Why the Commission’s proposal is nipping the citizen’s initiative in the bud
Apr 4th, 2010

I’ve never been a great fan of the concept of the European citizen’s initiative. Having to mobilise 1.000.000 people to submit an idea for review by the Commission without the Commission having any obligation to actually act on it, I’ve always thought it could potentially produce great deception, rather than foster enthusiasm for European issues. On the other hand, in times where barely half of the citizens bother to vote to elect their political representatives, I think that any initiative that aims at fostering more citizen participation is good to take, especially when the initiative is meant to promote pan-European debates as it is the case here.

So I read carefully the Commission’s proposal for the citizen’s initiative, and as many commentators (see here, here, here, and here), I was disappointed. The general feeling is that the initial spirit of the citizen’s initiative will be nipped in the bud by unnecessary administrative requirements.

  1. The main problem to me is to require petition signatories to give their ID number. Honestly, who would give their ID number to petition organisers? I wouldn’t, and I’m not even a very wary person. First name, last name, city of residence, email or phone number should be more than enough.
  2. Petition organisers would only get 12 months after they officially register their petition to get 1.000.000 signatories in 1/3rd of member states. Surely that will favour large organisations that have established networks and permanent staff, and will not give enough time for individual citizens to set up campaigns from scratch during their free time. The citizen’s initiative is meant to get citizens actively involved in the political process, not large organisations.
  3. A citizen’s initiative would be checked for admissibility after 300.000 signatures have been collected. In my opinion, that should be done right at the beginning, or not at all. Is there really a need to have it checked anyway? Does it really matter if the initiative doesn’t fall in the competences of the Commission and/or the EU? These are not carved in marble after all.
  4. The proposal also requires that online petitions should have adequate security features. What does that mean exactly? Does it mean that petition organisers would have to purchase expensive security software to get their petition approved? Again, that would favour large organisations, and kill many grass-root campaigns from emerging.
  5. Finally, it would apparently be up to each member state to verify the validity of signatures. So a petition organiser would have to submit its support forms to 9 member states at least. More red-tape again. Less room for citizen-led initiatives.

If ever one petition manages to fulfil all the requirements, it’s not even sure the Commission would make a proposal according to the petition’s request, and the proposal would have to get the European Parliament’s and the Council’s approval anyway. So I can’t help but wonder… is there really a need for that many security safeguards -admissibility check, security software, signatories’ ID numbers and address, authentication of statements of support by member states, etc?

Both the European Parliament and the Council will have to examine the proposal now. Maybe it’s time for some citizen lobbying? Davygee on Twitter the other day suggested to set up a social media campaign to improve the Commission’s proposal. Who’s up for it?

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An example of Belgian Kafkaism
Mar 29th, 2010

After I got fined for not declaring that I had nothing to declare, I now have to pay taxes on revenue I never earned. Feeling confused? Welcome to Belgium!

ceci-n-est-pas-une-pipe.jpgLet me try and explain… After I was made redundant because of the crisis a year ago I registered as a freelancer on a complementary basis, thinking boldly: what the hell, what if I were to become my own boss? That didn’t happen though as I found a new full-time job straight away. Having been too busy since then I never used my freelancer status, thus made €0.00 with it. Still I had to fill in VAT declarations. I did so but too late, which is why I got a fine. Fair enough, I should have declared in time that I had nothing to declare. Mea culpa… But isn’t there something a little surreal about fining someone for not having declared that they had nothing to declare? Or am I just not Belgian enough? Anyway, I’m an honest citizen so I paid my fine. I also kept on declaring that I had nothing to declare. That’s how cooperative I am. And then I received a letter from the Belgian tax authorities telling me that I had to pay tax on revenue I never earned. Hold on. I thought you actually had to earn revenue to get taxed on that revenue… or am I missing something?

