Category: Eastern Europe (page 1 of 5)

Who owns the Carpathian forests?

It is not often that Romania’s image is associated with positive things. That is why I was nicely surprised to see Transylvania and the Carpathians featured both in the Financial Times (here) and on Travel Channel (video below), all in the last couple of months. What is even more important is that both reports, beyond praising the beauty of the Romanian landscape and its rural life stuck a few centuries ago, warn us about a problem that few are really aware of: the threat to the forest ecosystem in the Carpathian mountains.

The message is clear: the potential is there for great Eco-tourism initiatives, but the priority should be protecting the wild life and the rural life, enforcing a ban on illegal logging (that has been destroying the forests in the last two decades at a scary pace) and starting to value this natural heritage for its uniqueness. There have been many recent initiatives and NGO campaigns lobbying for the preservation of the Carpathian habitat but more often than not these are mostly coming from Western Europe,  from organisations and people passionate about nature and charmed by the purity of the Romanian landscape. What is still missing, in my opinion, is a bit of “sense of ownership” by Romanians in all these plans and projects. And this can only be encouraged by a strong belief in the value of the natural habitat and its need for preservation. It is not enough to admire, one needs to be aware of the broader balance of the regional ecosystem, in which the Carpathian forests play an important part. It takes some effort, but it’s worth it!

Radosław Sikorski on the future of the EU

This week, the Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski (also on twitter: @sikorskiradek) gave an excellent speech on the future of the EU in Berlin. (also a timely reminder that Poland holds the Council Presidency at the moment)

The title “Poland and the Future of the European Union” might not sound very exciting, but don’t be fooled.  Just read it!  I wish more politicians had the courage to give speeches like that. A clever structure, historical references,  plain language and some radical proposals that go beyond the current debate that is dominated by economics.  It is a pro-Europe speech but he comes across as  polite and honest – you get the feeling there is someone who really is trying to develop constructive proposals for the future of the EU.  Or as Charles Crawford noted: “That speech (…) was not by a Polish Foreign Minister. It was by a new European leader” (Update 30/11: hmm, so it turns out that Crawford was consulted by Sikorski before the speech)

The line “I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity” has obviously been making the rounds in Germany and elsewhere. I think he could have avoided the alarmist word ”apocalyptic’ when describing the current crisis but overall this is a speech worth reading. Hopefully other Foreign Ministers and Prime Ministers/Chancellors take note!

EU Commission on Hungarian media law: “Serious doubts”

It was a indeed a “bad start” for the Hungarian presidency of the EU Council:  First the fierce criticism about the media law by the international media (see my #Censorban post here) followed by  a carpet row and last weeks’ MEP protests in the European Parliament. And it is not even February…

In the meantime the European Commission started reviewing the controversial Hungarian media law and it just happened that the official letter of Neelie Kroes has been leaked to the Hungarian daily Népszabadság.

The letter (pdf) can be found here.

In the letter the European Commission asks the Hungarian authorities for “clarifications” on several issues:

  • Obligation of balanced coverage applicable to all audiovisual media services
  • Country of origin principle
  • Registration requirements

It concludes with the statement that “Commission services have serious doubts as to the compatibility of the Hungarian legislation with Union law” . Furthermore, the European Commission “invites the Hungarian government to submit within two weeks observations on how these serious doubts may be addressed ”

A couple of bloggingportal editors will be meeting with some representatives of the Hungarian Council presidency later this week. If you have any questions you would like us to ask – feel free to use the comments below or contact bloggingportal (email, twitter, facebook)!

Romania’s clumsy way to Schengen

Four years after its accession to the EU, Romania is facing its first big test: the accession to the Schengen zone. Part of the accession treaty, but conditioned by the fulfilment of clear technical criteria regarding border management and security, the accession of Romania and Bulgaria was scheduled to take place in March 2011. But, as we all know, the EU seldom functions by written Treaty rules only. Instead, it is all about a perpetual horse-trading, formal and informal negotiations and- not to be neglected- political games. The old Member States know this game all too well and naturally use it to their advantage. The new Member States (and I cant help wondering how much longer we will be calling them “new”, after 7 and respectively 4 years from accession) are still learning. And like in every learning process, some pupils are learning quicker than others.

