La Treizième Étoile: 24/01/10 - 31/01/10 Blog Archives
News from the European Union with a focus on the South West UK and Gibraltar region and its MEPs
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EU to take fight to Facebook, MySpace & Twitter over user's right to privacy

Saturday, 30 January 2010
Two weeks ago, Mark Zuckerberg, the 25-year old founder of social networking site Facebook, told the world that 'the age of privacy is over' and we should 'just get over it, no one cares about privacy anymore' - a message that sparked off huge opposition around the world.

No more so than in the corridors of the European Commission, who have responded by announcing its intentions to introduce comprehensive new laws protecting European user's privacy.

Viviane Reding vows to fight for user's right to privacy online (Photo: European Parliament)Setting their sights the massively popular website, Viviane Reding, above, the Commissioner charged with the dossier of Information Society & Media, set out her intentions in a keynote speech amongst the events scheduled to mark the EU's 2010 Data Protection Day on 28th January.

Mrs Reding warned that "data protection rules must be updated to keep abreast of technological change to ensure the right to privacy," and referring to the new powers gained under the Lisbon Treaty and the legal basis given to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Commission said it wants to create "a clear, modern set of rules" that would guarantee a high level of personal data protection and privacy.

This will come as good news for EU users since earlier legislation was so limited by its possible scope that it was restricted to issues concerning the European Community - the so-called first pillar of the EU - and not issues of foreign affairs or justice which were the second and third pillars respectively.

Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg (Photo: Telegraph)Unusually mentioning Facebook, Myspace and Twitter by name, Mrs Reding said she will start this year with a revision of the 1995 Data Protection Directive, and made it abundantly clear that privacy issues are at the forefront of her ambitions.

"Innovation is important in today's society but should not go at the expense of people's fundamental right to privacy," she said.

"Whether we want it or not, almost every day we share personal data about ourselves. These data are collected, processed and then stored out of our sight. By booking a flight ticket, transferring money, applying for a job or just using the Internet we are exposing our private lives to others. Sometimes it is necessary," she continued.

"But data are being collected without our consent and often without our knowledge. This is where European law comes in."

She said that people should have the right "to say no ...whenever they want."

While far too early to say what these new laws will entail, it is clear that greater pressure will be applied to the sites themselves, who "must use their power of innovation to improve the protection of privacy and personal data from the very beginning of the development cycle."

Body Scanner already in use at Schiphol airport, Netherlands (Photo: Guardian)Mrs Reding concluded by saying Europe must set the global agenda in terms of privacy protection and said that the prospect of installing the controversial body scanners at airports have not escaped her gaze.

"I am convinced that body scanners have a considerable privacy-invasive potential but their usefulness is still to be proven," she said.

"Their impact on health has not yet been fully assessed; therefore I cannot imagine this privacy-intrusive technique being imposed on us without full consideration of its impact."

Have your say: How much do you value your privacy online? Do you welcome the EU's intention to greatly improve the laws protecting your data? Post your comments below...

Dire Times: Eurozone unemployment hits 10%

Friday, 29 January 2010
It is a grim consequence of the economic recession that unemployment in Eurozone hit 10% in December for the first time since the single currency was introduced in 1999, Eurostat revealed today.

This figure stood at only 7.6% in December last year and now means some 15.8 million people are now out of work in the 16 countries that use the Euro currency.

But the reading becomes grimmer when including the remaining seven countries that are part of the EU but not users of the single currency, such as the UK, as that figure climbs to 23 million citizens unemployed.

Great Depression Unemployment Line (Photo: biggovernment.com)According to the figures from Eurostat, Latvia has the highest jobless rate in the EU at 22.8%, while Spain, who currently holds the six-month rotating Presidency of the European Council, continues to have the highest rate in the Eurozone at 19.5%.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Netherlands has the lowest jobless rate at 4%, followed by Austria at 5.4% (UK 7.8%).

But there was a small consolation included in its report - 'only' 87,000 jobs were lost across the Eurozone during December - the lowest figure since May 2008.

