The Commission has put forward a proposal for improving the institutional framework of the Schengen area. First, the Commission proposes a strengthening of the Schengen evaluation mechanism. Announced and unannounced monitoring visits to a given Member State by Commission-led teams with experts from other Member States and Frontex will verify the application of the Schengen rules. Second, the Commission tackles the problem of unilateral reintroduction of borders. Such a decision for the reintroduction of internal border controls for foreseeable events (such as an important sporting event or a major political meeting) would be taken at the European level on the basis of a proposal by the European Commission backed by a ‘qualified majority’ of Member States’ experts. If a Member State fails to adequately protect a part of the EU’s external border, support measures including technical and financial support from the Commission, from Member States, from FRONTEX or other agencies like Europol or the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), can be taken.
The proposed measures are a big step forward for the European border security policy. However, a few Member States have already expressed skepticism, citing the national sovereignty as the main reason. They seem to have forgotten the very poor response of France and Italy to the wave of sea-borne migrants due to the Arab Spring revolutions in North Africa.
It will be very interesting to observe the debate on the Commission proposals, since border security is one of the factors that will define the viability of the European project.
Yesterday a terrible crime was committed in Norway, leaving more than 90 people dead. A lone terrorist was able firs to explode a bomb in the centre of Oslo and then to shoot at least 80 people, many of whom were teenagers. We know very little about his motivation, but it appears that he held far-right, and anti-Muslim views. So let’s say it bluntly: the ghost of racial and religious hatred is roaming in Europe. We have to stop it.
I have watched with indignation the rise of far-right parties in the EU – from Netherlands to France and from Bulgaria to Italy. Everywhere across Europe the narrative of cheap nationalism and populism, the language of hatred and discrimination has become fashionable. Even mainstream politicians have flirted with it. This has to stop.
Europe has suffered too often from its stereotypes of hatred. After all, we nearly exterminated a whole ethnos just 70 years ago. I refuse to look the other way when the same old disease is surfacing. And I cannot overlook the role of media in this. Yesterday, while it was still unclear who was responsible for the events in Oslo, an English newspaper put this headline on its first page, claiming that the bombing was orchestrated by Al Qaeda. This was happening while various counterterrorism experts on Twitter were explaining that it was quite unlikely that Al Qaeda was involved. This was not an innocent mistake. We live in a time when many people in the media business do enjoy flirting with far-right agendas, because they know that hatred sells. Mr. Murdoch’s publications are not the only ones involved. We have to stop this.
It is quite obvious that the European countries do have a problem with the integration of immigrants. A lot can be done here. First, we need to address border security. Second, we need to foster integration of immigrants, without resorting to defeatist language, while taking into account the security concerns of our citizens. Third, we need to redesign development programs for developing countries. Fourth, we need to help designing programs for adaptation to climate change in developing countries. Fifth, we need to persecute crimes motivated by religious hatred and crime.
This agenda is much more important than any other agenda of the European Union. It needs leadership and determination. The alternative is grim. The ghost of hatred is still a ghost. We have to stop it.
UPDATE: Please look at the faces of the victims from the Utoya shooting.
Posted in Foreign and Security Policy, Human Rights, Institutional Affairs, Justice and Internal Affairs
Tagged border security, Climate change, developing countries, European Union, far-right, hatred, Immigration, nationalism, Norway, Oslo, populism, racism, religious hatred, terrorism, Utoya
The Commission has put forward its proposal for the new Multiannual Financial Framework of the European Union for the period 2014-2020. The Multiannual Financial Framework is the main budgeting document of the EU for the seven-year period, and little can be changed once it is adopted. The proposal has to be approved by the Member States and the Parliament.
The main innovations:
- A new fund for financing infrastructure, the Connecting Europe Facility that includes a preliminary list of transport, energy and ICT projects;
- Stronger link of cohesion financing with the Europe 2020 objectives;
- New category of ‘transition regions';
- New conditionality provisions;
- Partnership contracts with each Member State to ensure mutual reinforcement of national and EU funding;
- An integrated programme of €15.2 billion for education, training and youth, with a clear focus on developing skills and mobility;
- A common EU strategy called “Horizon 2020″ for investment in research and innovation worth 80 billion €;
- 30% of direct support to farmers will be conditional on “greening” their businesses;
- €4.1 billion for the fight against crime and terrorism and €3.4 billion for migration and asylum policies.
- New own resources for financing the budget- a financial transaction tax (Tobin tax) and a new modernized VAT;
- Simplification of the existing correction mechanisms.
You can also read the critical assessment of the proposal by Charlemagne. Real Time Brussels looks at the fierce political battles that will likely emerge in the process of adoption of the Multiannual Financial Framework.
