Monday 30 April 2012

A few comments on Euroblogging

Polscieu has written many interesting posts on the state of the Euroblogosphere from the lack of linking between blogs to the language barrier when it comes to reaching wider audiences. These are big issues that surface from time to time – I was amongst a few bloggers who tried to make a bigger commitment to communicating across the Blogosphere borders (between national blogospheres) and linguistic borders.

It was a failure, as Polscieu has rightly pointed out a lack of linking and cross-language debates. The natural question to ask is how can we solve these problems? I have to admit that I’ve always been a bit sceptical about blogging and its power, and I don’t think there’s any solution that can be advocated that would solve these issues simply because you come up against the Blogger. (For clarity, I’m not attacking Polscieu on these points since he was being analytical and not really suggesting actions, but what he wrote provoked me to think “yes, but...” a few times and an impression I have that there can [from several directions] be a general assumption about the Euroblogosphere’s “duty” to create a public space).


Say you know a lot about the EU. You know how laws are made (and what laws the EU can make), and have a vague idea about the headline national interests of the Member States (the UK doesn’t want certain financial regulation, for example). Are you going to read up on the progress of a law, the different interests and political faction views involved, then the different linguistic and national responses to the law (either press or blogging-wise) before writing a post? And perhaps translate the post or leave comments on the blogs you cited to alert them to your post in their original languages? It’s a bit of an exaggeration – not all these steps are necessary, and it could be a response to a press article – but for there to be links generated, there needs to be some level of wide-reading and the ability to be authoritative enough to encourage reactions to your post.

There are a lot of people who are good at languages and know about the EU, but this type of blogging is limited because of the time it consumes.


 (Probably not the best subtitle). My recent impression of the Euroblogosphere is that it’s grown, increased in quality, and become more niche and technical. Perhaps my impression is wrong, and there is simply a growth in blog numbers so I’ve just picked up on the number of niche topics now, but it does seem that as the mass media have become better at explaining the EU, Euroblogs have become more focused on certain areas of policy making, which lessens contact with national blogospheres (it’s harder to keep in contact so that when you do write something at a topical time, they’re aware of you). It may be that due to the financial crisis and the better coverage of the EU in the mass media, Eurobloggers have been put off writing in a more generalist way, since they are put off reading and reproducing views on issues that are already well covered.

In any case, apart from this, the topics at the EU level still do not have identifiable actors for national audiences that Euroblogs’ more Europeanised narrative can compete with the narrative of national interests and summitry. National mass media remains the gatekeeper in terms of readership and the narrative-setter for readers who read and write in the Euroblogosphere. This means that issues are only of interest in a national blogosphere/media when they cross national interests or the interests of national actors, and only cross linguistic barriers to a great degree when it crosses several national interests or a fundamental general interest such as human rights. For day-to-day work in the Bubble, there are a lot of political victories and defeats, but little market in readers for them. Even Euroblogs are – comparatively - more orientated towards national responses to issues, with not so much “screen time” for parliamentary battles.

But I think that national Blogospheres are taking up EU issues and politics more now, and national mass media might slowly focus more clearly on EU actors and issues (I agree that the next Euroelections could be big). The main point, however, is that these structural issues in the national media, personality politics in the Brussels Bubble, and the Europeanisation of national Blogospheres will lead to a change in the Euroblogosphere and heighten its effect and relevance, and that there is little that Eurobloggers can “do” as such to hasten that.


Growth in the Euroblogosphere will help solve a lot of these issues, as you will have more bloggers, and a greater likelihood of crossover of stories. However the development of traditional mass media in the EU will be key in driving people into EU blogging (to a lesser degree) and increasing cross-EU blogging links (to a greater degree) as more European issues become of more interest to a general EU public. The Euroblogosphere will be important in examining EU politics and providing a great platform of public debate and policy analysis, but I feel that the ‘sphere operates via the individual, and the direction of the ‘sphere will be a reaction to trends in mass media as bloggers decide what is worth blogging about and how many borders they cross.


I wrote this mainly because I feel there’s a bit of a general attitude surrounding the Euroblogosphere that it has the potential to drive a European public sphere, and I simply don’t think it can. Such a public sphere will probably develop partly through the Europeanisation of national mass media, and the greater personalisation or European politics which will feed into a bigger and better ‘sphere. I doubt that we can be the barrier-busting force that some seem disappointed in us for not being, since at the individual level the effort, organisation and dedication needed over a long period of time and across a great number of people is simply unrealistic.

