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

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The WCIT fiasco - the European commission against ETNO

Amid the shocking news of austerity plans and billions directed at rescuing troubled banks, media kind of forgot to inform us of the battle on the top of the EU who to decide the future of Internet. The funniest thing (for me) is that from the media, it's next to impossible to understand who fights for what. Let's make a little review of the information we have:
USAToday, November 26, 2012: Web access battles brew before U.N. conference "In upcoming U.N. gathering about Internet oversight is raising alarms from a broad coalition of critics,(...), concerned that changes could lead to greater efforts to censor Web content and stifle innovation in cyberspace.
Another likely battle when the meeting begins Dec. 3 is over European-backed suggestions to change the pay structure of the Web to force content providers — such as Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and others — to kick in an extra fee to reach users across borders. 
The American technology company envoys in Dubai also are expected to push back strongly against any sweeping revision in Internet charges. The proposal, led by the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association, would do away with the current system — called "net neutrality" — that now treats all Internet traffic equally, regardless of who is sending or receiving.
In its place, the European plan seeks to have content providers pay when their service is accessed across borders. The money raised, theoretically, could pay to expand broadband infrastructures in developing countries."
This article was the first to draw attention to the issue. Which is kind of strange, since according to the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO), a position from August, 2012 says:
"ETNO will use this opportunity to inform regional participants of the ETNO proposal to the ITU, which provides for a new sustainable model for the Internet, to be based on commercial agreements between undertakings, for the benefit of all. The ETNO contribution calls for a new economic model for the Internet that provides end-to-end Quality of Service delivery, in addition to best effort delivery." source

So the question is how come, we didn't know of this position for like 3 months?!

By the way, on the same page, you can find a list of the members of ETNO. These are really the biggest telecoms in Europe. So it is surprising the such a novel position, was decided in total lack of transparency and public discussion. Note that their motivation is not financial, it's all for the public good. Of course, it's ridiculous to claim that you'll invest the extra-money you get in broadband connections in developing countries - after all, it's the customers who pay for that broadband and I somehow doubt it telecoms are going to alleviate customers from the additional charges.

Anyway, let's move on. The article which buzzing the net these days is:
Euraktiv, 30 November 2012, Commission sidelined from critical IT summit in Dubai:
"EU member states yesterday (29 November) elbowed the European Commission out of a representative role when 193 governments gather next week in Dubai for key treaty negotiations affecting the telecoms and internet industry.

Instead, EU member states' representatives at the EU Council of Ministers agreed a joint position for them to approve individually at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), taking place on 3-14 December in Dubai. The decision, agreed by the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday (29 November), was kept out of the EU’s official journal, since it includes details of the bloc’s preferred negotiating stance.

The US strongly opposes the original ETNO proposal, whilst the European Council’s joint position is nuanced. It says that member states: “Do not support any proposals insofar as they may affect EU common rules or alter their scope, or introduce obligations on operators which go beyond those already provided for.”  On the face of it this would suggest strong opposition, although there is no explicit opposition to the relevant clause. "

On first glance, it seems there is some kind of battle for power on the top. One second glance, one reads in other sources :
"However, a Commission official said on Friday that it was not true that the Commission had been sidelined, pointing out that it was the Commission that wrote the E.U.'s negotiating position for the conference.
The E.U.'s position is to minimize the effects of decisions taken at WCIT. It undertakes "to support proposals that seek to ensure that the revised treaty remains technology neutral and to oppose proposals to make ITU recommendations binding."" source

Go figure.

Obviously, if only nations can vote, the EC cannot participate in the vote. However, if associations can lobby and make proposals, which seems to be the case, then nothing stops the EC to make a contra-proposal to the one of ETNO or to even publicly distance from it. Even more so, since there is an EP position against the ETNO proposal (you can also read the position of the MEP I. Kalfin on the issue). They, didn't do anything like this!
It's hard not to suppose that the ETNO is actually the front end of the huge lobby of the telecommunication companies. If you check the list, we are talking about huge companies with many resources for lobbying. And also, it's a matter of a hell lot of money. Imagine if Youtube has to pay for every visitor, each day.

Let's check what exactly the ETNO wants:
A CDT Analysis, June 21, 2012, Radical Proposal Now on the Table at the ITU:
"ETNO’s proposal is ambiguous in some respects, but it seems to urge radical changes. In particular, the proposal asks the ITU to adopt through treaty an approach to Internet interoperability that would completely upend what has been widely adopted today – a system of voluntary agreements that has successfully enabled anyone (once connected to the Internet) to speak to anyone else in the world, or launch a new website or application, without having to negotiate with entrenched private (and even state-owned) telecom interests in the middle. The ETNO proposal would introduce new friction by requiring sending networks to navigate a new system of fees to deliver content to end users.
While the ETNO proposal might benefit large, incumbent telecommunications operators, it will not likely expand Internet access in countries that need it most. And the ETNO proposal could negatively impact Internet users, in several concrete ways. The proposal could:
  1. Increase the cost of Internet access for everyone by replacing the existing, highly functional Internet interconnection system with something significantly more complex and costly.
  2. Cause online service and content providers to abandon smaller and less developed countries, depriving citizens in those countries of access to information, knowledge, and empowering communications technologies. The proposal would require online content and application providers (potentially broadly defined) to pay to reach specific users.
  3. Increase costs for individuals and businesses located in less developed countries who want to reach users and audiences outside their country because they, too, may be required to pay to do so. 
  4. Disproportionately impact not-for-profit entities, individual speakers, and new forms of non-commercial and collaborative endeavors, all of which may have little ability to pay new and unpredictable fees to reach global user bases.
Fundamentally undermine principles of Internet neutrality, owing to the “quality of service” requirement (explained further below), by encouraging telecom operators to decide what kinds of traffic and communications deserve priority treatment and what kinds of traffic might be left to lag behind." source
I recommend this analysis, since it's very informational and goes to the technological level of the change which would be required should the ETNO proposal be accepted.

