Thursday, 26 May 2011

New EU telecoms rules in force (Digital Agenda)

The Digital Agenda spearheads the Europe 2020 growth strategy (EU2020) and efforts to achieve a genuine Single Market. One stage was reached 25 May 2011, when new telecoms rules entered into force in the European Union. The Commission offers a brief overview of the new rules on phone, mobile and Internet services in a press release published in 22 official EU languages; here the English version with links to the other languages:

Digital Agenda: new telecoms rules benefit citizens and businesses across Europe; Brussels 23 May 2011 IP/11/622

The press release contains links to more detailed memos in English.

Ralf Grahn

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Which straitjacket and life jacket for Eurozone Greece?

Yesterday, I collected a few of my blog posts regarding the eurozone crisis and the issue of transparency on Grahnlaw Suomi Finland. The text is in Swedish, but most of the posts and some references are in English: EU-institutionerna mellan stumhet, PR och genuin öppenhet (Portugal och Grekland). (For the rest, you can try Google translation.)

While I am worried that the lack of quality information from the EU institutions is like a gift to demagogues and populists in the weak eurozone countries as well as in the stronger ones, the president of the European Council had taken a different tack the previous day. According to EurActiv, Herman Van Rompuy maintained that the messages given out are part of the problem, not a part of the solution: Special report: Van Rompuy warns leaders not to panic markets (20 May 2011).

As we have noted, credible and up-to-date information from the EU institutions about Greece is especially scarce. Not a word in the Ecofin conclusions on Tuesday.

Regardless of conflicting messages and Van Rompuy's admonishing words the markets follow their own instincts and reasoning.

Greece downgraded

On the Brussels blog (Financial Times), Joshua Chaffin notes that the credit rating agency Fitch Friday downgraded Greece's long term debt by one notch to B+, with a negative outlook. ”Soft” or not, the rating agency takes a dim view of any debt restructuring: Fitch joins chorus for another Greece bailout (20 May 2011).

However, Reuters speaks about a cut by three notches, but records the same B+: Fitch cuts Greek rating, warns over restructuring (20 May 2011).

According to Wikipedia, Fitch's credit rating B+ is in the category Non-investment grade, highly speculative. Three notches below the March rating BB+, Greece is now in the company of Zambia.

Le Monde makes the three-notch drop explicit, by mentioning both the previous BB+ and the new B+ grade: L'agence Fitch dégrade de trois crans la note de la Grèce (20 May 2011).

Bloomberg tells us that the yield on the Greek 10-year bonds rose to 16.6 percent: Fitch Cuts Greece to B+, Says Maturity Extension Is Default (20 May 2011). It is even clearer than before that Greece is outside commercial debt financing of its huge government deficits.

The next moves have to come from the government and society of Greece, followed by the conclusions of the EU-IMF mission, but we still have to wait for guarantees that the EU, including the ECB and the member states, will deliver a combination straitjacket and life jacket able to avoid financial meltdown.

Ralf Grahn

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Ecofin: Eurozone bailout Portugal

It is a telling sign of weak EU structures that the chief outcome of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (Ecofin) is produced ”in the margins” of the Council:

Statement by the Eurogroup and ECOFIN Ministers (16 May; no document identifier)

The unanimous decision by ministers is there, but references (links) to decisions and other documents in final or draft form would have made the statement more credible and readable.


Until the conclusions of the Ecofin meeting (16 and) 17 May 2011 are released, interested readers find guidance in the agenda and the background note (including a few paragraphs about Portugal).

Ralf Grahn

P.S. The members of the French blog collective ”les Cabris de l'Europe” produce the must-read Euroblog Europe 27etc, which discusses the shortcomings and feats of EU politics in France and elsewhere. Critical and constructive.

P.S. 1: Has the EU Council really internalised the newish Lisbon Treaty? The discussion about access to documents and Council transparency continues on Ronny Patz's blog post.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Citizens first: EU Council ignores the Treaty

In his blog post The schizophrenic Council, Ronny Patz saw the real face of the Council of the European Union as that of an EU institution

…that may have started to understand how 21st century PR works but that has not yet understood how 21st century democracy should look like.
Kudos to Reijo Kemppinen for presenting the Council view about restricted and privileged access to information.

