Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Tag: eu

For a positive spill-over effect on productivity and competitiveness

The European jargon is becoming an excellent example of how things can go wrong even when motivated by the best intentions. The grotesque language of European bureaucrats is the object of several caricatures pointing to the awkward and economy-oriented lexicon of EU bureaucrats.

The best and perhaps most enlightening example was that provided by @Berlaymonster on twitter (Berlaymont is the name of the Commission’s palace in Bruxelles), which marked the European Day of Languages by “undertaking to dialogue with twitter stakeholders in EU jargon“.

berlaymonster

This may look just too odd, but the EU milieu is really becoming ridicolous. Just have a look at the Commission’s proposal for a revision of the Tobacco Products Directive, pointing at the importance of people quitting smoke to improve productivity. It is not only the lexicon, which is objectively awkward: it is the whole idea behind it, that suggests that EU bureaucrats may be loosing touch with reality.

The overall objective of the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) is both to improve the functioning of the internal market and to promote the Europe 2020 strategy, being that keeping people healthy and active longer will have a positive spill-over effect on productivity and competitiveness.

Proposal for a TPD, released by the European Commission on 19 December 2012

Almost one out of two

The real break-up of Europe starts from youth unemployment. New figures provided by the European Commission dramatically show the wide geographical rift that has opened up between northern and southern Europe: while Austria (8.9 per cent unemployment), Germany (7.7 per cent) and the Netherlands (10.5 per cent) have relatively few young jobless, while France is above 25 per cent and Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain are all way above 35.

This is participatory democracy, baby

The European Citizens’ Initiative is something that would certainly appeal the supporters of the M5S in Italy and all those who believe in participatory online democracy. Unfortunately, most of these people probably do not know about it. The Initiative was one of the “main innovations under The Treaty of Lisbon”. In a nutshell, it enables citizens of member states to suggest proposals for legislation that will apply throughout the EU. The principle precondition is that the initiative must be validated by the European Commission and that the petition must be signed by a minimum of one million Europeans, from at least seven member states, over a period of less than one year.

To date, only one initiative of this type has succeeded in gathering the required number of signatures: the Right2Water campaign, which wants access to water to be recognised as a universal human right. In contrast, there are others fundamental initiatives which unfortunately run slightly low of support. The best to date are the following ones:

  • a petition to limit to 30km/h the speed limit in Europe’s cities and villages;
  • a petition to criminalise Ecocide and crimes against the Earth to ensure that natural and legal persons can be held responsible for committing Ecocide according to the principle of superior responsibility;
  • a petition to adapt the European Anthem’s official version to the neutral pan-European language, Esperanto when citizens wish to express their common European identity.

If a German is European and an Italian is European, is a German an Italian?

I have a fascination for an Italian contemporary philosopher who is not known in Italy. Giorgio Agamben became very popular in the United States after his timely publication of State of Exception (2005), a book in which drawing from Carl Schmitt he investigated sovreignity as the power to proclaim the exception. The book traced this concept back to Roman justitium and auctoritas, but obviously it was directly connected to the states of exception established by George Bush’s Patriot Act (13 November 2001), an evident violation of basic human rights through the increase of power structures governments employ in supposed times of crisis. Within these times of crisis, Agamben refers to increased extension of power as states of exception, where questions of citizenship and individual rights can be diminished, superseded and rejected in the process of claiming this extension of power by a government. Agamben made references to a continued state of exception to the Nazi state of Germany under Hitler’s rule. Agamben’s work is a fundamental reflection for political scientists, as it shows how the suspension of laws within a state of emergency or crisis can become a prolonged state of being. I studied Agamben when I was an undergrad at Trinity College Dublin in 2009 and I have been interested in his work since then.

Now Agamben is on the headlines again as he has revived the idea of a union of Southern European countries, a proposal first launched by another philosopher, Alexandre Kojève, just after World War II. The idea is that we are going towards the end of nation states which would cede the way to political formations that would transcend national borders. These empires could not, however, be based on abstract units that were indifferent to genuine cultural, lifestyle and religious ties. A Latin Empire, argues Agamben, could act as a counter weight to the dominant role played by Germany in the European Union and to resist to the destruction of a cultural heritage that exists as a way of life in Greece, Italy, France, and all the other Mediterranean countries.

The closer, the better

Political scientists believe the closer you are to a region’s capital, the more local administrations and citizens respect the region’s laws.