Posted in Agriculture and Fisheries, Budget and Finance, Education, Science and Culture, Energy, Enterprise, Environment, Foreign and Security Policy, Institutional Affairs, Justice and Internal Affairs, Regional Policy, Taxes and Duties, Transport
Tagged 2014-2020, cohesion, EU funds, Europe 2020, European Commission, European Union, infrastructure, management and control, Multiannual Financial Framework, own resources, Tobin Tax
The Commission has put forward an important proposal for the reformation of the so-called Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) which grants specific tariff preferences to developing countries in the form of reduced or zero tariff rates or quotas.
Key elements of the proposal include:
1. Concentrating GSP preferences on fewer countries. A number of countries would no longer be eligible to benefit, including:
- Countries which have achieved a high or upper middle income per capita, according to the internationally accepted World Bank classification (such as Kuwait, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Qatar).
- Countries that have preferential access to the EU which is at least as good as under GSP – for example, under a Free Trade Agreement or a special autonomous trade regime.
- A number of overseas countries and territories which have an alternative market access arrangement for developed markets.
2. Reinforcing the incentives for the respect of core human and labour rights, environmental and good governance standards through trade by facilitating access to the GSP+ scheme which grants additional, mostly duty-free preference to vulnerable countries.
3. Strengthen the effectiveness of the trade concessions for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) through the “Everything but Arms” (EBA) scheme.
4. Increasing predictability, transparency and stability.
European citizens should think more about their demands when talking about the EU. Here’s why.
These are not the best of times for the European Union. There’s a financial crisis; an immigration crisis; a crisis of trust, and who knows what else. In a nutshell, the EU is in trouble.
What is more difficult to comprehend is the malignancy and the “I-told-you-so” attitude of so many politicians, commentators and European citizens. The poignancy of the negative feelings is really remarkable. That is why I would like to do something unusual for this blog and address these skeptics. My objective is to provide a merciless, subjective and heavily normative critique of the complacency of those that seem to prefer a European future without a European Union.
In order to do that, I need to make an important observation. Homo Sapiens has not evolved substantially during the last 60 years. That being said, the claims that a new war on the European continent is impossible seem strange. It was not the tanks and airplanes that destroyed Europe during World War II, it was the people in them. What is more, our physical and genetic ancestors have waged war on one another for at least two millennia on this continent. In fact, the only longer peaceful episode in recent history has been the period of European integration. It’s true that NATO and the dynamic of nuclear deterrence also played a part. But it was the cooperation of European elites within the European Community that cemented this security pact.
Nowadays many believe that wars are part of the history, but not of the future. Others think that wars may be a useful instrument of foreign policy. What unites them is the lack of any wartime experience. This virus of complacency and ignorance is widespread. It has caught up with politicians, journalists, and all kinds of experts. The McDonalds rule is their flag, although it has already been broken. This virus makes them think that states are well equipped to solve emerging problems using the classic instruments of intergovernmental cooperation. The problem with their narratives is that this type of cooperation has recently failed spectacularly – with the UN Climate Change Conference failing to agree on new rules for climate change mitigation, WTO failing to agree on the completion of the Doha round, and the G-20 failing to agree on anything except for the summit menu. These are not just incidents; these are symptoms of the limitations of the classic forms of international cooperation.
Someone might argue that if the EU were so successful, it wouldn’t have experienced its recent crisis. That is true. The EU is not perfect, and we are now bearing the fruits of the lax rules of the Economic and Monetary Union. But it is much better than any other form of cooperation especially given the small economies of many Member States. This issue of economic efficiency is usually not discussed by euroskeptics. The truth is that without the European Union economic life in Europe would definitely slow down, and businesses know that. This is the problem of some anti-EU parties: their constituencies will actually suffer from any possible withdrawal from the Union. That is why they prefer to grumble about the EU without taking a meaningful step towards resolution of their grievances. Referendums should be held in each and every Member State that feels the need to take a different path to prosperity. The United Kingdom should be particularly encouraged to conduct a referendum on its EU membership. The European Union is not a club of convenience; its success depends on the high motivation of its members.
The European Union is not at a crossroads. It is a well-functioning and unique mechanism for political integration. It’s up to its users – the European citizens, to use it properly. It will deliver results only if we command it to do so. That is why from now on I would like to hear more demands, and less chaotic criticism when discussing the EU.
Posted in EU Reform, Foreign and Security Policy, Human Rights, Institutional Affairs, Internal Market, Justice and Internal Affairs
Tagged COP16, Europe Day, European Union, G-20, history, intergovernmental cooperation, war, WTO
The news that Italy and Malta are pressing for special summits to deal with the “epic emergency” immigration resulting from the upheaval in North Africa did not surprise me. Back in 2009 I wrote to the Reflection Group on the Future of Europe 2020-2030, proposing a specific initiative for a common EU border security policy using the instruments of the Lisbon Treaty. I developed my arguments in an article that I presented at a UACES conference in the beginning of 2010, and it was published in the journal European Security.