I may not believe in blogging’s ability to break down barriers and create a European public sphere, but I firmly believe in blogging as a vibrant part of that public sphere. Blogging, I think, is a great way to become involved, and to learn by being involved, and that other ways, such as party or civil society organisation membership, are an aspect of being an engaged citizen, which is personally and publically enriching.

Friday 27 April 2012

Merkel's Intervention

Merkel's intervention in the French elections yesterday - effectively attacking Hollande by stating that there will be no renegotiation of the Fiscal Stability Treaty - strikes me as bizarre. If she's hoping that this will discredit Hollande and lead to voters voting Sarkozy, I can't see how it will work (will those who voted for the far-right be more willing to vote for the candidate closest to German policy, or the candidate who is almost setting himself up as the leader of an anti-German leadership alliance?).

It's also starting to seem a bit desperate. Hollande's position isn't really so radical: no renegotiation of the treaty itself, but some new measures before it will be adopted. Since 90% the treaty is already EU law, Merkel's discipline provisions are in reality safe from Hollande. Even the Eurobonds Hollande is proposing aren't connected to mutualising debt, but for investment in infrastructure, etc. Calls for the remit of the ECB to also have encouraging growth and employment as part of its task will find a lot of sympathy in other states too. Is Merkel really going to set her face against all of this?

The Eurozone crisis is worsening day by day and the same austerity approach isn't working for anyone (even in Ireland there is talk that a second bailout might be needed - indeed, the Yes side in favour of the Fiscal Stability Treaty relies on this need for access to bailout funds to gain support for the treaty). While economic reforms are necessary, this extreme austerity is an insane way of going about it. The German government wants its fellow Eurozone states in a strange limbo of danger, where there is enough stability that the reforms can be implemented, but sufficient economic danger to ensure governments will enact these reforms.

While the German government may think it's the only way bailout states won't flush money down the drain, the political logic doesn't - and cannot - add up. The lack of a solution simply worsens the situation and spreads the crisis to yet more Eurozone states, while draining away the political support for the Euro in general, leaving people cynical that any of this mystic summitry the European Council engages in is a waste of time. All pain, no gain.

For Merkel to refuse even  Hollande's modest proposals would be disastrous. The political winds are starting to blow against austerity, and Germany's great adapter will have a very tumultuous EU on her hands if she decides she won't give an inch.

US PNR Deal passes

After the European Parliament consented to the US PNR Agreement by 409 to 226 votes (strangely the EUObserver thinks this is "half-hearted" support; I call it a pretty solid majority), the Council has also passed the Agreement.

The treaty will probably come into force on 1st June 2012 (PDF).

The Parliament is also currently debating the EU's own PNR system, which monitors passengers on flights into and out of the EU (though it may be extended to cover flights within the EU if the proposal is amended) by collecting the flight information of all passengers. The LIBE Committee's draft report has been published (PDF), and there are over 400 proposed amendments to the proposed Directive (PDF 1 and 2).

Thursday 26 April 2012

Reding v Schulz

EurActiv has reported that Viviane Reding, the current Justice Commissioner, may be positioning herslf to run as the European People's Party candidate during the 2014 European Elections. She's in her third term as a Commissioner (I've heard it said that Luxembourg keeps sending her to Brussels to remove Junker's biggest party rival from the home stage), so she's very experienced when it comes to the EU and it's executive wing. Reding has also served as Commissioner for education and culture in 1999-2004 and as Commissioner for information society and the media from 2004-2010.

EurActiv comments that she had a base in the EP, which could serve her well in gaining the nomination. I'm not sure how well known she would be in the Member States come election time, however.

The possible challenger from the Party of European Socialists is current EP president Martin Schulz. The PES will hold primaries in the run up to the elections to choose a candidate, but timetabling issues (it looks like the primaries may run partially during the winter holidays) may mean that early positioning is an effective way to ward off competition that could struggle to gain momentum. He's not held a post in the Commission - I don't think he's held an executive post yet apart from being mayor of Wuerselen - but he has been an active MEP and served as the leader of the Socialists and Democrats Group in the EP before becoming the EP President.