What is the moral of the story? I am going to get rid of this freelancer status as it is just too much of a bother. It’s a shame as I will probably have freelancing opportunities in the future, which I will then decline because it just seems like too much of an administrative nightmare! When a year ago I was thinking of getting this freelancer status, some friends advised me to register in France or in the UK for it was more interesting tax-wise. But as a socialist, I don’t mind paying high taxes. Besides I thought it was just the right thing to do to register as a freelancer in the country I live. How very idealistic of mine…

PS: If you are a Belgian tax expert, please get in touch with me. Thank you!

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Dear Commissioners, stop broadcasting, and start engaging!
Feb 9th, 2010

In the new European Commission set-up, there are two nominations that make me quite sceptical: that of Neelie Kroes at the Digital Agenda, and that of Viviane Reding at Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship.

First the person who will be in charge of the so-called digital agenda for Europe is a 69-year-old woman, current Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes. I can’t help but wonder: is a person who should actually be retired the right one to lead Europe into the future? Can she understand what the digital revolution is all about? I doubt it. The Spanish socialist party’s spokesperson for the digital economy is a 30-year-old woman. I think that’s the way it should be because one cannot apply old methods to new phenomena.

Then the Communication portfolio – held by one of the most decent Commissioners so far, Margot Wallström, simply disappeared. Apparently, the competence for communication will be under Viviane Reding’s portfolio. I followed her hearing. Although it is not humanly possible to follow 3 hours of Commissioner hearing -and I might have therefore missed something- I’m pretty sure there were almost no questions about communication. At some point, as this blog reports, Viviane Reding mentioned that, as a former journalist her approach would be to find interesting stories to tell about the EU. Clearly she still thinks that in order to make the EU closer to the citizen, the EU needs to be better communicated. As many EU communicators, she’s wrong. The EU needs to communicate WITH the citizens and not TO the citizens. So I’m begging you, please: stop broadcasting, and start engaging!

EU leaders’ basic misunderstanding on how they should communicate is well reflected in their use of social media. I did a quick study. On Facebook, José Manuel Barroso has 337 fans, Catherine Ashton 204, Neelie Kroes 717, and Viviane Reding… well, she just doesn’t have a profile. To give you a point of comparison, I -Miss Anybody- personally have 565 friends on Facebook, and 155 fans of the Eurosocialist fan page. Surely top EU officials can do better than that! The presence of EU leaders on Twitter is even more pathetic. They simply are not there at all, at least officially, because the vacuum their absence creates has been filled by either fake accounts: such as @JMDBarroso and @hermanvanrompuy or cybersquatting: @CatherineAshton, @VivianeReding @neeliekroes.

Dear Commissioners, you can’t be serious. Communicating with citizens is actually easy to do: just go where they are. You ought to take an example from the European Parliament president, Jerzy Buzek, who has a remarkably different approach: 2.462 fans on Facebook, an official Twitter profile that has already 1.006 followers, though it opened just a few weeks ago, and he is the only one of the above to have links to his social network accounts on his Web page. Last month the European Commission’s Internet editors and webmasters published an appeal to their bosses so that they start harnessing the power of the Internet for better communication. This letter clearly shows that the Commission has competent staff on the matter. The question then is: how long will EU leaders keep on ignoring the communication revolution that is taking place at the moment?

NB: Thanks to the good work of Commission staff, a list of EU institutions’ Twitter and Facebook accounts can be found here.

UPDATE February 10th: @dicknieuwenhuis informs me that Janez Potočnik, new Commissioner for the Environment has opened a Twitter account today! Congratulations!

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Happy Birthday to Bloggingportal.eu!
Jan 26th, 2010

Today we are celebrating bloggingportal.eu’s first birthday. It’s hard to believe it is still so young. It now aggregates more than 500 euroblogs and blogs talking about the EU in all kinds of languages. The project is grassroots. We are not getting any funding. It’s a team of voluntary bloggers who each day, during their free time, select the best euroblog content for you and tag the posts. Inevitably some languages are represented better than others (English, German, French and more recently Spanish). That’s because however multilingual our team of bloggers is, we do not speak all European languages. And if you want to join the team, please do! Just send an email introducing yourself and your blog at: info @ bloggingportal.eu See you on bloggingportal.eu!


