Monthly Archives: February 2008

Some random thoughts on Kosovo

I actually did not want to write something about Kosovo…but well, here we go again. First a few good pieces from around the web and then a few random thoughts on Kosovo.

A good commentary on Kosovo can be found on stanley’s blog that writes “Recognition of Kosovo’s independence is an unfortunate solution, but there is currently no better solution.” Another outstanding article by Timothy Garton Ash (This dependent independence is the least worst solution for Kosovo) with some great quotes:

The Balkanisation of Belgium meets the Belgianisation of the Balkans. (…)

Here is the 21st-century European style of decolonisation: from protectorate to EU member state, without ever achieving full, sovereign independence in between. (…)

And it was in Belgrade, not Pristina, that I heard this joke: the Serbs will do anything for Kosovo except live there. (…)

Both statements are true: Kosovo is unique, and there will be more Kosovos.”

Plenty of interesting stuff, so go and read the article here. A few days ago Dusan Reljic gave this interview. On the whole I agree, but I think it is a bit exaggerated when he argues about international law and the UN (that unfortunately lost credibility not only because of Kosovo). And I also would have liked him to answer the question on partition… Public Policy Watch thinks that ” the decision whether to recognize Kosovo’s independence or not is determined primarily by the self-interest of individual countries” However, the most convincing point is this one: “Perhaps the majority of democratic countries with respect for human life still perceive Kosovo as a victim and Serbia as an aggressor.(…) This perception enables European countries to endorse an action contrary to the spirit and practice of international law in the area of state sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Kosovo flagSince I don’t want to repeat much that has already been said, I just want to throw a few random thoughts into the discussion:

– I always failed to grasp a general common feature of South Eastern Europe: Why do people still argue with stories and myths that come straight from the 14th century?

– 10 years ago there was a genocide in Kosovo so maybe Kosovo has a point of not wanting to be ruled from Belgrade? (To be fair I have to add that ethnic cleansing happened on both sides…) However, there is a 90% majority for independence. Apart from that, Belgrade has had not control over Kosovo for the last 9 years… (the dilemma is of course that Kosovo is not economically sustainable)

– A number of mistakes have been made in the 1990s by all actors involved (that includes Germany). But it is also ironic that now 7 “independent and sovereign” states exist that all want to join the EU to share competences (again). They will eventually negotiate with each other in Brussels…oh yes and I guess they also want to join the Euro and Schengen… so what was the point in splitting up in the first place?

– Despite the recognition debate, the EU acted with one voice. Thanks to the “formula of constructive abstention“(as reported by the EUobserver) the Council decided to deploy its biggest foreign policy mission to date to Kosovo. And of course it was not a coincidence that both events, the decision of the Council and the declaration of independence, took place within a few days … The official voting records will reveal that most of the countries that made a fuss about the independence approved the mission. But without the approval of the EU mission there would have been no declaration…

– Does it set a precedent? well, everything is a precedent if somebody in politics uses it as an argument. Anyway, it seems people like comparing apples with oranges. So what about Bangladesh, Eritrea, … I am not aware of any legitimizing UN resolution in these cases. Maybe even the whole process of decolonalisation and the collapse of the Soviet Union could also fall in this category… (ok, I admit, also too much history!)

– Sovereignty and independence are also quite relative (one could even argue dying) concepts – especially within the EU, so it is hard to understand that EU member states think the case might have an impact on their domestic situation. Regionalisation in the sense of subsidiarity has always been a EU principle and usually everyone is quite fond of highlighting that.

– Without any further comment: Belgium has recognised Kosovo

– And finally the idea of partition: diplomatically this could become a solution in a few years. The deal could be: Serbia takes control over the north of Kosovo, in return it recognises Kosovo as a state (which also means Russia drops the veto in the UN). At the same time the EU could offer Serbia some sort of fast track EU membership (again).

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Petition to support the European University St Petersburg

The European University at St Petersburg (EUSP) has been forced to stop operating because of some fire safety violations….

Of course this seems to be a politically motivated move of the Russian authorities especially since the University has close connections to the USA and EU. Moreover, the university runs a programme funded by the European Commission to improve the monitoring of Russian elections which has been criticized by Putin on a number of occasions. Read more about it here, here and here.

A petition of support is available for signing here. The least we can do, I suppose.

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Breaking News – Brown to visit Brussels this week!

So finally, after seven months in office British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is to visit the European Institutions for the first time… well, it is about time!

Read the story here.

