Category: EU politics (page 1 of 18)

The European Interest

I’ve just launched “the european interest” (@EUinterest on twitter) – a new weekly EU politics newsletter featuring a (hopefully) eclectic mix of EU analysis . ‘the european interest’ is about bringing you the best / most thought-provoking content about the EU or European political issues/debates (ideally including  opposing and diverging views). What can you expect?  Anything really, from journalistic pieces (especially ‘longform’ or investigative journalism), think tank papers, podcasts, videos,  academic journal papers, long explainers found on some obscure websites to  messy discussions on Reddit or interesting blog posts. It should be full of things you should have read… The aim is that every week you find at least one piece that makes you ‘think again’. The idea was partly inspired by this post a few weeks ago and it is linked to my interest in finding out how people discover interesting content online (I blogged about this in a slightly different context here).


Some questions that were raised regarding  this project (which is btw pretty much work in progress…) – so here is a quick FAQ:

Why a newsletter? 

1.  Shelf life of content shared via social media is rather short. Tweets disappear after 10 minutes, facebook only shows you selected content. If you are not well organised you might miss some interesting stuff. Newsletters can fill this gap by giving you a nice overview of things you should have read – and you’ll always know where to find it again (hint: it’s pink and somewhere in your inbox)!

2.  Sadly,  our professional lives still rely on email inboxes  (and the integrated calendar function!)  but I think we’ve reached a point where personal routines and expectations on when to read and reply to emails  have matured.  And after a decade of struggling to manage email many people now seem more comfortable organising their own inboxes.  Simply put: we are more relaxed when it comes to email, we have become better using it as a tool. As a result many have rediscovered the usefulness of newsletters.

3. RSS is dead (unfortunately!) – at least for the casual internet user. After google reader was shut down only information junkies looked for alternative RSS readers. However, by relying on social media alone we may not only miss important and interesting content; there is also the danger to get trapped in the filter bubble. Can we really understand debates if we only rely on a handful of media outlets and a group of journalists we follow on twitter?

Will there be RSS?

Yes, maybe. (am I contradicting myself here?)

So, will there be a new website?

Yes – I am working on it!

Why should I use this  #EUinterest hashtag? 

We can’t possibly read everything. We need readers to recommend the pieces everyone should read, listen to  – or watch. This sort of crowdsourcing can really improve the quality of such a project. So feel free and contribute (and yes – you will receive a mention in the newsletter!)

Are you featuring all #EUinterest recommendations?

No, we still make editorial choices.

Why is it called ‘the european interest’?

Well, that may be a separate blog post. Let’s explain it with a few questions: What’s in Europe’s interest? What’s NOT in Europe’s interest? Is there a European interest? Why European? Is it interesting? Well, then it must be worth reading… OK, that’s enough of ‘creative writing! Not sure that was helpful, maybe we can agree on the fact that it simply sounds good?

Why is it pink?

Why not? Better than having another boring blue/yellow/grey thingy in your inbox!

What day of the week can I expect to receive #EUinterest?

This is up for discussion. I thought close to the weekend as this is the time of the week we can actually read longer pieces.  But I am open to suggestions.

Will it always be linked to the news cycle?

No, the idea is to  also feature content that may be interesting but not pegged to any debate in the media. There will also be special issues that only focus on one topic – featuring content from the last 10 years (if necessary…)

What’s the business model?

Hmm, next questions please… ;)

Is that the finished product?

No, it is work in progress. The format, length and topics  of the newsletter may change frequently.

Are there any podcasts/youtube channels about EU affairs?

Well, not as many as you’d expect. If you find a good one please share it via #EUinterest on twitter (or via email/comment). Or why not start a podcast yourself?

How do you find content?

I still use RSS quite a lot, I read various newsletters, listen to a number of podcasts and follow loads of debates on twitter and reddit.

Were can I sign up?


Great, how can I help?

Share your favourite discoveries via #EUinterest on twitter. If you want to help curate the newsletter –  please email me. If you have an idea for another (better) EU related newsletter – also email me! ;)

Any other questions?

Fell free and use the comments below…

Overheard in Brussels VII: Let’s Stick Together

What’s keeping us together in Europe?

a) the fear of an expensive divorce?
b) the status quo?
c) the lack of imagination to see any alternative? (via @MarianCramers)
d) the lack of political will to implement alternative ideas? (via @piavonhier)

– Summary of a debate at CEPS Ideas Lab in Brussels

This blog post is part of  “Overheard in Brussels“.