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2009 PES Congress – Video Summary
Jan 14th, 2010

PES Congress 2009 Highlights from PES_Party of European Socialists on Vimeo.

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Want to know what my voice sounds like?
Jan 13th, 2010

Then listen to this week’s podcast in Chasing Brussels!

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So long 2009! Welcome 2010!
Jan 10th, 2010

A couple of days ago, I took part in the recording of the podcast Chasing Brussels. We were asked what we thought the highlights of 2009 were and what those of 2010 may be.

2009 has been a year of great renewal for me. For the first time, I got very involved in a European elections campaign, which was a fascinating experience. We have seen the premises of true European political campaigning at the Party of European Socialists. However the campaign in-country remained nationally focused, which was a great disappointment for European activists. In the end, the European Parliament is even more right-wing than before, and Barroso will be at the head of the European Commission for 5 more years. This status quo is quite depressing. On a more positive note, 2009 was also the year where I started to blog, tweet, and more generally use all kinds of social media tools avidly. I got involved in exciting projects such as bloggingportal.eu -the EU blog aggregator- and the Gender Balanced Commission Campaign. I’ve had the chance to meet many Eurobloggers in person or virtually on skype, chats, and Google Wave.

I don’t know if 2010 will be interesting in terms of European politics. There is no highest point in political life than the elections. After that, it’s more or less business as usual. Don’t get me wrong, lots of interesting stuff is happening in European policy-making all the time but I’m afraid it’s mostly ignored by mainstream media. Let’s see if in the 4 years to come our growing community of Eurobloggers can change this dynamic!

For now, if you have a little time, I invite you to follow the hearings of the European Commissioners-designate by the members of the European Parliament. They will take place from the 11th to the 19th of January. You can find the agenda here and view the hearings in live streaming here. I’ll be live-tweeting about it here.

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Quote of the Week: Margot Wallström
Dec 15th, 2009

“Advice for anyone thinking about blogging on EU affairs – develop a thick skin, especially if you are writing positive things about the EU”

Margot Wallström, Blogging, last blogpost as EU commissioner for communication.

Nice testimony by Margot Wallström of what it’s been like to blog in her position over the past 5 years.

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PES Congress 2009: all my Tweets in one place!
Dec 9th, 2009

The 8th PES congress has just started! Follow it on Twitter with #pescongress or live on www.pes.org. Hello from Prague! 9:42 AM Dec 7th from web

The #pescongress is carbon-neutral. http://www.pes.org/en/news/pes-hold-carbon-neutral-congress-prague 9:47 AM Dec 7th from web

Paroubek, former Czech PM is now opening the #pescongress 9:55 AM Dec 7th from web

Now our beloved PNR – Poul Nyrup Rasmussen – , PES president has entered the stage #pescongress 10:00 AM Dec 7th from web

PES pres: I want to make a pact today with you to find and define a new direction for our progressive societies #pescongress 10:19 AM Dec 7th from web

PES pres: a progressive society has to put gender equality at the centre of its priorities #pescongress 10:20 AM Dec 7th from webPrague_3

PES pres: Regarding the financial crisis, back to business as usual is not an option #pescongress 10:23 AM Dec 7th from web

PES president is explaining how the negotiations went regarding the selection of Catherine Ashton as EU High Rep #pescongress 10:26 AM Dec 7th from web

PES pres: It is a myth to believe that the market economy, especially fin markets, will have a tendency to equilibrium #pescongress 10:28 AM Dec 7th from web

PES pres: Never ever again financial speculation must turn our societies down. Never again. #pescongress 10:28 AM Dec 7th from web

PES pres Poul Rasmussen: some of the key pillars of our project are green growth, education and gender equality #pescongress 10:36 AM Dec 7th from web

PES president Poul Nyrup Rasmussen gets a standing ovation when he says that we must have a common candidate for next Commission president 10:42 AM Dec 7th from web

Zapatero’s motto: “I’m a Feminist because I’m a Socialist”. A progressive society is not possible without gender equality #pescongress 11:23 AM Dec 7th from web

enjoyed the 1st panel at the #pescongress very much, great ideas for the future by Aubry, Bersani, Gilmore, Gabriel and Thorning-Schmidt 12:12 PM Dec 7th from web