Unfortunately Romania proves to be one of the slow learners and the way it is handling the Schengen accession issue is a very good illustration. After France and Germany made it clear that they would rather see Romania’s and Bulgaria’s accession postponed to a later date when the two countries will be better prepared, bringing as the strongest argument their still very corrupt justice system, Romania decided to take a strong position. That would be all perfectly justifiable, especially given the fact that technically, it is ready to join the Schengen area, if only Romanian politicians had benefited from the socialisation process in the last four years and had learned how to properly use the rules of the game in their favour. Instead, the messages Romania has been sending in the last days come across as desperate childish attempts to threaten the EU with blocking ongoing processes such as Croatia’s accession (on the pretext that any future Member States should also have a Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), like Romania and Bulgaria do) and the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty amendment allowing for the new 18 MEPs to take their seats in the European Parliament. What Romania is naively trying to achieve with this is to “hurt” France and Germany (although it is Spain that benefits the most from the additional MEPs), but such statements and, even worse, actions fit much better in a kindergarten than in the EU arena.

What Romania is proving in the last days is that:

  1. it has not learned anything in the last four years about how the EU really functions, what are the main institutional players, what is the balance of power and how can one best influence the decision-making process; and here I mostly refer to the informal mechanisms, the things one learns by doing, the product of the so called “socialisation process”, although I still have doubts about how clear the formal mechanisms are to Romanian politicians, and the latest developments are only reinforcing these doubts;
  2. it lacks a coherent strategy to reach the goal of Schengen accession; after the EU accession process was completed, the various political forces in Romania have not been able to work together to create a constructive position for Romania to assume at the EU level; instead, contradictory messages from Romanian officials kept reaching Brussels, each one defending its domestic political position, without even realising the harm they do to Romania’s image and interest. In a sense, one can say that all these inconsistencies and the lack of a clear official stance fueled the arguments against the March 2011 accession. Romania has thus shot itself in the foot, thanks to the messy internal political scene but also to the ignorance (and lack of interest) regarding the functioning of the EU and the role Romania can and should be playing in it;
  3. its officials lack tact and diplomatic skills; not that this is any news, but this situations proves once more the inability of Romanian politicians and diplomats to, first of all, prevent such incidents from occurring and, secondly, once they’ve occurred, to try to suggest reasonable solutions or at the very least (and I am really lowering my expectations here!) refrain from making ridiculous statements. Not only was it bad enough that the Foreign Minister said that Romania can, and probably should, unilaterally withdraw from the CVM, President Basescu suggested yesterday, while assuming his responsibility for the possible postponing of Schengen accession, that in case Romania is not offered a clear and definite deadline to join Schengen, the funds that were meant to be used for securing the borders should be used for other purposes, such as helping SMEs. No comment.

While, on the one hand, it does not seem fair that new conditions are added while the process is ongoing (the criteria are, after all, just of a technical nature, although, in principle, one can easily link corruption with border security), Romania should have been prepared for such a situation and should have come up with a lobbying strategy for the major EU capitals instead of the lame attempts to blackmail the big Member States with issues that can, at best, only backfire and hurt the country’s image in the EU. Unfortunately, this is just an example of Romania’s negotiation “skills” (or lack thereof) in the EU arena; if this trend continues, Romania can forget about ever exerting any influence (despite its size) in the decision-making process. The first lesson it needs to learn is how to use the power of informal mechanisms in its favour instead of falling victim to it, like in the Schengen accession story.

Update 7/1/2011:  According to EUobserver, Romania’s president Basescu announced that Romania would not take any of the proposed retaliatory measures (see above) because they could “backfire against Romania”. But Basescu  also complained about the lack of solidarity: “It was overnight and without a warning. I would have expected that one of my colleagues in the Council – either Mr Sarkozy or Ms Merkel – to say ‘look, Mr President, we will be against it.’ But they didn’t and you know that normally in the Council there is talk about solidarity.” Be that as it may, early warning  is also the task of the Romanian diplomats in Brussels…

Budapest, we have a problem: #Censorbán

And it is a major problem:  Hungary’s new media law.

Bloggingportal.eu launched a European Blog Action against Censorship in Hungary and also provides a good round-up of reactions and some background documents (just go through the comment thread!)