A serious source of uncertainty lies in the definition of "content provider". Because everyone these days is a content provider of a kind. If you use Youtube or Blogger, the content provider is Google. So it would be hard to imagine how Google or Facebook could keep their service free to the user if they have to pay the telecoms for the traffic they receive.

But a far worst situation occurs if you have your own site, which is successful enough to gather many international visitors. Under the ETNO proposition, you'll have to pay the telecoms for those visitors! Whether directly or trough your hosting plan it doesn't matter. You'll have to pay for something you don't have any control of. It's absurd.

To sum up, for me, this proposal is wrong and is yet another way, for the "poor" telecoms to suck money from their most unfortunate clients. Those telecoms are in absolute monopolist position, since they own the high-speed fiber-optical connections and they lend it to other local telecommunication providers (note that in the ETNO list, most countries have only one representative). So they have all the means necessary to basically arm-twist the governments to vote for whatever they would like. Thus it is critical to show our citizens position so that they know we won't allow the very concept of Internet to be deformed in a way that would certainly hamper freedom of speech and information. Unfortunately it's hard to find out what exactly the position of the EC is, maybe they are just being cautious after the protests against ACTA, but in any case, we have to let them now, that this won't pass, that we are ready to fight for our rights!
Edit: Here's another peace of information I found today:
Wired, "Internet Hangs in Balance as World Governments Meet in Secret",12.03.12:
"The United States is battling plans to treat the internet like the telephone when it comes to transmission agreements. Some European and Middle Eastern members are calling for so-called termination fees, in which networks where a web session begins must pay the routing cost for the session’s destination — like phone companies work with phone calls.
“That model, in general, lends itself to fewer providers, higher prices, slower take-up of internet, slower economic growth,” said Terry Kramer, the head of the U.S. delegation.
Llanso said termination fees, which would obviously be paid for by consumers, also opens the door to more internet monitoring.
“You can also read it as a campaign,” she said, “to make all internet communication more traceable and more trackable, invading users’ privacy.”

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The new European order is coming?

Yesterday, our glorious president of the EC Mr. Barroso made a speech. A speech which kind of traumatized me. I am a huge fan of the EU. And this is why, I feel so offended by the way events develop recently. And especially by Barroso's speech. You can hear excerpts from it here or read the whole speech (I believe).
But before I comment on the speech itself, I'd like to present to you an article in NY Times that deeply impressed me and which is very relevant when considering the points proposed by Barroso.
Presidential Policy vs. Fed Policy on Jobs
"But Mr. Bernanke doesn’t have to wait for democratic machinations to play themselves out. (..) The important point is that he doesn’t have to contend with matters like legislation and Congressional votes. Not only can he act more or less at will, he also has the freedom to act with unbelievable force.

It’s something he did in the depths of the financial crisis. Almost single-handedly, Mr. Bernanke was able to get an additional $1 trillion pumped into the economy, something a politician can only dream of.

Something similar is now going on in Europe. The European Central Bank, under its president, Mario Draghi, has recently taken a more aggressive stance in its efforts to bring down the borrowing costs of nations like Spain and Italy. It has had a lot of success, perhaps more success than politicians’ policies to do the same.

Mr. Bernanke and Mr. Draghi are no doubt uncomfortable about the power they now have in relation to politicians. And they probably cannot wait for the day when they can go back to tinkering with monetary policy at the margins. The danger, however, is that the economy becomes dependent on the huge central bank stimulus. The longer it remains, the more the power of the Fed increases, perhaps at the expense of democratically elected politicians."

In short, my major fear is that using the crisis as an excuse, the Fed and the ECB gain immense power in their hands, without proper control from democratically elected representatives. And while the situation with the Fed is not ours to worry about, the vague possibility of the ECB copying it in Europe makes my hair stand on end. Because I believe in Europe, and in the European Union, and I want a better future for us. Democracy might have its flaws, but so far it's the best thing we came up with. I don't want to lose it, just because people are to scared to see the threat when it presents itself. And when you hear something like "Because when you are on a boat in the middle of the storm, absolute loyalty is the minimum you demand from your fellow crew members." (from the speech), you get a very nasty feeling of deja vu. People from Eastern Europe would know what I'm talking about. "a Decisive Deal for Europe" sounds awfully close to a communist rhetoric. And that's something which shouldn't be allowed to progress - the idea that those who are not with us are against us and that everyone needs to be absolutely loyal and so on.

