Saturday 29 January 2011

An energetic and innovative European Council?

The European Council has a rendezvous with energy and innovation 4 February 2011 in Brussels, but can we expect the institution to become energetic and innovative? The meeting web page only reiterates the information contained in the annotated draft agenda, dated 7 December 2010, without offering added wisdom (Council document 17163/10).

Before the European Council, the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) and the coordinating General Affairs Council (GAC) are going to meet, both Monday 31 January 2011.

Let us take a look at the quality of the advance information for the coordinating GAC meeting.

GAC background

The background note prepared by the Council press office for the General Affairs Council 31 January 2011 offers a summary on the first page and more detail on the following three pages.

The draft conclusions for the European Council are kept under wraps, but the texts tells us something about the items to be discussed.

Much real world interest hangs on the eurozone, but here little is on offer.

However, if the Council had wanted to be really service minded, it could have provided journalists and other interested people with direct and clear references and links to perhaps ten or twelve of the relevant documents.

Some things are better done once centrally, than hundreds of times in a dispersed manner.

Hungarian Council presidency

The Hungarian presidency of the Council of the European Union offers a brief page with the main items of the General Affairs Council.

In addition, the GAC page links to related news and pages, such as a description of the GAC and the priorities of the Hungarian presidency, the recent meeting of ministers and state secretaries for EU affairs, the launch of the first ”European Semester” for synchronised economic policy coordination, the development of European Roma policy and the strategy for the Danube Region (with further links leading to the communication from the Commission COM(2010) 715 final). Of course, it might be a good idea to link to the Eur-Lex page with all the available language versions.

There is a link to a GAC agenda dated 27 January 2011 and to the Council background note I mentioned earlier.

On the whole, the Hungarian presidency presents the advance information in a structured and fairly detailed manner, although using generic texts. Until now the General Affairs Council has been treated as a step-child, so this is still pretty good in comparison. Better presentation and preparation at the GAC stage should improve communication (including reception) at the European Council meeting, although energetic and innovative may be a lot to ask for.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Do you think that there are differences between how Members of the European Parliament and domestic politicians use the web? Fleishman-Hillard's second European Parliament Digital Trends Survey reports on MEPs. You can discuss #epdigitrends on Twitter.

P.S. 2: I am happy if you want to read my blogs. The internal market and the Europe 2020 strategy (flagship initiatives) are going to be among the main themes on Grahnlaw (in English), Grahnblawg (in Swedish) and Eurooppaoikeus (in Finnish), as well as the trilingual Grahnlaw Suomi Finland. We can get acquainted on Facebook and on Twitter @RalfGrahn, too.

Thursday 27 January 2011

Is the EU getting its Single Market Act together?

Yesterday, we noted how strongly the president of the European Council [ @euHvR on Twitter ] underlined the importance of the internal market: Herman Van Rompuy: ”The Internal Market is the EU's biggest asset”.

Today, we take a short tour of relevant materials. Some of it may shed additional light on why the internal market is important for businesses and citizens.

Single Market Act

Some may want to get to know all EU legislation on the internal market (part of the union acquis), while others may be more interested in detailed information about the proposed internal market reforms. The reform minded can navigate to the Commission web pages about the Single Market Act.

The document of reference is the communication from the European Commission. On Eur-Lex you find the language version you want among the 22 on offer for the Commission proposal.

For the English version I chose the direct link to the corrected text, available through the Single Market Act web page, although in the end it was about just a single word:

Towards a Single Market Act - For a highly competitive social market economy - 50 proposals for improving our work, business and exchanges with one another; Brussels, 11.11.2010 COM(2010) 608 final/2 (about 45 pages)

Competitiveness Council

The 3057th Competititiveness (Internal Market, Industry, Research and Space) Council meeting, Brussels 10 December 2010, produced initial reactions from the member state governments in the form of:

Conclusions on the Single Market Act

Internal market blog posts

Here are links to a number of my earlier, but not all too distant blog posts concerning the internal market.