I don’t want to repeat the points that were made elsewhere. It is never a good idea to pass a law that can be used (even if nobody wants to use it in a specific way) to increase political control over the press. Even the slightest possibility of a a problematic legal clause needs to be addressed. Press and media freedom are too important for democracy in Europe. Simple as that.

cc by-nc-saAs you know Hungary will take over the Council Presidency of the EU in January 2011. And there is even a new blog by the HU presidency.  So feel free to voice your concern about the new law. Obviously they are not amused about the critical reactions and claim that the Council Presidency has nothing to do with Hungarian politics. But the new media law seems  such a major problem that I think it is a legitimate thing to do.  And anyway, the Council Presidency is organised by the Hungarian government… It would be a major embarrassment if the Council presidency was overshadowed by the media law…

So let’s take a picture of Viktor Orbán and transform him into Viktor #Censorbán  (yes it is inspired by  schäublone, #zensursula & #censilia). Basically it is a wordplay of Viktor Orban and Censorship. In other languages one could use Zensorban or Cenzorbana… the idea is quite flexible. Feel free to use, remix and share the picture (cc by-nc-sa).  As you will notice, I am not a professional photoshop/gimp user and I did not have a good picture of Orban in the first place. So any quality improvements are much appreciated. Not sure whether this also makes sense in Hungarian as I do not speak the language. (so if you speak Hungarian leave a comment with improvements!) I know that it should rather read “Censorban Viktor” but well, let’s say it is designed for an international audience.

But there are a couple of things that we should think about in more detail:

First of all: It seems to me that media freedom and internet freedom are increasingly attacked by democratic governments around the world and Europe is following the trend. There are two principal strategies:

Option No 1:  A government wants more control over the press or the internet. It is interesting to think about why this happens more frequently ( – and not understanding the internet is a big part of it)  Usually it is framed as a security problem: “We need to know more about terrorist networks” or it is about the children: “We have to protect our children” .  It can also be the  result of intense industry lobbying to “protect customers and offer a better product” or it is connected to copyright issues.  All these claims are very difficult to challenge in any campaign. (but it is not impossible!) Just think about the French internet blocking law, a couple of German internet laws (from “zensursula” to “JMStV”) or even international negotiations that include internet related articles such as ACTA. The debate on net neutrality can also be cited in this context. But the Hungarian law seems to go one step further as it us  includes all types of media plus a governmental media watch dog…

Option No 2:  A toxic combination of private and public interests mixed with strange business models, corruption and media monopolies. For example Murdoch in the UK, Berlusconi in Italy or the general level of corruption in Bulgaria that also affects the media. This is usually a gradual but equally dangerous process. (but also a topic for another blog post…)

The main question for the EU:  What to do with those countries? The accession process is a straight forward process: Copenhagen criteria and conditionality prevent countries to adopt certain laws.  However, once a country joined the EU there are not many possibilities to interfere with laws that might not be in the “spirit of the EU”. Italy or France can get away with laws that would not be allowed under a strict accession regime. And it is similar in the case of Hungary.  So what could be done? Ignoring certain people  in Council meetings (it did not work with Austria), reduce or stop payments of the cohesion funds/CAP or a suspension of voting rights in the Council? To impose a supervisory mechanism (mixed results in Romania and Bulgaria)?  I am not convinced any of this would have an effect. But  do we really need a new legal tool regarding fundamental freedoms?

The main question for the blogosphere: How to campaign against the various laws and legal practices that restrict press freedom  (not only Hungary)? Media freedom in other (European) countries  should be of concern for the (European) blogoshphere(s).  So the question is whether this topic could potentially become a pan-European topic?  There have been great blogging campaigns in Germany and France relating to press and internet freedom. We need to learn from successful campaigns in other EU countries and replicate the most efficient tools. And especially for  smaller countries  support from the rest of the EU might be crucial to run effective campaigns. In fact, it is one of the few topics that resonate with all national (political) blogospheres in Europe -  which is not a surprise as every blogger can identify with the potential problems of a proposed law.

So what should be done with the Hungarian media law? Let’s  keep the topic on the agenda, use the Council presidency to get  EU wide media coverage – and embarrass the Hungarian government.

