Seven Down, Eight to Go

It hasn’t attracted a lot of attention, but seven of the EU-15 have now thrown open their doors to the free movement of labor from the new member states (NMS).

A bit of background: when the NMS joined in 2004, the EU-15 gave themselves the right to keep the walls up for up to seven years. The rather complicated agreement required the 15 to review their policies after two and again after five years.

Three countries — Britain, Ireland, and Sweden — decided to just admit people from the NMS. Britain and Sweden placed no restrictions; Ireland put in a modest one that emigrants would not be eligible for benefits for their first two years. (Because Ireland still thinks it’s a poor country? No idea.) Everyone else hunkered down behind walls of varying height.

So, the two-year review deadline came last month. And, lo and behold, four countries — Spain, Portugal, Greece and Finland — decided that they could live just as dangerously as the Swedes and the Brits. These four opened the doors effective May 1.

A couple of thoughts on this.
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Political Tide Still Flowing Leftward in Italy

Prodi’s majorities in Parliament are still slim, and factional infighting is likely to remain Florentine, but Berlusconi’s political fortunes continued to float away in municipal elections just passed.

The municipal elections held in Italy from May 28 to 29 did not offer Berlusconi the revenge he was seeking. Massimo Giannini, the daily’s deputy editor, looks at the results and at a missed opportunity for the former prime minister. “The revenge, the dirty trick, the stiff uppercut, whatever the precise lexical nuance, Berlusconi’s political sally has failed. The municipal elections as an instrument of grass-roots ‘Jacquerie’ that was supposed to definitively deprive the centre-left government of its legitimacy – this strategy did not work. … And the 15 million Italians who went to the polls did not change the result of April 9 to 10 [legislative elections]. Much to the contrary. … The centre-left no longer has an alibi; it now has no choice but to govern. It can count on a new base: the roughly three million young people who massively voted for it.”

From La Repubblica via Eurotopics

No Way Forward in France?

An establishment voice casts further doubt on whether French elites see possible progress in the European Union

Jacques Julliard, the weekly’s deputy editor, explains in an interview with François Sionneau that he does not see how the constitution could return to the agenda. “Projecting five to 10 years into the future – the most that is possible – I am frankly not that optimistic about Europe’s political hopes. We have fallen too far behind. We must also remember that an enormous gap exists between the motivations that pushed people to vote ‘no’ – reasons having to do with domestic politics which may be legitimate – and the consequences of this ‘no’, which transcend domestic politics and are not remediable in the short term. The world’s major dates with destiny will proceed without Europe. Large European countries will participate, but not as a Union.”

From Le Nouvel Observateur, via Eurotopics.

The Union’s energy is now mostly coming from the east, but will it be able to overcome blockages from the old members in the west?

A pyrrhic victory for privacy?

Today, when annulling the Council decision about the transger of European airline passenger name records (PNR) to the US, the European Court of Justice made an important decision, highlighting both the weakness of current privacy protection schemes and essential problems in the European institutional set up. While it is not unlikely that privacy concerns, particularly the increasingly problematic lack of state enforced privacy regulation in the US, have guided the Court’s decision, its legal argument is not based on privacy infringement, but on fact that the EU-US agreement fell outside the scope of the European data protection directive. In fact as statewatch.org explains, the privacy plea by the EP has therefore not been considered at all. Statewatch therefore considers the judgment as a phyrric victory for the EP,

“as the agreement will now be replaced either by national agreements, or by a third pillar agreement with the US. Either way the EP has no power over approval of the treaty/treaties or even the power to bring legal proceedings against them. The press may describe this as a victory for the EP or for privacy but they will be mistaken. Moreover, there is a risk that if an EU treaty or purely national treaties are signed with the US that the standard of privacy protection could actually be worse than in the original PNR deal.”

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Bleg: the new EU Services Directive?

Blegging for information here.

Apparently we’ve passed a Services Directive. Remember the Bolkestein Directive that everyone was excited about? Well, same same, except not. The new version, I’m told, is a much-watered-down version of Bolkestein.

Only thing is, casual googling doesn’t turn up much. Am I badly confused? Or is this just a story that’s not attracting much attention?

Links welcome; and also, if anyone can tell us more (like, whether this actually accomplishes anything), I’d be interested to hear.

Start in Cologne.