Don't get me wrong, I'm also a federalist. There's nothing wrong in principle with the idea of a fiscal union, or a common prosecutors office, or the supervisory functions of the ECB. Or the whole bunch of other good ideas mentioned in the speech, which are basically known for years and nobody bothered to follow through with them. The real problem comes when those ideas meet the reality. And the net reality is that countries in Europe are not equal. The net reality is that you cannot go toward a federation, when you don't allow the free movement of people - for example the Roma problems in France or the complete denial of the Dutches to allow Bulgaria and Romania in Schengen even though we fulfilled all the requirements. Or even if you ignore the Roma problems, you still have the fact that many countries still won't allow for Bulgarians and Romanians to work there and threat citizens from Eastern Europe like 3d hand people.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg. More importantly there isn't a pan-European mechanism of social and health security, which will guarantee that if a French person works 5 years in France, 15 in Spain, 15 in Italy and 5 in Poland and then she decides she wants to retires in Denmark, she will get all the social and health benefits she worked for her whole life without much of bureaucratic effort. I mean this is extremely serious and without it, people are simply not free to move and work anywhere in Europe, the way they are in the USA. Furthermore, you have all the hurdles of marriages and name-conventions for children of cross-country marriages. Or even worst, when it comes to divorces and parents from larger member-states get the children by default. You have the huge difference in the social and health insurances and benefits over Europe. You have the protectionism when it comes to hiring a worker from another European country. You have the agricultural quotas which are the clearest example why the EU is not a free-trade Union. You have the different subsidies for agriculture in different countries. You have the different subsidies for local companies and producers.
And on top of everything, you have Germany. Germany who has the biggest influence in Europe, with the biggest industry, all parts of which are very well protected by European legislation, tailored especially for them. Is it fair? No! Is it productive? HELL, NO! Even in science, you can see the biggest chunk of the European money going again to Germany and France, not always on the base of merit.
Yes, Mr. Barroso, you're right, there is a huge crisis of the confidence in the EC in Europe. But it is because people are not blind or stupid. They see and they react to your own actions (or inactions). How about the recent proposal of the Troyka overseeing Greece to remove any limitations of the work hours, increasing it up to 78 hours per weeek?! This makes 11.09h per day, 7 days a week. Where in Europe people work that much? Ok, some people certainly work even more, but they do it on their own will. Nowhere in Europe such work week is not made a law. Because it amounts to slavery!!! I mean who can have a normal life by working 11 hours a day, 7 days a week (or 13 hours, 6 days a week), needing about 2.5 more hours to eat, and at least 3 more hours to travel, shop, cook, clean up and shower. That basically amounts to 17 hours a day, leaving you with less than 8 hours to sleep! Social life is not included. Kids, family, studying and self-development are not included. Who can live like that forever? Is this what the EU is about - legalizing slavery?! Because it certainly looks this way. And yeah, even if people wanted to work that much, what would they work?! Sit in the administration 11.09 hours a day and sharpen a pencils? Teach students for 11 hours a day? Grow vegetables for 11 hours a day? The increase of productivity is not equal to the time spent working in many many sectors. Especially in shattered economy, with huge unemployment.
But back to Barroso speech. He is very passionate on federal Europe. About European parties. But which parties...oh, well, mostly his party. Because Mr. Barroso wants to continue to be a President of the EC forever. Or at least one more mandate. And then one more. However, for those two mandates, he didn't show any consistence or vision of the future of the Union. He was never the one to stand out and to defend the EU or its ways. Not to mention that people of his Commission, where the ones to plan, create, sign (in secret) and defend ACTA, they even tried to HIDE the legislation from the European Parliament and its official requests for information, ignored the opinion of the MEPs and made more than one parliamentary commissions trying to pass ACTA trough the EP. How is this for democracy? How is this for transparency or working in public interest? Defending with all legal means a proposal from which only limited companies will profit at the expense of the whole Europe! And don't tell me that Mr. Barroso didn't know about it! Or that Germany, the biggest single profiteer in the EU from ACTA didn't know or support it. So, if Germany doesn't mind fooling the EP, denying access to crucial information on this issue and over all defying democracy because of German interests, how could I be convinced that this won't happen again. I mean it happens all the time with German chemical corporations which pass whatever legislation they see fit. Or with the chief-scientists of the EU saying GMOs are actually good (thought not saying they are not bad for our health), only after Bayer started producing GMO potatoes. I'm strictly against GMO crops for commercial use on Earth, but it's a little bit odd that Europe was fighting so desperately against Monsanto, but when Germany came up with a GMO crop, EFSA say quickly "YEAAAH, GMOs are GOOOD!"
So, if we have so many examples of abuse of power from Germany, what to think for the new role of ECB to supervise banks, to grant and deny licenses, to get access to all the information held by those banks. It's kind of scary, no? Who is to control the ECB?! Because without control, there is abuse. That's the rule! There were hints in his speech, that it would be the EP who will control the ECB. But what will guarantee us that the ACTA story won't repeat? That the EP won't be left helpless and ignored? Or that the new control organ won't be overtaken by the EPP (generally controlled by Germany) which will monopolize it and ensure that the whole process becomes nontransparent and serving particular national interest.
Because Mr. Barroso, as good as it sounds the slogan "One Europe", there is no one Europe. You can make European integration your goal, but you cannot act as it is already a fact. Because it is not. And that's the reality and that's your starting point. The whole debt crisis is not a real thing. It's a virtual problem created and supported by certain circles. If you want to fight it, there are ways to do so. But don't use it as a bait, so that people would believe you. If you want people to start believing you, offer them something real. Like real social integration of Europe. Like a unification of the work market,  goods market, banks regulations, democratic rights, end of discrimination, and so on and so on.
Offer them something they can use. Nobody cares about the ECB and its supervisory functions! Nobody cares what you think or think not. Nobody cares about your well-written speech, full of good ideas, but without a vision of their implementation. People want real things which will make their life better for real. They want their rights as Europeans to be guaranteed everywhere they go in Europe, for the whole EU and for any European alike. Not the artificial separations of East and West, North and South. If you want governments to give up their sovereignty, you should offer something in return. And you are not. What you're offering them right now, is to become   provinces of the German Empire. True, some people don't mind, but some people do mind A LOT!

Anyway, below, you can see some quick recall on the events which happened in the last year with respect to the crisis. Things strangely repeat. People have those great ideas and then they give them up. In the end, we all pay. Because the politicians we choose are obviously incapable of taking responsibility and doing their job from the beginning to the end. Oh, well. People deserve their rulers. As long as we act as sheep, there always be a shepherd to guard and milk us.
  1. Sarkozy embraces German calls for EU treaty change, austerity
  2. Cameron wants to re-shape EU as a 'network'
  3. Barroso wants eurozone represented at IMF
  4. 6 Central Banks Act to Buy Time in Europe Crisis Merkel Seeks Swift Action on What May Be Long Job to Save the Euro
  5. Merkel Seeks Swift Action on What May Be Long Job to Save the Euro
  6. Huge Step Taken by Europe’s Bank to Abate a Crisis

Sarkozy embraces German calls for EU treaty change, austerity 

23 November 2011
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has embraced a German campaign for treaty change that could give European authorities intrusive powers to intervene in the national budgets of countries sharing the euro currency. The European Commission is due to present plans today (23 November) for greater fiscal surveillance in the eurozone.