Update 27/12: Now you  can also follow @censorban on twitter…

Update 30/12: SME Dennik, one of the biggest daily newspapers in Slovakia, mentions the bloggingportal campaign alongside the Censorban pic (although attributed to bloggingportal.eu which is not a problem – but a factual mistake) Anyway, the article can be found in the print (e-paper) and online version of the paper!

EU rural development and ‘semi-literate farmers’

An ambitious policy: “The EU’s rural development policy is all about meeting the challenges faced by our rural areas, and unlocking their potential.”

Especially the ‘new’ EU member states hoped to benefit from these funding programmes after joining the EU.

Here is Alina Mungiu Pippidi‘s ‘Romanian reality check’ taken from her forthcoming book “A tale of two villages“:

… nobody seems competent enough to fill in one of those complex application forms with many rubrics, seemingly designed to exclude the semi-literate farmers of the underdeveloped, rural areas for which those programme were in fact intended.

via Book of the Week: Book of the Week | The Economist.

Blogging elsewhere

Just to let you know that I opened a new Kosmopolito ‘presence’ on Ideas on Europe.  (yes, it is that platform I wrote about a few weeks ago). I haven’t really decided about my blogging strategy over there. Most of you know that I am working on a PhD in EU politics and I think Ideas on Europe (which is supported by UACES) could develop into an interesting arena for academic networking and exchange – so I decided to give it a try!

I will be blogging here and there – but without too much cross-posting (ok, once in a while I might post the link to a new post here). But, don’t worry: I will not close down kosmopolito.org.

My first post on ‘Ideas on Europe’  is a blogging introduction for academics. I thought it as a first post in a little series that aims at convincing  (and teaching) academics how to blog. If you have any ideas what I should cover next time, let me know in the comments!

Who will be the next Romanian Commissioner?

As the (rather temporary) buzz around the EP elections started to diminish, the next big question is popping up in various circles, from political parties headquarters to newspapers and blogs (see the concerted blog action here, here and here): who will be each country’s nominee for the Commissioner position?

With the institutional framework governing the next Commission not clearly defined and dependent on rather uncontrollable factors (i.e. the second Irish referendum scheduled for the autumn), the various names and portofolios are rather speculations. However, they tend to indicate the “mood” in different countries and offer a preview of the negotiation process that will start after the Commisssion President will probably be nominated later today at the European Council.

The debate regarding the next Romanian Commissioners, though not yet very visible in the media, has been taken up by the researchers at the Romanian Centre for European Policies (CRPE), who issued a report entitled: “Romania at the European Council on 18-19 June. Grades for the Romanian “Commissioners” “ The first part of the document is a very good overview of the most important institutional aspects linked to the the new Commission (including the current debates on how many Commissioners there will be and how is the Commission President elected). I find it a very commendable effort to explain all these rather complex issues to the greater public, an initiative that should perhaps be replicated in the media and by other actors.

The second part of the report makes some recommendations as to what position Romania should adopt at the European Council on 18-19 June and, more important, evaluates some of the possible candidates for the Romanian Commissioner position and the likeliness to get some portofolios of interest. The nine possible candidates (including names such as Monica Macovei, former Justice Minister and newly elected MEP, MEPs such as Adrian Severin and Theodor Stolojan, former Romanian Permanent Representative to the EU Lazar Comanescu and current commissioner Leonard Orban) are assessed according to five criteria: experience with EU affairs, CV (competence), political support, integrity and professional authority. The portofolios that Romania might be aiming at are agriculture, energy, transport, regional policy and enlargement, each assessed with medium or small chances of success. Makes me wonder what portofolio does Romania have real chances of getting, as all the ones mentioned above seems to come straight from a wish-list.

While offering a very straight-forward and well-argumented overview of all possibilities, the report fails to come up with a final conclusion and an over-all assessment, linking the possible candidates with likely (matching) portofolios. The task would, indeed, be rather speculative, since there is still a heated debate inside the governing coallition (PDL-PSD) as to which party should nominate the future Commissioner.

lazarcomanescu

Nevertheless, if Romania (still) wants to have a chance in getting a decent portofolio (as oposed to an invented one, like it is currently the case), it should come up as soon as possible with a credible personality with strong expertise in a specific policy field. This will be hard, since political support is, clearly, the vital criterion among the five mentioen above. The more likeley outcome is (like in many other cases, isn’t it?) a compromise candidate, and my guess is that Lazar Comanescu, former Permanent Representative of Romania to the EU might just pass that test. It will be interesting to watch the power play in the run-up to the nomination.