That’s not the case for Europe’s capital. Brussels is one among thousands of towns that are breaching EU rules on how to treat waste water. The same can be said for construction sites and people working in very precarious conditions to renovate and clean the European buildings.

Turkey: accession impossible

Although a member of numerous regional and international organisations, Turkey is still not in the EU, despite negotiations dating back some 50 years. A recent essay pointed to the possibility that the country has missed its chance to become anything more than an auxiliary to US foreign policy in the Middle East.

You probably couldn’t care less, but I am personally against Turkey’s accession to the EU. As this is a fascinating and somehow heated debate, I will put forward my reasons for rejecting Turkey’s accession to the EU.

  1. Balance of power. Turkey is just too big. If accepted in the EU, it would be the second largest member by number of inhabitants and the single largest army. This would imply a radical change in the nature itself of the EU. Are we ready for it? I do not think so.
  2. Geography. Leaving aside the fact that Turkey is not geographically part of Europe, its borders are just too dangerous to control. Accepting that Turkey is part of the EU would imply accepting Iran, Iraq, Syria as neighbouring states. I do not think that the EU has the capacity to deal with these new frontiers.
  3. Governance. I am against any further EU enlargement. In spite of all the wishful thinking that came with it, the EU is becoming plainly too big to handle. Institutions representing 27 (and soon 28) different member states are hardly efficient. I would personally oppose any new member state for the time being. I do not even to think about a huge state like Turkey: its accession would imply a radical process of institutional reform and a major disruption of the precarious equilibrium on which the EU is based. It is impossible to think of such a massive reform just now.

Europe 2.0: Scotland, Catalonia, Flanders

Is national citizenship still a valid organizational factor in the context of the crisis? A radical re-thinking of political citizenship, based on smaller entities such as Catalonia, Scotland or Flanders, may emerge as a reaction to growing imbalances.

This is the incipit of an article I wrote, which was published yesterday on openDemocracy, “a website for debate about international politics and culture, offering news and opinion articles from established academics, journalists and policymakers”. A big thanks goes to Mita, who helped me with the language review.

Mario Draghi: the modern-day Mephisto

Wolfgang Münchau is one of the wisest economic experts we have in Europe. He was really concerned with the euro crisis, or what he now calls “the certain debasement of the euro”, starting from 2010 already. Still, he is against the “creeping euroscepticism” that is on the rise everywhere in Europe, and especially in Germany – and yes, he is German. This article is a beautiful op-ed.

Whatever you need to know about Germany, you will probably find it somewhere in Goethe’s Faust. But it is rare that wisdom is found in part two of the tragedy, one of the most revered and least read books in all of German literature. Someone who managed to dig up something truly remarkable from it was Jens Weidmann. The president of the Bundesbank cited Mephisto’s advice to the Emperor that the simple solution to a lack of money is to print it.

Brevissima fenomenologia del declino di Angela Merkel

Credo che raramente in Europa un cancelliere verrà ricordato con tanto astio quanto Angela Merkel. Con ogni probabilità, sarà lei ad essere considerata la responsabile principale dello sfascio dell’Unione Europea, a torto o a ragione. I media, da diversi mesi ormai, hanno adattato la propria narrativa e dipingono Ms Merkel come una cocciuta egoista. La Germania, sussurrano in molti, non ha altro da guadagnarci da questa crisi. In effetti, in un contesto europeo fortemente recessivo, l’economia tedesca rimane estremamente florida. Ms Merkel viene dipinta attraverso gli stereotipi usati per i tedeschi (rigorosa, quasi ottusa) e per le donne (goffa, egoista, cocciuta). Da tempo, ormai, é isolata. Personalmente, ammiro la sua capacità di tenere sempre i nervi saldi il timone dritto; ma mi sembra anche che, in un momento in cui l’Europa ha un disperato bisogno di leader carismatici e con idee nuove, Ms Merkel manchi di entrambi.

Photo: Werner Schnell @Flickr

A grand design for Europe

People say the solution to the European crisis lies in more Europe, not less. Perhaps. But even so, what kind of Europe are we talking about?

There is a point, that of the need for a grand vision for Europe [link – in Italian], that I find appealing. The discussion, however, needs to evolve hugely. If we are to project a grand plan for Europe we will have to decide whether we want an economic Europe (as it has been so far), a social Europe (as many people hoped at the beginning of the 2000s), a military and externally projected Europe (as we failed to construct during the Balkan crisis and, more recently, during the African uprising).

Talking about grand designs is generally considered nonsense; but in this specific case there is no future for short-term rescue plans if we do not lay the foundations first.