My argument was that:
1. EU border security is not effective enough due to uneven policy implementation, and
2. Future challenges and threats may overwhelm the present institutional setting.
I went on to discuss some of the challenges based on the assumption of fundamental factors affecting human security – the changing climate (Stern 2007) and the global demographic trends (Lee 2003). I outlined a number of impending threats and concluded that the development of a true common European border security policy is urgently needed in order to develop and implement adequate holistic solutions for mitigating those threats. Sergio Carrera from CEPS has written an excellent paper on the possible creation of a common European border security service.
Now, it is true that some Member States have their own views about border security. But a strategic review of the EU’s border security policy is obviously and urgently needed. It may or may not result in a common border security service, as Carrera proposes. But it should create a comprehensive action plan that goes much beyond technological standards and ad hoc assistance.
If my analysis is even partially correct, there is no time to lose.
The European Commission has published in the recent days two communications that touch on important aspects of the sustainable economic development of the EU.
The first is a communication on renewable energy and the progress towards the 2020 targets. The communication presents an overview of the renewable energy industry in Europe, its prospects to 2020 and addresses the outstanding challenges for the development of the sector. The Commission points out that renewable energy constituting 62% of 2009 energy generation investments in the EU. Member States projections show that renewable energy will grow at a faster pace in the years up to 2020 than in the past. Combined Member States expect to more than double their total renewable energy consumption from 103 Mtoe in 2005 to 217 Mtoe in 2020. If all the production forecasts are fulfilled, the overall share of renewable energy in the EU will exceed the 20% target in 2020. The Commission suggests that whilst annual capital investment in renewable energy today averages €35bn, this would need to rapidly double to €70bn to ensure the EU achieves its goals.
The second is a communication on the commodity markets and raw materials. This communication was delayed due to the French request to include measures to improve the transparency of financial and commodity markets. The document makes an overview of developments on physical markets of oil, gas, electricity, agricultural commodities and raw materials. The Commission outlines the growing interdependency of financial and commodity markets and then outlines policy measures for the separate physical markets. The communication then outlines the Raw Materials Initiative and describes the 14 critical raw materials – those who have a particularly high risk of supply shortage and are particularly important for the value chain.
Posted in Agriculture and Fisheries, Budget and Finance, Energy, Enterprise, Environment, Foreign and Security Policy, Internal Market, Telecommunications, Transport
Tagged commodity markets, critical raw materials, Europe 2020, Financial Markets, renewable energy, strategy, sustainable development, targets
Fellow bloggers Kosmopolit and John Worth have already weighed in on the (lack of) reaction by the European Union on the events unfolding in Egypt. Their analysis of the relative inactivity of the EU’s institutions is worth reading.
What I would like to point out is that the President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, was much more specific in addressing the situation in Egypt. He made a statement on Friday, 28 January, saying:
“The entire world is watching what is happening in Egypt tonight and will hold the authorities accountable for any inappropriate use of force or any innocent death. (…) I call on Egypt, as a partner country of the EU, to fully respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of their citizens.”
Now, this isn’t the first time Mr. Buzek has responded quickly with an unequivocal statement. He also addressed the violence against protesters in Belarus, specifically calling on Lukashenko to stop the violence. The High Representative remained silent on Belarus for a few days, too.
It should be clear that the High Representative cannot act before aligning positions of all Member States. It takes only one Member State – for example, Italy, to block a common position (art. 31 TEU). That is why Ashton is significantly restrained in her field of action.
It appears that Mr. Buzek’s statements are, in such situations, the only legitimate and decisive voice coming from the institutions of the European Union.
Taped conversations, published by a Bulgarian newspaper, allegedly expose a cover-up of smuggling schemes by the Bulgarian Minister of the Interior, Tzvetan Tzvetanov. The full transcripts of the tapes reveal pressure on part of Tsvetanov on Customs Agency Director Vanyo Tanov, who complains that Tsvetanov and the Ministry of the Interior are pressing him and his staff not to check on potential abuses by certain large companies, and to focus instead on others. The only company mentioned by name which has allegedly benefited from this protection is Lukoil Bulgaria (a daughter company of the Russian Lukoil conglomerate). The CEO of Lukoil Bulgaria is allegedly a close friend of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. According to the leaked US embassy cable on organized crime in Bulgaria, Lukoil’s Bulgarian operations are suspected of strong ties to Russian intelligence and organized crime.
A caveat must be made: nobody has confirmed the authenticity of the tapes. The content is not conclusive and is subject to interpretation.
In any case this is worrying. Until now the Customs Agency Director has not denied the contents of the conversations.
In the light of these revelations the reservations of France and Germany over Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen area appear more justified. The Prime Minister must take really decisive steps to dispel any suspicion of wrongdoing.
Posted in Bulgaria, Foreign and Security Policy, Justice and Internal Affairs
Tagged Boyko Borisov, Bulgaria, Lukoil Bulgaria, organized crime, Russia, smuggling, Tzvetan Tzvetanov, Valentin Zlatev, Vanyo Tanov, Wikileaks