Second Life, Second EU?

Right on time for the 5oth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the European Union’s Communications Department, is thinking seriously about establishing a digital “embassy” in the (currently more hyped than) popular virtual reality Second Life. According to a pressetext.at (in German) report, EU spokesperson Mikolaj Dowgielewicz explained that an EU office in Second Life was intended to reach out, get closer, and communicate better with individual European citizens, since 54% of the alleged 4.4m virtual inhabitants of Second Life are European nationals, according to Second Life operator Linden Labs.
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Futility

The European Commission still can’t tell participation from a horse’s arse. Neither, sadly, can the advocates of closer European integration. At least the ones who the Commission (and all the other institutions) thinks will help them win friends and influence people.

Example the first. Three organisations – the European Movement, plus something called “Notre Europe”, and something else called “Europanova” – are going to hold a gathering in Lille on the 17th of March. Now, the European Movement is familiar enough – rather worthy, painfully Commission-ish. Who the hell are the others? Notre Europe is run – indeed, going by the bylines on its website, is – two superannuated bureaucrats and Jacques Delors. Europanova has the first devilish sign of Euro-dullness on its home page, a reference to “jeunes leaders”.

They turn out to be a French academic who, surprise surprise, works at the European College in Bruges, and a German CSU MEP, a von to boot, who boasts that he invented the concept of “privileged partnership” for Turkey. I wouldn’t boast of that if it were me. It’s run by somebody who headed the European Youth Parliament, and then ran the news magazines Euro92 and A’l Heure de’l Europe.

Look, if anyone’s got a copy of either, I’ll vote for you in the Pyjamas. Can’t say fairer than that. It was 1992 – couldn’t he have been out dancing? The rest of them all seem to work for the Robert Schuman foundation, and one of them for the French national assembly’s European secretariat.

They are a congregation of vapours, but hardly foul or pestilent. Not enough there for that. Honestly, you want to grab them all by the neck and shake them until they do something interesting.
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The Third Annual Satin Pajama Awards

The purpose of the awards is to recognize the efforts and contributions of Europe’s many talented bloggers, to maybe help build a sense of community among us, and, more than anything, it’s a chance for people to discover lots of new good blogs.

A blog is eligible if it’s written by Europeans or has a European (Czech, Catalan…) theme. Our own blogs aren’t eligible. Finalists are chosen based on the number of nominations as well as editorial discretion. So you want to nominate a favorite blog even if someone else already mentioned it.

Nominees for Best Southeastern European Weblog
Nominees for Best CIS blog
Nominees for Best Writing
Nominate Best Culture Weblog
Nominees for Best Personal Weblog
Nominate Best New Weblog
Nominees for Best European Weblog Overall
Nominate Best Political Weblog
Nominate Most Underappreciated Weblog
Nominees for Best Humor Blog
Nominees for Best German Blog
Nominees for Best French Weblog
Nominate Best UK Blog
Nominees for Best Expat Blog
Nominate Best Academic Weblog

…the final will be in mid-February.

…next week.

Transparency International Strikes Again

So the new Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index came out last week. If you are a development geek — cough, cough — this is like Beaujolais Nouveau Day.

Not that there are any /huge/ surprises. The top ten slots are dominated by the same countries, year after year — Finland, the Netherlands, Singapore. European readers can be cheered by the fact that European countries occupy 13 of the top 20 slots.

The CPI is, of course, a perceptions survey. They poll a lot of investors and NGOs and whatnot and ask what they think. There are some obvious issues with this methodology. Other hand, they try to be rigorous about it, and keep the tests constant from country to country and from year to year. If you’re trying to measure corruption — an inherently difficult task — this is probably about the best broad-guage metric we have.

Meanwhile, a few geeky comments.
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Department of Unexpected Consequences (Balkan Division)

I don’t usually cite whole articles, but this recent piece over at birn.eu is too good to miss.

After years of vigorously opposing the eastwards expansion of the European Union, extreme-right-wing parties in the European Parliament, EP, ironically stand to benefit hugely from the Romanian and Bulgarian accession…

[A]agreement with nationalist parties from the two newcomers has opened the way for the first parliamentary group representing the hard right to be formed in the EP.

The new caucus… brings together about 20 members of the parliament, known as MEPs, from seven countries. Five will come from Romania, from the ultra-nationalistic and xenophobic Greater Romania Party. And one from Bulgaria’s Ataka party, which mainly campaigns against Bulgaria’s Roma and Turkish minorities.

Why is this happening now? Because the EU Parliament has a rule that a caucus, to be officially recognized, must have at least 19 members from five different countries. Until recently, the far right could only muster 14 members. But the new MEPS will push them over the line.

The other MEPs? Oh, you know. France’s National Front, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, Italy’s National Alliance. Allesandra Mussolini will be in it. The leader will be France’s Bruno Gollnisch, who is currently serving a suspended sentence for Holocaust denial. British readers may recognize Ashley Mote, the noted cricket writer, who was tossed out of UKIP a while back after being indicted for fraud. (Did anything ever come of that?)

