:::: MENU ::::

Politics for people, or let’s bash the bankers?

Screen Shot 2014-04-18 at 21.02.52

With the European elections now just over a month away, every campaign organisation in Brussels is coming up with its demands for wannabe MEPs before the election. ALTER-EU, the campaign for lobby transparency, has released its campaign site entitled “Politics for People“, with the subtitle “Stop banks and big business taking over our democracy”.

For me the subtitle muddles the issue spectacularly. Perhaps, like the Right 2 Water petition, the emotive language draws people in. But for me it is overdoing it.

If you click though on the website to the actual demand from a citizen to a wannabe MEP the text reads as follows:

Please pledge that, if you are elected as an MEP, you will stand-up for citizens and democracy against the excessive lobbying influence of banks and big business.

Sorry, but this makes little sense. What is “excessive lobbying”? And surely no-one could be against excessive lobbying by just one group. It would be impossible to measure whether a MEP had indeed complied with this after 5 years in the European Parliament.

For me there are two issues at stake here.

The first is: do we know who is lobbying whom, and who is meeting whom? That is the basis of lobby transparency. Citizens can then judge whether the behaviour of MEPs was ethical or not. To achieve this the lobby register should be made compulsory (current, weaker, rules are here), and every meeting between a MEP or Commissioner and a lobbyist be documented, and records of all meetings made available in an open data format.

The second issue is whether money buys undue influence in EU policymaking, and what to do about this. The situation is not as grave in EU politics as it is in the USA (more on that here), and successful citizen engagement like Right 2 Water, Hugh’s Fish Fight and the Neonicotinoid pesticide ban show what can be done when citizens are organised. Further, I do fear that the EU institutions are too administratively weak to answer many of the questions the institutions themselves pose, and a revolving door between institutions and the private sector is too pervasive. But dealing with these issues is not the same as bemoaning the amount of money poured into lobbying by banks – if they feel they have an interest to defend they cannot easily be stopped. It is the institutions, MEPs, and indeed then by definition, the electorate, that needs workable and implementable solutions, and the Politics for People pledge does not concretely propose any.

(Note: I know a number of the people who work for the ALTER-EU coalition)


Is it really impossible to delete an Evernote account?

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 14.12.23

I’m doing a bit of online spring cleaning this week. Old accounts with services I no longer use are being closed for good. It’s not necessarily a critique of these services as such, but I think that if I am no longer using a service it’s better I close the account.

Only with Evernote you cannot close your account, at least not properly, and that worries me.

The screenshot above is for the closest Evernote has to an account deletion page – but it actually describes a permanent account deactivation, rather than a deletion, and it is also a deactivation without the prospect of reactivation. Yeah, so I can prevent myself from ever having access to the account again, but Evernote still has access to all my data, indefinitely? That strikes me as a major failure.

Googling around further leads me to this Evernote support page in German (I can’t get an English version as Evernote sees I have a German IP address and thinks I therefore definitely need German language support, and doesn’t allow me to change language either from a menu or changing the URL – a further usability failure) that tells me that I need to delete each note I have saved separately, change my e-mail address listed at Evernote to one I may never then need for an account in future, and then to deactivate my account. However here too I have no idea what data, as a user, Evernote still has stored about me. And does a note deletion really mean it is deleted? Or only from my list of documents?

Now of course there must be caveats to this – if I had shared notes with others, or others had shared them with me, there must be a way to deal with this when an account is deleted. But that must be eminently solvable. As it is currently, from the user point of view, this entire process leaves a lot to be desired!


The empty slogans of the ‘Volksparteien’ in the European Parliament election campaign in Germany

From its headquarters at the southern end of Stresemanstrasse as far as Potsdamer Platz, the SPD has filled the street with huge election posters for the European Parliament election campaign… and they are awful. The five main posters are shown below.

For me the main test for an election slogan is to ask myself: would anyone actually want to run with the opposite slogan? If they would, then there is some political conflict or statement of ethics there that means something. If no-one would use the opposite the slogan is probably not worth writing. The pictures used by the SPD are also pretty awful – they look like people posing for a H&M or Uniqlo advert, rather than something to do with an election.

Continue Reading


At least 4 televised debates between Schulz and Juncker, more to come? (update: now 7!)

topcandidates-partycoloursOne of the supposed advantages of the European Commission top candidate / Spitzenkandidat process is that it gives some personality to the European Parliament election campaigns for the first time. I am hence very happy to see that televised debates between the main candidates are now also starting to take shape.

