberals, and 1 for the Greens. The UK Conservative Party's new ECR grouping, with the same number of MEPs (55) as the Greens, and at the joint 4th-largest group in the EP, expected to have its own Vice-President, and had put forward Polish MEP Michał Kamiński. The assumption made by observers is that this was the price that the Conservatives paid for the support of the Law and Justice (PiS) Party in creating the new, anti-integrationist group.
But when UK Conservative MEP Edward McMillan-Scott ran against Kamiński and won, his party kicked him out in outrage. McMillan-Scott is one of the Conservative MEPs who was against party leader David Cameron's withdrawal of his party from the EPP-ED group, and this may have been his final act of protest; he is not expected to run for election again in 5 years' time.
There are all sorts of reasons why this is interesting.
1. If McMillan-Scott leaves the ECR group, it will slip to 5th-largest in the EP. This may have an impact on its ability to obtain key positions of power, such as committee chairmanships.
2. It will doubtless damage relations between the Conservatives and PiS. PiS' penchant for grudge politics is well-known in Poland; the Conservatives may find themselves on the sharp end quite soon.
3. Kamiński has been elected leader of the group. It is not clear to me what the timing was here. Normally the largest national delegation in a group gets the leadership of the group, so this job would have fallen to a Brit. But it may be that Kamiński was given the job as a sop by the Conservatives to apologise for the debacle in the Vice-Presidential vote (see Daniel Hannan's blog piece on this).
4. The ECR group is fragile as it is. It needs MEPs from 7 countries, which it has just managed. Only 5 of the MEPs are the only representatives of their countries in the group. That means that any one of them can hold the entire group to ransom. It will be interesting to see whether the Kamiński/McMillan-Scott affair will destabilise the group.
5. It is not clear whether McMillan-Scott will remain in the group or not. But if he doesn't, it would dent the Conservatives' assertion that leaving the EPP-ED will not affect their ability to get top jobs in the EP.
Watch this space.