The New York Times’ Jeff Z. Klein decided to go to Germany early so he could tell his travelling countrymen how to best organize their trip to and through Germany during the football world cup next month. Now he’s all figured it out, and it’s easy: If You’re going to “The World Cup’s World Class Party“, start in Cologne, he says,

“… where the spirit is welcoming and properly fixated on fussball.

“The World Cup is not really for us here,” said Christian, a 40-ish punk musician who was watching the German Cup Final in a tiny bar on Weidengasse. “It’s for all the people coming from around the world.”

Raising his glass of whiskey and laughing he added, “And we’ll be right here ready to show everyone a good time.”

Meeting Up Again in Europe

Europe’s newest state, Montenegro, has just been given the go-ahead for the first step towards EU membership, as Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn agrees with the Montenegrins that a Stabilisation & Accession Agreement could be signed by the end of the year. Rehn is due in Belgrade next, although you’d have to be very optimistic to expect anything concrete.

It certainly looks like a certain theory of post-cold war Europe is being born out. As early as 1996, Tim Garton-Ash was arguing that perhaps the international community’s failure in Bosnia was down to trying too long to keep a unitary state in being, or in slightly different terms, that diplomats tended to assume any move from bigger to smaller units decreased stability. Perhaps it would be better to accept that the genie was out of the bottle and instead seek peaceful separation, with an eventual view to reintegrating all the units into the European Union.

Well, here we are. The last domino has clattered to the ground, and we’re already talking about agreements with the EU. It’s just a pity about the blood and treasure lost before then. Realistically, there’s probably a preliminary, “little EU” stage of regional integration to go through – getting the quango count down somewhat by sharing some of the new “entities” and states’ responsibilities, whilst also starting the process of making the borders less relevant – before looking at EU membership for the lot. Fine. If France and Germany could be in the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation and the European Payments Union by 1948, the ECSC by 1950, NATO by ’55 and the EEC by 1958, thirteen years from the end of the war, surely intermediate integration is possible before 2009 – ten years from war’s end.

The Edwyn Collins option – rip it up and start again – does pose some serious questions. If anything, if peaceful separation was a good idea in 1995-6, it would have been even better in 1992. But equally, if the eventual solution is to get back together and melt the borders in the EU, couldn’t we have skipped the whole horror show? Doug Muir’s last Montenegrin post caused a thread that with luck should yet reach the half century. In that thread, the point was raised that during the 1980s, Yugoslavia – the old full-cream version – actually made noises about joining the EC (as was) before being dissuaded.

A fine counterfactual question, no? What would have happened had Yugoslavia joined the EC?

A Tale of Unintended Consequences.

Wisely, most European governments that were opposed to the war in Iraq have constrained themselves since it has become evident that the fall of Saddam’s statue in April 2003 and the American crash course in Democracy has not (visibly) helped to speed up the region’s modernization or led to a self-reinforcing trend of ethnic accomodation and democratic governance. But now Joschka Fischer, former and famously “unconvinced” German foreign minister, has allowed Spiegel Online English to publish an “I-told-you-so-manifesto” taken from the foreword of his forthcoming book “The return of history“.
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Photographs on the fence

If you’re ever in Pristina, capital of Kosovo, you’ll want to swing by the Government building.

(It’s called the Government building because, well, that’s where the government is. The Parliament, the Prime Minister, the President, and half a dozen or so government agencies are all squashed into one huge building downtown. It’s sort of refreshing. Imagine being in London or Berlin and just popping down to “the government”.)

Why? Because there are these photographs. Between two and three thousand of them… closer to two, I think. The government building has a fence around it; and, since the building is pretty large, the fence is easily a couple of hundred meters long. And it’s covered with the photographs of Kosovar Albanians missing in the 1999 war.

It’s not a very cheerful display, obviously. But it’s certainly food for thought. And if you walk the length of the fence, you’ll spot some patterns.
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A pro-dismal bias in economics?

In a comment to his earlier assessment of the OECD’s new economic outlook, Jasper is raising an interesting, almost philosophical question that I think is worth a discussion in its own right. He claims that -

Economists should study the economy so they can finetune it to suit the needs of the people living inside this economy. They seem to be studying the economy so they can promote policies that finetune the people to suit the needs of the economy.

I would argue that Jasper’s statement correctly captures the sentiment, but not the rationalised opinion, among a growing part of the European population. The disconnect is palpable. So the question seems to be whether our governing institutions (and those trying to capture the essence of reality for them) are not able to accurately understand the people’s true preferences, whether our institutions do not allow an accurate externalisation thereof, or whether this is not simply a matter of lack of understanding.
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