Civil society reacts on crisis in Moldova

A number of well known Moldovan civil society leaders issued a statement on the crisis: Declaration regarding the escalating social and political situation in Moldova after the parliamentary elections of April 5, 2009 (pdf)

The German Marshall Fund  of the United States (GMF) also published a ‘Moldovan NGO statement’: A Sustainable Solution to Political Crisis in Moldova Due to security concerns, the organisations behind it are not named.

One of the worrying developments in Moldova seems to be the deteriorating situation for journalists. Reporters without Borders “is very disturbed that the Moldovan authorities have been arresting journalists and even using violence against them.

According to Nicu Popescu, several cyber attacks were carried out against Moldovan news sites. He also reports about FT and BBC journalists that were not allowed to enter the country.

Moldova: “Revolution, here we come!” Or Consequences !?! (part 4)

Written by Guest blogger Dorina in Chisinau -  Read more here:  part 1 , part 2 & part 3!

On April 8 2009, people knew that the evening before it was said that the protests will continue and that meeting hour was 10 AM in PMAN (the National Square, in front of the Government building). That morning I was crossing the Stefan cel Mare boulevard, through the National Square and by the Government building. The “Scut” forces were already there around the building. I was following www.unimedia.info and www.curaj.net where events were posted almost every hour about what was going on. At lunch time we went to PMAN to see for ourselves what was going on. It was around 1,000 or maybe 2,000 people that were standing in the sun, cheering same old “Down with the communists!” but for people passing by it was not clear what was the message of the people speaking in the megaphone, the leader was also not clearly identified.

But I randomly ran into some students that were yesterday protesting in front of the parliament and who were willing to share their story. According to them, they were peacefully protesting in front of the Parliament, but mainly directed to the Presidency (as in facing the Presidency) when at one point, around maybe 200 “Scut” forces got out of the Parliament building through the front door and started marching towards the crowd, beating young people with their bats while these were running away. At a certain moment some from the crowd started screaming “look it’s only a couple of them, but it’s more of us, let’s press them!” And then it all started and from the crowd rocks started to fly towards the policemen.
After talking to them we went to see what is going on in front of the Presidency – it was guarded by same “Scut” forces, while people were cleaning the mess left from the previous day. In front of the Parliament was no one, and people were sitting around on the grass as if they were on a Sunday picnic, eating popcorn, drinking water/juice/cola/fanta/sprite and talking (I overheard some regular conversations – about the nice weather, about some boyfriend/girlfriend problems, personal financial issues etc.).

It was around 4PM that I could read on the net and here people that were coming from PMAN that there were provocateurs among protestors, that now the popular cheers are “No violence!” and “Come back!” to the advancing crowd approaching the “Scut” forces standing close to the Government. Around 6.30 PM I was going downtown, walking on Puschin street that intersects PNAM on Stefan cel Mare and I get surprised when I see that the crowd is already standing front in front with “Scut” and it was clear that altercations are about to start. Exactly on the corner of the Puschin street these altercations started between some protesters (or maybe some provocateurs) and “Scut” forces. At one point it seems like a small fight and people start running away and I here later that 2 people got arrested. As I was not alone, we decide to take a walk around the building and check what’s up? Well, nothing was up, until at the back door of the Government we notice a group of around 5 “Scut” and 8 or maybe 10 civilians discussing very friendly and talking – who were they? Of course we don’t know we can only make assumptions… Someone tells me that apparently secret services cars were noticed behind the building having both Moldovan and transnistrian separatist region registration numbers.
Check it out:

So, in front are the Moldovan ones, behind are the separatist one; the driver gets questioned about the numbers – and he says he does not know.
I get a phone call from my parents being preoccupied for my safety as they heard on the news that Voronin (Moldova’s president) allowed force to be applied to the protesters and the police can open fire if the protesters go crazy, besides this the Romanian Ambassador to Moldova was declared persona non-grata and starting with April 9th a visa regime for Romanian citizens will enter into force.