Overheard in Brussels VI: Putin and the EU

Strength in politics  is measured by your ability to create problems. Unpredictability is Putin’s big strength  – the EU on the other hand is the embodiment of predictability.

Foreign policy analyst (event in Brussels, Chatham House rule)

This blog post is part of  “Overheard in Brussels“.

Overheard in Brussels V: Pro-EU campaigning in the UK

All pro-EU organisations in the UK are old, ineffective and have no significant grassroot support – or to put it differently: nothing comparable to UKIP exists on the pro-EU side. Plus, nobody wants to spend any “career capital” in pro-EU campaigning.

–  British writer/commentator on EU issues (at an event in Brussels, Chatham House rule)

This blog post is part of  “Overheard in Brussels“.

Wie man nüchtern und informativ über die Situation in Griechenland schreibt

Wenn es um Griechenland geht, dreht der deutsche (und internationale) Journalismus ja gerne durch. Robert Misik hat das sehr schön am Beispiel einer Geschichte im Spiegel aufgezeigt. Das Problem ist ja nicht neu. Im Prinzip haben die Medien die sogenannte “Eurokrise” (die ja eigentlich eine Vielzahl von Krisen vereint: da gibt es eine Bankenkrise, eine Finanzkrise, eine Schuldenkrise und natürlich eine politische Krise usw. ) von Anfang an oft (absichtlich?) missverstanden. Dabei wurde ein Klima in der Öffentlichkeit geschaffen, in dem es nicht nur immer schwieriger wurde zu verstehen, um was es eigentlich gerade geht; es wurde auch immer schwieriger verschiedene Lösungsvorschläge nüchtern zu diskutieren. Und das betrifft nicht nur die Diskussion über einen Schuldenschnitt für Griechenland, die Einführung von Eurobonds, oder ‘quantitative easing’ – auch andere Ideen wie zum Beispiel die Europäische Arbeitslosenversicherung oder wie genau das Bankenwesen reformiert werde müsste, wurden von den Medien sehr oft sehr oberflächlich diskutiert.

Aber es gibt auch gute Beispiele für Journalismus in Zeiten der Eurokrise.  Sebastian Dullien hat in der Zeit einen schönen Artikel geschrieben, der nüchtern aufzeigt was in Griechenland schief gelaufen ist und was nun zu tun ist . Vor allem die informative Rückblende zeigt, wie man in einem relativ kurzen Artikel auch den Kontext liefern kann, der so oft in der Berichterstattung fehlt. Das scheint mir nämlich eines der großen Problem des politischen Journalismus (in Deutschland) zu sein: Fehlender Kontext und – ja man muss das so sagen – eine Überschätzung des vorhandenen politischen Wissens der Leser. Das mag sich jetzt arrogant anhören aber selbst  ich – als Politikwissenschaftler – kann nicht immer sofort jede Nachricht in einen politischen Prozess einordnen – vor allem wenn es sich um Dinge und Themen handelt, die ich nicht regelmäßig verfolge.

Es ist doch so: Man wird ja regelrecht bombardiert von Nachrichten und vergisst die Hälfte relativ schnell wieder – die Aufgabe von Journalisten sollte es also auch sein, öfters mal Überblicke zu schreiben und den Hintergrund eine Entscheidung deutlich zu machen. Das kann in Form von ‘timelines’ sein, es kann eine Infografik sein oder eine faktenbasierte Beschreibung der politischen Entscheidungswege. (ja, das das ist als Journalismus getarnte politische Bildung)

Wenn es zum Beispiel um eine Gesetzesinitiative der EU geht, sollte es zum Standard gehören, eine kurze Beschreibung des politischen Prozesses zu liefern und genau aufzuzeigen an welcher Stelle sich die Gesetzesinitiative im Moment befindet. Kurze Erklärstücke wie zum Beispiel: Wie entsteht ein Gesetz in Deutschland/in der EU? Wie funktioniert die Troika – und warum gibt es sie? Was macht die EU Kommission? Wie funktioniert der Bundestag? Was macht ein MEP?  Wie funktioniert so ein EU Gipfel? etc. sollten eigentlich täglich in der politischen Berichterstattung vorkommen – und vor allem für Onlinemedien sollte das doch  auch kein allzu großes Problem darstellen.  Solche Texte sind doch auch einfach zu produzieren – und man kann sie relativ oft wiederbenutzen. Die Frage ist doch, warum solche einfachen Tools  im deutschen Journalismus kaum benutzt werden.

