Posts tagged ‘European Commission’

Fun and games in Strasbourg: politics, climate and science

José Manuel Durão Barroso.
Image via Wikipedia

The European institutions rarely do party politics well, but this week was a rare exception as the current European Commission (EU executive) President Jose Barroso fought for the approval of the European Parliament (lower house one part of our bicameral legislature) for a second five year term in office. The verbal jousting between the Green leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Barroso was a delight; proof that the Punch and Judy politics regularly seen at Westminster can take place in a chamber hampered by simultaneous intepretation, stilted debates and differing national traditions.

In the end Barroso scraped together enough votes for approval by an absolute majority (not required but politically important). Portuguese and Spanish Socialists ignored their own group and joined the centre-right, liberal centre and looney right in voting for a renewal of his term of office.

There may be some scepticism as to whether Barroso will shake lose the shackles of the 27 Member State governments or whether his policies have contributed rather than dealt with the recent financial and economic crisis but he was in effect the only candidate and everyone knew it. The negotiations in recent weeks between Barroso and the political groups were as much about the structure and programme of the Commission as anything else.

While the programme (Political Guidelines for the next Commission) includes sweeties for all deserving children – promises for financial services regulation, a decarbonisation of transport and electricity etc – I’d like to concentrate on two new structural changes announced in Tuesday’s debate that interest me:

– A Commissioner for Climate Action

One of the 26 other Commissioners in Barroso’s yet to be formed team will get the climate change brief. Green members I met down in the Parliament this week remain concerned rather than overjoyed. While Barroso once again pointed out the EU’s leadership globally on climate change issues, they fear that a new Climate action Commissioner will get the climate change part of the department for environment (DG Environment) and put it together with the large energy department (DG Transport and Energy). For Greens, this is disaster time. Energy cares about market liberalisation, energy security and has an unhealthy like for nuclear they would say. The climate change activists at DG Environment will be drowned out by the energy obsessed hoardes, or so goes the theory. In reality, climate change is not going away and the debates that currently occur between the different departments are now likely simply to take place within the department. The issue of ambition is probably more about which politician gets the portfolio. Do they come from a big Member State and carry the political clout to push the agenda on Member States, who like to talk good game but then shy away from hard legislation (see the current debate on the energy performance of buildings as an example). We shall watch with interest as Member State’s lobby for their own nominees. It would not be a surprise if the UK went for the brief.

– Chief Scientific Adviser

Barroso also announced the creation of a Chief Scientific Officer who has “has the power to deliver proactive, scientific advice throughout all stages of policy development and delivery.” The EU institutions, mainly Parliament to be fair to the Commission, are hampered by a lack of access to scientific advice at appropriate stages in the policymaking process. The Commission’s scientific committees and agencies such as EFSA (food) and ECHA (chemicals) provide a good service upon request but suffer from work programmes and the need for both consensus and time. It shall be interesting to see what role such an adviser takes, how political or independent they will become, how proactive they can be and how they fit into the current structure of scientific advice. How would BSE, phthalates in toys, melamine in milk have played out should such a figure have existed at those times? Would some of our more reactive Members of the European Parliament have been slapped down or encouraged by this person’s presence? We await the details and of course the person.

James

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September 17, 2009 at 11:29 am 4 comments

Iceland’s path to EU membership may be a rocky one

Coat of arms of Iceland
Image via Wikipedia

I see that the EU Council of Ministers has asked the European Commission to deliver an opinion on Iceland’s application to join the EU, just 10 days after Reykjavik submitted its formal request for membership. The Swedish presidency wants the report by the end of the year, and foreign minister Carl Bildt has implied that Iceland’s status as an EEA country could speed the process of the application, in contrast to the slow progress for the Balkan applicants.

The Icelanders no doubt remain shell-shocked by the collapse of their banking system and the consequent halving in the value of the krona, and crave the stability of the eurozone, but it strikes me that the path to membership may be far from smooth. At the end of the process – say in 2011 – lurks a referendum: by then the mood of the country may have changed.