However, Kemppinen's arguments miss the fundamental principles of equality of and equal attention to the citizens of the EU (Article 9 TEU), as well as the guiding values of a union 'in which decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen' (Article 1 TEU).

This is more than a bureaucratic slip.

The guiding principles are relevant to both the apples of access to documents and the oranges of running communication work of the EU Council (as well as the other EU institutions).

The fruits belong to the citizens of the European Union.

Ralf Grahn

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Herman Van Rompuy: Great Expectations

Herman Van Rompuy initiated a channel to EU citizen (bloggers) by launching 'Ask your question!' on Facebook. However, a few days after Europe Day 9 May 2011 most of the questions are still unanswered and the few recorded replies can hardly be described as illuminating, although new comments may still appear.

Until then, instead of the 'Great Expectations' drummed up – and then deceived – the questions by the participants and their reactions remain the most valuable part. (Remember to scroll down to older posts, until the end.)

The rickety institutional framework of the eurozone and the continuing appearance of new salvage operations erode trust in leaders wedded to 'dark secrets'.

Mainly written by pro-EU bloggers, posts marked 'eurozone' and 'myeurope' on tell us something about the need for 'comprehensive reform', way beyond failed PR exercises and official optimism.

The European Union needs to become real, trustworthy and comprehensible in the eyes of its citizens.

Update 14 May 2011: Read the EurActiv article 'EU leaders played poker with the euro and lost, says Borrell' (13 May 2011).

Ralf Grahn

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Europe, 9 May and eurozone on

Without any official My Europe Week campaign to inspire eurobloggers, all the latest 100 entries tagged 'myeurope' on are now new ones, published during the last days.

The blog posts deal with Europe Day 2011 events or thoughts about the past, present and future of the European Union. Some of the articles are remarkable, well worth your tweets etc.

The other theme I find necessary to highlight is the 'eurozone', where the innate lack of transparency and credibility of official efforts offers juicy gifts to those who want to undermine the common currency.

Ralf Grahn

Monday, 9 May 2011

Europe Day blogging 2011

Even if there is no real My Europe Week blog festival this year, you can still share your blog entries about Europe Day (9 May) events and your thoughts about the future of the European Union. By now there are about 35 new posts tagged 'myeurope' on

On Twitter you can participate under the hashtags #EuropeDay and now also the shorter #euday, as well as the more reflective #MyEurope.

Own blogging

At this stage, my own experiment has been to compare feelings a year ago and now:

Share your Europe Day 2011

Europe Day essence: The future

Europe Day thrives on languages

Europe Day thoughts


Are there clear enough signs that the European Union has increasingly become a part of the solution? What should and could be done?

Ralf Grahn

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Share your Europe Day 2011

Soon there are seven billion of us sharing this fragile planet. The idea of European integration is very much about the future: making life more safe and prosperous for Europeans, as well as for all other humans.

Europe Day 9 May offers us a good reason to think about what we can learn from the past in order to build a better future. Reading the Schuman declaration of 9 May 1950 is a good way to start (available in twenty-two official EU languages).

'De facto solidarity' was on my mind a year ago, and the need has gone nowhere, despite regression trips among European electorates.

Last year, the call by editors for eurobloggers to share their views during My Europe Week led to 84 blog entries archived.

Nothing prevents the willing from using the hashtags #MyEurope and #EuropeDay on Twitter, or to think aloud about our common future AD MMXI.

Ralf Grahn

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Stability, convergence and EU2020 compliance: EU member states and Commission

The spring meeting of the European Council 24 to 25 March 2011 (EUCO 10/11, paragraph 2 and footnote 1) outlined the the next steps within the framework of the European semester and endorsed the the priorities for fiscal consolidation and structural reform ”in line with” the Council's conclusions of 15 February and 7 March 2011 and further to the Commission's Annual Growth Survey, while also referring to the synthesis report of 16 March 2011 by the Hungarian presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The conclusions of the Ecofin Council (Economic and Financial Affairs) 15 February 2011 on the European Semester stated that the Stability and Convergence Programmes and National Reform Programmes for the period 2011/2012 were to be submitted by the EU member states preferably by mid-April or end April at the latest (paragraph 1).