France and Germany will soon propose amendments to the European Union treaty in response to the bloc's sovereign debt crisis, Sarkozy said on Tuesday.  "We will do everything not just to defend Europe but also to consolidate it."
EU paymaster Germany continues to block the two most widely touted exit routes from a crisis that is shaking the world economy – massive ECB intervention to buy government bonds, or joint issuance of eurozone debt in the form of Eurobonds. source

Cameron wants to re-shape EU as a 'network' 

15 November 2011
Britain must remain part of the European Union but use the current eurozone crisis as an opportunity to re-shape the Union as a network rather than a bloc, Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday (14 November).
He made it clear, although he described himself as a eurosceptic, that Britain would remain in the EU, and that his country had "a profound national interest" in ensuring the resolution of the eurozone crisis.
Despite its anaemic performance, the British economy appears to be profiting from the eurozone crisis, economists have found. As a big economy outside the eurozone, the UK has become a haven for investors, who buy its sovereign debt bonds, shunning other countries such as France.  source

Barroso wants eurozone represented at IMF 

09 November 2011
The European Commission will propose by the end of November a “more consolidated representation” of the eurozone in bodies such as the International Monetary Fund, its President José Manuel Barroso said.

Big member states have been traditionally reluctant to give away their seats in international bodies and have thus far prevented any streamlining of the EU or eurozone external representation. As a consequence, the eurozone has no formal external representation and participation of eurozone representatives at IMF meetings or G20 summits are decided on an ad hoc basis.
The prevailing view within the Commission is that external representation should be assigned to the commissioner in charge of economic affairs, a position currently held by a Finn, Olli Rehn. source

6 Central Banks Act to Buy Time in Europe Crisis

By BINYAMIN APPELBAUM, November 30, 2011
WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve and other major central banks moved on Wednesday to help foreign banks more easily borrow and lend money, seeking to forestall a breakdown of global financial markets and giving Europe more time to wrestle with its debts.
The latest round of interventions by central banks, including the expansion of an existing Fed program that lets foreign banks borrow dollars at a low interest rate, reflects growing concerns that Europe’s financial problems are hampering growth.  In a sign that the fallout is increasingly global, the Chinese central bank, which has sought to slow an overheated economy and inflation over the last year, also moved unexpectedly but independently Wednesday to encourage new lending by Chinese commercial banks.  source

Merkel Seeks Swift Action on What May Be Long Job to Save the Euro

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday called for swift action to amend European treaties to address the underlying causes of the debt crisis that has shaken Europe and jeopardized the future of the common currency. It took years to negotiate and ratify the last major change, the Lisbon Treaty, after the failure of the previous effort to write a European constitution.
But Europe’s leaders are evidently hoping to use the shadow of impending crisis to speed the process.
Mrs. Merkel continued to oppose so-called euro bonds backed by all 17 members of the existing currency union, which embraces many different levels of economic strength ranging from struggling Greece to the export-driven German economy, which is seen as the powerhouse of Europe. She called the idea of euro bonds “unthinkable.”
Her comments with regard to the European Central Bank were more ambiguous. She defended the independence of the bank and said she would not comment on its decisions. A report on Friday in the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung said she was prepared to tolerate more aggressive action by the bank to steady the most indebted nations.
Germany, she said, did not wish to dominate Europe. “That is far-fetched,” she said.  source

Greeks Balk at Paying Steep New Property Tax - Ioannis Chatzis is 86 and lives in a tiny, single room, surviving on a pension that is just enough to pay for food and care for his bedridden wife.  But in its latest push to raise cash, the Greek government sent him a new $372 real estate tax bill, incorporated into his October electric statement.
Mr. Chatzis says he is being asked to choose between lights and paying for his wife’s medicines, since he cannot afford both on his $720-a-month pension.

Europe’s Economic Powerhouse Drifts East - Germany has long sat at the center of the European economy, but Europe is no longer as central to Germany as it used to be.
With large parts of Europe still in an economic rut and struggling to cope with a debt crisis, Germany is increasingly deploying its money and energy outside the euro zone to fuel its robust growth.
German companies, instead of concentrating their investment overwhelmingly on countries like France and Italy, are sending a growing proportion of their euros to places like Poland, Russia, Brazil and especially China, which is already the largest market for Volkswagen and could soon be for Mercedes and BMW.
The German government is following suit, committing more diplomatic resources to its growing trade partners, particularly China, whose prime minister, Wen Jiabao, brought an entourage of 13 ministers and 300 managers when he visited Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany last month.
The economic shift is already having important consequences inside Europe. As Germany becomes less dependent on euro zone markets, there are signs that it is becoming stricter with its ailing partners, like Greece, Italy and Portugal, adding to the pressures already straining European unity.

The Italian economy, for example, is no longer cruising in Germany’s slipsteam. Indeed, despite the strong German economy, Italian exports to Germany were €3.2 billion lower in 2010 than in 2008.  “That is bad news for Italy,” Mr. Sondergaard said.
Where Germany puts its money is crucial to the 17-nation euro zone economy. Germany accounts for nearly a third of the euro area’s exports. Germany has a trade surplus so far this year, while France, Italy, Spain and the region as a whole have large deficits.
With decades of European economic integration under their belt, German companies still exported much more to France last year than to China — €91 billion compared with €54 billion.
But the gap is closing fast. Exports to China rose 44 percent in 2010 compared with a 12 percent increase for France.
Moreover, in 2009, German manufacturers for the first time invested more in China — €11.6 billion, a 50 percent increase from 2006 — than they did in France, which, along with Italy and Spain, is drawing markedly less German industrial investment than a few years ago.

Huge Step Taken by Europe’s Bank to Abate a Crisis
 September 6, 2012
FRANKFURT — The European Central Bank on Thursday took its most ambitious step yet toward easing the euro zone crisis, throwing its unlimited financial clout behind an effort to protect Spain and Italy from financial collapse.
The central bank, won nearly unanimous support from the bank’s board to buy vast amounts of government bonds, a move that would relieve investor pressure on troubled countries but also effectively spread responsibility for repaying national debts to the euro zone countries as a group.

The decision propels political leaders farther down the uncertain and winding road toward a Europe with centralized control over government spending and economic policy(..).