The 10% unemployment rate was shared by the USA in December, and President Obama in his first State of the Union address made job creation his first priority. On the back of these figures, the EU would perhaps be best encouraged to do the same...

'NATO is the relationship that keeps the United States in Europe' - Albright

Thursday, 28 January 2010
The former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, appeared before MEPs in Brussels on Wednesday evening to answer their questions surrounding the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's (NATO) future working strategy that she is charged with revising.

In what was a very frank and informative session, aspects of EU-NATO co-operation, the evolution of the international security environment, NATO's relations with Russia and its "open door" policy were all raised by MEPs of the Parliament's Security and Defence subcommittee (SEDE).

Madeleine Albright, Chair of NATO's Strategic Concept Expert Group at the European Parliament - 27/01/10 (Photo: European Parliament)Mrs Albright (above) was warmly greeted and set about explaining in detail the key issues she faces in updating the organisations's Strategic Concept which seeks to build “a strong, versatile and adaptable North Atlantic Alliance that is able to respond adequately to 21st century challenges."

"With 20 plus members, NATO can be slow and caught flat-footed by change," Mrs Albright argued as she highlighted "internal complacency" as a major threat to the future security of Europe.

To prevent this scenario, she spoke of the need for new solutions to reflect the changing nature of the international security environment, the increased sophistication of modern-day terrorism methods, the need for ongoing military transformation to achieve flexible and sustainable forces and to address how approaches to international problems can be sought through EU-NATO cooperation and through other working relationships with external partners. Some mission!

NATO soldiersThe main issue for the MEPs however was the relative lack of dialogue between NATO and the EU, with Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (EPP, PL) stating that "it is high time to change the fact that both sides ignore each other."

Geoffrey van Orden (ECR, UK), later added that because the EU has no additional military capability it merely duplicates what NATO does and this is because the EU is primarily "a political project."

He then called for a clear division of labour - with NATO performing the military tasks while the EU uses its "soft power" policy tools.

Mrs Albright replied by acknowledging such concerns and reiterating that in an era of scarce resources, "so much needs to be done in a spirit of co-operation", not just amongst European members.

"NATO is the relationship that keeps the United States in Europe," she continued, "and the question is how to make sure that US and other countries are part of the discussion on security."

Marietta Giannakou (EPP, EL) asked whether NATO’s enlargement policy of the late 90s would continue and accept applications from new countries such as the FYROM, as well as Georgia and the Ukraine who had previously been promised invitations.

NATO Expansion Map - click to enlargeMs Albright responded that “NATO’s door will remain open to European democracies willing and able to assume the responsibilities and obligations of membership," and recalled that “NATO is not a philanthropic organisation but a security alliance”, stressing the centrality of the mutual defence clause enshrined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty which established it.

But what will NATO do about Russia? - after all it was the potential military threat of the Soviet USSR to European countries that brought about the intergovernmental organisation's founding in April 1949.

"The NATO-Russia relationship is a functional relation and demands a pragmatic approach," replied Mrs Albright who while admitting that there had been "many misunderstandings [about its relations] during the 90s", at present "there are no specific conclusions."

Russia is just one of the partners and should not be “the tail that wags the dog”, she added.

The Expert Group, of which Mrs Albright chairs, will submit its final report to the NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen later in the year in order for it to be approved at the next organised summit in Lisbon in November.

Of all the EU's 27 members, only Austria, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus are not part of the military alliance.


Croatia on course to become EU's 28th member... but not before 2012

Wednesday, 27 January 2010
Negotiations for FYROM should 'begin in the near future' while Turkey still no closer to joining.

Croatia is poised to become the first country to join the EU since the accession of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 as the latest report on the country's progress in 2009 towards accession, adopted unanimously by MEPs this morning, stated negotiations are likely to be concluded later this year.

The resolution, which was passed unanimously by the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) in Brussels this morning, commends Croatia for its continued progress in meeting accession criteria and stated its confidence she "will meet and overcome the considerable challenges remaining as regards the benchmarks set out in the negotiating chapters."

