Monday, 14 November 2016

Turkey and the EU: one step closer... to Tuxit?

Inspired by Trump's victory and Brexit, Turkey's president Tayyip Erdogan proposed to hold a referendum on EU accession in 2017.

The Council of the EU, represented by all the EU countries' foreign affairs Ministers, discussed the situation in Turkey on Monday 14 November.

Istanbul: to EU or not to EU? (c)
This follows the publication of the so-called 'progress report' on Turkey a few days earlier, reporting how Turkey evolves as an country applying to become member of the EU.

It isn't the first time the Turkish president criticised the EU - and it won't be the last time. Seeing the political opportunity amidst increasing Euroscepticism, might just not be working for Turkey.

At the end of 2015, 56% of surveyed Turks thought they would benefit from EU membership, against 30% who don't. It is lower than about a decade earlier (63 - 27), but still not in Erdogan's favour.

Still, the EU isn't going to pace up with the progress reports' phrases like: 'Corruption (...) remains a serious problem', 'high numbers of arrests of journalists', or 'efforts continued at a limited pace'.

The country with the 5th most jailed journalists (before the coup!) will have to work more to respect the rule of law, adopt all EU legislation and normalise relationships with Cyprus. And that's entirely up to Turkey, referendum or not.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

No story, no votes

Do you know Donald Trump's slogan? Sure you do. Do you know Hillary Clinton's slogan? (silence)... And that's why Trump won. Without a story, no votes to win. Just because Clinton is a woman, that doesn't entitle her to anything.

Sure, Trump bashed the establishment. And 'the establishment', by the voice of Clinton, doesn't know how to bash an outsider, especially a reckless, insulting person that broke every rule an aspiring president shouldn't. But the establishment will be back in just a few sentences.

A story we've already heard in the Brexit campaign. Why bother using rational arguments in an irrational debate? Again, 'the establishment' was defeated. As in the US elections, the polls were wrong: people reply in polls in a socially acceptable way. They feel ashamed they choose the irrational vote. But in the end, no one's asking who they're voting for when they're at the ballot.

But the establishment is back in the Brexit. Judges in the United Kingdom ruled Parliament should vote on the Brexit - strange a Prime Minister is scared of her own Parliament, isn't it supposed to represent the people?

Also, it took the Prime Minister over 3 months to decide when exactly the procedure to leave the EU would start. In the first quarter of 2017. 6 months is an eternity in politics - who knows what will happen by then.

Regarding Trump, he'll have to deal with Congress and his own Republican party to get bills passed. Something Trump has about 0 clue how that has to happen, but that might be an advantage. Trump will have to hold press conferences and meetings - with Latin American leaders as well as females.

Trump will have a whole number of advisors with plenty of 'establishment' experience. Trump will have to deal with administrators from every US administration. In other words, Trump will be confronted with establishment about every day. Difficult not to become part of establishment.

A little Belgian story: a rather anti-establishment political party of whose prime goal is the independence of Flanders, has been in the federal government for years. Not one step closer to independence, but much more part of the establishment. Will the same happen to Trump?

Even if we don't know the answer, we can list his name between Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and George Washington.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Avoiding taxes: Belgium or EU?

What happens in the European Union, stays in the EU. Quite too often national press ignores what comes from 'Europe', forgetting the measures in 'Brussels' are national news.

A curious case of Belgian press coverage was made by the Socialist party leader Mr Crombez, currently in the opposition. In a TV debate with his Liberal counterpart Ms Rutten, he questioned the liberal-supported government's position in the Council of the EU. Belgian Finance Minister Mr Van Overtveldt helped to delay the start of the so-called anti-tax avoidance directive. The directive aims to curb tax avoidance schemes, mainly used by multinationals. This way, big companies will still be able to continue their schemes a little while longer.
Belgium (right): still some taxes to avoid? © the European Union

While Mr Crombez exaggerated his plea (international press didn't focus on Belgium's leading role), it's a recurring issue. Ministers tend to defend more vigorously unpopular positions in Brussels, knowing the national press wouldn't follow their actions. Either because no one follows EU affairs, or because journalists feel issues are too technical to invest resources in.

On top of the lack of interest (or understanding) of the national press, the case uncovers a larger problem. The Council has, despite a modern website, a transparency issue. It's very difficult to understand which country adopts which position (for example, there's no way to know the Belgian position on the case above). This results in an alienation of EU citizens towards the European Union.

The EU's democratic model rests on many pillars to legitimise its actions: the European Parliament is chosen the citizens, the European Council consists of the EU's elected leaders, the Commission is composed of candidates of elected EU governments and the Council of Ministers of elected governments.

