…it has been added. I hope some editors see it. And maybe some bloggers who want to collaborate too. Please give advice on anything I might have missed or if it could be improved!
That is the question posed by the recently-launched redesigned website of EurActiv, my current very dear employers as you can surmise from the “published work” section. I invite my readers, especially non-Brussels bubble inhabitants, to comment on attractiveness, ease of use, navigability and so on!
The EU media market is a a strange beast and each major specialized EU-media has its particularities and drawbacks. EurActiv, in the sleepy world of EU media, is by far the most international, largest and most comprehensive. It achieves this distinction thanks to greater revenue than the others through a mix of advertising and sponsorships from the private and public sectors.
EurActiv faces the same problems as all EU affairs publications: the topic is often boring, technical or only of interest to EU affairs professionals, the “Brussels bubble” market is too small (maybe 50,000 people) and the actual European market is fragmented into the various national cultures and languages.
EurActiv partly addresses the latter problem, originally and I think very effectively, by having a large network of autonomous national news sites. EurActiv France is almost always readable and potentially interesting for the literate layman in a way which a EurActiv.com article typically is not.
The old EurActiv, I don’t know if it is archived somewhere, was easy to navigate and clear, but rather static and unattractive. The new one has toned down the yellow, has a dynamic main page, drop-down menus and the “EU news map” – a very interesting experiment -prominently and attractively displayed.
Perhaps the structural constraints are insurmountable, but I think the new site does as a good a job as can be done of making EU news as accessible and interesting as possible to a general audience. But only our readers can confirm that!
I hate the European Union’s PR efforts. Over-generalizing very slightly, they could be characterized as “universally shit”. The Commission in particular is guilty of funding high-budget bizarre and even incomprehensible videos, whether it be the two-part “Adventures of Euro-Clooney and the Innovation Crystal Ball”, the “Creepy One-For-All Soup” (succeeding in taking a decent, concrete initiative and making a magnificent turd of it) or the “Attack of the Flying Sci-Fi-Future-Creating Paperwork”.
If you only saw this of the Commission, you would be forgiven for believing the organization was entirely made up of spendthrift, utterly out of touch megalomaniacal bureaucrats with psychotic penchants for magical thinking. For the record, and knowing quite a few people in the Commission, I don’t think this is the case but clearly some people in DG COMM need to be seriously reprimanded and perhaps have their heads checked by professionals.
Having said all this, I also feel I should praise the Commission when it does something reasonably well. I discovered this comic book in the Commission’s information center and it is good in the sense that, if I had a child, I would give it to her to read. She would come out of it more informed about the world, might be inspired to volunteer for humanitarian work, and might even find the 40-page story entertaining (I need a youngster to confirm).
A .pdf is available in five languages here and you can see some more of the Belgian author’s work here. Belgium incidentally has a long history of comic book-writing, its artists producing many of Europe’s most famous series including Tintin, The Smurfs and Lucky Luke.
The book stars Zana, a field expert for the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department (more commonly known as “ECHO”) as she attempts to bring relief to the flood-stricken people of “Borduvia”. Though the latter looks suspiciously like Af-Pak, the disclaimer assures us it is “a wholly fictitious story” in which “[a]ny resemblance to real people is entirely coincidental”. Good to know.
The plot is very straightforward and there is only the very bare bones of an “intrigue”, if it can be called that. However, the story carries you along and the scenes depicted are striking and evocative including panoramic views of Brussels, helicopters swooping over devastated villages and even our protagonists discovering the stench of bodies buried beneath tons of rubble.
Integrated into this, mostly seamlessly, are explanations of how ECHO and the Commission more generally work: ECHO’s division into regional “operational desks”, Zana’s drafting of situational reports for headquarters (“sitreps”) and even the outsourcing of the EU’s humanitarian work to NGOs (eg: the Red Cross or Oxfam getting money from the Commission for a specific EU project). The latter point is fairly important for understanding in general what the Commission does and does not do.
The reader also gets a sense of the challenges posed by a humanitarian crisis in a Third World country. This includes the poverty, logistical problems and lack of infrastructure, the control (in this case) of certain disaster-hit areas by armed rebels, trouble with semi-literate soldiers, the need to talk checkpoints guards into letting you past..
The book is what I would call effective propaganda in the most positive sense. The heroine can be readily identified with and one gets an impression of ECHO – with its own lingo, Brussels-based “Crisis Room” and concrete action in the disaster area – as a genuinely useful and even “sexy” organization which a young person might aspire to find meaningful work in.
How close this book is to the reality is beside the point. I suspect however that ECHO’s work is similar to the bittersweet mix of genuine idealism and political compromise that Samantha Power wrote about so well in Chasing the Flame, her book on the life and work of the Brazilian UN diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello who died in Iraq in 2003. In any event, young people should, on occasion, be inspired and educated by their elders. For that I’ll tip my hat to whoever produced Hidden Disaster and will give a copy to some of my very young cousins when I have the chance.
Donald Tusk, the prime minister of Poland, is an avowed europhile and as such is taking very seriously his country’s upcoming six-month presidency of the European Council. This contrasts with the country’s previous leadership and, for that matter, every other major European leader at the moment, that is, the current panoply of dour “austeritists” (led by Angela “Dame de plomb“ Merkel) and professional race-baiters (led by Nicolas “Too many Muslims” Sarkozy).
As such I was a little surprised with the Polish presidency’s new logo went for child-like euro-kitsch instead of the more sober and elegant look of the previous Spain-Belgium-Hungary trio.