Fisheries could be a major stumbling block. Seafood accounts for almost half of Iceland’s exports and 10 per cent of its gross domestic product, which is quite something when another chunk of the country’s economy – the banking system – has disintegrated. The cod wars of the 1970s, when Iceland extended its territorial limits to 200 miles and the Royal Navy sent frigates to protect British fishing vessels, showed the depth of national feeling on this issue.

Even now international relations on fisheries policy remain poor. I gather for instance that Iceland has been excluded from negotiations on the management of mackerel stocks in the North Atlantic and has therefore opted out of catch allocations. The country is very concerned to rebuild cod stocks, which is a key economic asset. Stocks may be recovering but there will be intense opposition to surrendering quota to EU fishermen under the common fisheries policy. Just to add to the sensitivities, Iceland still has a whaling industry.

At least the review of the EU common fisheries policy is timely, with signs that ministers have accepted the need for fundamental change (just as well, as many fish stocks in European waters are on the point of collapse – and see Sarkozy’s change of heart). However, the fisheries chapter in the Commission’s Iceland report will be one of the most difficult to compose. Could it be the catalyst for the creation of a new fisheries policy, or will it hark back to the disastrous EU policy which has been pursued since 1973?

Becoming part of the eurozone is the big driver for Iceland, but there could be difficult issues here as well, given the level of Iceland’s public debt (about 100 per cent of gdp). For Iceland to qualify for eurozone membership could be an even greater challenge than is faced by the Baltic states and Hungary.

The vote in the Althing to apply for membership was a close run thing – 33 in favour, 28 against – and it would certainly be wrong to underestimate the negotiating difficulties which lie ahead. If the Irish vote “no” on Lisbon then the prospects for any enlargement would be gloomier still.

Meanwhile Britain’s Conservative shadow foreign secretary William Hague continues to inveigh against Lisbon. But whatever you think of his views, he is a consummate speaker. You may like to savour his recent performance in the House of Commons on the possibility of Tony Blair becoming president of the European Council under a ratified Lisbon Treaty. No wonder Gordon Brown needs a holiday!

Michael Berendt

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July 28, 2009 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Enterprise underlines Commission’s naked ambition

I am sure this video shall spark debate, as I guess it is supposed to.

Alas the story would have been so different had Sarah passed the concours.

Is it me or is the idea of the Commission putting out a video (even a good one) to promote careers in the private sector ironic on so many levels?

James

May 11, 2009 at 8:54 am 4 comments

Rubbish ideas and the future of Europe

Jose Manuel Barroso - World Economic Forum Ann...
Image by World Economic Forum via Flickr

Elections are in the air, as is the Commission, its President and the European economy. So what better way to get a strategic direction for where Europe should focus its efforts than an online survey of citizens. After all, we can’t make more of a meal of it than 20, or for that matter 27, heads of state and government.

A rather Jed Bartlett looking* (hands in pockets, relaxed look about him) President Barroso asks you to tell him what you think at tellbarroso.eu

Undertaking to “tell Barroso” is, I found, a relatively painless experience and could be described more as an online brainstorm than a survey. You are asked to write down the first things that come to mind tp a simple question about what Europe should be concentrating on. Now remember folks, at this first stage in the “ideation” process it’s quantity not quality that matters. Stick to individual words or phrases and keep ’em coming. As with your traditional brainstorm, you then get the chance to expand upon your ideas in the comments box. Lots of opportunity for the ramblers amongst us to ramble, at length.

Finally and perhaps most pleasurably you get to see other people’s brainwaves and then place those you don’t like in a rubbish bin. Fantastic – there was lots of trash and I was sorting it (for energy recovery, you understand).

Now I’m a little bit of a novice at netiquette, but in normal life one is not allowed to commit such a heresy as binning ideas once they’ve been written on a post-it and placed on the wall. In traditional brainstorms ideas are all good and should be generally built upon, expanded, challenged and improved through debate and discussion. Under no circumstances should one suggest that the idea your colleague has just come up with is infantile rubbish deserving only of the waste paper bin/recycling tray. It got me thinking though, if such a heresy were allowed within the EU institutions wouldn’t our legislation be just a little bit better? Now that’s an idea someone should tell Barroso about.

James

*It occurs to me that Jed Bartlett does this at the end of Series 2 of the West Wing – when he decides to run for re-election. Apologies to all readers who are not addicted to the West Wing. May we suggest picking up the box set of all seven formidable seasons on Amazon for 50 quid, you’ll never be stuck for an evening’s entertainment ever again.

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April 1, 2009 at 9:47 pm 1 comment

Green Week goes live

template_gw2009_bouton1Word up to the European Commission’s DG Environment, who launch this year’s Green Week shebang with obligatory webpages on Europa, YouTube channel (featuring as yet a review of 2008), blog (Dimas fittingly recycled) and a Flickr page. It also features handy buttons to download in the press corner.

The event takes place 23-26 June in the Charlemagne building on Rue de la Loi and the topic in this year of Copenhagen is of course climate change.

You can find out more here.

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March 10, 2009 at 5:56 pm Leave a comment

Digital Tools in Public Affairs – presentation and links

European Flags in front of the Berlaymont - Li...
Image by TPCOM via Flickr

Last week I presented at the inaugural European Public Affairs Summit on digital public affairs. What was billed as a workshop quickly became an empassioned plea for more consideration of the use of digital tools in Brussels based public affairs.

Thanks in any case to all those souls who attended, engaged in questions and answers and gave feedback to me or other FHers. All much appreciated. Any questions that have arisen since, please feel free to post in the comments section and we shall do our best to answer.

In the session, I promised that I would upload the presentation on the blog, instead I put it on SlideShare. You can find it at this link:Digital Tools in Public Affairs Presentation

For those not at the event, I apologise that reading the presentation makes little sense without me speaking to it. It is also not the most beautiful presentation ever created. This said, please check out the article I wrote that sums up in prose some of what I said in person. Alternatively, pass by for a coffee if you are in the area.

The links to the sites referred to during the discussions.

US introductory bit:

Statistics on internet usage:

European Union references:

Tools for tracking:

EU campaigns:

James

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December 8, 2008 at 3:01 pm Leave a comment

Digitization of cultural content – Commission enters into unknown territory

In ancient times, the library of Alexandria was said to contain up to 70% of all human knowledge. Aiming to reap the benefits of the digital age, the European Commission wants to do even better than that.
It was against this background that the Commission launched the EU’s digital libraries initiative in 2006 aiming to make Europe’s cultural resources and scientific records digitally accessible to all. This project saw daylight on 20 November 2008 with the launch of the Europeana.eu website.  During the official launch ceremony in Brussels Commissioner Viviane Reding stated that Europeana offers a journey through time, across borders, and into new ideas of what our culture is. However, Europeana seems also have offered the European Commission a lesson in web-page management.

One the first day of its launch, with more than 10 million hits an hour, Europeana simply crashed and the European Commission had to shut it down. The Commission is now working on to reopen the site in a more solid version hoping to reactivate it before the end of 2008.

Despite these intial problems the Digital team at Fleishman Hillard would of course like congratulate the Commission for this initative. The idea of combining multimedia library, museum and archive into one digital website combined with Web 2.0 features is just fantastic and we are eager to see how it will work in practice. It remains to be seen if the Commission will achieve its objective to digitalize and make available ten million objectives on the website by 2010.

Magnus

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November 21, 2008 at 7:59 pm 3 comments

Can the net help companies plant roots in Brussels?

Modern Architecture and Bridge

Image by loungerie via Flickr

A post last week on the website Wired got me thinking about the use of grassroots in Brussels. The author highlights that GM has sought to use its own employees to lobby federal US policymakers for the money it needs to stay afloat as a company.