The group already has a name: “Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty”. Well, who could possibly disagree with that?
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Eurodemocracy and E-democracy

Nosemonkey suggests that the cross-European effort to make data on the CAP’s beneficiaries available might be an example of how a European demos could function. There’s more detail at Martin Stabe’s, and the searchable database is at Farmsubsidy.org.

I’m quite keen on this. Not so much because I’m sympathetic to the whole “lacking a European demos” debate – personally, I think it’s over-schematic and essentially useless – but because it’s an opening for a different kind of debate. Look at national demoses (I invite any classicists on board to correct this backformation) – do you really want another, bigger one? Even at the European national level, it’s a scene of highly formalised, big-media dominated, fact-light jousting. Look at the nearest ones in scale to a putative Euro-democracy: the US, with its sterile two-party dynamic and addiction to campaign funding, China and Russia (nuff said), India, with epic fractionalisation, corruption, and sporadic violence. Urgh.

But something like this, or for that matter MySociety’s various projects in the UK, offers the possibility of a more fact-driven debate, a reduced reliance on political parties, and greater oversight of the grey zone where the EU institutions and nonofficial bodies like the various cross-European business and labour groups and standardisation conferences intersect.

After all, why should (as Andrew Grice of the Independent suggested yesterday) the Liberal Democrats complain that other parties are stealing their ideas and putting them – gasp! – into practice. Only if you insist on the party as a tribe and a vehicle for self-advancement should this matter. A highly anti-liberal view, in my opinion.

Fine Brussels-based blog Kosmopolit is heading in the same direction, with a critique of Ségoléne Royal and referendums.

Serbia: That Incredible Shrinking Country

This weekend’s election results in Serbia, and in particular the gridlock state of the political process and the resilience of the vote for the nationalist Serbian Radical Party (as ably explained by Doug in the previous post), pose new, and arguably reasonably urgent questions for all those who are concerned about the future of those European countries who currently find themselves locked outside the frontiers of the European Union. What follows below the fold is a cross-post of an entry I put up earlier this afternoon on the new global economy blog: Global Economy Matters. I don’t normally like cross-posting, since I would prefer to put up original Afoe content, but my time is a bit pressed at the moment, and I feel the issues raised are important enough to merit a separate airing on this site.
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Franco-British Union

Well, it’s now well-blogged that in September, 1956, the French Prime Minister Guy Mollet made an offer of a union between France and Britain to the then PM, Anthony Eden. General reaction has been a mix of shock and amusement, rather like the disclosure of John Major’s affair with Edwina Currie. But was it really that strange?

British political discourse now uses the word “Suez” and the year 1956 as a signifier for not joining the EEC and a lot of things besides – imperialism, militarism, subservience to the US, sexual repression, governmental botching and more. As always when the national processes of mythogenesis get to work, any content of meaning has long since been painted shut like a window in a defunded schoolroom.

But in 1956, it wasn’t all that weird..
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European Energy Efficiency Plan

Sargasso, Dutch weblog and co-nominee in the recent BOB’s has a very interesting post on European energy policy, which prompted me to address the issue here as well. The point of my own post here on AFOE is not to elaborate extensively on European energy policy, I simply do not have the time right now, but simply to draw your attention to the fact that there is a European policy, the Energy Efficiency Action Plan, not to be confused with its US namesake (pdf), and to start a discussion.

The ambitious aim of the European EEAP is to have a 20% reduction in wasteful energy consumption by 2020. From the official press release:

“Europeans need to save energy. Europe wastes at least 20% of the energy it uses. By saving energy, Europe will help address climate change, as well as its rising consumption, and its dependence on fossil fuels imported from outside the Union’s borders.” said Energy Commissioner Piebalgs. “Energy efficiency is crucial for Europe: If we take action now, the direct cost of our energy consumption could be reduced by more than €100 billion annually by 2020; around 780 millions tonnes of CO2 will also be avoided yearly” he pointed out.

In another press-release on the same subject we can read the following:

At the same time saving energy is the easiest, most rapid and most effective way to answer the challenge of our energy dependence and reduce damage to the environment.

So, the objectives are clear: save money, help the environment and reduce our dependence on fossil fuel imports. How? The EEAP outlines these focal points (I have added a few informational links here and there):

1) Promote energy-efficient household appliances through labelling and performance requirements
2) Promote low-energy housing (pdf)
3) Render power generation and distribution more efficient
4) Further reduce CO2 emissions from cars
5) Facilitate financing of energy efficiency investments for enterprises
6) Stimulate energy efficiency in the new member states
7) Use tax tools in a carrot-and-stick fashion
8) Raise awareness and share information, both within the EU and worldwide

The big problem, as always, is mentioned at the end of the proposed plan:

Nonetheless, before any of these objectives can be achieved, political will and engagement at national, regional and local level are necessary. The European Council, European Parliament, as well as national and regional policy makers will need to renew their full commitment and establish a clear and unambiguous mandate to facilitate the implementation of the Action Plan by endorsing it and agreeing on the proposals set forth.

Nevertheless, I’d like to take a positive approach and welcome the proposed policy set forth by the European Commission while awaiting new developments in the area of alternative energy as well.

For those who are interested, please go and read the details of the EEAP in full and share your thoughts and insights with us.