Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition! I already did.
It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Galileo Leaks, 2011

A little update on the Galileo navigation system. Or more likely, its part of Wikileaks. I have written here often about Galileo system and its benefits for Europe (not to mention the competing systems that are planned by both Russia and China), so my position on this is clear. However the news today is not about Galileo itself, but about the stupidity of the head of German satellite firm OHB Technology, Berry Smutny who said: "I think Galileo is a stupid idea that primarily serves French interests,". The coolest part of the scandal is that the guy actually profited millions from the same stupid idea and he didn't find any problem with it, even though he's also quoted saying that some of the French missiles are aimed at Germany. So lets see - he's so against France and its military, but he is ok with earning money trough satellites that he finds as a danger of the national security of his own country? Is it just me, or this sounds absolutely crazy. Either the US diplomats lied or he lied to the US diplomats. In both cases, I find it extremely hard to believe that someone could say something so irrational. But anyway, I'm glad that they fired the guy (if that means suspended, of course), because whatever he did, he ruined the reputation of the project. And if you think about it, it's not a bad project. We all know how crucial became GPS for our lives. Well, if US army manipulated the system once, there's no reason to believe they won't do it twice. And after all, that's the idea behind capitalism, right? That markets regulate themselves trough free competition. Well, you can't have free competition without competing products or services.
And second of all, no money invested in space are wasted, not on the long run. Because this way one invests in science and in space technologies which encounter very different challenges and problems than any other technologies. And different challenges lead to different solutions and ultimately to significant progress. And that's cool!
Another news I decided to post here is about the decision of the EC to upgrade their computers from XP to Windows 7. I think this is absurd. And the guy saying that even if something is free, you still have to pay for support and so on. Hello?! If by support you mean paying people to fix the idiocy of the normal users, well I suggest you invest those money into improving the computer knowledge of those users. At least this will bring some benefits not only M$ but also European citizens. 
Anyway, I think that if you want to support Open Source then you should support it by using it and not by using their direct (and paid) competition.But I guess  we shouldn't expect something that rational from the EC.

Ok that's it for now, because it's a complicated week. Enjoy!

Galileo satnav system called 'stupid idea': US cable

January 13, 2011 
The head of a German firm working on Europe's Galileo satellite navigation system called it a "stupid idea" being pushed by France for military reasons, a leaked US diplomatic cable showed Thursday.
According to an October 2009 cable from the US embassy in Berlin obtained by and released by Norwegian daily Aftenposten, the head of German satellite firm OHB Technology, Berry Smutny, made the comments to US diplomats in Berlin.
"I think Galileo is a stupid idea that primarily serves French interests," Smutny was quoted as saying in the cable.
Galileo aims to challenge the dominance of the US-built (GPS) set up by the Pentagon in the 1980s, which is widely used in a huge variety of like those in cars and boats.
Smutny, whose firm was jointly awarded a 566 million euro ($742 million) contract to develop 14 satellites for the system, said the project was "a waste of EU taxpayers' money championed by French interests," according to the cable.
"He claimed the EU desire to develop a redundant but alternative to GPS was spearheaded by the French after an incident during the Kosovo conflict when the US military 'manipulated' GPS to support military operations," the cable said.
"Since this time, he said France has aggressively corralled EU support to invest in Galileo development -- something Smutny said France wants to ensure their missile guidance systems are free of any GPS reliance. Smutny added, the irony for German investment in Galileo is that some of France's nuclear missiles are aimed at Berlin," it said.
Asked about the cable by Aftenposten, Smutny denied making the comments.
Plagued by delays and cost over-runs, the Galileo project has an official price tag of 3.4 billion euros but reports have said the final cost of the system could exceed 20 billion euros. It is scheduled to be operational in 2014. source
Executive Suspended for Criticizing E.U. Satellite - The chief executive of the largest satellite company in Germany was suspended on Tuesday for telling American diplomats that the Galileo satellite project in Europe was redundant, cost-inefficient and designed to benefit French business interests, according to cables published by WikiLeaks.

European Commission of Two Minds on Software Purchases?