The sooner EU citizens understand their representatives shape EU policies, the better. So in the end, we need more politicians like Mr Crombez to put our governments' positions under scrutiny.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Lectures on the United Kingdom and the European Union

The European Union and the United Kingdom share a special relationship. Sometimes isolationist, sometimes interventionist, the Brits have a very ambiguous stance on the European Union. Recently, the brexit and bremain views opposed each other in the referendum on the EU. Find out more about the relationship in these two lectures.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Referendums: a good idea?

Referendums, like the one in the United Kingdom on 23 June 2016 about EU membership. Some see it as a miracle solution to connect (or reconnect) citizens with politics. By having more to say, they'll be motivated again for the political game. Or so goes the argument.

For the European Union, this may be a strong argument to hold referendums. The EU is sometimes seen as very distant from its citizens. So here's your miracle cure for saving democracy. Or not. In referendums, you get the wrong answers to the wrong questions.

Take the Dutch referendum on the association treaty with Ukraine. As some opinion leaders claimed, most of the Dutch didn't even know where Ukraine is on a world map. Let alone they read the over 300 pages of the document. Why ask the Dutch in a referendum about a trade treaty with a country thousands of miles away?

Referenda: a good idea? ©
A quick look on the comments on a website explaining the treaty shows that many persons didn't bother to inform further. One person commented to vote against as long as the government couldn't explain the treaty. Actually, he/she could have found a clear explanation on the government's website.

So instead of judging the treaty on its merits or its shortcomings, the 61% who voted against didn't vote against the treaty. They voted against the establishment, the EU, the government, or maybe just because they had a bad mood. They also voted against the incapacity of politicians to judge whether there should be a referendum or not.

However, that does not apply to the UK referendum: there's a clear question and clear answers. Still, people might just vote against, just because they don't like the UK's government. Or because they don't like politicians.

Switzerland took another approach: in addition to voting for the Federal Assembly (that's the parliament), about 4 times a year, referenda are held. In these referenda, they receive an explanation of the law, a choice (yes or no) and an advice of the government. This way, citizens inform themselves before voting. There's even a possibility to block new laws by collecting 50 000 signatures, and holding a referendum on the new law. Isn't that a better way?

Friday, 20 May 2016

Brexit: stars back European Union membership

250 actors, musicians and other cultural leaders of the United Kingdom urged the Brits to vote for membership to the European Union in the upcoming referendum. In an open letter published on 20 May 2016, they argue it's better to stay in than out: 'let's not become an outsider shouting from the wings'.

My question is: maybe that's exactly what they want: to be an outsider shouting from the wings?

Visit Hadrian's wall protecting the Roman Empire ©
It's important to understand where the Euroscepticism comes from. Deeply rooted in history, the Brits have always been afraid of one big power on the European mainland. The Roman empire is just one of the examples in the UK's history, resulting in a wall quite high up north to protect the empire from invaders. Some remnants can still be visited.

More recently, Napoleon, Hitler and perhaps Stalin have tried to conquer Europe to install one powerful superstate. The Brits have fought Napoleon and Hitler (Boris Johnson?) and won, through hard times, endless battles and countless casualties. Since than, the UK's foreign policy alternated different views: either divide the states of Europe, or isolate itself from the mainland.

One can easily make the comparison. Today, the Brits are fighting the ever more powerful superstate. They couldn't divide it enough from within (support to Turkey's EU accession is just one of the methods) so now it's time to isolate itself from the EU.

So for the supporters of Britain in the EU, namely Britain Stronger in Europe, I'd argue it's better not to warn their compatriots that they'll be outsiders. That's exactly what they want.

I think it's better to point out the world's challenges: Russia's aggressive stance in Ukraine, Turkey's concentration of power, and all the turmoil in Northern Africa. These arguments may be more convincing.

More information: interesting article from the Guardian and an analysis of the pro-EU Economist.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The EU countries' economic health barometers

How do you know if a country of the European Union is doing well economically or not? While economists can debate this issue for hours and hours, there's a quite simple way to find out. Via the so-called 'long-term interest rates' of the European Central Bank.

That's quite a mouthful. The European Central Bank is a bank, in the hands of the government. It mangages the Euro, in just a few words. For example, it can allow Belgium to print some Euro's. The ECB's first goal is to make sure that prices for EU goods like spinach, cell phones and tables don't go up too quickly. And not down, otherwise no one would buy them anymore, expecting the prices to go even more down. Actually, the goal is close to 2 percent increase of the general prices per year. Read more about the ECB here.

As part of their duties, the ECB collects data. It does so for the long-term interest rates of government bonds. Lots of difficult words there. Government bonds are loans the government takes. Some of the bonds anyone can buy. Mostly it's big organisations like pension funds who want to buy these bonds. So they know or at least think their money is safe. In return, they receive the money they loaned plus some interest. And an interest rate, is the rate at which the money was loaned.