The report's rapporteur Hannes Swoboda (S&D, AT) , speaking at a press conference after the vote, said that "negotiations with Croatia can be concluded in 2010 if the country ensures commitment to strengthening public administration and pursuing reform of the judiciary more resolutely," but stressed that "although not impossible, it is unlikely they will enter on 1st January 2012."

Mr Swoboda commented that the last major obstacle remaining is the country's continued lack of cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal in providing documents needed for warcrimes trials, but Croatia's eventual accession would give fresh positive impetus to the enlargement project.

"Croatia's successful accession is a key to opening up the path to European integration for the rest of the Western Balkan region," he said.

Bernd Posselt, the EPP spokesman on Croatia, said after the meeting that "if things proceed at the current pace, as we all expect them to, this will be the last Progress Report that we will have on our table."

"We have confirmed that the target date for Croatia to finish the negotiating process is during this year - 2010," he said, "Therefore, in a year's time, we could be dealing rather with Croatia's Accession Treaty and I am very much looking forward to that."

Since the launch of accession negotiations with Croatia in 2005, 28 out of the 35 chapters have been opened and 17 have been provisionally closed.

Map of Europe - click to Enlarge (Photo: Europa.eu)In the same meeting, the committee also adopted resolutions on Turkey and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) whose negotiations MEPs expect should "begin in the near future."

In the resolution on Macedonia, MEPs asked the Council to confirm, at its March 2010 summit, that it accepts the Commission's recommendation to open negotiations and they expressed satisfaction at the new Greek government's suggestion of a "symbolic and motivational target date of 2014" for the EU accession of Western Balkans countries.

However, the FYROM, it notes, still has to reform its public administration, its judiciary, fight corruption and improve women’s rights and inter-ethnic relations, and resolve the dispute with Greece over the country's name (Greece claims that use of the name Macedonia constitutes a veiled claim to its province of the same name.)

Rapporteur Zoran Thaler (S&D, SL), however, was optimistic about Macedonia's negotiations beginning shortly and described the EU's enlargement project, through the analogy of a bicycle, as a means of promoting peace and stability in the region.

"Enlargement is just like riding a bicycle," he told reporters, "the further you go, the more stable you get. But if you stop, you fall down."

"Yes, I think there is a risk of destabilisation there if no progress is made, and if that happens it will not just be costly for the country, but for the EU also."

However the third progress report, this time on Turkey, was not so optimistic as despite revealing progress had been made on certain fronts, "many obstacles still remain."

In the adopted resolution, MEPs deplored the fact Turkey had for the fourth consecutive year not implemented the Ankara Protocol, and they further expressed their profound regret at the country's Constitutional Court's decision to ban the Kurdish Democratic Society Party, not withdraw its troops from Cyprus, and to annul the legislation limiting the jurisdiction of military courts.

Rapporteur Ria Oomen-Ruijten (EPP, NL) said these constituted "a serious setback in Turkey's reform efforts" and rallied a call for the Turkey Constitution to be rewritten.

Giscard d'Estaing re-issues call for a €1 note to replace coins in EU wallets

Tuesday, 26 January 2010
Louis Giscard d'Estaing, a French Member of Parliament from Nicolas Sarkozy's governing UMP party, has re-launched the call for the European Central Bank (ECB) to create a €1 bank note, which would mirror the pattern of notes for the US Dollar.

The Money Shot (Photo: genefilter/Flickr)Mr Giscard d'Estaing, the son of former French president Valéry, has already set up a French interparliamentary group on the matter and thinks that such a bank note would give European citizens "the symbolic and practical proof that the European currency is best for them."

"The smallest denomination of Euro note is the five Euro, and that is some eight dollars," he argues, restating his belief that the creation of a new €1 note is necessary to replicate the success of the $1 bill.