BERLIN — The European Commission, which last month urged governments across the Continent to develop computer systems that communicate better with one another, is itself considering extending its use of Microsoft software products that the company’s critics say are incompatible with other systems.
A commission task force has tentatively endorsed plans to upgrade 36,180 office computers used by the commission, the European Parliament and more than 45 other E.U. agencies to Windows 7 from Windows XP, according to minutes of a Dec. 15 meeting of the working group in Brussels that were obtained by the International Herald Tribune.
A day later, the full commission adopted a set of software purchasing guidelines called the European Interoperability Framework. Those guidelines exhorted E.U. governments to build and maintain interoperable software systems that incorporate “open source” products, which are free and use technology standards that are compatible with rival products.
The decision might be seen as ironic in light of the commission’s decade-long antitrust battle with Microsoft, which it accused of inappropriately preventing rivals from creating products that could be used with Windows, the operating system that powers the large majority of the world’s computers. The task force’s recommendation, which would extend the commission’s use of Windows for two years, would cost roughly €4.5 million, or $6.1 million, a year based on its current contracts. The proposal was approved pending a final legal and budgetary review.
Francisco García Morán, the administrator in charge of the Directorate-General for Informatics, whose department prepared the recommendation to upgrade to Windows 7, declined to be interviewed. Maros Sevcovic, the European commissioner for Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration, who oversees government software purchasing, also declined a request for comment.
Mr. Mann noted that the commission’s computer systems have been using open-source software since 2001 and already use more than 250 open-source software products from companies like Red Hat, Atlassian and Balsamiq Studios. The commission’s day-to-day operations in Brussels run on more than 350 servers using the Linux open-source operating system, he added, and government Web sites use 850 servers running open-source software.
European governments spent $15.7 billion on software last year, buying 19 percent of all software that was sold, according to International Data Corp. In January 2008, the commission agreed to spend up to €48.9 million over four years through Feb. 29, 2012, to buy and maintain Microsoft software for the desktop computers of the commission, Parliament and 45 other E.U. institutions in a contract awarded through a competitive bid to Fujitsu Technology Solutions, a Microsoft reseller.
Should it decide to upgrade its desktop computers to Windows 7, the commission would again have to buy software from Microsoft through authorized resellers.
source

Monday, January 17, 2011

EU embryos in EU courts, 2011

Today:
  1. France handed ultimatum in Roma row
  2. Hungarian EU Presidency to push for Roma strategy
  3. Parliament clears visa-free travel for Albanians, Bosnians 
  4. Turkey offers referendum gamble to Europe
But first:

EU court to discuss patents for embryonic stem cells

13 January 2011
The never-ending debate on patenting human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) will receive fresh wind in its sails today as the European Court of Justice (ECJ) holds a hearing to discuss the definition of 'human embryos' and their industrial and commercial use.
The EU court has been asked to define 'human embryo' and outline their practical uses as spelled out in the EU's Biotechnology Directive, which states that "the human body, at the various stages of its formation and development," cannot be considered a patentable invention.
The request for a preliminary ECJ ruling on the matter comes from the German Federal Court of Justice, which failed to decide whether to patent a method of converting embryonic stem cells (hESC) into nerve cells, which could potentially be used to treat neurological trauma and disease and was introduced by German researcher Oliver Brüstle.
The patent was originally granted to Brüstle in 1999. But following legal action by Greenpeace, the patent was deemed to be in violation of the EU biotech directive and was partially revoked.
After a renewed appeal by the patent holder and given the incapacity of the German court to decide, a number of questions are now being referred to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling.
The ECJ hearing on the Brüstle vs. Greenpeace case, which starts today (12 January), seeks to clarify the terminology used in the EU biotech directive and answer a series of specific questions tabled by the German court.Firstly, the Court is asked to define 'human embryo' as well as clarify the specific wording used in the EU biotech directive, which states that "uses of human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes" are not patentable.
Brüstle argues that the ban on granting a patent should only apply to embryos that are more than 14 days old and that the EU directive should allow the patenting and use of embryonic cells before the 14 day mark.
Secondly, the ECJ is asked to be more explicit regarding the expression "uses of human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes" and to specify whether that also includes patenting for scientific research.
Greenpeace argues that a patent always has a commercial purpose and points out that research is possible without a patent, whereas patent law regulates commercial use.
The third question focuses on whether technical findings can be patented, in this case referring to the method of converting embryonic stem cells into nerve cells. source
My comment: I completely agree with Greenpeace on this one. There is not such thing as patent for scientific research. The patents regulate commercial use, you can research whatever you lay your hands on. So that's absolute nonsense. I completely agree the inventor, because as a researcher I also would like to believe any eventual breakthrough will be protected by the law and that I will be able to earn big time from it, but the way the patent is requested, it's an absolute nonsense! I mean you cannot patent body parts! You cannot patent cells, be they embryos or stem cells. You can patent something you create - like new biological machine, computer and so on. But since those cells occur naturally in human body, that would mean that every person should pay you money for having "your" cells! Hello! What can and should be patented is the process of transforming the cells. Though even that is questionable. Because if you discover the natural mechanism of achieving something, then you didn't invent it, you merely found it. Then you don't have right to ask for money for this. 
I think that such discussions show how out of date is the patent system.  We no longer invent and construct smart gadgets or medicaments. Today we do so much more, we go deeper and deeper in the Nature's secrets. So it must be very well thought of what a researcher should be able to patent and what not. Because the patents no longer protect the inventor. Now they are an industry. And we all suffer from that industry. In the case - stem cells can provide us with the key to health and even life. And yet, people are insecure. Because everyone wants to profit from his/her work - that's normal. The question is how the society will allow him/her to profit. And patents surely are not the only way. 
I'll go one step further and say - science is done by millions of people every second. A researcher my find out something cool and fancy, but s/he is stepping on the shoulders of the million others that worked to get that person to that point. So profiting from science is very questionable. Scientists should be stimulated to work not for patents, but for science, for the discovery, for the good they will bring to society. Patents are meant to regulate commercial rights, but I don't think that the biggest dream of scientists should be to get a fancy patent. Because those patent actually stop science. Science needs to breath, to be free, to be open. But to be so, scientists need another way to get money and glory. The question is how?

    France handed ultimatum in Roma row

    01 October 2010
    The European Commission has decided to take France to task regarding its summer crackdown on illegal Roma camps, giving Paris until 15 October to prove that its policies comply with EU laws guaranteeing the free circulation of people.
    Brussels has threatened to launch legal proceedings against France for failing to implement EU laws on the free circulation of people, standing its ground in the ongoing standoff over France's Roma deportations.
    Paris was given until 15 October to respond.
    "The right of every EU citizen to free movement within the Union is one of the fundamental principles of the EU," the Commission said in a statement.
    "At this stage, the Commission considers that France has not yet transposed the Directive on Free Movement into national legislation."
    France is also being asked detailed questions regarding the practical application of its repatriation policy since this summer and to explain in particular that it "did not have the objective or the effect of targeting a specific ethnic minority, but treated all EU citizens in the same manner".It is not yet clear whether the October deadline applies to that particular aspect of France's repatriation policy, which is at the centre of the current standoff.
    In the longer term, the Commission announced it will present an EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies in April next year.
    The strategy will assess the use of national and European funding and make proposals for more effective implementation of EU funds in tackling Roma exclusion.
    source 
    My comment: As you can see from the article below, to avoid the word racism, France decided it's better to repatriate Romanians and Bulgarians instead of Roma people. How much better it sounds! 
    French expulsions now aimed at 'Romanians' and 'Bulgarians' - In the first nine months of the year, France repatriated 6,562 Romanians and 910 Bulgarians, according to French Immigration Minister Eric Besson, who has stopped referring to them as Roma. - I think I said it before, but for me, this is pure racism. The freedom of movement defines the EU, remove it, and you don't have EU anymore. And I don't quite see with what Roma people are different from other poor citizens of Europe. And I can go even further - ask Google why France doesn't have Roma people. Ask Google why Germany doesn't have them. Yep, it all leads to WW2. So I say, if you did something unfair then, aren't you supposed to fix it now if you can? Integration of Roma people sounds nice. But guess what, not anybody wants to be integrated. Sure, everyone wants to live better and have more money, but people define better life in different ways! And what's even more, isn't it also discrimination to help specifically Roma people, when so many not-Roma people live in energy poverty? Or maybe the goal isn't actually to make people live really better, but only to make them educated enough to fear jail and real misery...But there's more:

    Hungarian EU Presidency to push for Roma strategy

    08 December 2010
    The upcoming Hungarian EU Presidency will give the plight of the bloc's Roma minority the attention it deserves by mobilising resources in the 'Europe 2020' strategy, Hungary's Ambassador to the EU Péter Györkös said on 26 November.
    Three headlines of the Europe 2020 strategy are "absolutely relevant" in the context of the Roma issue, the ambassador said, citing so-called EU-level "headline targets" which member states will be asked to translate into national goals: unemployment, early school leaving and poverty.
    He made the remarks at a public event organised by the European Policy Centre (EPC), during which he presented the priorities of the Hungarian Presidency of the EU, which starts on 1 January 2011 and runs for six months.
    Györkös said that since the Union was determined to be closer to its citizens, Europeans "should be closer to twelve million citizens in Europe who are Roma".
    Helping solve the many problems faced by Roma in Europe is "a challenging exercise," the diplomat admitted.
    He said that his country has 7-800,000 Roma, a figure which is higher than the numbers in the latest census (see 'Background'). The Hungarian Roma are "established", sedentary, and "don't come up on the European agenda," Györkös added, alluding to recent tensions in Italy and France caused by the presence in those countries of large numbers of Roma from Romania and Bulgaria.
    Hungary wants to harmonise domestic efforts with coordinated European action, the diplomat further argued.
    The Roma issue, he said, will come up at Council level in the second half of the Hungarian Presidency. Before that, structured discussions will start with a European Commission paper on Roma in Europe and a progress report on Roma inclusion, to be published in early April.
    Next comes a Roma Platform meeting in Budapest and several Council meetings, with those on Employment and Social Policy and Education and Youth being especially important.
    A synthesis report will be presented at the June EU summit at the end of the Hungarian Presidency, Györkös said.
    Until recently, the Commission had avoided getting involved in the Roma controversy, claiming among other things that it did not have the capacity or knowledge to act. sourceMy comment: Precisely! They do not have the capacity nor the knowledge. But now, they certainly have the urge to do so. I also think this is a good opportunity to show solidarity and care for your neighbors problems. Because I don't think any country doesn't want to make sure the gypsies are better educated and have better chances for decent life. Their situation is not merely because of racism and failure to "integrate". Their situation is much more complex and it needs much more attention than simply to remove the unwanted EU citizens from west-EU yards. And I think we all - Roma or not -  will win from eventual change of the status quo and improvement in the life of the poorest. 
    And back to France, just notice how France escaped the trouble! Obviously some laws and regulations were never meant for everyone. 

    Parliament clears visa-free travel for Albanians, Bosnians 

    11 October 2010
     The European Parliament yesterday (7 October) backed visa-free travel to Europe's Schengen area for Albanian and Bosnian citizens, setting the EU assembly on a collision course with France, which opposes the proposal following its controversial crackdown on illegal Roma camps.
    The draft bill, which was endorsed by an overwhelming majority in Parliament yesterday (7 October), faces stiff opposition from France when it is submitted for approval by the 27 EU member states in the EU Council of Ministers.
    "This would allow citizens of the two countries to travel freely to spend Christmas with relatives elsewhere in Europe," she said.France is opposed to lifting visa requirements for Bosnian and Albanian citizens.
    French officials criticised the European Commission for pursuing visa liberalisation talks with Western Balkan countries for "political reasons" and neglecting the "risks" associated with opening up the EU's borders.
    However, Paris does not have the power to block a decision by the EU Council of Ministers, which represents all 27 EU member states. Indeed, since the Amsterdam Treaty in 1999, justice and home affairs are considered a Community matter.
    According to EurActiv sources, a few countries in the Council are supportive of France, but their votes will not suffice to block the decision.
     sourceMy comment: Cool - more work for France :) Seriously, I don't think even if they open the borders something significant will happen. The only real problem is Turkey, because it's really big and it already has big population in Europe. But other Balkan countries are way too small to be a problem. And they'll be certainly very happy to travel.

    Turkey offers referendum gamble to Europe

    04 October 2010
    Egemen Bağış, Turkey's chief EU negotiator, sought yesterday (29 September) to unblock Ankara's accession bid by calling on European Union countries to call referenda on the country's EU membership. Turkey may also chose to consult its citizens, he said.
    So-called 'Norway status' (see 'Background') appears to be a formula which Turkey is officially putting on the table, it emerged after a two-hour Q&A session between Bağış and the Brussels press.
    Bağış gave assurances that Turkey was such a strong asset to the EU that he was more doubtful of the result of the Turkish referendum than he was about those in EU countries seen today as Turkey-sceptic.
    The Turkish official strongly argued that Turkey had a lot to offer to the EU and would in fact relieve the Union of some of its burdens, instead of bringing additional ones. In particular, he mentioned the demographic factor, but also the economy."In the first quarter of 2010 the Turkish economy grew by 11.8%. In the second quarter we grew by 10.8%. According to OECD calculations, we will continue to be one of the three fastest-growing economies of the world until 2017. Per capita income in Turkey has tripled for the last eight years. There is no other success story on the continent like it," Bağış said.
    The Turkish negotiator then hinted that a crucial test would be whether or not the EU decides to open the blocked energy chapter."If I cannot open the energy chapter, I'm not really motivated to solve your energy problems," he said.
    Asked by EurActiv if this meant that there would be no Nabucco in such circumstances, he answered: "I didn't say that. If I can open the energy chapter, this gives me motivation to find solutions to solve your energy problems. If I don't have the possibility to open the energy chapter, I still do Nabucco, as long as it is in line with my national interest. "
    70% of the energy resources Europe needs are either to the north, to the south or to the east of Turkey, Bağış argued.
    "And no matter which energy project you and I might prefer, we need Turkey to cooperate," he said.
    "If I were a Cypriot, I would vote for Turkey's membership of the EU more than Turkey's chief negotiator," Bağış said. "Put yourself in the shoes of a Cypriot. A country of 600.000, looking up at a country of 70 million, with the largest military in Europe, the sixth largest economy of Europe, the third largest, fastest-growing economy in the world," he said.
     sourceMy comment: See also Turkey to sue US diplomats over Wikileaks claims -"The cable reads: "We have heard from two contacts that Erdoğan has eight accounts in Swiss banks; his explanations that his wealth comes from the wedding presents guests gave his son and that a Turkish businessman is paying the educational expenses of all four Erdoğan children in the US purely altruistically are lame."
    Erdoğan, who faced the Turkish press at an inauguration ceremony in Ankara, said that those who had slandered him would be "crushed" and "finished" and would "disappear," according to media reports." How about this? 
    I guess I could make a new post dedicated only to Turkey, but why bother? Just read the article and the tone of the Turkish diplomat and think again - do we need that in Europe?! I'm simply not convinced in the so called modern Turkey. And the words of that diplomat confirm my doubts - he's arrogant and even aggressive. Interestingly, if Turkey is that rich, why there are so many poor people in it? And why so many Turkish people work in Europe?  