The altercations at the corner of the Government building cool off. Later around 7-8 PM an interesting scenario could be observed: the peaceful protesters were standing in front of the Arch and the provocateurs were standing on the stairs that lead to the main entrance of the Government building screaming “Down with the communists” and “We are not leaving”; a couple of meters further the crowd is screaming “No violence!” and “Freedom”. Besides this, one young men was walking with the megaphone through the crowd saying “Do not let yourself provoked. Be careful! We are protesting peacefully! Do not use violence! Do not let yourself be provoked!” If one would pay attention at the 2 crowd – the bigger peaceful one (around 1,500 people) and the smaller one (around 100-200 people) one could tell a light difference – people standing in front of “Scut” were young, well build men, with black jackets (most of them) and have their face covered with a bandana or wearing sun glasses and holding bottles from mineral water with rocks in it that helped them make noise. The others did not have their face covered; no sunglasses and boys/men did not have their heads shaved, but were having a short haircut (if such was the case).

Other events/facts going on yesterday, updated today:

1. A video how a policeman is breaking rocks just behind the Presidency went online on www.jurnaltv.md. The video was made from the high-school just behind the building of the Presidency

2. A lot of people could not access facebook when they got home and they had to change their proxies.

3. Police were taking people off the streets behind the Government building:

What happens in this video is the following – protesters in front of the building heard that behind the building police dressed in civilians is randomly taking kids/youth and arrest them, but firstly beating them. SO the crowd goes with questions and they do not get answers and in the middle of this video you can see civilians beating other civilians and carrying them towards the Government building to the police. At the very end of the video one of them, also dressed in civilian comes holding a bat in his hand saying run away from here, go tape in front of the building and the cameraman asked “why should I run? Are you going to hit me?”

4. Thanks to the photographer Ion Grosu, I could find out about a lady who was showing he ID with 2 stamps “voted” on it with the date of 05.04.2009, Election Day. This stamp receives each citizen before voting; when she asked why does she has 2 of them she was screamed at and told to mind her own business. She also said that she saw the name of people she knew were dead on the election list. See the photos here.

5. The cameraman from JurnalTV, last night, around 10 PM was beaten. Oleg Brega received a phone call saying that behind the Government building young people were beaten by almost 20 men dressed in civilians, when he got there and started taping, the men stopped when noticing him and said “stop!Wwe are being taped”. Right after this, around 4-5 men, 2 dressed as police officers and the others as civilians put him to the ground asking why is he taping and when he identified himself as cameraman and someone recognized his voice he was severely beaten Oleg, the cameramen of www.jurnaltv.md , did not get severely injured but he got several contusions. You can watch the interview with him here (it’s in Romanian, but the short version of what he is saying is written at p.5):

6. At the Emergency, the cameraman from www.publictv.md was sharing his experience of being beaten by police. Some provocateurs approached him and said “let’s go as police are beating ours” (ours to be understood as protesters). The boy went with the provocateurs and was saying “no violence!” but then he understood that these were policemen dressed in civilian who have bitten him severely, got him into a car, drove around the capital, at some point changed the car registration numbers from police registration numbers to regular ones. When they got to the police station he got bitten again “They are mocking us! They treat us like dogs! All the time they were hitting me I kept praying to God! At one point I fainted and one of them gave me water!” At some point the policemen concluded to set him free and he was followed on his way to the hospital. “When I got here and I saw one of the policemen entering the room in the hospital where I was, I got scared and I started screaming to get him out of here!”. The young men’s name is Octavian and you can watch him talking here.

7. Tonight when I got home I checked the internet again to find this video and the comment below this video says: “it is said that the provocateurs that started to throw rocks into the buildings of the Presidency and the Parliament came equipped from home, each carrying a backpack. From the images one can well see that one of those wearing a backpack goes up the stairs of the Presidency in a hurry while others keep standing (please remember in one of the previous notes I was mentioning how the crowd made a corridor so that the “Scut” could go out, so that is the corridor this guy is going up to the Presidency). What was the hurry of this young man? We later see him protesting in the crowd. Even though we cannot see very clearly his face, one can tell by other indicators that it is one and the same person. Eventually, we see him on the top of the Presidency, on the roof carrying the EU flag”.

8. Today most of us had issues with accessing facebook for half of the day, now in the evening we cannot access www.unimedia.info and www.curaj.net from where we check hourly updates.

What will April 10th bring?

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