The MP, below left, who is also the current Mayor of the commune of Chamalières, where the Bank of France's print house - which, if ever agreed, would print the new notes for France - are conveniently housed, also points to the fact that coins are not accepted at the bureaux de change and as a result this "penalises travellers in the Eurozone."

Louis Giscard d'Estaing sat in the French Assemblée NationaleJean-Pierre Audy, a French MEP, is quoted by EuActif.fr adding that "the €1 note will be very useful in the new Member States such as the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Poland, and Hungary" - although he did not precise why - presumably to aid currency conversion for their future changeovers to the Euro.

But perhaps that is not why, since the only country this would advantage is the largely Eurosceptic Czech Republic, who had been planned a switchover for 2012, but suspended that plan in 2007 amongst considerable public and political opposition.

If the changeover ever happened there, the €1 note would convert to 25 Korun* - which is not a note denomination as the lowest note is 50CZK.

In Lithuania, where the Euro is planned to be adopted shortly, the value of the outgoing currency has been pegged, so always equals 3.45 Litas*, which is also not a denomination of bank note.

In Poland, it would equal 4 Złotych* (lowest note is worth 10 złotych), and then in Hungary where entry into the Eurozone is a long-term goal, it would be worth 275 Forint*, so would have to be changed using a minimum of four coins: a 200, a 50, a 20 and a 5 Ft as the lowest note carries the number 500...

Besides the Czech Republic, the €1 note doesn't present many benefits for these countries in future conversions so there must be another reason. Another French MEP, Jean-Paul Gauzès, says that the new note's value would be symbolic, as "it would be a way of showing the value of the Euro as is our minds it is just another coin."

But taking those examples, the €1 coin would require at least a couple of the original currency coins to convert into anyway as no note corresponds exactly, so where is the benefit of the €1 note apart from trying to establish the same notoriety as the US 'Washington'?

It may therefore come as a surprise to learn that this is not the first time that such a novel idea has been proposed. Italy, Greece, Austria and Slovenia have each asked several times in the past to introduce lower denominations of Euro notes.

ECB in Frankfurt (Photo: De Welt)The European Central Bank which ultimately has the mandate over this has stated that "printing a €1 note is more expensive (and less durable) than minting a €1 coin" and on the 18th November 2004 it decided definitively that there was insufficient demand across the Eurozone for very low denomination banknotes.

However in October 2005, more than half of the MEPs supported a motion calling on the European Commission and the ECB to recognise the need for the introduction of €1 and €2 banknotes.

But because the ECB is not directly answerable to the Parliament or the Commission, it has been able to completely ignore the motion and further calls such as this one - which it has with much success.

So for now, and until some real concrete economic and social reasons are found, the €1 coin will stay - and quite rightly too.

* currency conversions provided by xe.com/ucc and although are subject to natural fluctuations were correct at time of publishing.

'If poaching is allowed to continue, in 30 years there will be no elephants left in Africa'

Monday, 25 January 2010
In an emotional appearance in Brussels this afternoon, Dr Noah Wekesa, the Kenyan Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, fought back the tears as he issued a heartfelt call to the European Union for its Member States to speak out with one voice in opposition to the plans of two fellow African states to try and open a new breach in the total worldwide ivory trade ban.

Beautiful creatures under threat: the African Elephant (Photo: Guardian)Tanzania and Zambia want to sell their stocks of legally acquired ivory (from culling, or from elephants which have died naturally) which allegedly amounts to some 90 tonnes and 22 tonnes respectively, worth a total of $16 million.

In addition, they want their elephant populations to be downgraded from the Appendix 1 (which prohibits all trade in the species) to Appendix 2 (which allows trade if it is monitored) in the ban governed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Both of these actions are heavily criticised by conservationists and are of great concern to the African Elephant Coalition, formed of 23 African countries, who have this week sent a delegation to Brussels ahead of the next CITES meeting which scheduled for 13-25 March in Doha, Qatar.