Let's illustrate it: Belgium wants to spend 100 Euro for buying some fighter planes. So, they check: who wants to give them a loan? I say: me, of course! I feel like Belgium always pays their debts. I conclude the deal, Belgium gets a 1-year loan and will pay me back 102 Euro in a year. So the bond is from Belgium, the interest rate is 2% and the interest is 2 Euro.

Well, that's a little simple, but it's basically it. Now, long-term interest rates are those for bonds of around 10 years. So those who loan money will wait for about 10 years to see their money back. Of course, they will only give their money to states that don't go bankrupt. And the more they think the country will go bankrupt, the higher the interest rate.

Let's take the fighter planes again: I (and many others) think Belgium won't be able to repay the 100 Euro, for a period of 10 years. If I think that Belgium will go bankrupt in 5 years, I can give them a loan with 25% interest rate. So after 5 years, I get 125 Euro back. That's 25 Euro interest every year, times 5, is 125.

Conclusion: the higher the interest rate, the worse the governments' ability to repay their debts. The ECB collects monthly interest rates. There, you can easily see in the figures in the table who can get cheaply loans, and who doesn't. So it's a way to tell if an EU country is doing well or not. Germany usually has the lowest rates.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

European Union Defense policy: state of play and future

(c) AdR
How did the European Union's defence policy evolve in the past 10 years? And how is it going to evolve? A difficult question the EU is facing nowadays, in times of turmoil in the Middle East and increasing tensions with Russia over Ukraine.

EU Defence expert Daniel Keohane answers these questions in this lecture.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Trusting the EU's financial markets and institutions

Recently, the EU was hit by a major financial crisis, which became an economic crisis and eventually a debt and a social crisis. 4 for the price of one, however as usual during crises not many people like the aspect of losing their investments, savings and jobs. And has anyone seen a banker thrown in jail for his/her part in the crisis?

Time to have a debate on how to restore trust in the EU's financial institutions - the ECB being the most important one. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, some important people discussed this very topic earlier in 2016.

Some like to see Iceland as an example: unemployment is low, the debt to GDP ratio already started to fall in 2012, there's a very narrow budget deficit and a number of bankers put in jail. However, many hard-working Europeans never saw their savings back... Which was not the case for Greece. Making you wonder whether Iceland could have refused to pay the savings if it was in the EU.

European Union countries - list

Which countries are part of the European Union? Good question. If a country decides to become part of the European Union, it needs to have the agreement of the EU nowadays. Than, it becomes what they call a 'member state', which is the EU's difficult language for 'EU country'. So here's a map to see the expansion throughout time:

EC-EU-enlargement animation
This map is made by Kolja21 with this license.

Actually, European integration began before 1957. In 1951, the six 'founding members' started the European Coal and Steel Community. Basically, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Luxembourg and Germany decided 'let's work together on coal and steel!'. The plan was to prevent Germany from arming itself again by creating a common market for coal and steel, which are necessary for producing weapons.

Fun fact: Algeria was part of the European club once, since it wasn't independent yet. You can see it's still part of France in 1957.

The first expansion occurred in 1973, when the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland joined. By then, the name had changed into European Communities. Greenland was still part of Denmark at that time, you can see it on the map. In 1981, Greece joined the club, but blocked the accession of Spain and Portugal until 1986.

In 1990 Germany became one, and the Eastern part of Germany got membership as an extra. Two years later, the name changed again in European Union, which Austria, Sweden and Finland joined in 1995. 9 years later, a very large number of new Member States at the East of the EU were welcomed: the Baltic states Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia; Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary. 2 islands were joined at the same time: Cyprus and Malta.

In 2007, Bulgaria and Romania joined as well as Croatia in 2013. Which adds up to 28 Member States.

You may wonder: who's next? There's a few official candidates: Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. Bosnia-Herzegovina has applied, but is not an official candidate, meaning the procedure was started to become part of the EU. Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are countries that do not want to be part of the EU. Read more about the candidates here.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

EU jobs - employment in the European Union

Fancy a career in the European Union's institutions? There's many advantages: rewarding environment, multicultural teams, interesting pay, important work among many others.

Why not start with a traineeship? Especially for the younger workers, it is a great way to get to know the environment of the European Union. Those traineeships are typically 5 months, and offer you many insights an outsider doesn't have. Furthermore, you get a salary, although not impressive, and it looks great on a cv. Make sure to ask for a cover letter at the end of the traineeship! Tip: check out the websites of the EU agencies to see if they have traineeships available. Some of them do. You can also contact individual Members of the European Parliament to ask for a traineeship in a domain you're interested in.

If you already have some work experience, it may be good to work as an interim. As of 2016, the Commission works with a few interim agencies. Another way to get work as an interim all around Europe is to call the interim agencies around the EU agencies to see if they have contracts available. They're usually not being advertised, so with a few phone calls you can find out easily.