Socialist group president Martin Schultz addresses the #pescongress in German, French and English. Well done! 12:17 PM Dec 7th from web

Poul Nyrup Rasmussen is reelected as the president of the Party of European Socialists! very happy about the news :) #pescongress 12:41 PM Dec 7th from web

Poul N. Rasmussen receives a red roses bouquet from PES Women pres Zita Gurmai. Lovely that men also get flowers at the PES @pescongress 12:44 PM Dec 7th from web

I think PES president Poul Nyrup Rasmussen is one of the most inspiring politicians there are. v. happy he remains our leader #pescongress 12:49 PM Dec 7th from web

at 2nd panel on progressive societies @ #pescongress 3 women in their 30ies as speakers out of 5 in total. very dynamic and inspiring 4:04 PM Dec 7th from web

“If you tell a fairy tale to a child and you don’t believe in it yourself, then the child will not either” Petroula Nteledimou #pescongress 4:17 PM Dec 7th from web

2nd day @ #pescongress just starting. had a great time yesterday, looking forward to today’s programme http://tinyurl.com/yfcxfl2 10:11 AM Dec 8th from web

Poul Nyrup Rasmussen: “In some sense, we are all workaholics in the social-democratic movement” #pescongress 10:14 AM Dec 8th from web

Economist Jeffrey Sachs: “Social-democracy has proven to be the most successful economic model in the world” #pescongress http://tr.im/GZHt 10:16 AM Dec 8th from web

Read blogpost summaries of yesterday’s panels at the #pescongress here: http://www.pes.org/en/blogs/pes-blog 10:19 AM Dec 8th from web

and check out the pictures of the event there: http://www.pes.org/en/galleries/pes-congress-2009 #pescongress 10:20 AM Dec 8th from web

Howard Dean addressing the #pescongress : “Free market alone cannot achieve social justice. We need a global new deal” 10:32 AM Dec 8th from web

Nabil Shaat from Fatah gets warm applauses at the #pescongress 10:38 AM Dec 8th from web

P.N. Rasmussen: I would have been so happy if I, at this moment, could give the floor to our Israeli party. #pescongress 10:55 AM Dec 8th from web

video address of Australian PM Kevin Rudd #pescongress www.pes.org 10:55 AM Dec 8th from web

Now starting: panel on the campaign Europeans for Financial Reform. REGULATE GLOBAL FINANCE NOW! #pescongress http://tr.im/H00R 11:33 AM Dec 8th from web

Elio Di Rupo (PS, BE): Everything remains to be done to regulate financial markets. The mountain gave birth to a mouse.#pescongress 11:37 AM Dec 8th from web

Di Rupo: We must fight neo-liberalism with renewed energy. #pescongress 11:41 AM Dec 8th from web

Di Rupo: No to this stressing society, this society of profit maximisation. 1/2 #pescongress11:44 AM Dec 8th from web

Di Rupo: This is stressing people out of their mind. We want a more human society. 2/2 #pescongress 11:44 AM Dec 8th from web

“Fiscal stability cannot be done at the expense of social justice” Ivari Padar, leader of the Estonian Social Democrats #pescongress 11:51 AM Dec 8th from web

French MEP Pervenche Berès, amazing expert on ecofin, now talking! #pescongress 11:52 AM Dec 8th from web

Berès: We are not living up to the challenge. Things seem to start again as usual as if nothing had happened. #pescongress 11:53 AM Dec 8th from web

Berès: Why is it that any type of product has to go through controls to enter our markets, all products but financial products? #pescongress 11:56 AM Dec 8th from web

Andreas Schieder (Austria): The crisis shows the failure of the ideology of privatising gains and collectivising losses #pescongress 11:59 AM Dec 8th from web

The PES has elected its new presidency! Find full list of members here: http://tr.im/H07R #pescongress 12:05 PM Dec 8th from web

Berès: The challenge of this campaign (for financial regulation) is to make it a grass-root campaign 1/2 #pescongress 12:30 PM Dec 8th from web