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Kosmolinks #11

Today’s main topic is of course Kosovo, the World’s Newest Country. DJ Nozem sums it up with a ‘pinch’ of sarcasm: Another Show of Unity

I have been looking at some EU news services lately and as a result I created a EU universe ( which brings together most of the available official EU – RSS feeds. So please tell me what you think about it! Although there are numerous (but quite hidden!) feeds on the page, I still wonder whether the Commission has realised its potential here. Most of the times, traditional press releases are put into the feeds. But RSS could be used to track policy proposals within the Commission (green paper- consultation-white paper). Anyway, I will cover this topic more extensively in another post later this week!

Now there is also a social bookmarking service for EU related news and blogs: Eurovalley, give it a try, of course everything is still in beta! eufeeds has a collection of over 300 newspapers and it is updated every 20 minutes: interesting idea but unfortunately there seems to be no easy option to export an individual feed or a selection of feeds. Have you ever heard of the Europe Media Monitor? It seems to be one of these hidden Commission projects but I must say it looks quite promising especially when you need to monitor EU news.

So lets turn to our “favourite” treaty….Nicolas Whyte writes about the Lisbon Treaty here and the ISN wonders whether the Lisbon treaty makes the ESDP more Coherent and Capable? Stanley’s blog asks: EU Foreign Ministers: an endangered species?

Two interesting articles regarding EU funds and budget: Fraud and responsibility for EU funds on Jan’s EUblog and EuropesWorld: Why the EU may never get its accounts straight

What is a “Societas Europaea (SE)” ? It took the EU 30 years to decide on it…and now, there are only around 150 SE in total (EU-wide). But things might improve as local businesses becoming more ‘European’, well at least in the Czech Republic.

Richard Lewis blogs about Frattini’s proposals regarding tougher EU immigration rules. America plays divide and rule is a fascinating article on a diplomatic fight. And the “quote of the month” award goes to Jonathan Faull, a European Commission director general:

“We don’t negotiate matters that are dealt with in Washington with the state of California. That would be disrespectful and we expect the United States to be similarly respectful of our law and system.”

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Communicating the Lisbon Treaty…

… to the citizens seems to be a huge problem.

Seals of signatures of the Treaty of LisbonOne could assume that at least in Ireland, the only country that will hold a referendum on the Treaty, things are slightly different. But apparently this is not true! This article (What exactly are we reforming in this treaty?) shows us all the problems of the Treaty /EU in a nutshell: Lack of a professional communication strategy, arrogance of EU officials, no consolidated version of the rather complicated Treaty and journalists that are not doing their job properly!

– Problem No.1:The European Commission Representation in Dublin clearly fails in explaining the Treaty. Not only were they not able to answer some of the questions, but they also showed a degree of arrogance that makes it hard to become a supporter of the Treaty (and eventually the EU)! It is another proof that the Commission does not have the slightest idea how to communicate professionally. Commission Representations in the member states are seen as ‘official embassies’ of the EU! Therefore, it should be in the interest of the European Commission to make the case for the EU and the Treaty in a convincing way. The upcoming referendum in Ireland should make training of the Commission staff in Dublin a priority! Or to put it more dramatically: Dublin might be the only place in the EU where people actually want to know details about the Lisbon Treaty!

– Problem No.2 is of course the complicated nature of the Lisbon Treaty which also makes it more difficult to explain (but that should not be understood as an excuse!). Of course the reason for this is the failed constitutional treaty and the problematic idea that the new treaty should be similar in content but with a different form. It is believed that only a stripped down treaty that looks very technical and incomprehensible (= “non constitutional”) can win the support of all member states and, at the same time, prevent as many referenda as possible.

– Problem No. 3: The missing consolidated version of the Lisbon Treaty. Ralf Grahn put together a list of existing consolidated versions of the Treaty which is probably the most comprehensive list to date. I guess there are three reasons why the EU has not published consolidated versions: firstly, a lot of legal details have to be clarified, secondly, a translation in all languages takes quite a while and, thirdly, I think the EU institutions have an interest to preserve the “technical look” (see above) as long as possible.

– And problem No. 4: Journalists that are unable to find facts. Of course I understand the point Vincente Brown wants to make in his article. But in a way he is doing it in such a typical manner. I agree that the Commission Representation behaved in a very unhelpful way, but why is it not possible for journalists to distinguish between the Commission in Brussels and Dublin? Why did he not phone the various information services of the Commission? What about the journalistic principle to check more sources? Maybe he would have found that website! Somehow I am sure that he just wanted to “test” the knowledge of the Dublin Representation so why does he not say that clearly in the article? I also agree that the treaty is not easy to understand: the language of the treaty is very legal and compared with other treaties also the structure is confusing and complicated. But can we not expect from journalists to read the treaty a bit more carefully? Because he would have found the following article (admittedly very hidden in the treaty!):

Article 2
The Treaty establishing the European Community shall be amended in accordance with the provisions of this Article.
1) The title of the Treaty shall be replaced by “Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union”.

Anyway, if he still has problems with the TFEU he should start reading EU blogs!