During our pre-deadline peek on 22 April 2011 we found both programmes, but mainly in the national languages, from four countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Hungary and Finland) plus the Stability programme of Slovenia posted on the web pages of DG Economic and Financial Affairs (Ecfin) of the European Commission.

The next day we looked for updates on the website of the Europe 2020 strategy, but found none.

However, by searching for documents from the EU member states, we unearthed and provided links to the posted language versions of the first Stability Programmes, Convergence Programmes or National Reform Programmes stashed away on the website (Germany, Bulgaria, Belgium and Hungary).

We also provided direct links to the different language versions of the programmes posted on the Ecfin web page.

In part, different sets had been posted on the two Commission websites. At the time, even after combining the EU2020 and Ecfin websites, we still had no programmes from 21 out of 27 EU member states, and only one programme each from two of the six countries posted on the websites of the European Commission. Only Hungary and Finland offered both programmes in English.

Submission deadline

We have passed the 30 April 2011 deadline and we have entered what the Elisabethan writer Thomas Dekker called ”The Merry Month of May”.

The final version of the Stability Programme of each eurozone country or the Convergence Programme from each EU member progressing towards euro adoption, plus the National Reform Programme for every member, is its main contribution towards fulfilling its obligations according to the Stability and Growth Pact, the European Semester and the growth-enhancing reforms in line with the EU2020 strategy.

The drafts were submitted last autumn, but have been under wraps. It is high time for the European public to be able to access the final programmes, the new language versions (especially English) and possible related improvements and updates on the EU2020 and Ecfin websites.

Europe 2020 improvements and updates

The latest updates on the EU2020 website are press releases from the Commission.

If we search for Latest documents, the last addition is from 25 March 2011, namely a link to the conclusions of the [European] Council, which include the agreed text on the Euro Plus Pact.

In other words, the Commission has not improved its presentation since our latest visit.

In my humble opinion, on a pan-EU website such as Europe 2020, all the EU institutions and the member states should be treated on an equal basis.

Forewarned, or inspired enough to search for Member states' documents, you find six NRPs added to the ones we found on our previous visit: from Poland (in Polish), Lithuania (in English), Luxembourg (in French), the Czech Republic (in Czech), Ireland (in English) and the United Kingdom (in English).

Eight National Reform Programmes out of 27 EU member states, but only four programmes in English.

Ecfin improvements and updates

Through the Ecfin web page 'Stability and Convergence programmes (or updates) and National Reform Programmes 2011 – programmes received to date' we find thirteen Stability or Convergence programmes and nine NRPs, but most English versions are not yet available.

The DG Ecfin offers a dedicated web page and the available programmes can be seen at a glance. In addition to the submitted programmes, the page contains space for the later stages: Staff Working Paper, Commission recommendation and Council recommendation.

Clearly, someone has done some thinking. Perhaps the people responsible for the Europe 2020 strategy and website could pay a visit.

The missing Swedish version of the NRP from Finland I remarked about has not been added in the meantime.


Hopefully, we are going to see improvements within the next few days, by the EU member states as well as the Commission, because the deadline for proposed recommendations is approaching (late May, early June).

Ralf Grahn

P.S. is a public service dedicated to news and opinion concerning netizens' rights and freedoms. It is a joint project by the Greens-EFA in the European Parliament and Piratpartiet.

Monday, 2 May 2011

”Wide ownership” of Europe 2020 strategy – and more intense

The European Union and the EU member states have programmes for competitiveness in and of Europe, but the Europe 2020 growth strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth (EU2020) and the relaunch of the Single Market (through the Single Market Act SMA) need to develop much beyond ritualistic planning and reporting chores for a handful of EU and central government officials.