Overheard in Brussels IV: The EurActiv mystery

Why is it that EurActiv never breaks a big EU story? They’ve been around for ages so why does nobody outside Brussels takes any notice of them? I mean, you never read in the FT, NYT or in the Guadian  something like ‘as reported by EurActiv’ or ‘revealed by EurActiv’ – even if they actually did break the story. They have some good journalists there. So is it a problem of the name? Or because it is a online portal? Or because it is yellow?  I don’t know.

– Freelance journalist

This blog post is part of my “Overheard in Brussels“ series.

Overheard in Brussels III: Writing for The Economist

What’s it like to write for The Economist? Who is your audience? And what do people in Brussels expect you to know?

“There is so much noise and fog in Brussels, it is hard to identify the story that matters outside the bubble. As a journalist in Brussels I have to pretend that I know a lot about many things. I usually write for the tired Indian businessman who does not know much about EU politics and reads the Economist with a glass of whiskey.”

Tom Nuttall – Charlemagne columnist at The Economist (Cambre breakfast event: #Brusselscalling, 28/1/2015 )

This blog post is part of “Overheard in Brussels“.

Overheard in Brussels II: “I was wrong about Spitzenkandidaten…”

“To be honest, I was wrong about the Spitzenkandidaten process. It is an important first step to give the EU a face – and it gives the public a buy-in to EU politics.”

– Former UK cabinet minister (at an event in Brussels, Chatham House rule)

This blog post is part of “Overheard in Brussels“.

Calling for an ‘end to austerity’ does not work in German. Here is why.

One of the recurrent problems of the eurozone crisis is a discursive misunderstanding between Germany and the rest of Europe.  But it is not only a political or ideological issue, it is also about language and what sort of meanings we attach to certain words and phrases.  The most striking example is the word ‘austerity’. In German it is usually translated as “Sparpolitik” (to save + policy). Of course it is possible to say “Austeritätspolitik” but this  is really an academic concept, not a word used by the general public.  The ‘man in the street’ and most German media usually use words like ‘sparen’ (to save) or “Sparpolitik”  to describe ‘austerity’.  But everything connected to “sparen” has a very positive connotation in German – and with everything I mean everything (examples include”Sparbuch”, “sparsam”, “Bausparvertrag”, “sparsamer Motor”, “sparsamer Rohstoffverbrauch”, “Energiesparlampe”, “Sparschwein” … )  Basically, it is almost not possible to think of a word, a sentence or phrase that would create a negative context for “sparen” – with the exception of “kaputtsparen” maybe.  Compare this with the word “austere” which has an ‘absolutely negative, gloomy connotation’, as @SubsidiarityMan on twitter pointed out.

However, this leads to the problem that ”Sparpolitik” is considered to be something positive (regardless of what it means in policy terms). In German it just sounds like a reasonable thing to do. This effect is probably even stronger among people that don’t know much about economics (so basically almost everyone).  Now, calling for “end to austerity” would mean to end something very positive and reasonable. So calls for an “Ende der Sparpolitik/Sparkurs” simply don’t work in the public discourse.  Changing the German approach to the eurozone thus requires to change the discourse within Germany: either find an alternative word or phrase for “Sparpolitik” that invokes a different set of meanings – or focus on more specific policy projects that replace the current focus on ‘austerity’.

A note on German politics

On the political level ‘austerity’ is not only connected to Greece or the eurozone – above all it is a domestic issue in Germany.  Merkel and her CDU are obsessed with “balanced budgets”  and this idea of “zero new debt”. If Merkel said that austerity in Greece was wrong she would automatically admit that domestic economic policy had also been wrong.  And this is usually not how politicians operate. Instead of admitting mistakes they focus on other topics or change some of the fineprint without making a big fuss about it. And even though Merkel managed to do several big u-turns over the years it is unlikely that she will change her approach on this issue. So, expecting that the German political elite is admitting that everything  they did over the years – both in a domestic and European context –  had been wrong, is a rather naive hope.

Update 6/2/2014:  This blog post seemed to have inspired France 24.

Overheard in Brussels: “Germany has the nicest house, but…”

[Welcome to a new blog category. Basically short posts with interesting stuff I heard at various events in Brussels, during coffees breaks or over a beer. Funny quotes, interesting observations or revealing analogies. If an event was held under Chatham House rule I will not attribute the quotation nor will I reveal the nature of the event.]

“Germany has the nicest house but the value of the house will decrease if the neighbourhood continues to deteriorate.”

– Retired British politician (debate in Brussels, Chatham House rule)

This blog post is part of “Overheard in Brussels“.

What is your favourite EU affairs newsletter?