Some specialised vacancies can be found here. For example for EU experts, Junior Professionals in Delegations and freelance linguists. It's important to check these vacancies regularly, because they change a lot.

The central point to apply for open competitions is EPSO. You'll find vacancies for permanent contracts which are very, very competitive. So it might be like winning the lottery to get through that application process. It's much easier if you have already some EU experience, as an interim or trainee. Also check out the job opportunities. These change as well a lot.

For many more jobs and other websites, check out Eurodatum. Euractiv and Eurobrussels (subscribe to the job mail) are references, but as with any reference, they're highly competitive.

European Union's threats: lecture by Prime Minister Gonzalez

What are the European Union's biggest security threats? Is it the radicalisation of young persons, led by hatred? Or is Russia's assertive behaviour in Ukraine the principal worry? Tough question. Another option is the instability in the Middle East.

An interesting lecture on this topic by Felipe Gonz├ílez, the longest-serving Prime Minister of Spain and chairman of the European Union’s independent Reflection Group, which was established to help the Union anticipate and meet long-term challenges.

Referenda in the EU: debate

Interesting lecture on referenda in the European Union. What do they change? And what's the Irish experience with their referenda, that the British could take in the upcoming referendum? These are some of the topics discussed in the lecture held at Queen's University in Belfast, presided by Lee McGowan.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Greece-European Union: economics lecture

Lecture with economics professor and Syriza advisor James K. Galbraith.

The view from someone working for the Syriza government. The elections' results were due to the social crisis together with the dismantling of the Greek state. The harsh measures of the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission led to a lot of despair.

However, one question remains: what's the alternative? Who's going to pay the debt? Here's the professor's view on the issue:

"The Greek government, elected in January 2015, tried for five months to obtain policy changes through negotiations with creditors. They decided to enact counter-productive and socially destructive policies under existing contracts and the Eurosystem. The intense negotiations conducted were unsuccessful and resulted ultimately in July in a surrender. Greece has become the laboratory for liquidation and expropriation.

The conclusion should be that left-wing governments in small EU countries, although it cannot be prevented, are not able to enforce a policy change. This is, however, not simple, to resign the voters in Portugal. And again it shows: tensions remain between the creditor-debtor regions and regions and they will deepen the instability of the euro zone. The search for alternatives and concrete ways out does not end with the implementation of austerity policies towards Greece."

James K. Galbraith has in common with his friend Yanis Varoufakis and Stuart Holland Scripture written "A Modest Proposal to solve the euro crisis" and thus the later Syriza government given a conceptual basis in the hand.

He is known for his numerous publications, in particular to inequality and received in 2014 for his services to economics Leontief Prize. James Galbraith (b. 1952) is a professor at the Faculty of Public Affairs at the University of Texas' LBJ "in Austin.

Event Website:

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

EU-US relations: legal issues lecture

The European Union and the United States of America have many common issues: they rely heavily on trading, share the same roots, and have similar political systems.

See the interesting and lively lecture of someone who had first-hand experience in those relationships. Brussels has changed, he said, and the issues of when he started as a trainee, are very different now.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Is the Euro the Cancer of the European Union? Lecture with Heisbourg, Boot and Frits Bolkestein

Live stream recording - Wednesday 21 may 2014 - in English
"Sacrifice the euro to save the EU. The euro has become the cancer of the European Union, we have to cut it out" - Francois Heisbourg (International Institute for Strategic Studies - IISS)
Debate with Arnoud Boot (University of Amsterdam)
Moderated by Frits Bolkestein (retired dutch politician, ex-party leader of VVD, ex-Minister of Defence)

About the euro in order to save the EU. The euro has become the cancer of the EU, we have to cut out, 'says Fran├žois Heisbourg in NRC Handelsblad. Heisbourg is president of the leading international think-tank in London International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), socialist, convinced pro-European, diplomat and professor. Heisbourg, adviser to many politicians, is in favor of a federal Europe but sees an increasing threat to the euro. He wants the currency still prefer abolition before the elections in May.
The euro can only operate according to the Frenchman in a kind of European state with a sort of Ministry of Finance. That there is not, and it comes in his time being either. According Heisbourg the stability of the euro can not do without European taxation, a European social safety net, pension and health care center. But the citizens do not want it. Heisbourg: "Then you must have the courage to say this leads nowhere, let's stop it."
On the eve of the European elections keeps Heisbourg in De Balie a lecture at the invitation of the Foundation "Reality In Perspective". He will speak on the economic and monetary union and - by extension - of the European Union.
After his lecture Heisbourg will discuss with economist Arnoud Boot, professor of opinion among finance and financial markets at the UvA. The evening will be moderated by Frits Bolkestein.

More information on:

European Union: superpower of the 21st century? Presentation by Andrew Moravcsik

More information on: