Archive for the 'European Politics' Category

Software patents: understanding the procedure

1 March 2005

The European Commission yesterday rejected the European Parliament’s request for a whole new proposal on software patents. That does not seem very smart from a tactical point of view, as Parliament’s request was unanimous and it is Parliament which eventually decides if the proposal becomes law.

The Commission could however have decided to chance it, as software patent activists have a tendency to cry foul and overstate their case to such an extent that there is a real risk of backfiring. This would be a pity as at least part of the activists’ case (to what extent and under which conditions do patents, in general, promote or inhibit innovation) deserves serious consideration. That discussion, however, is for another time. For now, I will just try to add structure to the debate by providing a short outline of the legislative procedure at EU level in order to make clear what the next steps are. (more…)

Fabius: “L’Europe, c’est moi”?

1 December 2004

In one of his last contributions to the “blog à deux voix” on the European Constitution set up by Le Monde, Olivier Duhamel concludes succinctly as ever:

cette constitution ne comporte aucun recul et que des progrès

Fingers crossed that the members of the French socialist party see it that way as well, when they vote in their party referendum today.

If they do not, the French PS will campaign for a ‘no’ in the subsequent “real” referendum in France. Adoption of the Constitution by France would then become very unlikely, which in turn would pose serious threats to the Constitution project as a whole. Fabius would have sacrificed the European Constitution to his personal ambitions to become President, and to the ridiculous idea that after two years of arduous negotiations in a Convention and an IGC that were almost more left-wing than ever, the Constitution could still be made more socialist. It makes you wonder how he thinks to achieve that result – by armed force?

Fortunately, the latest polls among PS sympathisers look favourable for the Constitution, and quite bad for Fabius’ own ambitions:

Selon une enquête publiée par Le Figaro mardi 30 novembre (et réalisée les 12, 13, 19 et 20 novembre par TNS-Sofres auprès d’un échantillon de 1 907 personnes, dont 568 sympathisants socialistes), le numéro deux du PS reste bon dernier de sa classe. Non seulement une majorité des personnes interrogées plaident pour le “oui” (65 % chez les sympathisants UMP, 62 % chez les partisans du PS), mais même une victoire du “non” ne lui ouvrirait pas les portes pour 2007. Pour 58 % des électeurs socialistes, en effet, une victoire du “non” ne ferait pas automatiquement de lui le candidat naturel du PS pour l’élection présidentielle…. Ce sondage, qui fait de Lionel Jospin le favori, s’inscrit dans une série toujours négative pour M. Fabius.

However, party voters tend to be less puristic in their views on its policies than party members. So despite the favourable polls, the outcome is not a run race yet. But whatever the result, Fabius’ no-campaign does not seem to have improved his chances for the presidency. And that serves him right.


Update December 2, 2004: “Les socialistes votent “oui” à l’Europe et “non” à Fabius

A slap in the face of Turkey

30 November 2004

[updated] In his (Swedish language) blog, the always well-informed Bengt Karlsson points to a Presidency document outlining proposals on the start of accession negotiations with Turkey. It was leaked to the press yesterday, possibly in order to test the water. Its most remarkable contents:

  • Turkey has to recognise Cyprus;
  • The accession negotiations could be suspended if requested by at least one third of the Member States;
  • No Turkish membership before 2014;
  • No talks on membership before there is agreement on the 2014-2020 financial perspectives;
  • The EU should consider “permanent safeguard clauses, notably in the area of the free movement of persons”;


Getting worried…

29 November 2004

This fantastic photo (more here) sums it up pretty well: tensions are growing in Ukraine now part of the country is threatening to split off if Yushchenko becomes President. I am getting a bit worried now.

Many Ukrainians, in blogs or elsewhere, point to the fact that this is not about geopolitics, about East vs. West or Russia vs. America. The conflict is about Ukrainians, they say, fighting for their democratic right for free and honest elections.

Well, yes, I agree with them that this is what it should be about. But I am less convinced that this is what will determine the outcome. When Putin decided to support the Yanukovych election campaign, he, at least, seemed to be well aware of the risk of spill-over to his own sphere of influence would a western-european style government take over from the current autocratic cronies in Ukraine. So the fact that the outcome was almost even for both candidates was largely of his making. As for the EU, it is clear that it feels safer with a solid democratic state at its borders, especially if that state ultimately wants to join the EU. The same goes for the US, which has an interest in both strong democracy in an EU-aspiring Ukraine, and the weakening of Russian as well as EU foreign power following Ukraine accession to the EU. Therefore both the US and the EU are encouraging Yushchenko to stand firm.

Other worrying factors: the fact that state security personnel in the Ukraine comes mainly from the Yanukovich east whereas demonstrators are from the Yushchenko west, and the fact that Putin may not accept a solution involving a split-up of Ukraine. On the other hand: the EU is unlikely to impose strong sanctions on a country through which much-needed energy supplies are transported, and Ukrainian demonstrators from both camps are still treating each other with admirable respect and cheerfulness.

