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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.

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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!

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


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.

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.

From a quick post on “More Europe” to more formed ideas about EU framing

Anyone who knows me well knows I am fascinated by the use of words about the EU. Since @europasionaria first got me to read Lakoff’s “Don’t Think of an Elephant”, I’ve been wondering how to apply his ideas to the debate about the European Union. I’ve even run a couple of workshops about it in the UK as well.

Where Lakoff tries to arm progressives with the right words to make their case, I want to try to arm supporters of the European Union to better be able to make their case.

My quick post – railing against “More Europe” earlier today (and, as pointed out by @karmel80 on Twitter, “less Europe” should also be avoided) – has prompted some debate and discussion about what to do. @runekier and @ktowens have proposed some kind of wiki solution, to try to crowd source some sort of guide to what words to use, and to not use, but a response from @serge_arno demonstrates the complexity of the issue – where I see a problem in the vagueness and potential downsides of the term “More Europe”.

On this blog in the past I’ve had a go at “Bringing Europe closer to its citizens“, “pro-European“, “national interest“, and “hard-headed [about the EU]“, and all of those posts have drawn a variety of reactions.

So what should be done?

If it is to be some sort of crowd-sourced, wiki based solution, how do we build it to reflect this combination of views? To incorporate the positive and the negative aspects of a phrase like “More Europe”? Conversely, I would love to have a go at writing a book about all of this – a kind of EU Don’t Think of an Elephant, something that tries to make the case for how I see these sorts of issues with more coherence than a series of blog entries ever can. But am I capable of writing a book? Would anyone read it? And, crucially, how the hell would I fund it? And is there some way to combine these two approaches?

Anyway, do comment below, or tweet me or e-mail me, and I will do my best to make something out of all of this!

“More Europe” – the next term to banish from the EU framing lexicon

The words “More Europe” are essentially used a shorthand for needing EU action in an area where the EU does not currently act, like current efforts to complete the Digital Single Market for example.

But take a step back and think about this for a minute. “More Europe” is actually therefore trying to mean “More EU”, and is More EU (i.e. more institutions, more law, more politicians, more bureaucracy…?) actually something that people would really want? A more efficient, a more streamlined, a more social EU – perhaps. But just ‘more’? I doubt it.

Second, when it comes to something like completion of the Digital Single Market for example, what we actually need is EU law to break down national barriers. That is actually more freedom, or less barriers, or less regulation, albeit through EU level action. The ‘More Europe” phrase brings nothing here.

Third, “More Europe” implies the EU should be seen according to the more-or-less, in-or-out, pro-European-vs-eurosceptic frame. This in itself is wrong – I should be able to want less money on agriculture and more on regional funds, or more rules on working time and less on digital products, and that combination according to my own ideology. What does “More Europe” mean in that context? Nothing.

Hence anyone who is notionally pro-EU, both within and outside the institutions should stop using the phrases “More Europe”, “More EU” and “The Cost of Non-Europe”. These phrases have the wrong connotations, and also prevent a more nuanced debate about what has to happen at EU level from emerging. Stop using the words. Simple.

This blog entry was motivated by this tweet from Judith Raposo that links to this EP news story, but news stories like this regularly use the words too.

Time for some policy-based evidence-making – how the Jacques Delors Institut Berlin ought to work

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 12.54.15Back in my days as a civil servant one phrase dominated UK government-speak: evidence-based policy-making. The essential idea was to gather adequate evidence about a problem, and how various solutions could work, and determine a policy choice based on that. Now of course this was constrained by the ideology of the government of the time, but it should have meant that reports should not have been suppressed higher up the political chain, Theresa May style.

But a think tank is not a governmental institution. The nature of a think tank is to be partial, to push a particular agenda. Yet if anything is to separate a think tank from a pure lobby organisation is that it should have some sort of evidence for its assertions. In essence it needs to reverse the phrase above – to practice policy-based evidence-making.

This is what Open Europe has been doing in London for ages, and has more recently tried to start to do in Berlin. It has an essential line – that the EU should be more market-orientated, less regulated, and that EU-wide democracy cannot work, and that the EU must essentially be intergovernmental and based on the notional democratic accountability of its Member States. Open Europe then dream up things – reports, tables, quotes – that work towards this end, and because they style themselves as a think tank and are clever and consistent in their communications, the media – in the UK at least – laps it up. Their table about Merkel might have been inaccurate, or their recent piece for The Local Germany not exactly accurate, but they persist and they succeed nevertheless.

But now in Berlin, with a big launch event next week*, there’s a new think tank dealing with EU matters in Germany’s capital: the Jacques Delors Institut. It’s the German office of the Paris-based Notre Europe. My old friend Bernd Hüttemann tweeted that Open Europe “is not the only campaigning non-Germany think tank in town now”. I would quibble with the implication that there are even German campaigning think tanks in Berlin, but Bernd’s point that the Jacques Delors Institut could become a campaigning think tank would be very welcome. We have plenty of evidence about the problems the EU faces, but little in the way of pointed, media-savvy work to set the political agenda in a way that strengthens the EU, rather than seeking to limit or unravel it.

So what should the Jacques Delors Institut actually do?

Firstly, it needs an agenda that can stand alone, and that this agenda needs to be simple and positive. That economic integration in the EU works, and that it is a balance of free markets and regulation. That intergovernmentalism does not work. That EU-wide democracy is possible and desirable. Nothing that it should does should distract from these aims. Everything it does should be digestible for a half-knowledgeable policy maker or politician – it should not be excessively academic.

Second, unlike much of the traditional pro-European establishment, it should specifically not focus on populists, nationalists or extremists. We have plenty of critique of why UKIP / Jobbik / AfD / Grillo (delete as appropriate) are wrong. What we do not have are positive ideas for reform that come from the responsible centre. The Jacques Delors Institut needs to set its own course, not mirror or become embroiled in fights with the likes of Open Europe.

Third, it needs the very best multi-channel, multi-language communications strategy. It needs to understand the interplay between traditional and new media, and how the latter can shape the mainstream media narrative. In this context it needs to have strong characters who can shape a debate, and become known. Henrik Enderlein, the boss of the Institut, has a good academic record as far as I can tell, but his web comms leave a lot to be desired! Is he someone you can put up against Mats Persson in a debate?

So that’s how it could work. If it doesn’t do that then the Jacques Delors Institut will end up grouped together with a bunch of other pro-EU think tanks of questionable use.

[UPDATE 1425]
Christopher Howarth from Open Europe has rather delightfully proven my point with this tweet:

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 14.25.10


Nowhere in this blog entry do I say the pro-EU side is engaged in evidence-based policy-making, and indeed in the very first paragraph I allude to my cynicism of the whole concept anyway. So take someone’s words and twist them for your purposes – yes, that’s Open Europe.

* – I have been invited to the launch and will tweet it using the event tag #voice4eu, and know one member of staff at the Jacques Delors Institut. I have no professional affiliation with them.