EU Commission: Internal market reform (9 December 2010)

EU Single Market Act: Disappointing start? (10 December 2010)

(In Finnish) Saako kelkasta pudonnut Eurooppa sisämarkkinat heräämään? (12 December 2010)

(In Finnish) EU:n sisämarkkinoiden toimenpidepaketti (Single Market Act) (12 December 2010)

(In Finnish) EU:n 'Single Market Act' on käännösongelma (13 December 2010)

EU Single Market Act varia (13 December 2010)

EU Competitiveness Council on Single Market Act (14 December 2010)

(In Finnish) Onko EU:ssa yhtenäismarkkinat vai sisämarkkinat? (15 December 2010)

EEA: 506 million consumers

Just as a reminder: Even if we speak about the EU's internal market (or single market), these issues are relevant to the whole European Economic Area. The EEA comprises the 27 EU member states as well as three of the EFTA states, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. This adds up to a home market (of sorts) of about 506 million consumers in all.

No mean feet, said the centipede.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Fleishman-Hillard's second European Parliament Digital Trends Survey describes how Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) use the web. You can follow #epdigitrends on Twitter.

P.S. 2: You can follow me on Facebook and on Twitter @RalfGrahn, in addition to my blogs: Grahnlaw (in English), Grahnblawg (in Swedish) and Eurooppaoikeus (in Finnish), as well as the trilingual Grahnlaw Suomi Finland.

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Herman Van Rompuy: ”The Internal Market is the EU's biggest asset”

In his closing speech at the Annual Brussels Think Tank Meeting ”Europe 3.0: Building a Viable Union” 25 January 2011, the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy @euHvR on Twitter, spoke at length about the economic challenges, particularly with regard to the eurozone. His assessment of challenges, difficulties, achievement and reasonable expectations are well worth reading (page 1-4), as are his remarks about the EU on the international scene (page 4-5). However, I am going to quote Van Rompuy on the internal market, which he called the biggest asset of the European Union (page 4):

I have spoken at length about the Euro, but let us not forget the EU’s other great achievement: the Internal Market. Safeguarding and developing it may be less spectacular, but it is an indispensable day to day work.

The Internal Market is the EU’s biggest asset. Firstly, it is a major source of growth and job creation. That’s why next week the European Council will discuss Innovation and the Energy Market. We will also ask the Commission to set clear priorities amongst the measures proposed in the, rightly ambitious, Single Market Act. Secondly, the Internal Market is the EU’s main leverage towards the outside world. Last year, it helped us to stimulate Russia on its path of modernisation. In the first semester of 2011, we will probably conclude an impressive trade deal with India, as we did some months ago with South Korea. Thirdly, the internal market ties our economies and societies closer together almost every day. This is no accident. It was the brilliant intuition of the European founders, like Jean Monnet. (As he famously said: “L’Europe ne se fera pas d’un coup, ni dans une construction d’ensemble, elle se fera par des réalisations concrètes créant d’abord une solidarité de fait.”)

In that sense, the Internal Market does exactly what the title of today’s event asks for: it makes the Union more viable almost every week. For instance, on 21 December 2010 – four days after the last European Council decided in the limelight on the text of a limited Treaty change to safeguard the Eurozone –, the Council and the European Parliament agreed on three dossiers: patients’ rights, CO2 emissions from light vehicles and falsified medicines.

None of these decisions was glamorous or médiatique. Nor are the roots of a great oak tree… Yet they are fundamental for the strength of the whole.

On the European Council website there is a short note on the items to be discussed at the next meeting, 4 February 2011 in Brussels.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Wherever there are troubles in the eurozone, you can expect A Fistful of Euros to be there with facts and opinion, as in the case of Ireland. One of the must read Euroblogs.

P.S. 2: You can follow me on Facebook and on Twitter @RalfGrahn, in addition to my blogs: Grahnlaw (in English), Grahnblawg (in Swedish) and Eurooppaoikeus (in Finnish), as well as the trilingual Grahnlaw Suomi Finland.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Hungarian EU Council presidency – a PR disaster

Between yesterday and today, even between editing two blog posts this morning, the Facebook group for free media in Hungary keeps growing. A few moments ago 75,578 persons had joined the group, which sets out its reasoned demands in a proclamation published in many European languages.

As a public relations exercise, the start of the Hungarian presidency of the Council of the European Union could hardly have been more catastrophic, but what can a government expect if it attacks European values at home and tells us that it promotes them abroad?

Only rarely, outside the circle of Fidesz supporters and European People's Party (EPP) cronies, do we find defenders of the Hungarian media muzzle law such as Andrea Jamborova in her guest post on the Europolit blog.