It’s Friday afternoon – and for many of  us this is also the time of the week to tidy up the inbox. But wait a minute, are there actually newsletters you enjoy reading? If yes why?  I know email newsletters are so 1990s and we are all using twitter and RSS feeds. But we still (sort of) rely on some of the old school newsletters (I do for some press reviews in the morning – and I tend to keep track of a few selected organisations for various reasons). There is even talk about “the return of the newsletter“. And having found some beautifully curated newsletters lately (nope, not in the political arena), I was wondering what the ‘Brussels Bubble’ is reading.  Are there any  well written/interesting/ well curated daily/weekly/monthly newsletters on EU affairs that are worth reading?

You know the sort of press reviews you tend glance over in the morning or the weekly policy analysis digest that is really important for your sector – or is there an interesting curated newsletter that just comes with the right mix of EU topics?  Which organisation/institution/think tank/news service/consultancy sends out the best newsletter? Do you prefer a paid service – if yes which one (if I may ask)?  Or do you rely on the internal comms services of your institution?

It would be great to crowdsource a list of “must-read EU affairs newsletters” in the comments of this blog post.  Or  – if nothing springs to mind – what sort of EU related newsletter would you like to subscribe to?

So feel to share your favourite newsletters – or newsletter ideas below!

(PS: You can post your comment anonymously)

PSS: I also came across this Quartz Global Executive Study which sort of confirms the importance of email newsletters – at least for “Executives”. They (still) use newsletters as their primary news source, the inbox is a news homepage. For these “Executives” email is also the main social network. So time to rethink the newsletter concept?

Quartz_Global_Executives_Study_-_2015-02-06_10.41.41 Quartz_Global_Executives_Study_-_2015-02-06_09.17.19

EU reform: If It ain’t broke, why fix it?

I really did not want to write about this dreadful “EU reform as imagined by David Cameron” thingy. Everything has been said. Cameron’s  “EU reform” is essentially a bad idea because (1) we still don’t know what it means and (2) it is linked to a referendum pledge (which is seen in the rest of the EU as simple blackmailing).  This week Angela Merkel is travelling to London to meet David Cameron. Apparently “EU reform” is on the agenda so the media started speculating about what may or may not happen. Basically nothing will happen – here is why.

If It ain’t broke, don’t fix it

First problem: what does Cameron want? Over the past couple of months Cameron announced that his unknown ‘EU reforms’ will require treaty change. Topic-wise it all seems to boil down to put an end to  “ever closer union” (a term only relevant for Tory backbenchers and UKIP supporters) and “something with immigration/ benefit tourism”.  A few months ago a slight problem emerged over the issue of ‘benefit tourism': it sadly does not exist. Similar story with ‘immigration':  ‘Intra-EU migration’ (aka free movement!) is not seen as a problem elsewhere in Europe. But if It ain’t broke, why ‘reform’ it?

Basically most  reform ideas identified by David Cameron are not real EU problems –  or include EU policies that are already underway (for example TTIP, strengthening of the single market etc.). Interestingly, the UK media also fail to realise that most stuff Cameron is banging on about is already happening. A few months ago the European Council conclusions included a clarification on ever closer union and in the new Commission work programme a “Labour Mobility Package”  has been included. The  aim is of this package is to support “labour mobility and tackling abuse by means of better coordination of social security systems, the targeted review of the Posting of Workers Directive”. This is quite an achievement taking into account that these problems barely exist outside Tory HQ.

The second mistake is the focus on Germany and Angela Merkel  as Philip Oltermann pointed out. The EU consists of 26 other member states. A clever negotiator would collect several reform ideas from different EU members, forge a coalition and try to push through a big compromise which is acceptable for everyone. Once you have done this you can announce your referendum – but don’t announce stuff before you thought about how to deliver it.  But this is not how David Cameron seems to operate.

What will Angie do this week?

Well, nothing really.  Cameron  needs to win an election to actually start his negotiation  (question also remains: with whom does he want to negotiate after alienating most other EU leaders over the years?) Everything that Merkel will say to him at this moment: “Calm down David, forget treaty change and let’s talk after the elections.” And frankly, we should do the same…

PS: Maybe David and Angie should read this article by Jean-Claude Piris (former Director of the Legal Services of the Council of the EU)  who explains that Cameron’s renegotiation is basically a non-starter: “the timing of the procedure makes it unfeasible (..) [and] the substantive problems look equally insurmountable“.

