Monthly Archives: January 2007

What story should Europe tell? – It’s your turn!

Recently, the debate surrounding the apparently missing narrative of the EU gained momentum. Timothy Garton Ash thinks that “old-fashioned grand narratives and Euromyth will no longer do the trick” and proposes that Freedom, Peace, Law, Prosperity, Diversity and Solidarity should be at the centre of a new debate. Join the debate on his proposal here.

ENP success in Belarus?

The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) has been criticised of being ineffective, under-financed and rather limited in scope. But now it seems the slowish EU diplomacy delivers some promising results…ok, maybe no quite yet results but let’s call it a window of opportunity. The last European dictator, Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenka responded to the “non-paper – What the European Union could bring to Belarus” in a ‘non -official’ speech. Vladimir Socor has the quotations of Lukashenko in the Eurasia Daily Monitor:

“We are [situated] in the center of Europe and we must be on normal terms with the East and the West.” Instead of a balanced policy, “We have been flying on just one wing for quite some time. (…) The lesson from the recent and ongoing conflicts with Russia over energy supply and transit is just how much we need investors from Europe and the United States.”

Interesting, so what happened to the famous unfinished Union of Russia and Belarus?

Lukashenka reaffirmed his recent vows to “never let Belarus be swallowed up by Russia,” not to introduce the Russian ruble in Belarus (“an oblique way to deprive us of our independence”), and to take reciprocal steps following “Russia’s destruction of our customs union”

This project seems quite dead. But while killing the relationship with Russia, he made some incredible remarks towards the EU, echoing the ENP vocabulary quite well (energy security, trade preferences, migration control)

“The West will not enjoy energy security without Belarus” (…) He called on the EU to open its markets for Belarus products and to allow them to compete without addressing the issue of quality (…) And he described Belarus as a shield for Europe against uncontrolled migration from the East, implicitly asking for compensation in the form of EU trade preferences.

So maybe Lukashenka becomes the second Voronin…who knows…? (in the sense that he ‘officialy’ broke with Russia and claimed to have turned towards the EU. However, his ENP record tells another story.)

Why not a referendum? Look at the polls!

OK, I know this is not very ‘democratic’ but I am happy that someone opened up the debate on the limits of participatory democracy. Lately, the idea of holding a referendum is often presented as THE one and only democratic instrument that we have (especially by Madame Royal). Strangely enough, only relating to EU issues, never because of domestic policies. Anyway,  after the failed referenda on the EU constitutional treaty in France and the Netherlands, we could clearly see in what kind of mess you can run with holding a referendum with uninformed people that lost trust in their national politicians.  (hope this is enough provocation for some mean comments!)

So, here is some food for thought from Michel Godet via eurotopics:

If we are not careful, participatory democracy may consecrate the triumph of self-interest in the short-term (the only unfair inequalities are those that we do not benefit from!) at the expense of long-term collective interest. The courageous decisions to be taken regarding the future are rarely consensual and if forecasting needs be participatory, the strategy that it inspires is up to the elected members of Parliament. It is up to them to demonstrate will power and courage in order to avoid participatory demagogy.

Here the link to the original article in French: Démocratie ou démagogie?

100 days in Brussels

Belgium, Belgium, Belgium….the country that invented the anti-bureaucracy ministry; the land which is famous for its beer, french fries, chocolate and comic strips; Belgium, the country with more governments than métro lines in its capital Brussels. The country that hosts 0.16% of the world population….But how is it to live and work in this country? And what about Brussels, the “European” capital?

My personal 10 survival tips after having lived in Brussels for 100 days:

1. Do complain. Always. Sometimes it helps calming down.

2. Do not plan anything on a Saturday due to the rather inconvenient opening hours of nearly all shops and services during weekdays. Unfortunately, you will not be the only one with that idea on any given Saturday.

3. If you really want to have a free Saturday use your lunch-breaks.

4. Everything that involves the infamous Belgian administration is rather slow (sometimes also la poste & STIB, depending on your problem). But the lunch-break won’t do: Better take half a day off! One example: Do not expect to get your residence permit in the first three months after your application. It also involves the police checking if you put your name next to the doorbell.

5. If you buy a ticket for the cinema don’t expect numbered seats. So, better be there early!

6. It takes you 1 hour to open a simple bank account.

7. Judging on the design and the functionality, it seems that online banking has only been introduced recently with a fresh 1990s-look.

8. If you don’t want to spend money for a taxi, try to catch the last metro around midnight. Exception: On Fridays there is one (!) night bus service!

9. Rubbish bags are an important design feature in the streets of Brussels.

10. Enjoy strolling through the European district with its unique atmosphere: enjoyable city spaces with numerous green islands, modern and beautiful architecture: all in all a convincing urban planning scheme.