At the time of writing 4 7 such debates are currently known about:

  1. 9th April at 1710 CET on France24 TV, and 1910 CET on RFI radio (France), a debate between Schulz and Juncker, presumably in French (details here)
  2. 12th April at 1100 CET on TV5 Monde (global, in French), and repeated evening of 13th at ?? CET on RTBF, in French, and pre-recorded and edited (only details in this tweet)
  3. 28th April at 1900 CET on Euronews, with Juncker, Schulz, Verhofstadt and Keller, details and a live stream here, and the Twitter tag is
  4. 8th May, 2015 CET on ORF (Austria) and ZDF (Germany), a debate between Juncker and Schulz on the “Duell” programme, presumably in German (details here)
  5. 9th May at 1830 CET on RAI (Italy), a debate between Schulz, Juncker, Bové and Verhofstadt at EUI Florence, I presume in English, interpreted? (details here (scroll down to the bottom)), follow on Twitter #SoU2014
  6. 15th May at 2100 CET from Eurovision and EBS, and made available to national broadcasters (inc. BBC!), predominantly in English but also with interpretation (details here), and to be debated on Twitter using the tag #TellEurope, with 5 candidates – Schulz, Juncker, Verhofstadt, Keller and Tsipras
  7. 20th May, 2100 CET on ARD (Germany), a debate between Juncker and Schulz and the leading candidates of German political parties for the election on the “Die Wahlarena” programme, in German (details here)

I’ll add others here (and please leave a comment if you know of more) if and when I hear of them, but this is starting to look good!

[UPDATES]
9 April, 1447 – I’d missed the Euronews debate. Now added above! Thanks @kosmopolit on Twitter.
9 April, 1519 – I’d missed the EUI debate, now added. Thanks @DijkstraHylke.
10 April, 2311 – Now added the pre-recorded TV5/RTBF debate. Thanks @NatashaBertaud and Dana in the comments below.


How is David Cameron not going to be marginalised this summer in the EU’s political games?

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 12.05.18I’ve previously written about how the UK is absent from the EU’s Presidential Election (otherwise known as the top candidate, or Spitzenkandidat process), and while the essential content of that earlier post remains valid, I have reflected further about the implications for UK-EU relations from this process, and cannot see how the whole game this summer can play out in David Cameron’s favour and, if played badly, could result in a major UK-EU spat.

The starting point is the process (summarised here) – the Commission President needs a Qualified Majority Vote in favour of his/her nomination in the European Council. This means that no country has a veto over who the Commission President should be. This seems to have been (wilfully?) ignored by people like Daniel Hamilton from the Tories – this debate on Twitter is illustrative. Hence as I see it the UK has to make a positive case for the candidate it wants, rather than try to throw around its weight to stop a candidate it does not like.

Tie this to the Spitzenkandidat process and Cameron has a problem on his hands.

This problem is most acute if the S&D group emerges as the largest after the EP elections and tries to force through Martin Schulz as Commission President. Countries like France and Germany, already invested in the process to a certain extent, could live with this (even Merkel I think, who apparently gets on quite well with Schulz). Yet even the Labour Party in the UK has problems with Schulz and refused to back him – I hence cannot see how Cameron could be anything other than against his nomination as Commission President. “We will have to work with him” is going to be about the best Cameron would be able to muster in such a situation, and the words his backbenchers will use will be more fragrant than that I think.

The situation if the centre right wins the EP elections would be only slightly easier. As the Conservatives have left the European People’s Party they have very little leverage there, and the EPP’s candidate – old style, quasi-federalist, Euro-integrationalist Jean Claude Juncker is not the sort of Lagarde or Katainen style candidate that Cameron would more easily be able to live with. Indeed EUObserver reports that Juncker is a no-go for Cameron. Here too Merkel’s position could be at odds with the UK’s position – her CDU were Juncker’s most prominent backers.

Now I personally have my doubts about the extent to which the EPP will back Juncker when push comes to shove, and indeed on the left rumours that Schulz could be replaced by Helle Thorning-Schmidt continue to abound. But having said that the two most likely candidates for Commission President – Schulz and Juncker – remain unpalatable to the UK, yet the process grants Cameron very little power to do anything.

