Out of Office: Eurocrat on Annual Leave

Dear Readers,

It is time for me to go on Annual Leave. Still have a lot of days to spend away from the office... I am a civil servant after all!!!

The offices are pretty empty nowadays, so no crazy bureaucratic legislation to disturb the summer.

I will be back in September with some new insights of the EC and a lot of discuss on the Union.

Your Favorite Eurocrat

Public Consultation: Going abroad to learn

There is an interesting public consultation on Learning Abroad, in the framework of a Green Paper on "Promoting the learning mobility of young people"
I believe that the Erasmus program and other similar exchange schemes are one of the greatest successes of the European Union, so it would be important to react and improve our policies for the coming generations.
Please feel free to react here.

In the News: Iceland Wants to join the EU

The Parliament of Iceland has voted last week in favor of opening accession negotiation with the EU. The adhesion will then be voted in a popular referendum. Prognostics indicated that the country could join in 2011 or 2012, given that it already belongs to the European Economic Area (EEA) and has already adopted over 2/3 of the "Acquis Communautaire".

After the financial crisis that almost wiped the economy of this small island up north, the interest of joining the EU and the Euro has been revived. Well the more, the merrier? A strong democratic country, with high level of incomes, living in peace with Mother Nature... can only be an asset for the EU right? Well the language is going a tricky one: we will have to recruit some Icelandic/Maltese interpreters, Icelandic/Luxembourgeois translators...

Thinking a little bit more about it, I am not so sure that it is such a positive development for the Union. I am ill-at-ease that they decide to join when they are in deep problems. Why not before? Not to share.

I see accession a bit like a wedding: we share our destiny for the best and for the worst... but what to really think about a partner who wants to marry you only after loosing his/her job, large chunks of his/her savings, etc. I bet you will be a bit suspicious. What happened when their country get better (yes eventually it will)? Will they join the Eurosceptics, play foul to protect their interests...?

Oh come on, you know I am just dreaming out loud! That can happen! We have never dealt with islanders who benefited greatly from EU funds and then voted against Lisbon Treaty, or others who, when times got better, invented stories to renounce their contribution rebates they got when times weren't so rosy...

Swedish Presidency's First Weeks

More than 2 weeks that the Swedes are in charge and we can already feel the change. The Swedish PM is like a permanent guest on EuroNews nowadays!

Maybe they have the solution for the European Construction? In the Frankfurter Rundschau...

Accountability at the European Commission: Internal Accountability

In previous posts, I have discussed how we, Eurocrats, are accountable to the European citizen, via elected officials (ie Member States and MEPs). To conclude my series on Accountability in the European Commission, I will tell more about the internal accountability which is expressed through three distinct bodies: Ombudsman, Court of Auditors, OLAF.

Maybe the more famous of the three, the Ombudsman was established by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, to treat any complaint a citizen can have against European Institutions. Currently the post is held by Nikiforos Diamandouros, in Strasbourg. Not really a judge, he acts as a mediator when a citizen feels he has been bamboozled by the Institutions. You can check on his website the different cases. I never had to deal with him, but my feeling is that he helps a lot in minimizing the distance between a citizen and the administration.

Court of Auditors
The Court of Auditors is a bit older (born in 1975) and lives in Luxembourg. And we deal with them a lot... They just arrive at your floor (with a short notice), size all the documents and emails they want and lock themselves in the Archive room. So they basically do financial audits of the whole set of European Institutions (since the Treaty of Amsterdam) but also EU funded projects. And there is a lot you can learn by looking at financial accounts. You may have heard about it when it comes to certifying the Budget of the Commission. You have got to admit that the Court of Auditors is a pretty good agent for change. The Budget is now becoming more and more reliable because those guys have made sure we do a serious job.

A lesser known activity of the Court is to audit projects but also our internal procedures. They choose their sectors among the thousands of activities we have and take an external look at it. It is very interesting to read their reports on what you do. They sometimes give an opinion on what you do (and they should not), but it is how you do things that really matters. They have triggers a number of internal reforms with their reports, which shows that we are ready to accept criticism and improve how we do business.

Office Européen de Lutte Anti-Fraude or European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF)
Last but not least, the youngest of the three, born in 1999, or should I say re-born fully independent. In a nutshell, OLAF investigates any allegation of fraud which involve European money. Like the Court of Auditors, OLAF has a right to investigate internal and external accounts to prevent fraud or corruption. But unlike the Court of Auditor, they like to pop in unannounced. The Office does not have a proper enforcement mechanism, but they rely on national justice system to prosecute.
Let say that if you are investigated by OLAF, it is the worst thing that can happen to a Fonctionnaire. That was the case at EUROSTAT in 2004, with an infamous leak from a German journalist, who ended up with the Ombudsman... I heard lately that they are quite busy in Bulgaria nowadays!

In the News: Sweden takes over the EU presidency

All hail Sweden! Since a week, Sweden is holding the rotating presidency of the Union. The program is published on their website: http://www.se2009.eu/en
Interesting priorities are presented:
  • Climate (weird, as a Swede I would really not mind a couple degrees more)
  • Employment and Economy (at last!)
  • Citizen's rights
  • Baltic Sea (to save Swedish banks from the Baltic Financial Crisis)
  • EU in the World (as anybody else)
As usual a good mix of good intentions and personal interests. Unlike the previous presidency, there could be interesting alignment of interests on the economy. Sweden has developed an economic model based on competitiveness without hurting the social protection. Maybe they could teach us some few lessons of Social Democracy.

As journalists wrote, the program is not ambitious at all, just to make sure that every achievement will be ranked as a success.

But the coming 6 months are crucial to the future of the Union. Indeed, in the next 6 months:
  • We will get a new commission and a new parliament. The Battle for Barroso's re-election is going to be a fierce one...
  • The Treaty of Lisbon is likely to be implemented, depending on the Irish re-vote. This will be a major tectonic move in our institutions, with a stable presidency, a stronger parliament and a new set of governing rules at the Council.
Something I really appreciate from the Swedes is they might be one of the few countries which really cares about the general interest (or at least is not overwhelmed by parochial interests). Something welcome nowadays...