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Category Archives: European Union
As many of you know, I recently moved to the UK to start a PhD. (that is also the reason why this blog has been a bit silent recently). Everyone that has ever moved abroad knows that it is quite a mess especially in the first couple of weeks. In my case I had to settle down at the University, find a place to live, get a new phone number and a new bank account. As I lived in several other countries before, finding a suitable place to live is the most difficult thing to do usually (at least for me)…
But this time it was a bit different. Surprisingly, the most annoying issue surrounding my move has been the UK banks. (And I am not talking about the financial super crisis… and Gordon Browns rescue plans for the banks and himself).
The situation is as follows: I am a postgraduate research student with a studentship (= regular income for the banks, right?) and I am a EU citizen. What do I need? – Basically a cheap (preferably free) current account with a debit card that I can use everywhere in Europe. Since I will be travelling a lot, it would also be good to be able to use the debit card without any fee abroad. You might ask yourself how I came up with these specification? Well basically that is the kind of account I have in Germany. As you can see, I neither need a flexible overdraft scheme nor a proper credit card.
So what happened? Innocent as I am I walked into several high street banks and told them my story. I expected to be treated as a normal student (we are all Europeans, right?) and I expected to be offered a student account (which is usually free of charge and comes with a couple of freebies). But instead I was offered either an “international account” (for “only” £5 -7 a month!) or a cash account (free but usually given to teenagers, so the debit card is not really accepted everywhere).
So what is the problem? I don’t have a credit history in the UK! And I suppose because the UK has not joined the Euro they also do not accept credit histories from other European countries. OK, fair enough, but actually I would be flexible on that as I do not need a flexible overdraft scheme. What actually struck me most about it are two things: The inflexibility of the banks (since I always thought the financial sector is more flexible in the UK than elsewhere in Europe) and the absolute absence of any “European” rule. Basically for the bank it does not make a difference whether somebody is a EU citizen or comes from a country in Africa or South East Asia. Needless to say that most banks charge huge fees on anything that happens abroad (withdrawals, purchases, transfers). I assume that all this is connected to not being a member of the Eurozone…?
In the end, I decided for one of the “teenager accounts” and I am planning to get another account next year with a different bank (because then I will have credit history…although having no overdraft scheme makes it a bit difficult to prove that). Another proof that something is not working properly here is the following. I have to wait for ONE week to get the account number and TWO weeks for the debit card. Every other bank in every other country (even Belgium!) I used so far was much quicker… I expected to get the number immediately and the card 3-4 days later…
And I really had to laugh while waiting at one of the banks. The TV showed Gordon Brown explaining the financial crisis and that the motto of most brokers is “My word is my bond”… It obviously only applies to brokers and not to customers.
PS: And while we are at it: Another issue that is clearly discriminatory is the issue of Research Council Studentships. You do not need to be British to get one but you must prove that you have been a UK resident (which is funny because there is no registration process….) for three years. At first sight that sounds like a reasonable thing but just think a bit further: British citizen would also be excluded if they decided to study in another EU country for their Bachelor. But the rule is not fair here: British citizens can always claim to have lived at their parents address for these three years… So who is excluded from the whole scheme? EU citizens (that is Non-British) that on paper are supposed to have the same rights everywhere in the EU! Well of course it is also against the whole idea of making Europe the “most innovative knowledge based society”… but that is already the story of another blog post, I suppose.
Update 25/10/2007: So after 1 week I got my account number, after almost 2 weeks my debit card. I even got my activation code for the Internet banking. However, the PIN code for the debit card is still missing. After reading through the letter I learnt that I had to “activate” my debit card either online or by returning a letter. So after “activating” my online banking account (with the “online activation code”) I was really happy that the “activation” of the debit card actually worked online! So hopefully they will send also the PIN soon since without it the card is pretty useless. Then I had this crazy idea to actually “use” the online banking since I had “activated” it. So, I found out that I needed to order a “card reader” which I somehow expected since they did not send me any online PIN numbers … but the next surprise came immediately: It can take up to 15 days to deliver this card reader!!!
So, the only way that I actually can get my money is queuing at the cashier in a branch of the bank…. (I don’t think I have ever done that in my life…)
I have not yet given up hope as it might be the problem of this particular bank. However, I think this is just ridicolous and not acceptable. It basically can take more than a month until a bank account is fully functioning (+ all the other restrictions I have to live with!)…
Just to put that into perspective: I lived in Belgium, Germany (both famous for bureaucracy) and Romania (known for not being quite as efficient as the rest of Europe), but in all of these countries this whole process of opening a bank account (with debit and credit card, online banking and telephone banking) takes no longer than 3-4 days!
