Court of Auditors lambasts member states on EU spending

15 November 2005

The European Court of Auditors today published its annual report on EU spending in the year 2004. This is the first full budget year of the enlarged EU reviewed by the Court in its new, post-enlargement, composition, and the positive effects are already visible: The Court is much more outspoken than previous years in its criticism of the EU member states.

And rightly so! After all, no less than 80% of the EU budget is spent directly by the administrations of member states, not by the European Commission. And the only reason why the Court has refused, for the eleventh year in a row, to deliver a Statement of Assurance (Déclaration d’Assurance, DAS) on the 2004 budget, is that it finds it impossible to check whether spending by the member state administrations, not the Commission, is done in accordance with the rules. (more…)

Bigotry is back in Europe’s East

4 November 2005

Most Western European news reports on the outcome of the Polish elections qualified president-elect Lech Kaczy?ski as a “conservative”, and the new prime minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz of the same Law and Justice party (PiS) as a “technocrat”. My impression is that they are worse, and that the new leadership of Poland – which has equally many votes in the Council of Ministers as Spain and almost as many as France, Germany, the UK and Italy – is at worst a bunch of conspiring bigots, and at best another provincialist pain in the European ass. This is not a good thing – be it for Poland or for Europe (at least if you consider modernisation of Europe’s economy along Blairite lines as an improvement compared to the current situation). It is not a good thing either for those who would like to see Eastern Europe shed the remnants of its totalitarian past today rather than tomorrow: The PiS election victory sets a bad example in a region where bigotry and blame tactics often serve as red herrings allowing societies to avoid confronting itself with some painful truths and memories.

The only positive note directly after the elections was that defeated candidate Tusk’s party Civic Platform (PO) would become the voice of relative reason in the government coalition. By now we know that PO has dropped out of the talks, as a result of which the new government will depend on several smaller even-further-right parties for its support. Among these maverick Andrzej Lepper, who has become deputy Speaker of the Sejm. This is not going well…

Voting rights for kids?

30 August 2005

With the German economy in the doldrums and half of the country without a job, German politicians are concentrating on the essentials: Wahlrecht für Kinder (voting rights for children). Well, not literally: kids would not get to vote themselves, but parents would get one extra vote together for every child they have. Several heavy weights, among them Roman Herzog (former President of Germany) and political talk show host Sabine Christiansen, have expressed support for the idea, which was brought up first by the financial expert in Angela Merkel’s campaign team, Paul Kirchhof. Latest in the row of supporters: FDP (Liberals) MEP and rising star Silvana Koch-Mehrin.

Whoever thought ayatollah Ratzinger’s enthusiastic reception in Germany by thousands of catholic youth was just an exception should now really get suspicious. I certainly do, when I see even Germany’s liberals take over the arch-conservative agenda: (more…)

Baltic observations – I – introduction

25 August 2005

The Baltic republics Lithuania, Latvia, and Lithuania, where I spent my summer holiday this year, have much to enjoy for visiting tourists: historic cities with well-preserved mediaeval or Art Nouveau centres, a beautiful countryside with unspoiled forests, bogs and lakes, a friendly coast with sand beaches, dunes and islands. The occasional Molvanian experience notwithstanding, the general level of what is on offer is such that it is often almost impossible to believe that, unlike the former Warsaw Pact countries in Central Europe, this was part of the Soviet Union only fourteen years ago. (more…)

Towards a new federalism?

18 July 2005

Die Zeit’s Bernd Ulrich calls it “his fourth act of patriotism”: Gerhard Schröder’s decision to seek new elections for Germany’s lower chamber of parliament (the other three being: German participation in NATO’s Kosovo war, Schröder’s refusal to take part in the Iraq war, and the belated, but much needed, reform of the German economy known as Agenda 2010). There is, says Ulrich, a simple logic behind it: The government has to go, in order to allow the Agenda to continue. And whatever the outcome of the election, two things are clear: the Greens will not be in the next government, and neither will Schröder. Ulrich is probably right on all these accounts.

What is interesting, is that there are many parallels between Schröder’s political problems in Germany and those of the EU as a whole: In both cases, economic and social reform is badly needed. In both cases, the reform process has stalled. And in both cases, the main cause is a constitutional arrangement that is very similar.

So here is part one: Can German federalism teach us something for the debate on the EU’s constitutional future? The topic of part two will be: Does Swiss economist Bruno Frey have the solution? (more…)

Britain gives terrorists the finger

7 July 2005

Apparently, according to the (self-proclaimed) perpetrators:

Britain is now burning with fear, terror and panic in its northern, southern, eastern, and western quarters.

Is it? All I can see is a country dealing calmly, resolvedly and efficiently with the effects of these lowly attacks on unarmed people, while the vast majority of its people continue their lives as usual. Because that is how civilised countries handle such things.

So, “fear, terror and panic”? Don’t make me laugh, inflated twats.

For updates: Nosemonkey is liveblogging the events. Also, wikipedia is a good place to start, as is good old auntie Beeb.

Oh Ca-nada…

29 June 2005

Not immediately a European issue, but still: Canada has (once again) joined the ranks of civilised countries today, by removing a law clause that reserved marriage exclusively to heterosexuals. So far, only the Netherlands and Belgium have preceded Canada, while the Spanish government is preparing a similar change to its marriage law. The vast majority of EU and western countries does have laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but somehow exempt their marriage laws. (more…)