So neither candidate has a continent-wide  profile in the same way that national heads of government have, but a good contest could quickly change that, particularly if the elections become a referendum on the economic direction of Europe. Both Reding and Schulz are able to give good speeches, so a head to head debate could inject more energy into the elections (certainly, they're more engaging than Barroso).

I can't help wondering how the other Europarties are going to react - will they run their own candidates, or will they try to gain policy concessions in exchange for parliamentary support (and would that mean that we'd effectively be voting for coalitions in the Parliament)...?

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Commission to introduce legislation to combat invading alien species

The Commission has decided to table draft legislation to combat invading alien species ("IAS").

"Of course, it's not an eventuality that we expect to occur, but as scientists uncover an increasing number of planets in the habitable, or "Goldilocks", zone of their solar systems, we must consider the possibility of intelligent life, including hostile extra-terrestrials," said a Commission spokesperson for the DG Home Affairs earlier today. "While we hope that any first contact will be peaceful, we cannot neglect our duty by failing to plan for the worst. Therefore in the third quarter of this year, the Commission will unveil its legislative proposal on invasive legislative species."

This proposal has been included in the Commission's work plan for the year (page 9, PDF).
"Naturally this is only part of our comprehensive policy towards extra-terrestrial life forms. We are currently drawing up border measures to deal with alien immigration and asylum claims, including prototype specialised finger - or appendage - scanners. We must bear in mind that despite the economic crisis, the EU remains the richest market in the Solar System, and therefore we need workable borders along with national integration plans. We're confident that our proposals will find a receptive audience in the Council and Parliament."
Despite this, the UK government has already signalled that it will not opt into any Schengen scheme on aliens, stating that the UK needed to patrol its own sovereign borders.

"In the event of first contact, we are able to immediately heighten controls on the Channel Tunnel," said a UK official. "However, we will consult politically with our European neighbours on this issue, and explore the possibility of clarifying the definition of "human" in the European Convention on Human Rights."

He added, "While deportation to the planet of origin might not be so economical based on our current rocket technology, we are currently working on a treaty with Jordan that may prove to be mutually benefical."

(Ok, so it's obviously about biodiversity and not alien aliens, but, hey, I missed out on April Fools).

Rutte's Dutch government falls

The Dutch government has collapsed with the minority Liberal (VVD) - Christian Democrat (CDA) coalition government unable to agree an austerity budget with the far-right PVV led by Geert Wilders. The so-called Gedoogcoalitie ("Tolerance Coalition") relied on the votes of the anti-Islamic Partij voor Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) and had been discussing the budget, which would have delivered around €16 billion in cuts to bring the Netherlands into line with the EU's 3% deficit rule, when Wilders stormed out at the last moment.

Wilders said (from De Volkskrant):
"Ik accepteer niet dat ouderen moeten betalen voor onzinnige Brusselse eisen. Als ik hier ja tegen had gezegd, had ik de kiezers met het schaamrood op de kaken tegemoet moeten treden.

['I do not accept that the elderly must pay for Brussels' nonsensical rules. If I had agreed (to the budget), I would have to face the voters with shame' (own translation)]"
It seems odd that Wilders has decided to pull the plug on the government now since his PVV has gone down in the polls recently while the party of the Dutch PM, the right-wing liberal VVD, has been doing well in the polls. However the Socialist Party has overtaken the Labour Party in the polls, and is against the 3% rule, so perhaps Wilders has calculated that by avoiding endorsing the austerity measures (and campaigning on a more populist anti-EU line) will be better for him and the PVV in the long run, rather than buying into the establishment and damaging the PVV's populist appeal (where the SP might be a challenger in an anti-EU austerity campaign at a later date).

In any case the fragility of the Dutch government in adopting austerity measures while its economy has been performing comparatively well in Eurozone terms strikes a strange image. This is, after all, the Netherlands that has waged its finger at other Eurozone countries and told them to fix their budgets. Even the Commission has picked up on this theme:

"For their part, EU commission spokespeople retorted by saying the rules were not invented in their institution, but instead agreed among EU governments in meetings chaired by no other than the Dutch authorities. "The three-percent target comes from the Stability and Growth Pact agreed in Amsterdam in June 1997, under the Dutch EU presidency. It is perhaps good to remind everyone the history of the deficit target," commission spokesman Olivier Bailly said during a press conference."

