Report from European Parliament

I promised to report back here on the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee meeting today on Croatia. It took place immediately after the EU Foreign Ministers had announced that because of Croatia’s failure to deliver fugitive general Ante Gotovina to the war crimes tribunal in the Hague, negotiations on Croatia’s EU membership will not begin tomorrow.

To my surprise, the main speaker from the Croatian side was not their Chief Negotiator, Vladimir Drobnjak, but the Prime Minister himself, Ivo Sanader. He made an extremely good impression on MEPs. I personally was much less impressed; he told three blatant untruths in his opening remarks, which disinclines me to take particularly seriously any of his statements about how hard his government is really looking for the fugitive general.
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The Bloggies

Well, I guess someone has to lose. But, as someone said when we saw we were up against BoingBoing and others for Best Group Weblog, it’s nice to be nominated. Congratulations also to Zoe for winning Best European Weblog.

….David weighs in:

Congrats also to my man Francis, one of my favorite bloggers, who finally won best GLBT blog this year, and to Tom Coates who won Best UK blog and the lifetime achievement award.

It is nice to be nominated.

Venice Commission on Bosnia-Herzegovina

Teekay was looking forward to the Venice Commission’s report on Bosnia-Herzegovina last week. (The Venice Commission, for those of you who don’t lie awake at nights in excited anticipation of its next publication, is the constitutional reform advisory body of the Council of Europe, which in turn is not to be condused with the European Council.)

Well, the report’s out – not yet on their website but they’ve sent me a copy. It’s not as radical as some in Bosnia-Herzegovina might have liked, but given the Venice Commission’s normally relatively anodyne pronouncements it’s pretty strong stuff.
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Crunch for Croatia

Hi folks, I am your guest blogger for the next two weeks. I hope you’ll allow me to be a little coy about my identity; but I do work in Brussels, in the general field of international politics.

I usually forget to check the European Parliament’s calendar of next week’s events on Friday afternoon, though really I should do it as a matter of routine, to plan ahead for the coming week. (And really they should have a direct link from the front page of their website, rather than three clicks away; but there’s not much point in wasting blogspace on stating the obvious about the crap design of the EU institutions’ websites.)

Along with the usual tedium of schedules for a conference in Cairo that nobody I know will go to, and such marvels as the European Parliament’s desperate attempt to make itself relevant to the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, there is one potentially very interesting meeting on the agenda.
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Small Public Service Announcement

Over at a different web site, I’ve just read another usage of “a perfect storm,” and my teeth ground. Sebastian Junger’s book of the same name is a terrific book, a moving story carefully reported and well told. But the title has become a cliche. I hereby resolve never to use it at Fistful of Euros.

Likewise, the post below will be my last reference to the curious incident of the dog that did not bark in the night.

As far as I can remember, I have never written anything like “Americans are from Mars; Europeans are from Venus.” I pledge that I never will.

If you care to add to my (perhaps our) list of banned cliches, please do not hesitate to leave a comment.

Silly German Regulations, Part 439

Business Week‘s Frankfurt bureau chief decided to get a German driver’s license after a mere 11 years in the country.

How Germany Can Drive You Crazy
I’ve had a New York motorist’s license for 30 years. So why did I need to endure months of driver’s ed again and a tortuous bureaucracy?

Not long after I began driving lessons, my instructor had a revelation. “You can already drive,” he said, exhaling the smoke of yet another cigarette as we puttered along in a Volkswagen Golf equipped with an extra brake on the passenger side. No kidding, I thought. I’ve had a U.S. driver’s license for more than 30 years.

So why, 11 years after moving to Germany, was I starting the same driver’s training program as a German teenager, one that involves 40-plus hours of car and classroom instruction and costs $1,200? The answer reveals one of the less attractive aspects of German society. Not the side that’s fun-loving and generous, but the side that’s pathologically risk-averse and mindlessly bureaucratic, bent on making everything — putting up a building, starting a new business, buying a house — so difficult that nothing happens. It’s one of the small ways the nation sabotages its own economy.

Indeed. (Are other EU countries this ridiculous?)

The Giuliana Sgrena Story

I have to confess that I’m utterly mystified by this story.

Short recap for those who haven’t followed the events. Giuliana Sgrena, an Italian journalist for Il Manifesto and contributor to the German Zeit, was abducted outside of Baghdad on February 4. The outrage was great – Italians went on the streets to protest and demand her release, the Zeit magazine dedicated an entire section with articles, pleas and reports to Ms. Sgrena.

13 days into her abduction, a video surfaced in which a haggard, terrified, tear-choking Sgrena pleas for an end of the Italian engagement in Iraq. It was a chilling document and no one who saw it was left untouched.

The Italian government promised to do everything to secure her release — short of calling its troops home.
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Echelon Back Story

The British edition of Body of Secrets, James Bamford’s second book about the US National Security Agency, gives equal billing to Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in the subtitle, but that’s just marketing, making the home audience feel good. The same subtitle also alludes to Echelon, an eavesdropping program that was on its way to being notorious, particularly in Internet circles, when the book was first published in 2001.

Both get their due, of course, but the book is really a history of the NSA, the agency that does the lion’s share of America’s electronic intercepts, cryptology, cryptanalysis, signals intelligence and so forth.

I haven’t finished the book, but there’s a lot in it. Factually, it’s dense, with very precise details that show how thoroughly Bamford had done his homework.

Lessons abound. First, how little is new in the fraught world of spying and democratic decision-making. Korea and the early Cold War period produced examples of leaders who did not want to hear what people on the ground were reporting. Resources were allocated to the wrong places; the country was caught flat-footed by events that shouldn’t have been unexpected; there was a critical shortage of personnel who could speak crucial languages. In the early 1950s, it was Korean; half a century later it’s Urdu or Pashtu or various branches of Arabic.
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Who is the fistful of euros guest blogger ?

Sorry to go public and all, but does anyone know if I am the fistful of euros guest blogger ? The deal was I guest blogged for 2 weeks, that is until March 1, and I got a reminder that I was expiring (I mean just as a guest blogger).

My name is still up over there.

Anyway, anyone interested in my discussion of fermions with people who studied quantum mechanics for over 1 year should go to rjwaldmann.blogspot.com
as the thread is a bit long.

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