PSS: The title of this blog post refers to David Cameron’s “EU reform”. It is not to say that the EU does not need to change, the opposite is true: we need a lot of changes on the EU level – but (unfortunately) most of what Cameron wants to change is irrelevant/not real problems. This in itself says a lot about the EU debate in the UK…


Ist ein #Brexit unausweichlich?

Druck_TP_03_14.pdf_-_2015-01-02_19.25.33Auf Grundlage von Art. 50 des EU -Vertrags, der infolge des Vertrags von Lissabon 2007 erstmals den freiwilligen Austritt von Mitgliedstaaten aus der EU regelt, ist auch ein Austritt Großbritanniens rechtlich möglich. Teilt das Land noch die gemeinsame europäische Vision? Neuer Artikel von mir für “treffpunkt.europa” – ab S.14.


The Hearings: Flawed politics or a useful democratic exercise?

top3[A blog post that will ultimately fail to answer the brainy question in the title… because the hearings are both, flawed and useful]

The hearings are over, we (almost) have a new European Commission. The Slovenian problem will surely be solved more quickly than most people expect (OK, I wrote the post before the nomination of Violeta Bulc..).  In case you missed #ephearings20014 check our project blog here.

Anyway, after having followed far too many of those hearings, I started wondering what we should change next time. [The biggest flaw is obviously the rule ‘each member state sends one candidate’ – and the subsequent problem to find 27 “very important” portfolios.]

I. It is the European Parliament: It is politics, stupid!

It is a parliament, there are parties, there are ‘Members of Parliament’. Are people really surprised that we are dealing with power games and political games? But this seems to be the problem in Brussels: Commissioners tend to think they are well paid administrators (instead of politicians)- and observers think Parliamentary groups or Parliamentarians don’t do politics. However, as soon as it gets a bit messy (basically there are no clear majorities in the EP) we seem to struggle to make sense out of it because we tend to compare the whole event with what we know from national politics.

II. This time it was different – or was it?

There might have been slightly more interest in covering the hearings this time,  but let’s be honest, we have seen it all before.  A candidate got rejected, another one got a second hearing, additional written questions etc. It’s business as usual. The European Parliament has had a de-facto veto on  individual Commissioner nominees for quite a while. It basically has become a normal part of the hearings. (Anyone remember Jeleva or Buttiglione?)

III. MEPs – please improve your questioning skills!

Let’s face it. Some questions posed by MEPs were appalling. And I am not talking about the questions about the Queen or Hitler. (those questions are a good reminder of what sort of people we have elected to the EP – but that’s another story) It is about asking questions that produce relevant and revealing answers. Here are a few simple rules:

  • Don’t ask 3 questions if you  know that the Candidate is only allowed to speak for 2 minutes;
  • Ask follow-up questions instead of simply repeating questions;
  • Try and coordinate your questions better – among the MEPs in your political group but also within the Committee (I know this is already happening – but somehow it doesn’t seem to work).
  • MEPs, don’t reiterate your political convictions or use your question as an opportunity to give a speech. You are wasting everyone’s time!

IV. We need consistency – for all hearings and committees.

This may contradict an earlier point but seen from the outside the hearings lacked a certain degree of consistency. What do I mean by that?  Different committees seem to evaluate candidates using different criteria. I know there are procedures and criteria that are supposed to prevent this from happening but we should have a debate over the next years about the purpose of these hearings, especially when it comes to how to evaluate portfolio knowledge of the candidates.

V.  The format is seriously flawed.

3h? Give us a break!  There is research that suggests that the human brain can’t concentrate for longer than an hour or so (google the details…) The point is, these hearings are too long – at least a toilet break for the Commissioner nominees and MEPs should be introduced. I am also not sure whether we really need a 3 hour hearing – 2 hours will do just fine (if MEPs work on the questioning skills).

We also should think about changing the format and make it more ‘conversational’ – let’s allow direct follow-up questions to clarify issues. Another idea is to actually organise the hearing as a series of thematic blocks in order to cover certain topics more comprehensively.

VII.  “Wrong” candidate? Thank you, member states!

Yes, the hearings are a ‘sort of job interview’ but there is also an element of accountability involved. It’s about two things: making sure that member states send useful and appropriate candidates to Brussels and to approve the portfolio assignments of the EC president.  This time it was actually much easier to spot second-rate politicians as we had a couple of outstanding performers. A rejection of a candidate – or a ‘second hearing’ is always a reminder that some member states simply don’t seem to nominate their most capable politicians. This issue is also linked to the role of he Commission President who has only limited clout over the nomination process.  A strange/unsuitable candidate is the responsibility of the respective member state – and the hearings are a useful reminder that we get the Commissioners the member states want us to get…

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