For the near future it doesn't look like the Dutch political scene will simplify in terms of political parties any time soon, so a certain level of instability might remain even after elections...

Thursday 19 April 2012

EU against Swiss Quotas

The EU has remained united against Switzerland's move to introduce a quota on immigration from the Member States from the 2004 enlargement. Introducing the quota is contrary to the EU's agreement with Switzerland on the free movement of people, Catherine Ashton said (PDF). Switzerland is still allowed exemptions for Romania and Bulgaria under the treaty (Member States can - and have - introduced temporary restrictions for Romania and Bulgaria when they joined in 2007, but these are supposed to expire after a few years).

The EUObserver has reported that the right-wing Swiss People's Party:

"...has recently campaigned for a referendum on EU immigration using posters which show black workers' boots trampling the Swiss flag."

The posters read "Jetzt ist genug! Masseneinwanderung stoppen." - "Now is enough! Stop Mass Immigration.". If Switzerland votes against the treaty on the free movement of persons, then the EU might cancel all its other treaties with Switzerland on the internal market.

It's good to see that the EU intends to stick up for the equal rights of EU citizens for free movement - it hasn't been a good year for this right of free movement so far this year, at least politically. In the Netherlands Geert Wilders' PVV launched a website encouraging people to report Eastern Europeans for crime and "economic competition", and a similar website was launched by a far-right Flemish party in Belgium. The Commission yesterday proposed more liberalisation in the labour market by dropping the remaining restrictions, but it's hard to see this position getting anywhere in the current political and economic climate...

EU-US PNR vote today

The European Parliament is going to vote in plenary today on the EU-US PNR Agreement (you can watch the debate here - it's on now), which will permit the transfer of passenger data (including credit card, luggage and meal choice details) from airlines to US authorities when flying to the US. Rapporteur Sophie in 't Veld's report recommended that the agreement be rejected due to a lack of guarantees that US authorities won't use the data for purposes other than the fight against terrorism and serious transnational crime, and because EU citizens will not have sufficient access to legal redress under the agreement.

However the LIBE Committee rejected this report and the EP is likely to accept the agreement, though the BBC reports that it may be by a thin majority. It seems that worries over the US bypassing the EU and making bilateral agreements with national governments and a sense that the EP has already made at least some display of strength over forcing a renegotiation have fed into the desire to vote for the agreement.

Thursday 5 April 2012

We need to start paying more attention to the European Parliament

I don't think I can say it any more clearly than the title: we really do need to start paying more attention to the European Parliament. Every so often there's a blog article about how the European Parliament is no longer a talking shop, but a strong co-legislator with the Council, usually citing as an example the Parliament's rejection of the first SWIFT Treaty as evidence. It's true, but though the idea that the European Parliament is more powerful now seems to have caught on a bit more, there's no real debate on what Parliament does, and it's a real failing of our media and a lost opportunity.

What do I mean? Well, the Fiscal Stability Treaty that everyone's discussing now makes hardly any changes to the current state of EU law, given that the European Parliament passed around 90% of it last year. These are big issues on how we run our Eurozone economy that we have been debating for the last two years, not a sudden report of this or that treaty* - legislation supposed to help deal with the economic crisis! They are already having an effect nationally and in national politics. And yet there has been little public debate on this until the treaty, and little attempt by the public to use the Parliament as a means to influence EU policy and law.

That's the most damaging part of this: we're not using the European Parliament to its half potential, never mind it's full potential. It's supposed to be there to represent us. There are issues with the distance between the EU institutions and the public, but I'm not satisfied with the attitude that the institutions should bring themselves closer to us - we should be demanding and dragging them closer to us, and calling them on what they get wrong. Our media has improved its coverage of the EU for the economic crisis - a lot of it has been extremely good - but it's missing out on how decisions are being made by focusing on the European Council and all the summits. These are important, but European politics should not be a spectator sport: we need to let the Parliament know that we're demanding participants.

*The European Parliament does deal with lots of security issues - like surveilliance of air travel through the PNR system, which is still going through Parliament.