Berès: These questions only seem complex because some don’t want us to get involved ! 2/2 #pescongress 12:31 PM Dec 8th from web

Find all Congress documents and resolutions here: http://tr.im/H0eE #pescongress 12:35 PM Dec 8th from web

Javier Moreno of the Global Progressive Forum is presenting the Europeans For Financial Reform campaign http://tr.im/H0f2 #pescongress 12:37 PM Dec 8th from web

Sign the call to action “Regulate Global Finance Now!” http://tr.im/H0fp #pescongress 12:38 PM Dec 8th from web

Closing session at the #pescongress is starting now, follow it live here: www.pes.org 2:22 PM Dec 8th from web

Former Bulgarian PM Sergei Stanishev: Where do we want to be as a political family by next PES congress? #pescongress 2:27 PM Dec 8th from web

Philip Cordery has been unanimously reelected as PES secretary general. Bravo Philip! #pescongress 2:32 PM Dec 8th from web

Ruairi Quinn is reelected PES treasurer #pescongress 2:35 PM Dec 8th from web

Adrian Severin (VP socialist group in EP): We need a PES that is a true architecture of the European transnational democracy #pescongress 2:37 PM Dec 8th from web

Severin: I truly believe the future of social-democracy lies on Europe #pescongress 2:40 PM Dec 8th from web

Marije Laffeber (Dutch Int. Sec.) This has been two very inspiring days. #pescongress 2:41 PM Dec 8th from web

Commissioner Vladimir Spidla: We shouldn’t move towards the centre but we should become the centre. #pescongress 2:45 PM Dec 8th from web

Anna Paola Concia (Rainbow Rose), only open Lesbian in Italian Parliament addresses the #pescongress 2:49 PM Dec 8th from web

A.P. Concia: Social and civil rights should always come together. Voters recognise those who fight for their values #pescongress 2:50 PM Dec 8th from web

Janna Besamusca (SG ECOSY): Youth unemployment at the moment in Europe is twice as high as the average #pescongress 2:51 PM Dec 8th from web

Zita Gurmai (Pres. PES Women): More important than ever is to listen to our members, our activists & the younger generation. #pescongress 2:57 PM Dec 8th from web

Jiri Paroubek: “Czech became the international language of the last two days” Thanks Jiri for hosting this fabulous #pescongress :) 3:01 PM Dec 8th from web

Paroubek: We have a lot of expectations for the Spanish presidency of the European Union (1st semester 2010) #pescongress 3:06 PM Dec 8th from web

Now Poul Nyrup Rasmussen (PNR) gives the closing speech of the #pescongress 3:08 PM Dec 8th from web

PNR thanks all the PES secretariat team, one by one :) #pescongress 3:11 PM Dec 8th from web

PNR: There are 25.000 PES activists now. I have a dream that at next #pescongress we become 50.000 3:14 PM Dec 8th from web

PNR: Next century is going to be ours.The 21st century will be the progressive century. #pescongress 3:14 PM Dec 8th from web

PNR: Over the next years we will change Europe and its priorites #pescongress 3:20 PM Dec 8th from web

We will not allow that the market guides us because it has no face. Social democracy is about giving the market a human face. #pescongress 3:21 PM Dec 8th from web

We don’t want to avoid the market but we want to ensure that the market becomes the servant of the people, not its master. #pescongress 3:21 PM Dec 8th from web

We will be the party of engagement, freedom, hope and humanity #pescongress 3:23 PM Dec 8th from web

very moved by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen’s last words. A thought to my Spanish republican gd-parents. Thx Poul for being so inspiring #pescongress 3:26 PM Dec 8th from web

#pescongress finished now :( thanks for following the tweets. looking forward to next year’s congress! 3:37 PM Dec 8th from web

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Muppets sing for the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty
Dec 1st, 2009

Lovely: the European anthem sung by the Muppets

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© Eurosocialiste 2010. Everything posted on this blog is my personal opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of my employer or its clients. The content of this blog has been revised by Fabtrad (fabtrad @ gmail.com)