Mr. Draghi demonstrated once again that he may be Europe’s most powerful leader, perhaps the only one capable of brokering an accord among politicians whose national concerns and mistrust of one another have allowed the crisis to boil for two and a half years.

But there is a risk once again that monetary policy is moving faster than political leaders are able to create the institutions, such as a European bank supervisor, needed to ensure the survival of the common currency.

The bank and Mr. Draghi had the quiet support of all European leaders in taking this latest action, aimed at keeping bond speculators from driving Spain and Italy into budget-blowing borrowing costs. “The euro is irreversible,” he repeated several times Thursday.
Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, voiced her approval during a visit to Spain on Thursday — a crucial victory for Mr. Draghi.
The bond-buying plan immediately reduced the financial pressure that had been building on Spain and Italy, even though those countries have not sought protection. source

Edit: I'm adding one very interesting map:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Who's saving who in Europe, 2012

I haven't published for quite a while now. I'm still to prepare the post I wanted to start with, but today I've found something quite interesting.
Clicking on the link above will open a very nice explanation of who's saving who with the European stability mechanism and so on. Because, like any other thinking European citizen, I also grew tired and very annoyed by the endless talking about the hard-working Germans and the lazy Greeks. I mean, it's amazing that in the times when all the information is available with a click of the mouse (or tapping on the tablet), people are still quite ignorant about the true cause of the crisis.
And the ugly truth is that it's not Greek fault (not entirely at least). The Greek were also victims, just like any of us. Not that I'm such fan of Greece, but we must be honest. It could be (almost) anyone of us. In fact, it is not over - the situation is still very very unstable.
And the worst is that instead of trying to stimulate the economics, some countries bet on conservative budgets, cutting money from where it shouldn't be cut. For example, Sarkozy is offering absurd taxes for the rich (could it be fare to lose 75% of your income, just because you earn over 1 000 000?!) or of online ads (how do you prove this income originated in France  unless you don't use the statistics gathered by the same company you're taxing). In Spain, the social services are going under heavier and heavier strain (severe cuts in the money for health care and education). Both of those examples simply won't lead to more money in the budget, especially in the short and medium term - the ultra-high taxes for the rich will only scare them away and they will pay their taxes in fiscal paradises. As for the cuts in the health care and education and the idea to be able to fire people collectively ignoring their contracts - I don't see how mass-firing people in Spain can lead to savings in the budget - all those people will take their unemployment insurance payments directly from the state's budget. For at least 6 months! So they won't work and they will get payed. How is this good for the economy? And those are just two examples.
What about the increasingly xenophobic rhetoric in the whole West Europe? Again Sarkozy said he wants to decrease the number of the immigrants. But let's face it! The Magreb immigrants are in France because they can. Because it was French politics to make them happy, so that they can use (and abuse) their home-countries resources. So blaming on the immigrants is merely ridiculous - it was France who invited them on the first place. But of course, when Sarkozy speaks of immigrants, it's not directed on the African immigrants. They are not foreigners, they are "dark-skinned, francophone cousins". By immigrants, he means, East and Central Europeans. True, we belong to the same civilization, have the same culture and similar religious habits, but we're the foreigners. We are the bad people who steal French people their salary. Something that is profoundly incorrect, since the real money drain for France are exactly the "cousins" from Magreb. But if he directs his anger to them, that will be politically incorrect. And then it will be very difficult for France to make solar plants in Algeria, or to count on oil/gas from Africa or to keep the influence in the region they are so happy with. So, Eastern Europeans are much more easy and safe target.
Anyway, Sarkozy may be absolutely unimportant considering the elections in France. We can leave him aside for now. My point is that Europe and its people need a serious reality check. They've been manipulated and this time, it's not some conspiracy theory, it's a fact. Read for example this very recent news: Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs . It's written by a resigning executive director of Goldman Sachs. A very disillusioned one! But I cannot feel compassion to him. Because it was exactly Goldman Sachs who put Greece on its knees. And although I have serious problem with the Greek's version of ancient history, I can't stand the way they indebted it to the point of no return and then even dared to ask that it goes in a default, just to get the insurance for the investment.  Indebting every citizen of a European country, ruining the lives of thousands if not millions, just for the profit. And that guy claim he didn't know? I can't believe it. So I have no sympathy for him.
And note - both Mario Monti and Mario Draghi are Goldman Sachs ex-executives. So obviously, this investment bank deserves its nick-name the Vampire Squid. Because it has entangled the whole world and it won't let go.
So, don't be fooled. The real enemy are not your neighbors or the other member-states. The money that the EU gives them to save them from a default go actually directly to European banks who hold their national debts, thus keeping the banks away from a default or from negative credit ratings  which will mean higher credit rates for everyone.
The real enemy are precisely those banks. Structures, which are much bigger than their own good. Entities who use our money, when in need, but who do not return this favor when we are in need (and in fact which evade taxes in every possible and more or less legal way). And this is not a conspiracy, it's a mere consequence of the globalisation. Nowadays, governments do not regulate the market, it's banks who regulate the market and the governments. And ultimately they regulate our lives. They have the power to ruing a country or to make it prosper, by dictating its politics, but they do not get elected by us! And we cannot hold them responsible, no matter how wrong they are. In the end, when they do something very stupid, it's once again OUR money who will save them, in the form of government subsidy.
Is this free market? No. It is not. It's the reign of the investment banks, financial trusts and so on parasites. This situation must be changed. Because live thrives on variety, it needs its degrees of freedom. It doesn't matter who is abusing the power, be it banks, governments or corporations, there must be balance. And it is exactly this balance worth fighting for.
Have a nice evening!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Schengen maddness revised, 2012

Hello and Happy New Year to everyone!

I wanted to start the new year with a positive post, but instead, it will be a short overview of the fights over the Schengen Treaty during the past year.

Many people in Western Europe probably see this issue as irrelevant and profoundly not interesting, but I claim this is just lack of perspective. Because the freedom of movement of people and goods is one of the founding principles of the EU. And the biggest harm from any mechanism for disabling this right, will be for the countries which impose it.