    More EU news:

    Czech PM: Visegrad Group 'not a Masonic Lodge' - Petr Nečas, the Czech Republic's new prime minister, has defended regular talks between his country, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland, saying closer cooperation between Central European states is a legitimate component of EU integration. He spoke to EurActiv.cz in an exclusive interview. The four Central European countries making up the so-called Visegrad Group have started holding regular talks ahead of European summit meetings in order to coordinate their positions on issues of common interest (EurActiv 26/03/10).
    The move has raised fears among diplomats in the older member states that the V4 would end up becoming a kind of parallel diplomacy within the European Union.
    But, to Nečas, these meetings are only part of normal diplomatic relations between sovereign states. ''I think it is not our aim to scare anybody,'' Nečas told EurActiv.cz in an interview.
    ''No-one is surprised by regular bilateral meetings between France and Germany, so why should one be surprised by meetings between our four EU countries?'' he asked.
    The Czech prime minister did not deny that the V4 countries could act as a counterweight to the perceived hegemony of Paris and Berlin, however.
    Media freedom declining in enlargement countries - Political pressure, threats and lawsuits against media and journalists are commonplace in EU candidate countries and other membership hopefuls, the European Commission's enlargement reports revealed on Tuesday (9 November).
    Freedom House ranks all of the candidate countries' press freedom levels as "partly free," alongside Bhutan and Nigeria. EU members Bulgaria, Romania and Italy also share this sad ranking. - ROFL! Seriously, look at WikiLeaks - what media freedom?! Where!
    EU institutions close in on citizens' petitions - Representatives of all three EU institutions this week outlined an agreement on implementing the European Citizens' Initiative, paving the way for the first petitions to be accepted next year once outstanding issues have been ironed out later this month. 
    At a trialogue meeting on Tuesday evening (30 November), officials from the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council, which represents EU member states, agreed on admissibility criteria for the Commission to accept a petition.
    First, they agreed that the minimum age for signing a petition should be the European election voting age in the country concerned.
    Second, the three institutions agreed that a check will be carried out to determine whether an initiative is admissible at the point of registration.
    To ensure that ECIs are "well-founded and have a European dimension," a so-called 'citizens' committee' of at least seven members coming from seven member states will be set up to register an initiative, as requested by MEPs prior to the trialogue meeting.
    This means that a previous admissibility threshold of 300,000 signatures has been scrapped.
    It was also agreed that it should be left to member states to verify the authenticity of signatures and that governments would be free to decide how to do so. Countries will thus have some flexibility in choosing which personal information is required from signatories.
    One key issue that remains to be resolved include practicalities surrounding the organisation of public hearings with representatives of the EU institutions once organisers have successfully collected a million signatures, as well as the translation of ECIs into the EU's official languages, EU sources told EurActiv.- 
    Brussels Wants 7-Year Limit on Works Digitized by Google - Companies like Google that digitize artworks and books from public bodies should allow other companies and institutions to commercialize those materials after seven years, three experts advising the European Commission said Monday. - I also agree that 7 years is much better than 15. But then shouldn't normal publishers also have their royalty period???
    Kosovo shuts down ethnic Serbs’ mobile phones - Eighty thousand Serbs in Kosovo were left without a mobile or fixed phone connection on Sunday (26 September) as several Serbian telecoms operators were shut down by Pristina. The transmitters were shut down by Kosovo Telephony Agency employees, escorted by Kosovo Police Special Units.
     

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