It reminded me of a recent dinner conversation about whether grassroots – digital or otherwise – can work in Brussels when conducted by corporations. The conversation was sparked by the Vattenfall campaign that has been running in PLux (see our recent post).

Principally our dinner conversation focused on two points:

  1. Whether contact from concerned individuals would have an effect in Brussels
  2. Whether it is acceptable for a corporation (as opposed an NGO) to undertake such a tactic

I’ve already argued, and continue to believe, that such contact can make a difference. In fact, I’ve even taken it to the extreme and argued that given our Brussels sensitivities about being in touch with citizens and the fact that direct contact with citizens is a relative novelty that it may be more powerful when done well.

Of course, when grassroots tactics have been used here they have tended to have been used by NGOs. Even a chemical-head like me has to take his hat off to the campaigns run by NGOs during REACH. Who could forget postcards featuring Barroso and Verheugen feeding chemicals to a baby through a test tube. Or delegations from the jam-making WI turning up in the European Parliament. Industry fights on fact, loses on emotion (again). Life ain’t fair, is it folks?

Thus, while I don’t buy the statement that just because it works in the US it can work here, I equally don’t buy that it can’t work here. It’s just going to be different. See some examples we’ve already featured in this blog (here, here and here). (more…)

November 18, 2008 at 12:20 pm 7 comments

Europe to lead Web 3.0?

Outside the European Commission

Image via Wikipedia

This is indeed the aim of the European Commission which has just launched a public consultation on web 3.0 “the internet of things” (IoT). The consultation is part of the Commission’s preparations for a communication on IoT which is due to be released in the 3rd quarter of 2009. According to the Commission the communication plans to “propose a policy approach addressing the whole range of political and technological issues related to the move from RFID and sensing technologies to the Internet of Things”.

So what is Web 3.0 and can the European Commission really be at the cutting edge of it? According to Wikipedia, Web 3.0 is “the term used to describe the evolutionary stage that follows Web 2.0”. That as much as probably obvious to most. The term Web 3.0, also known at the “semantic web” was first coined by Tim Berners-Lee who created the internet in 1989 while working at CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research). Nova Spivack a proponent of Web 3.0 who also prefers the term “semantic web” describes Web 3.0 as an attempt to overhaul the internet so that it actually understands the infinite amount of information contained within it and can make links between it. An Internet with a brain perhaps?

The ideas about what Web 3.0 will consist of include:

  • ubiquitious connectivity e.g. broadband for mobile devices
  • increased interoperability of web services
  • “intelligent applications” i.e. the use of artificial intelligence to develop web applications that “almost think like humans”

However, Wikipedia goes on to say that there is as yet no agreement on what the next stage of internet evolution will be….

The European Commission would like Europe to be at the cutting edge of the next evolution of the internet, which is no doubt why it is trying to get into the game early with the recently launched consultation. The policy documents published with the Consultation include a Communication on Future networks and the Internet and a staff working paper on early challenges regarding the Internet of things. It will be interesting to see who responds to this consultation and in particular if it attracts the key protagonists of Web 3.0.

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October 7, 2008 at 12:23 pm 4 comments

EUTube goes from sex to science

Eureka! EUTube’s newest clip is geek-tastic. Even though the European Commission brought us this clip, which we discussed in an earlier post, it is still unexpected that they have shown such agility on EUTube. Even more shocking that they are making public service videos which aren’t lame.

It seems that the video is promoting science research in the EU, though the web site it sends viewers to, Marie Curie Actions, could do with some work. It is supposedly “”The People Programme under the 7th Framework Programme”, but we’ are lost as to what that is.

With the desperate need for Europe to foster (and finance!) innovation, new technologies, and protect its industrial knowledge base, we hope that this video is just part of a bigger project.

June 4, 2008 at 9:50 am 5 comments

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A blog on politics, policy, public affairs and communications in Brussels and the European Union. The blog is written by the team at Fleishman-Hillard in Brussels. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect those of the company or its clients. You will find the contact details of our team at www.fleishman-hillard.eu

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