In the News: Will the Irish get back to their sense?

This week, our Irish neighbors are voting for a second time on the Lisbon Treaty. Their choice goes well beyond the borders of Ireland, as it will decide the future of our Union.

So far, polls are looking positive. Thanks to a terrible financial crisis, the Irish realized that they might still need the EU. I have not heard of a plan B yet and do hope that it won't be necessary.

Honestly, I do agree that the Treaty is complicated, it recycles most of the EU Convention project rejected by the French and the Dutch. But I stick to its driving forces: more power to the Euro-Parliament (the real democratic player in the game) and simplified procedures to take decisions. For me, it is more than enough to vote for it. There is also the cherry on the top that is the accelerated procedures, i.e. when a set of countries want to go further in their integration while the unconvinced can seat and watch and catch up later.

Their are lot of critics on the treaty being complicated and undemocratic. Well, it was negotiated by elected governments, so I don't really understand the last point. Complication? Well, we are talking about 27 countries in the 21st century... After all we are not in the 18th century where a bunch of guys, called the forefathers, could write a constitution with 7 articles.

What really bothered me in the French, Dutch and Irish rejection is that I am pretty sure that most of the people who voted against really voted to sanction their governments... To pick on the Irish, I find utterly ridiculous that a people who enjoyed so much European Funds just bite the hand that had been feeding them for so many years. I hope that with the financial crisis they understand that the Union is for the best and for the worst.

So Irish folks: no boozing this Friday and make sure to vote with what remains of your brain... rather than you guts!

Brian Cowen:"While I have you there... we have these demands"
Cartoon from Martin Turner

I am sorry Belgium!

Sorry for the earlier outburst... truly sorry. I love Belgium, Belgians, Brussels! I love the chocolate, the fries, the beers... Promised, I won't go in exile in Antwerp!

Funny thing is that I found that that Mark Mardell, BBC's correspondent in Brussels, left for Washington DC this summer, and he shared some common feelings! Here is his post on leaving Bruxelles.

Life in Brussels

When working for the European Commission, the odds are that you will spend a large amount of time in Brussels. Your only way out is to move to Luxembourg (which I believe can be assimilated as a harsh and inhuman treatment), join one of the Agencies (preferably the one in pleasant cities) or work for the External Services in a Delegation.

For the large majority of us, we are confined in Brussels, in the European Quarter.

Well, you will always complaint about the shitty weather around here (one week of summer per year, the four seasons in a day, etc), but as a matter of Brussels is a very pleasant city in so many ways. It is relatively small and not crowded compared to other European Capitals. It is also cheap (though prices have adjusted the last five years), and accommodations remain at a great value-for-money. Transport is very decent with lot of public transport, little congestion and now better cycle lanes. The Belgian health system is also well above the European average, and education is of quality for no money...

In short, it is a small city, but with all the benefits of a big one and none of the disadvantages: great diversity of people and food, lot of entertainments, cultural activities and shopping, but you can still live in the center or have a decent commute.

One other big plus for Brussels is that Belgians are a nice and open people. They bear nicely with us, arrogant and indecently paid Eurocrats...

So what? Shall we just pray for Global Warming so we can actually have a real summer (apparently this August was exceptional)?

It is not yet heaven... You can actually go completely Cuckoo in this charming little city we call Bruxelles. You will realize, very little time after settling, that the city is highly dysfunctional. And after all this time in Brussels, I really need to get my frustrations out!

The Public Services
  • To become a resident, you have to formally register with your "Commune". Well I can only advise you to use the EC Protocol Office (when you work at the EC, otherwise, good luck to you). Some "Communes" will drive you nut for some papers, other are more easy going...
  • If you want to subscribe to a public utility (gas, water, electricity, telephone), then you have to wait for at least half a month and take half a day of leave. You set the appointment for a particular day and they tell you that the technician will come between 9am and 12pm... And some time they don't and you just wait for nothing!
  • If you want to go to the Post Office or to the Train Station, I really suggest you go during office hours (excluding Lunch Break). They staff their desks so that the bigger the queue, the less counters you have.

The Shops
You might think that most of Public Services are similar in other EU Countries, but the private sector will convince you that it is a systemic issue!
  • Get a technical advice on a item (if you can get a vendor in the first place): then you probably want to ignore it. Shop attendants have very little knowledge of what they sell and basically has no commercial skills. I am not sure that they understand who has the money. Having say that, you can find a very knowledgeable seller... beware, he will just bore you to death with the little details of his personal life (very often in the Computer department)
  • Get the Warranty to work: That is a tricky one. Be ready to lose a lot of time, a lot of patient. Whatever explanations you give to the shop, it will be ignore and the repairer will send it back as it is because he does not understand the problem.
  • Get a package from Fedex, UPS or DHL: well if it is sent at home, you better take a day off (because they come between 9am and 5pm), and sometimes they don't as well!

And the cherry on the top: The Flemish/Walloon issue!
Some says it is like an old couple breaking up... but it is worse! The country is basically schizophrenic and loves to scare the heck out of itself. Flemishes just want to end it because they got the money and the jobs. Walloons claims that the Flemish pension bill is too high and the Flemish need the Walloons for retirement. And at the last European Elections, a Walloon Party wanted to get Brussels and Wallonie to join France.

This is just way above me, because we live in a extremely diverse country (Europeans, Turks, Arabs, Africans, Asian, Latinos, etc.), and the locals are fighting each other.

I just wonder how such an international city can run like that...

In the News: Barroso reelected... a sad week at the EC

A sad week indeed at the Commission. Barroso got reelected and another weak commission in perspective.
Personally, I felt quite bitter about the vote... What can we really expect from a President of the Commission who got the support from the Eurosceptic MEPs? I heard the Socialist Spanish MEPs voted for him, God knows what bargain is going on back door!

Time will tell. Next big fight: Irish referendum!

In the News: Anybody but Barroso?

Summer is over, and the negotiations for the new Commission did not even get hot. The post of the President never really got beyond "To be Barroso or not to be Barroso". Some Member States did try to make some noise (see in the Economist, how France is trying to nuke Barroso). In the end, Barroso is very likely to be there for another term.

Interestingly, Daniel Cohn-Bendit said in an interview on Euronews about Barroso:
“Mr Barroso was incapable of leading an independent Commission which held its own against the Council,and that’s the problem. You know, Europe is an institutional triangle: a Commission, a Council and a Parliament. If the President of the Commission is simply the Secretary General of the Council, meaning the governments, European democracy cannot work. And that’s my biggest problem with Mr Barroso."

I fully agree on that point! Our Euro-democracy has to be about power equilibrium and Barroso is just too lightweight for the post! Barroso is just acting a secretary, and not as a corner of the triangle. I see several reasons in such behavior:
1) Barroso does not have any charisma. He left Portugal without a national aura... Worse, his party lost the elections quite Badly after he lost.
2) Barroso is a planner, and sucked it up during the first term, to be reconducted.

If the first is right, then it will be again a very weak commission that we will have. If the second is right, then we could some real commission for the next five year. Gut feeling: both are righ, but the first is just too big for the second.

To conclude, I will take up Cohn-Bendit's suggestion that Barrosso should instead get the Presidency of the Union, if the Member States like him so much! Anybody but Barroso (but not Blair...)

Back online!

Your favorite Eurocrat is back to blogging... and don't get me wrong, I was not on leave all that time!

Stay tune for insights, opinions and much more.
If you have some suggestions for topics, please write them in the comment section.