”Wide ownership”

At least, the spring meeting of the European Council 24 to 25 March 2011 (EUCO 10/11) paid lip service to the need to engage all stakeholders, but the summit silently dismissed the demand from the Committee of the Regions to create territorial growth pacts:

6. In implementing these policies, and in order to ensure wide ownership, close cooperation will be maintained with the European Parliament and other EU institutions and advisory bodies (ESC, CoR), with the full involvement of national parliaments, social partners, regions and other stakeholders.

Regarding the challenge from the CoR and support from the European Parliament and the Commission, see the blog post (in Swedish) 'Regionerna utmanar EU-rådet: Pakt och partnerskap för EU2020-strategin' and (in English) 'Europe 2020 strategy: Regions challenge central governments', published just before the ides of March.

Having thwarted the regional ambitions, what are the European Council, the Council (of ministers) and the EU member states going to do to create at least a sense of wider ownership, even if lacking empowerment?

How are they going to manifest their own ownership more intensely?

They make or break the reform strategies for competitiveness, but how often do we see signs of the EU2020 strategy and the SMA at the top of the political agenda in the member states?

How much of a wider debate do we notice?

Hungarian benchmark

At this point, I am far from convinced that the EU2020 strategy will prove to be a greater success than the lost decade of the Lisbon strategy, even if proactive reform policies are crucial for the prosperity and the public services of Europeans.

However, even in dire circumstances there are almost always pockets of excellence to be found.

The Hungarian presidency of the Council of the European Union communicated brilliantly about the informal meeting of research ministers on innovation challenges 11 to 13 April 2011.

Is the Council secretariat prepared to improve the Consilium web pages by including links to future informal ministerial meetings of the different Council configurations? Is the next presidency trio – Poland, Denmark and Cyprus (Wikipedia) - ready to equal or surpass the benchmark set by Hungary regarding the meeting of the ministers for research?


We have to find and to nurture pockets of excellence, necessary to promote and communicate both wider and more intense ownership of the Europe 2020 growth strategy and other reform programmes, such as the Single Market Act and the Small Business Act, based on the sustainable foundations of the Stability or Convergence Programmes.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. In French and English, La Quadrature du Net informs us about legal developments at EU and national level and advocates the rights and freedoms of citizens on the Internet. Highly recommended.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Improving communication: Informal EU Council meetings

We have scouted in the direction of competitiveness, in EU programme terms the Europe 2020 growth strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth (EU2020) and the relaunch of the Single Market (through the Single Market Act SMA).

This has now led us to ask if future Council presidencies will try to exceed the benchmark set by Hungary for an informal Council meeting and if communication on official and informal Council meetings could be better integrated.

Hungarian benchmark

I am impressed. The Hungarian presidency of the Council of the European Union showed the way by going well beyond the traditionally lousy communication standards for informal Council meetings.

The informal Competitiveness Council 11 to 13 April 2011, where research ministers discussed innovation, offered stakeholders, the media and the wider public a fairly detailed account of the meeting as well as the solid discussion paper Future Perfect.

Even if the ministerial discussions 'sub rosa' remained closed to the public, the well structured web page with the main press release brilliantly gave interested readers access to related news and pages, as well as relevant external websites and documents about research and technological development (RTD).

(We also found that the European Commission should do some technical repair work regarding the links to the Digital Agenda.)

Improving the Consilium website

As we have seen, the Consilium website offers us official conslusions, as here regarding the Competitiveness Council (internal market, industry, research and space).

Even if it still seems like a utopian dream to wish for one-stop thematic websites truly covering all the EU institutions, I wonder if the Council (Consilium) couldn't at least build a bridge to the rotating presidency by including the main press release (web page) reporting the outcome of each informal Council meeting.

This would offer a permanent reference to the presidency pages, otherwise easily missed. In turn, wider and more long term readership might inspire future Council presidencies to communicate more generously about the informal Council meetings they arrange, with the Hungarian innovation page as the benchmark 'pro tempore'.

Is the next trio – Poland, Denmark and Cyprus (Wikipedia) - ready to take up the challenge?

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Gergely Polner and Hajdú Márton give the Hungarian presidency of the EU Council a human face on the Kovács & Kováts blog. You can follow @polnerspox and @hajduspox on Twitter, too.