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Sarkozy and the shiny Romanian pen

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Russia: Corruption ‘price list’

Corruption in Russia is neither a new development nor a surprising one. However, now even President Putin as well as his likely successor Medvedev mentioned the corruption problem in recent public speeches. Of course it is a bit awkward for Putin to admit that corruption has been flourishing during his term in office, so it might be a rather tactical move to support his successor… and might even lay the ground for some politically motivated arrests later this year…

Coming back to the topic of corruption: According to the Eurasia Daily Monitor, two Russian research institutes, namely the Institute for Public Projects (INOP) and the Institute for Comparative Social Research (CESSI)  published a study called “The Nature and Structure of Corruption in Russia” which also contains a very interesting (and expensive!) ‘price list’ for all sorts of bribes:

According to the list, a place on a party list for a State Duma election cost $2 million-$5 million while getting legislation introduced in the Duma for consideration costs $250,000. For a state monopoly to win a “goszakaz,” or state purchase order, it must pay 20% of the order’s total value; for it to participate in a national project, it must pay 30-40% of the project’s total value; for it to get a line item in the federal budget, it must pay three percent of the project’s total value.

A large private company must pay $1 million-$5 million to get a license, prevent a license it has from getting revoked or get a competitor’s license revoked. For a large private company to win a “goszakaz,” it must pay a third of the order’s total value. For a small business to ensure that a transaction is carried out, it must pay a third of the transaction’s value; in order to get “help” from officials, a small business must pay 10% of its total profits. Getting customs duties reduced costs 30-50% of the sum on which the duties were assessed; getting tax arrears written off costs anywhere from $1000 to 30-50% of the sum of the arrears.

To get the Central Bank to begin examining documents costs a bank $500,000, while winning the right to transfer federal budget funds costs a bank five percent of the sum of the transfer. To win a case in a civil court or an arbitration court costs 10% of the awarded damages. To win a grant costs a charitable foundation 20-30% of the value of the grant. Finally, according to the INOP-CESSI study, to get a television “talking head” to criticize an official costs $20,000 a month.

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Romania needs a new constitution!

After all the political scandals in Romania, it becomes clear that only a new constitution can bring the much needed reform to the country. But first lets look at some problems that the country is facing:

It seems that, after EU accession, reform willingness has somewhat disappeared. This can be seen as a result of letting Romania join the EU although it was not fully prepared. However, the European Commission is still monitoring progress in key policy areas and also has the power to activate several safeguard measures that could for example make every judicial verdict not valid throughout the EU, a truly humiliating step for any EU member state. The latest progress report of the European Commission concludes:

Delays have occurred in implementing a coherent recruitment strategy for the judiciary (benchmark 1), in the establishment of a National Integrity Agency (benchmark 2) and in developing an overall strategy and implementing flagship projects to fight local corruption (benchmark 4). Romania should particularly step up its efforts in the fight against high-level corruption (benchmark 3) and should strengthen its efforts to maintain the legal and institutional stability of the Romanian anti-corruption framework.

That sounds rather diplomatic, but actually Romania has deep-rooted problems and the Commission should not hesitate to trigger the safeguard clauses if no improvements are reported by June, when the next report is due.

Constitutional Court RomaniaEspecially the judiciary produced quite a number of scandals lately. The Romanian Constitutional Court declared that the law regulating the work of the CNSAS (the institution dealing with the Securitate files) is partly unconstitutional. This highly controversial decision forced CNSAS to stop its operations, at least for the time being! Read here about the background story of Romanias’ “Sluggish processing of the past”. Quite a strange coincidence is that just this week CNSAS announced the first results of an ongoing investigation that showed that 1 in 5 Romanian judges were key collaborators of the infamous secret police Securitate.

And now the same Court decided that the President has the right to reject the first candidate (proposed by the Prime Minister) for a ministerial post. (The case was brought before the Court following President Basescu’s refusal to appoint Norica Nicolai as Minister of Justice.) However, according to the ruling, he can only block the candidate once, which can be seen as a rather weak competence. The problem is that the very same Constitutional Court came to a contradictory ruling a few months ago in the case of Foreign Minister Cioroianu. In this case, the Court ruled that the President does not have the right to reject any proposed candidate. It is now an open secret that the rulings of the Romanian Constitutional Court are politically biased.

This has to be put in context with the developments from last year, which I covered here and here. But all these problems are related and, in fact, could be seen as results of the ill-conceived Romanian constitution or, as Mircea Marian (translation via eurotopics) puts it: “The constitution, contrived in 1991 and corrected cosmetically in 2003, is a disaster. Romania needs a new constitution. And it must be designed either for a presidential republic or a parliamentary republic. But not for a ‘semi’-republic, a monster with two heads that spit fire at each other.”

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