So let us just say the situation is hard to predict and very interesting.

More French influence in Europe – but it is liberal and federalist

25 November 2004

With the Buttiglione crisis behind us and the fight over the ratification of the European constitution before us, Le Monde notices an increased French influence in the European Parliament:

Cette crise aura en tout cas confirmé la nouvelle et paradoxale image que renvoient les Français siégeant au Parlement européen – moins nombreux, mais plus identifiables -, cinq mois après les élections du 13 juin.

It is true, and I had noticed it myself, that French politicians seem to have improved their visibility on the European scene recently, whereas only six months ago, the general opinion seemed to be that Enlargement had put a definitive end to France’s leading role in the European Union. This was then typically illustrated by noting that, whereas most of the Commissioners, MEPs and civil servants from the new Member States could speak the language of Shakespeare, only a small minority of them had mastered the language of Molière.

A word of advice from Germany

12 November 2004

Gerhart Baum was the German (FDP) Minister of the Interior from 1978 to 1982. He was closely involved in combating the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF) which terrorised German society in those years. As a minister, he oversaw a considerable restriction of the rights of RAF suspects and their lawyers, and a widening of the powers of the secret service and the police. Not a sissy, in other words, and someone who knows what he is talking about.

Mr Baum spoke interesting words on Dutch television today. “Do not undermine the state of law in order to catch terrorists”, he said, “we tried in Germany, and it did not work.” Because it widened the number of suspects so much, that the police lost track of the real terrorists. The RAF murders, some of them particularly gruesome, held Germany in a state of fear for many years.

Of course, police and intelligence work was necessary to combat the fifty or so unrepenting terrorists, killers, that were active in Germany at the time. Those fifty were hopeless cases anyway. But they could not do what they did without the help of thousands of sympathisers providing them with shelter, information, and other help – people whose sympathy for the RAF only increased because of the harsh measures. “The number of attacks”, said Baum, “went down only when we started doing something we had not been doing before: to look at the causes of terrorism. Only when we began to address the causes, the number of sympathisers decreased, and with it the number of attacks.”

updated update:
Nosemonkey of Europhobia adds eloquently to the case Baum is making with his account of life in Britain under the IRA threat at the time. He is very right to point out that, unlike the USA, Europe has dealt with terrorism before. Some of the more overheated reactions from the US, even if they come from fellow Europeans, might want to take that experience a bit more seriously.

I also forgot to mention another programme shown on Dutch TV yesterday whose message somehow underpinned Mr Baum’s by explaining that many of the security measures taken to protect ports, airports and other major targets are largely symbolic and will never suffice to “seal off” society from terrorist attacks. They may give the impression that the government does what is necessary to protect us, but seen in this light, their practical effect is that of being a nuisance keeping us in a state of fear.

We may have to start getting used to living with the threat of terrorism for a while. There’s another reason to take Mr Baum’s advice seriously.

New Commission: Barroso keeps walking a tightrope

4 November 2004

European Commission president Barroso seems to have finished the new line-up for his team. The changes are minimal:

  • Rocco Buttiglione, the controversial Conservative, is replaced by Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini. Buttiglione remains in his current job as Italy’s Europe minister;
  • the Hungarian candidate Laszlo Kovacs, a Socialist whom the European Parliament thought showed too little affinity with his proposed portfolio, moves from energy to taxation;
  • Latvian Ingrida Udre, a Liberal who also failed to convince the EP of her qualifications, is replaced by veteran diplomat Andris Piebalgs, moving from taxation to energy;

Interestingly, Dutchwoman Neelie Kroes, a Liberal, stays on Competition. She was criticised, mainly by the Socialists and Greens in the European Parliament, for alleged conflicts of interest. Unlike Mr Buttiglione, however, she was never rejected by the EP committee that reviewed her candidacy, although in the high-tension days surrounding the-vote-that-never-took-place, the Conservative EPP group in the EP suddenly withdrew its support for her. To me, this has always looked as a political move, stemming from EPP frustration with the fact that the Liberal group withheld its (pivotal) support for the Commission as long as Mr Buttiglione was in it. Conflicts of interest are, after all, not usually a disqualification in EPP circles.

Anyway, as Mr Barroso announced the new line-up at all, we have to assume that EPP group leader Hans-Gert Pttering has changed his mind (again) about Mrs Kroes, probably after a word with Barroso and one or two Conservative government leaders. In the European Parliament, this does not mean that all EPP members will follow Pttering and vote for the Commission, but the chances for a majority look better than last time. Mr Barroso keeps walking a tightrope: between giving in just enough to the EP, and changing as little as possible that could upset the Council.