Could this be the next UK-EU crisis to happen?


Non-legislative barriers to the EU Single Market in the UK

mythree

I was back in the UK for the first time in ages last week and was frustrated as a result of not being able to use two services I had grown to rely on – my Three Pay-as-you-go Data SIMcard, and Auto-TopUp for my Oyster Card.

What’s the problem? A postcode.

Yes, well, it’s a little more complicated that that, but that’s the essential issue. Both My3 and TfL’s Oyster online system oblige you, logically enough, to add an address to your profile. When you make a top-up this address is checked with the address listed for your card with the bank, and if that lookup fails, the payment fails. The problem is that while I still have a UK bank account, and hence an associated debit card and a credit card, the address associated with that account is in Germany*, and that address has a 5-figure ZIP code associated with it, rather than the UK’s 7 or 8 character postcode. Trying to enter a German address in either My3 or Oyster online fails, and if I leave my old UK address there then the payment fails instead.

Neither of the services above are contracts – if I were to disappear then the companies can just close the cards in question. Were it to be a contract for a phone then it would be different.

So the next time you hear some UK politician complaining that the European Commission is not doing enough to complete the Single Market, perhaps you can point them to this blog entry instead, and remind them that some UK services are not too hot at dealing with the EU Single Market as it is today.

* – note that some people have told me I should have kept an address in the UK precisely for this purpose, but that is actually fraudulent – I do not live in the UK any more, and I should not need to maintain a UK address to use a public transport electronic ticket or a Pay-as-you-go Data SIMcard.


If you want one of the placeholder Twitter accounts I’ve registered, here are a few things to bear in mind

I was an early adopter of Twitter, and have been using it for political purposes ever since. Throughout that time I have conducted all sorts of experiments with Twitter, and registered dozens of Twitter usernames for numerous purposes over the years.

One of these experiments was to make unofficial accounts for all Danish government ministries on Twitter, back in April 2013. These accounts were all automated, tweeted news from the Ministries, and clearly stated in the biographies that the accounts were unofficial.

Something has recently started to change in Denmark though, as 4 Ministries have contacted me in the last few weeks to ‘officialise’ their accounts. The first of these – Kulturministeriet @KUM_dk renamed to @Kulturmin – has now gone live.

The process to officialise the account was however far from ideal.

I received a stern e-mail from their Comms guy, telling me the account was a “problem” (why only now is this a problem, I answered, as the account has been tweeting for 12 months?) but agreed to hand it over to them. At no point in my e-mails exchanged with them was the word ‘thanks’ used once from their side, and the newly-renamed and officialised account has not tweeted anything about the process to say it is now official. I’ve delivered them a starter-following of 110 people, for free, and helped out. As I have made clear here I will of course not demand any payment if people want access to any of these accounts I happen to have registered.

Further, if they had been friendly towards me, I could have happily sent some of my 10000 followers towards them too. But no, by being unfriendly they can have this blog entry berating them instead.


How Neelie Kroes’s rant about Düsseldorf Airport wifi shows she really understands political social media

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 13.39.09I can just imagine the scene. Neelie Kroes is sat at Düsseldorf Airport waiting for her flight, tries to get online, and turns to Ryan Heath or Jack Schickler or some other member of staff travelling with her, and with that mix of steel and mischievousness in her eye she says something along the lines of “How dare they charge €6 for an hour of wifi? I’m not having that!”

Her experience is the sort of thing regular travellers encounter all the time. It’s surely also something that the other Commissioners capable of using a smart phone also have encountered. But unlike the rest of them, Kroes connects her everyday experience with the politics of the matter and actually seeks to do something. It’s the same sort of motivation that has driven dozens of blog entries and tweets of mine over the years.

She first tweeted this:

This has been retweeted 834 times at the time of writing, and covered by The Local and Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger.

She then follows it up with an effort to crowdsource good and bad experience:

No doubt the next step will be to write a blog entry with a kind of league table of the best and the worst. Of course this is non-legislative, but it is a political issue, and Kroes’s understanding of political social media connects all of the pieces together effectively. More Commissioners should follow her example.

[UPDATE 1820]
I’ve been pointed towards a WSJ Germany blog about the same subject, and there is also now a blog entry on Neelie’s blog that summarises the responses, very kindly also linking to this blog entry of mine.


Pages:1234567...226