Tag Archives: Europe

“My word is my bond” – but not for EU citizens in the UK!

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!

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European Parliament votes on ‘Telecoms’ package this Wednesday!

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:

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:

Save the European Net !

The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

Sunday afternoon – Some food for thought for the ‘elite education enthusiasts’ in Europe that always use the likes of Yale and Harvard as best practice examples!

“Our best universities have forgotten that the reason they exist is to make minds, not careers” writes William Deresiewicz in his article “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education“. The author makes quite some interesting points about what students learn in so called “elite universities”. Although he falls short of putting the problem in a wider social context, he nevertheless makes it clear that not everything is as perfect with these institutions as many (in Europe) want to believe.

It’s worth reading.

Obama, Berlin and the world

So what did we expect from Barack Obama’s foreign policy speech in Berlin?  Since Barack Obama is not even the official democratic candidate yet, and obviously not the US President, I think expectations were hugely exaggerated. Apart from that, the following list of expectations sums it up (at least for me):

  1. Great visions for the future of everything: yes.   – Policy details: no, not really.
  2. Great rhetoric: yes.  – Great visuals for his campaign: yes, definitely.
  3. Bush-bashing: no. – And a “Berlin surprise”: Oh yes please.

And what did we get? (You can read the transcript of the speech here)

1. What about “visions”: well, sort of. Barack Obama spoke about many global problems and a lot of shared responsibilities and the need for cooperation. Not more, not less. Of course freedom played a big role (George W. Bush would have said the same!). Also the importance of immigration is something Europe needs to learn! Interesting maybe the issue of nuclear disarmament. I haven’t heard any politician to call for that in the last decade or so. Of course he did not go into any detail (it is election campaign time! not a good time for details). However, the “big visionary moment” of the speech was missing. But considering what could have gone wrong with such a speech, I guess it was OK. But of course symbolism prevails over content in every election campaign…

2. What about “great rhetoric”: First of all, I think the rather short speech was well constructed. The second part was better than the beginning. But I also found that the family background did not really work (maybe he should have started with something else and talked about it later? ). I liked the idea of a “world citizen” (what do you expect with that blog name…?). The delivery was very professional but, again, the big moment was missing. BUT the visuals for the campaign were great (and eventually that matters at the moment): They can suggest that he is respected and hugely popular in Europe (the crowd of 200 000 was impressive, right? ) which might give him some foreign policy credibility in the US. But that depends on the spin of the campaign…

3) Obviously no Bush-bashing abroad which is unthinkable in the diplomatic world. So what about the “Berlin surprise”: Nothing really. Basically he used Ernst Reuter and the Berlin airlift for his speech trying to put it in context with globalisation and global challenges. Not a bad idea. But then again, since expectations were huge I doubt that he could have delivered a real “surprise”. Maybe next time…

Anything else?

Well, from a European perspective we can take note that he knows about the EU and he generally thinks highly of global institutions and international cooperation, which is good to know. But I think the really remarkable thing is the pure existence of this event, a kind of “globalisation of US election campaigning”. I think we will see similar events in the future! As somebody on German TV said “It seems that he is the candidate for the world presidency”.

Update: Here is the video of the speech:

Corruption in Romania

A short reminder for the European Commission that will issue the progress report for Romania next week, dealing with the progress made in judicial reform and the fight against corruption … safeguard clauses, anyone? (check here for the so called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism)

Click here to watch the video.

(Hat tip to The Short Story Made Long)

Oh yes, and Bulgaria (more…) has even bigger problems …

Austria and the EU – The SPÖ perspective

Better than any political commentary …. By the way: The original title of the cartoon is “Popo-lismus”…

(Hat tip: weltbeobachterin)

© Thomas Wizany

Update: For a more detailed analysis of the SPÖ’s new EU strategy check out the newly launched Euroblog Austria.

Kosmolinks #17

  • The referendum: populism vs democracy

    The idea of the referendum as an instrument of the people’s will rests on pre-democratic foundations, says George Schöpflin. I certainly agree!

  • A better way with referendums

    Interesting idea: Is it possible to introduce a more deliberative approach when holding a referendum? Does “deliberative polling” make citizens more knowledgeable?

  • Instead of bullying the Irish, Europe should be working on plan D – and E

    Timothy Garton Ash actually favours the “Nice plus” arrangement.

  • Yes, they could

    What went wrong for the German Social Democrats? And how can they recover? – Although the article could focus more on the second question it makes a few good points. However, it seems to me that Kurt Beck is the wrong person to deliver “change”… unfortunately the same can be said for a large part of the SPD leadership!

  • WIA Report » Blogger Arrests

    Quite a shocking report: “Unfortunately, one way to assess the political importance of blogging around the world is through the growing number of blogger arrests. Since 2003, 64 citizens unaffiliated with news organizations have been arrested for their blogging activities.”

  • Centre for European Reform: Tough choices to avoid euro-paralysis

    Hugo Brady proposes the most likely outcome of the “EU crisis” after the ‘No’ in Ireland. And he mentiones one interesting point: “Many voters do not see the continuity between EU treaties and think that old guarantees are over-written by new texts.”