Why? Well, as somebody put it, in the accession contract, joining the Schengen Treaty is optional for the country that enters the Union, but not for the Union itself. The EU countries are actually obliged to accept the new country in the family so to say.  Furthermore, according to the so called EU constitution, the freedom of movement of people and goods is guaranteed for all the member-states. Which means that the Schengen Treaty is in practice completely outdated and irrelevant to the current situation. Then how come countries hold on to it, like it's the most important thing in the world? How come, the only country which opened its borders for Bulgarians and Romanians in the beginning of 2012 is...Italy? How come the EU which has approximate population of 500 millions is afraid to open its borders to Romania (appox. 20 millions) and Bulgaria (approx. 7 millions), even though, most of the Bulgarian and Romanians who wanted to work abroad are employed in Spain and not planning to relocate? The only people who could look for job in the EU now are...highly educated professionals! (because everyone else is in Spain already - according to official data approx. 1 million Romanians are in Spain currently, but I would bet they are like 2 millions or even more; and the Bulgarians in Spain are around 300 000 or more)

Yet, the EU countries are desperate to convince you that opening the borders will be devastating to their economy. Because the big bad emigrants will come and eat your lunch. Oh well.

Ok, maybe it's hard to believe you're safe in your European home, but for me the question is - is this the most important thing governments must focus on? Emigration? During a huge economical crisis, in time of extremely complicated situation for Europe and the euro, are Bugaria and Romania indeed the problem? Or they are just a way to evade the real problem. Is the corruption in Bulgaria and Romania the worst thing in Europe, if 80% of the EU member states are in huge financial mess, caused precisely by corruption, bribes, crime, abuse of public money and so on and so on. Some could call it hypocrisy, but I call it very well-measured media propaganda. And this is why it is so dangerous for Europe. Because instead of dealing with the real problem, the public attention is focused on demonized third-parties like Bulgaria and Romania. If you that doesn't ring any bells for you, I'll remind you the events during the second world war. A part of the society was demonized to hide serious economical and geopolitical problems, and as a result Europe and the world were in the middle of the worst war ever.

I'm not claiming that Bulgaria and Romania will be the reason for the next big crisis in the world, I certainly hope not. The thing is that Europe has  very serious problems. A lot of public money are missing. A lot of public services are being suspended. Many people are without job, and what's worst - without a perspective for new job. Tax-payers money are poured into banks, even tough those same banks are not public and they won't return those money to the public, ever. Basically, banks are telling governments how to act, which is not a lot better than governments telling banks how to act (i.e. China). We are in the middle of an extreme crisis of trust of the people toward their governments and only the holiday season and pure luck has saved us from BIG demonstrations and chaos. Yet, as you will find out reading trough the articles below, EU governments are having very busy time denying Bulgaria and Romania any fair chance of returning to normality. Of being part of the European Union. All that, in time when countries are questioning the need of the euro and the faith of the EU as a whole.

What's the point, you would say. The point is simple. Every challenge in our lives come in order to make us change, to make us grow and understand ourselves better. This crisis was the perfect chance for the EU member states to grow. But instead of growing, they chose to crouch in their little (or big) shells and stay there. They chose not to change, not to respond to the new situation. And that could cost them the EU. Which I still consider to be the greatest achievement for our continent. The problem is that the EU has grown, and European nations didn't grow with it. Everybody knows that current situation requires reforms and new vision of the EU, with much bigger economical and social integration of the nations, but nobody is doing anything about it. They know that there is a huge demographic crisis awaiting at our doors, yet instead of raising social benefits for mothers and stimulating employers to hire older people, they raise the retirement age hoping things will fix somehow. Well, they won't. They never did. No babies, no young adults, no workforce. It's as simple as that.

And instead of being creative and working on the problems together, as a union, nations are following Germany like little puppies, hoping that mama will do it right for them. Refusing to take responsibility and move on. That's what's bothering me. That's why I write all this. Not because for me it's so important that Bulgaria will be in the Schengen Treaty. For the moment, Bulgarians can travel freely and go anywhere they want, so this is not a big deal. The big deal is politicians use Bulgaria and Romania to scare their people, that they take the liberty to offend our governments, to preach on us about judicial system and corruption, when their nations are just as corrupted, only much more sophisticated. That they use this treaty, to black mail our governments and to set precedent for the whole Europe. Ultimately, they ruin the integration which is so important for the survival of the EU. And that's bad.

Anyway, read the articles and decide for yourself (the articles are many, but they are very seriously trimmed). After all, the EU is what we make it. And many people abandoned that responsibility time ago, when they decided it's all too complicated. It is complicated, but it's not impossible. When the people want it, they can shape the EU and the EC the way they want to. We just have to will it hard enough!

  1. France, Italy call for Schengen Treaty re-write
  2. Denmark against early Schengen enlargement too 
  3. Ministers agree on need for new EU border rules 
  4. Barroso warns Denmark on border checks 
  5. Bulgaria, Romania denied Schengen entry 
  6. Bulgaria, Romania monitoring inspires new Schengen rules 
  7. Parliament slams Commission, Council on Schengen 
  8. Germany criticises Danish border control plans 
  9. New EU members to break free from euro duty Germany opposes Commission's Schengen revamp plan
  10. Belgium complains of 'social fraud' by Eastern workers
  11. Italy opens up to Romanian, Bulgarian workers

France, Italy call for Schengen Treaty re-write

03 May 2011
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi yesterday (26 April) asked Brussels to make changes to the treaty establishing the Schengen border-free area. The proposed changes strengthen the hand of member countries and undermine the role of the European Commission.
At present, member states are only allowed to temporarily introduce  such checks in the event of a serious threat to public order. The proposed text now speaks of "exceptional difficulties".
Apparently, such a text would allow France to introduce border checks in situations such as massive influxes of Tunisian refugees or Roma from Eastern Europe.
Sarkozy told journalists yesterday that Schengen must be reformed if it is to survive.
Sarkozy also appeared to reiterate France's opposition to enlarging Schengen to the EU's most recent newcomers, Bulgaria and Romania.