Just a short update on two issues that have also been discussed on this blog:
1. What happened with the “Telecoms Package” (that I have mentioned here and here)? It seems that most of the worrying amendments regarding copyright issues (especially the three strikes approach) were not adopted by the European Parliament. A detailed analysis by La Quadrature du Net will be published in the next days. However, it was an impressive example of digital citizen lobbyism. If you read German head over to netzpolitik.org and heise.de. EurActiv has a long and rather general article on the whole initiative. But it is true: the Internet is rather quiet about this success in the European Parliament as A Fistful of Euros notes. Bashing the EU is much easier, I guess.
2. And what about the mysterious “blogger regulation” of Marianne Mikko … that actually never really existed in the first place? Well, it was not adopted by the European Parliament (or rather not included in the EP resolution). For more details check out EUobserver and Julien Frisch.
The first reading of the so-called Telecoms Package will take place this Wednesday at 11h30am in the European Parliament. The main problem with the directive is the following: Originally the initiative aimed at regulating the market of telecommunication companies but, due to some intense lobbying by some big media companies, it now also contains proposals regarding some very controversial copyright issues. Le laquadrature du Net has a good summary of all developments surrounding this initiative. The following amendments contain some problematic provisions such as:
- Some amendments could allow Member States to create “graduated responses” against unauthorized file sharing, which would have many harmful consequences for civil liberties
- The notion of “lawful content” is a threat for civil liberties and the socio-economic development of the Internet.
- Amendment 34, if voted, can allow to harm privacy in the name of unauthorized file sharing.
Feel free to join the campaign that lobbies for a more open internet. All updates can be found here and as a RSS feed here. (everything is also available in French, German and Spanish). They also provide you with important lobbying advices for the remaining 24 hours before the vote: a very helpful example of a phone conversation with an MEP, a list of ‘incorrect’ arguments, and obviously some nice blog banners:
The long awaited report on the underlying causes of the No vote on the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland has been published. You can read the complete report here: “Post Lisbon Treaty Referendum Research Findings (.pdf)”
Here some key findings:
- The main reason for abstaining in this referendum was lack of understanding/knowledge (46%), which is far in excess of any other voluntary or circumstantial reason given for not voting.
- Much of the Yes vote is underpinned by a strong general feeling of pro-Europeanism rather than Treaty specific motivations.
- Twenty-six percent of No voters mentioned Treaty specific elements that were of concern to them.
- The main reason cited for voting No was ‘lack of knowledge/information/ understanding’ at
42%. There can be little doubt that this emerged as the primary reason for people voting
- At a wider level, an EU knowledge deficit is clearly present which has undoubtedly contributed to the No vote. Knowledge of EU institutions and how they work appears to be particularly low. The difficulty of advocating a referendum that is based on the premise of institutional reform in this environment is apparent.
So, the report suggests that a lack of knowledge/information/understanding was the main reason for the referendum outcome: At the same time there seems to be little willingness to do something about it:
- Despite not having a good understanding of how EU institutions operate, there was fairly limited appetite for additional information, particularly among younger group participants. Few felt that they would realistically take the time or go to the bother to inform themselves in any great detail. Older group participants (those aged 35+), were more open to learning more and felt that if the EU was going to become more important to Ireland then it was important for them to be better informed.
Let’s have a look at the ‘issues’:
- ‘No’ voters were far more likely to believe that erosion of Irish neutrality, end of control over abortion and conscription to a European army were part of the Lisbon Treaty, revealing key cracks in the debate.
- Loss of Commissioner was also a common concern on the No side.
- When asked directly, respondents cited the issue of protection of workers’ rights as being
“very important” more often than any other issue (of a defined set of issues) relating to
Ireland and the EU. Retaining control over public services in the future was similarly cited.
- Concerns over specific aspects of the Treaty loom large, particularly perceptions of an erosion of neutrality, the Commissioner issue (which many do not seem to properly understand), Corporate tax and to a lesser degree abortion.
Well, the report clearly did not come up with any surprising results. Most of it has been debated over and over again. So I will not get into the debate whether referendums are useful (hint: they are not!) or whether the Lisbon treaty is too complex (hint: yes it is!) or whether the EU is a big conspiracy theory (hint: it is not).
However, one question is of course still the same: What to do now? – A new referendum on the same text? No new referendum and a parliamentary ratification followed by an referendum on one or two treaty issues? A new EU treaty and negotiations from scratch? A kind of “Irish Protocol” that addresses the problematic issues despite their irrelevance? The report only suggests that any new vote on an unchanged document would have a negative result again.
The only certain fact is the existence of the “EU knowledge deficit” which is probably a widespread problem everywhere in the EU. I think this is a structural problem that needs to be addressed on different levels: The EU should be included in school curricula and there needs to be a better media coverage and reporting of EU affairs. Of course local, national and European politicians need to explain the role of the EU with more honesty. At the same time the EU needs to engage more people in debating European issues, some institutional reforms would also be helpful … Ok, enough wishful thinking for today!