The new logo has already kind of grown on me though. The flag recalls Solidarnosc – as good a reference as any to the historical agency and love of liberty of the great martyr-nation. The upwards arrows evoke an optimism sorely lacking in the rest of Europe and encapsulated in Hungary’s declinist constitution. Poland was incidentally the only EU member not to suffer from a recession.
Before I wax too lyrical, a temptation I sometimes cede to regarding France, Poland is also an ordinary country pursuing its particular agenda. A heavily coal-dependent country it has also taken the lead on expanding shale gas in Europe. The Polish foreign minister travelled to Benghazi recently to express (quite eloquently) support for the rebels without giving full recognition to their provisional government (probably a wise policy). Meanwhile it is also being sued by an imprisoned Saudi subject for Poland’s collaboration in the United States of America’s extralegal imprisonment and torture regime.
A mixed bag, as ever.. With any luck however Poland’s renewed confidence and optimism could inspire a more positive and constructive approach in the next European Council summits – rather than the rather reflexive and negative approach we’ve grown used to.
Michel Barnier, French Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, suggested in a speech given on “Europe Day” (9 May of course..) that the offices of President of the European Council and President of the European Commission should be merged. He says this person should ultimately be elected.
This means the jobs currently held by José Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy would be done by one person. I wholeheartedly approve the idea as HVR doesn’t appear to do much, clutters the G20 summits with another European, and it would give the EU a genuine “Mr Europe”. Then Dr. Kissinger might know who to call..
This is the first time such a senior EU official – as opposed to some MEP or think tank – has suggested such a move. Interestingly, for the same person to occupy the two offices would require no treaty change, which means the chances of it happening are more than zero. Similarly, there is no legal obstacle to Center-Right and Socialists having actual Commission President candidates who campaign and win or lose based on the elections to the European Parliament.
EurActiv France and Germany both covered it and I wrote the English version for EurActiv.com. It gives a nice overview of the background and context, if I do say so myself. If you know any Balkan languages, you can also go crazy with the Bulgarian and Romanian translations.
While much of the European media have ignored the announcement, the New York Times got in early on the story, earlier in fact than EurActiv.com and the other specialized EU media! It summarizes well the broader content of the speech. EUobserver emphasized its more alarmist side. England Expects, unsurprisingly, was upset by it.
Barnier is one of the big French names of international politics, the others being Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Pascal Lamy and Jean-Claude Trichet (all perfect capitalists, incidentally..). As such his speech was rather better covered by the French press.
Les Échos sees a “small European revolution” in this as Barnier is openly aiming for what he calls a “Federation of Nation-States” (a neat way of squaring the national primacy vs. federalism circle). Laurent Marchand of Ouest-France waxes lyrical about the speech’s refreshing candor and personal tone (rare for the Commission), as well as the content: pro-democratization and frankly federalist.
Marchand also points out that Barnier even mentions a tax on financial transactions and limitations on bonuses for corporate leaders. The latter is, incidentally, an important issue in French politics at the moment. Here’s to hoping some personalized and democratic politics can makes it way into the Commission..
I began to come to political consciousness in many ways on 11 September 2001. It was, wrongly given all the other ills about, the moment I realized not all was well in the world and one could not live “carelessly” on a planet characterized by infinite, gentle progress. I was 14.
I have never thought the War on Terror was anything but a parochial, Western phenomenon, unimportant except for those who must die in its name. Bush-era officials, asinine conservative hacks, former CIA officials, and neocons in their armchairs of course compared it, and still do, to the Second World War or the Cold War.
While not as entertaining as when explained to cats, the Guardian nonetheless has perhaps the most “authoritative” defense of the alternative vote system. It is signed by Labour shadow business secretary John Denham, Lib Dem energy and climate change secretary Chris Huhne, leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas.
I have long thought the British system – like the American – is thoroughly dysfunctional and undemocratic, robbing much of the electorate of their voice and depriving the government of much-needed legitimacy.
A summary of the article’s arguments, which I think on the whole are rather persuasive:
- “You cannot build a fair society on an unfair politics. Britain consistently votes as a center-left country and yet the Conservatives have dominated our politics for two-thirds of the time since 1900. Only on two occasions in that long century – 1900 and 1931 – have the Tories won a majority of votes.”
- Margaret Thatcher’s “radical” reformist government twice had over 54% of people vote against her but she kept massive majorities. The electoral system, incidentally, had no incentive for her not to completely wreck Scotland and the north.
- The “wasted vote” produces apathy. There is no point being a Conservative in Scotland or the north and no point being a progressive in much of the south. (The same problem is compounded in the United States by state-wide FPTP elections. There is no point voting outside a swing state (and, for that matter, no point being black in a Southern state).
- This artificial polarization is “a recipe not for a parliament that holds up a mirror the nation, so that we can debate and resolve our differences, but one that deepens divisions and resentments.”
- “Back in 1950, [...] 85% of MPs won more than half of the vote in their constituency. Today, two thirds of MPs have more people voting against them than for them.”
- Foreigners: Few new democracies today adopt the British system, Australia adopted AV 80 years ago and New Zealand has adopted the German system. What a lonely “Mother of Parliaments”!
- The Tories oppose AV as the current system gives them overwhelming parliamentary majorities with minority public support.
- The racist British National Party opposes AV as they would be unable to get any majorities under this system. (An interesting, although possibly problematic, feature of AV is indeed being able to “censure” a candidate by all “mainstream” voters ranking him last.)