  Denmark against early Schengen enlargement too

03 May 2011
Danish MEPs across party lines have asked their government to back France and Germany in their opposition to the early accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU's Schengen borderless area. 
Four MEPs from different political groups have signed a letter to Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, insisting that Romania and Bulgaria should not join the Schengen club before cracking down on corruption and organised crime.
Earlier this week, German MEPs Jens Rohde and Alexander Alvaro (ALDE) tabled amendments to a parliamentary report regarding Romaina and Bulgaria's Schengen accession, asking for the date 2011 to be deleted as a target date for them to join. source

Ministers agree on need for new EU border rules

Interior ministers from the 27-country bloc have agreed to change the rules of the Schengen passport-free area, seeking to clarify conditions under which national governments can reinstate border controls following a high-level spat between France and Italy.
At an extraordinary meeting in Brussels yesterday (12 May), ministers discussed the conditions under which countries should be allowed to reintroduce border controls for people travelling within the Schengen area.
The issue came to the fore after the arrival in Italy and Malta of thousands of people risking their lives to flee violence in Northern Africa.
Their arrival triggered a serious split between France and Italy after Rome issued temporary travel visas to thousands of Tunisian migrants, many of whom were heading to France. Paris responded by threatening to reintroduce checks along its south-eastern border.

Barroso warns Denmark on border checks

The European Commission has strongly warned against plans by Copenhagen to introduce controls at its ports and airports, the EU executive announced.
Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, spokesperson to Commission President José Manuel Barroso, said on 13 May that the Commission had received an assessment from its legal services over the measures announced by Denmark to re-introduce visible border controls.
The assessment raised "doubts" as to whether the move was in line with the country's legal obligations, she stressed.
There is a clear difference between the free movement of persons and movement of goods, she stressed. While the Schengen agreement allows the re-introduction of border controls under strict conditions, re-instating customs controls of the free movement of goods is not possible under EU law, she explained.
By reintroducing border controls allegedly to fight crime, the Danish government caved in to the demands of the Danish People's Party, a populist and anti-immigration party that has been holding up approval of its 2020 economic plan. 

Bulgaria, Romania denied Schengen entry

Published 09 June 2011 - Updated 10 June 2011
EU home affairs ministers are today (9 June) set to postpone enlarging the Schengen border-free area for an indefinite period, despite calls to the contrary from the European Parliament, which voted overwhelmingly in favour of Bulgaria and Romania's accession to the EU's passport-free zone.
France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Belgium are opposed to Bulgaria and Romania joining the Schengen area, despite the two countries meeting the technical requirements for accession, EurActiv has learned.
Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen accession is on the agenda of meetings of EU justice and interior ministers being held in Luxembourg today and tomorrow.
But ministers are expected to postpone their decision for an indefinite period, even though the European Parliament voted yesterday (8 June) to back the two countries' Schengen accession by 487 votes in favour, 77 votes against and 29 abstentions.
In a number of statements, Paris has made clear that it directly links Romania and Bulgaria's Schengen accession to their progress in fighting corruption and organised crime.
Both the Parliament and the Commission take the view that Schengen accession is an issue unrelated to the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism and that the political considerations of individual countries should not overrule this legal base.
According to diplomats who asked not to be named, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is standing for reelection in May 2012, will not risk making any decisions regarding Schengen which might be exploited by far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. source

Bulgaria, Romania monitoring inspires new Schengen rules

EU heads of state and government adopted a political decision to reform the Schengen passport-free travel area at the conclusion of a two-day summit in Brussels today (24 June). The new rules were compared by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to the tough scrutiny imposed on Romania and Bulgaria after their EU accession.
Leaders attending the EU summit decided to step up "political guidance" on how the Schengen area is managed, stipulating that this should be done in accordance with "common standards and fundamental principles and norms".
Country-specific evaluations would be performed by groups made up of national experts from EU member states, European Commission officials and competent agencies, the document reads.  source

Parliament slams Commission, Council on Schengen
08 July 2011
The European Parliament today (7 July) overwhelmingly rejected a push by EU countries led by France and backed by the European Commission to dilute the bloc's existing border-free area by allowing individual members to re-introduce checks on an "exceptional" basis.
MEPs gathered in Strasbourg overwhelmingly voted in favour of a 'Resolution on changes to Schengen', put forward jointly by all major political groupings: the centre-right European People's Party, the Socialists & Democrats, the liberal ALDE and the Greens/EFA groups.
The Parliament states its opinion that "any new exemptions from the current rules, such as new grounds for reintroducing border controls on an 'exceptional' basis, would definitely not reinforce the Schengen system".
Instead, MEPs take the view that the existing system is sufficiently reliable, asking the Commission to table an initiative making its application more strict.
MEPs also mention that the effectiveness of the evaluation mechanism lies in the possibility of sanctions in the event that deficiencies persist and jeopardise the overall security of the Schengen area.
The new Schengen evaluation system will also make it possible to request and obtain support for its members in the event of exceptional pressure on the EU's external borders.
The Parliament also "strongly regrets" attempts "by several member states" to reintroduce border controls.
MEPs deplore the "double standards" that have blocked the accession to the Schengen space of Bulgaria and Romania. The two EU countries have met the technical criteria, but are prevented from joining the border-free area due to obstruction mainly from the Netherlands. source

Germany criticises Danish border control plans 
11 August 2011
Berlin yesterday (10 August) criticised Danish plans to build new installations on its border with Germany, saying its northern neighbour should wait for European Union clearance before starting any construction. The European Commission, which sent an inspection team to the site, said Denmark had failed to justify its new border controls and that the tighter security system currently imposed on its frontiers requires strict monitoring. source