Right to Left: Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy MEP, Noah Wekesa, the Kenyan Minister of Forestry and Wildlife and Patrick Omondi, the senior Assistant Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service (Photo: Andrew Burgess)Speaking in a press conference this afternoon, Mr Wekesa, called on the EU to "take an unequivocal position in defence of the total moratorium on ivory trade for all countries" and said that "sitting on the fence [as the EU did last time] would be tantamount to handing the EU's 27 votes to the pro-trade lobby."

He explained how all the past evidence shows that these so-called legal sales result in a resurgence of the illegal trade, and the Coalition fear that an ambivalent position by the European Commission towards proposals to tighten and extend a ban on legal ivory trading will lead to increased poaching and the future extinction of the species on the continent.

"If poaching is allowed to continue as it is, in 30 years there will be no elephants left in Africa," was Mr Wekesa's sobering prognostic.

Sharing this concern, Patrick Omondi, the senior Assistant Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service which was set up to protect Kenya's elephant population, said "that's why we are taking the unprecedented step of convening a special meeting of the African Elephant Coalition in Brussels to impress on the EU Commission, Member States and Parliament that they must not support the few who want to sell ivory again and thereby spur the poaching that decimates elephant populations in large parts of Africa."

Speaking about his own countries' elephant population, Mr Wekesa told those present how in 1963, when Kenya gained independence from the British, its elephant population numbered some 167,000, and that by 1989 this figure had been slashed to 16,000 as a result of mass illegal poaching - a cull of nearly 90%.

Later that year, member states of CITES agreed at their meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, to place the African elephant on CITES' Appendix One, which meant that all trade in elephant products, ivory, became banned all around the world. When this ruling came into force in 1990, it resulted in a large decrease of poaching levels all across Africa.

However, in 2007, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana sought and achieved permission from CITES to a "one-off" sale, of 100 tonnes, capitalising on a lack of single EU voice of veto on the matter. Britain, amongst others, had decided to allow the sale despite warnings that it will increase poaching, and China was allowed to become an official ivory buyer, harbouring the largest amount of illegal ivory.

Illegally sourced Elephant IvoryAs part of this compromise deal, it was agreed by all parties that for a period of nine years (up to 2016) no further applications for the sale of ivory would be lodged. Since the agreement, money pledged by the Kenyan government on conservation projects has seen its population double to now 35,000; an encouraging sign.

Now the AEC worry another sale would result in the elephant's extinction from the continent. "We simply cannot afford to lose any more elephants," Mr Wekesa said. "Elephants know no boundaries and with their exceptional memories they will walk 100 miles or more for water crossing into other states. They do not belong to Tanzania or Zambia; they belong to everyone."

MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy (ALDE, NL), who will be part of the EU's delegation to Doha next month, supported this call and said the EU "abstaining would be the same as giving it the sale the green light."

"A main underlying problem is that it is very hard to distinguish what is legal and illegal ivory, but to be honest this item should not even be on the agenda in Doha" because of the agreed nine-year no-sale period.

More than half of EU citizens would oppose Turkey's EU entry in snap poll

More than half of Europeans would vote 'no' in a referendum on Turkey's possible joining on the European Union if such a vote was held tomorrow - that is the conclusion of a survey conducted in five of the biggest EU countries reported in Le Monde this morning (Fr).

According to the poll, which was conducted in the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Germany and Poland by the Bogazici University in Istanbul, the Universities of Granada and Madrid in Spain, 52% responded that they would vote 'no', 41% would vote 'yes' and 7% would abstain.

The 'no' vote was particularly strong in France (64.4%) and Germany (62%) whose leaders and citizens have consistently voiced strong opposition to Turkey's possible entry to the Union.

Meanwhile, more than half the respondents in Poland and Spain said they would vote in favour.

As this poll reaffirms just how divided Europeans are on this subject, the Parliament is due to receive a report on Wednesday on the countries' progress in 2009 towards meeting the criteria required for entry.

Only the most optimistic supporters of a Turkish entry would expect any positive message to come from its conclusions, but we shall see on Wednesday...

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THURSDAY 22 MAY 2014


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