Italy 'ready to give up sovereignty' to save euro
16 September 2011
Ahead of a key eurozone meeting in Poland today (16 September), Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Rome was ready to relinquish "all the sovereignty necessary to create a genuine European central government" and draw a line under the euro zone's debt crisis.
In a rare federalist outing, Frattini, a former European commissioner, may have given an indication of how serious the eurozone debt crisis is perceived in Rome.
"We must work seriously towards the formation of a genuine European economic government. It is no longer sufficient to lead Europe by coming together around a table at intergovernmental level," he said, referring to the numerous EU emergency summits that have been called since the debt crisis erupted.
A growing chorus of politicians – including from the ranks of the UK Conservatives – have called on eurozone leaders to take bold steps towards greater economic and fiscal union as a way out of the debt crisis. source

New EU members to break free from euro duty
13 September 2011
Seven EU members which joined the European Union between 2004 and 2007 are concerned about an obligation to adopt the euro under the terms of their accession and could stage referenda to change their accession treaties, AFP reported, quoting diplomatic sources.
Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania said the euro zone they thought they were going to join, a monetary union, may very well end up being a very different union entailing much closer fiscal, economic and political convergence.
Before the eurozone crisis, several new members that have been close to fulfilling the Maastricht criteria to join the euro zone, including Poland and Bulgaria, had set themselves ambitious plans to speedily join the common EU currency.
More recently, several Polish officials have stated that the country has shelved its plans for early eurozone accession, until it becomes clear what future should be expected for the common EU currency.source

Germany opposes Commission's Schengen revamp plan 
13 September 2011
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich hit back forcefully against a draft plan to give the European Commission more say on when member states can reintroduce border controls in the passport-free Schengen travel area.
Under the draft EU legislation obtained by AFP, a country in the passport-free zone would be able to resume border patrols without asking for permission, but only for five days.
Beyond that, the country would have to ask the European Commission in Brussels for permission.
But Friedrich slammed the proposals, saying: "Security questions are a core competence of member states and we will not accept a transfer of this task to others or an undermining of this competence."
"We will not allow Brussels to dictate when we introduce controls. We control the borders if the security situation requires," Friedrich told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
"It is a matter for individual member states to assess the dangers to public safety," he added. source

Belgium complains of 'social fraud' by Eastern workers

 23 December 2011

Belgium has refused to open its labour market to workers from Romania and Bulgaria on the grounds that many nationals of those countries already working there cheat the social benefits system, EurActiv has learned.
Despite earlier indications to the contrary, one of the first decisions of the newly appointed Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo has been to extend until the end of 2013 the restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers in Belgium.
The announcement, made by Belgian Employment Minister Monica De Coninck, is seen as a setback for Bulgaria and Romania, which had campaigned for lifting all remaining restrictions applying to their nationals in EU countries (see background).
On 25 October, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for removing restrictions applying to workers from the EU's newest members. source
My comment

Italy opens up to Romanian, Bulgarian workers

04 January 2012

Crisis-struck Italy is lifting labour market restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians while nine other EU countries are maintaining their curbs, with several citing high unemployment.
Rome decided to fully liberalise its labour market for citizens of the EU's two newest members as of 1 January, an official at the Romanian Embassy in Italy told EurActiv. The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs officially informed Romanian and Bulgarian diplomats about its decision on 29 December. source

Spain defies Commission with Romanian worker ban - 9 July 2011 - The European Commission adopted a defensive stance yesterday (26 July), saying that Spain could introduce restrictive measures against Romanian workers "under exceptional circumstances". Last Friday, the EU executive said Spain had no legal right to impose such a ban. EurActiv Spain contributed to this article.
However, as a consequence of the crisis, Spain now has the highest unemployment rate in Europe (over 20%) and is considering imposing restrictions on its job market. As Romanian workers in Spain are more numerous, the planned restrictions do not concern Bulgaria.

Liberal MEP suggests 'second-class membership' for UK -  Andrew Duff, a British Liberal MEP and leader of the Union of European Federalists, has called for a genuine 'fiscal union' and greater EU integration, explicitly saying that opt-outs should be made possible for more Eurosceptic countries like the United Kingdom.
In a political pamphlet published today (5 September), the MEP outlines his vision for a federal Europe. He suggests the creation of a "formal second-class membership" for the UK and any other country which wishes to abstain from federalist goals in the EU's 'core' member states.
Duff argues that the practice of deciding bailouts of indebted countries at European summits has been proven ineffective and allowed "Paris and Berlin to form a directoire […] the antithesis of a federal Europe".
Instead, he calls for shifting decision-making to new European institutions through the creation a bigger European budget, an EU treasury, a European Monetary Fund and sanctions for countries lacking budget discipline.
Austria says doesn’t want Turkey as EU member-
Austria would prefer forging a special partnership between the European Union and Turkey over full EU membership for Ankara, Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said today (3 May).
Macedonia's 'warrior' monument infuriates Greece - A statue of a 'warrior on horseback' resembling Alexander the Great, currently being erected in the centre of Macedonian capital Skopje, has sparked fury in Greece, which warned that Skopje was gambling with its EU membership aspirations with such provocations. - What a surprise :)  
EU's anti-corruption drive hits Bulgaria, Romania - The European Commission yesterday (6 June) unveiled its first ever proposal to address corruption at EU level. Meanwhile, pressure is growing on Bulgaria and Romania to tackle corruption and mafia crime as preconditions of their accession to the EU's Schengen borderless area. 
Dutch push for Croatia post-accession monitoring - At the two-day EU summit opening today (23 June) in Brussels, EU leaders are set to agree that Croatia's accession talks be concluded before the end of the month. However, the EU hopeful is under pressure from the Netherlands to accept post-accession monitoring until it has joined the border-free Schengen space, EurActiv has learned. - Well, if Bulgaria and Romania are under scrutiny for so long, it makes some sens to monitor Croatia as well. But I must say that I'm less and less willing for Bulgaria to enter Schengen. It simply makes no sens for me anymore. Can we move freely? Yes. Then who cares if you land in the international or local part of the airports in Europe? It's like... whatever.

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