More representative of euroblogs and European opinion is the article published yesterday on the Euros du Village, amazed at the muted response from the European Socialists. When Greenyourope compares prime minister Viktor Orban with Hugo Chavez, it is not a compliment. .

Leaving values, principles and politics aside, even on the more restricted grounds of compatibility with EU media law, the Commission has serious doubts about the legality of the Hungarian media act, as noted by Kosmopolito. The letter from the Commission has leaked to the press, so everyone can evaluate the detailed remarks regarding the Audiovisual Media Services Directive and certain treaty principles. .

Ralf Grahn

P.S. On A 12 Stelle, mainly in Italian but also in English, Paolo Maria Grossholz relays EU press releases of interest to businesses. A useful source of information.

P.S. 2: You can follow me on Facebook and on Twitter @RalfGrahn, in addition to my blogs: Grahnlaw (in English), Grahnblawg (in Swedish) and Eurooppaoikeus (in Finnish), as well as the trilingual Grahnlaw Suomi Finland.

Friday 21 January 2011

Constitution, democracy and rule of law: Hungary is more than a diversion for Europe

Despite prime minister Viktor Orban spoiling for a fight against critics of his government agenda, the blog of the Hungarian presidency of the EU Council understandably wants to calm down the heated debate diverting attention from the ”big issues” the EU is facing.

I really want the European Union to create the means to overcome the pressing economic challenges, but the problems in Hungary sap the very foundations of the European construction work, the health of the constitutional order, the democratic system and the rule of law.

My 19 January 2011 blog post mentioned the background picture by Jeremy Druker and published by the International Relations and Security Network (ISN) of not only the repressive Hungarian media law, but other controversial legislation on its way:

Hungary's Media Law – Tip of the Iceberg (18 January 2011).

Druker's quote of professor and OSCE observer Miklos Haratszi revealed problems well beyond the scope of one legislative act:

Still, whatever the outrage in the West, few see that the media package is just the tip of the iceberg of Orban's very far-reaching illiberal, counter-revolution.

Messages from some European leaders seem to fall on deaf ears: PM Viktor Orban wants to fight against free media in Hungary (20 January 2011).


Max Steinbeis on Verfassungsblog now draws attention to the seriousness of the situation in Hungary: Verfassungs-Barbarei in Budapest (20 January 2011).

Steinbeis refers to a discussion arranged by the Law and Society Institute Berlin (LSI Berlin), at the Humboldt University: The Hungarian Constitutional Crisis and European Constitutional Standards. To this, he adds his own reflections, which deserve attentive reading in every capital of the European Union, and more.

These are no mere diversions. Fundamental issues are at stake, not only for Hungary, but for Europe.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Writing for (y)EU is the interesting and inspiring blog of the web team of the European Parliament.

P.S. 2: In addition to my blogs in English, Finnish and Swedish, you can follow me on Facebook and on Twitter @RalfGrahn.

Thursday 20 January 2011

PM Viktor Orban wants to fight against free media in Hungary

Do you beat your wife, but argue that you are such a nice person outside your home that nobody should take you to task?

Which countries do most readily reject criticism of human rights violations as interference in their internal affairs?


Prime minister Viktor Orban presented the programme of the Hungarian presidency of the Council of the European Union at the European Parliament plenary in Strasbourg. He was adamant about the illiberal media law:

Finally, Mr Orbán asked MEPs not to confuse the current EU Presidency with Hungary’s internal affairs, whatever their opinions may be. “I am ready to fight”, said the Hungarian prime minister, warning that if the distinction was not made, it would harm the whole of the EU, rather than just Hungary.

Orban's interpretation of ”respect and humility” was in marked contrast with the views of group leaders Martin Schulz (S&D), Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE) and Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Greens/EFA) regarding the fundamental value of freedom of information.

Some might see a message to the Hungarian EU Council presidency from the outgoing Belgian presidency, in the words of prime minister Yves Leterme a day earlier:

As much as about peace, the Union is about liberty, about democracy, about civil rights, about the rule of law, as well for our citizens as for our immigrants. We believe in the right of each person to human dignity, which means to the right to live on their feet and not on their knees, the right to think and speak and worship freely.

According to commissioner Neelie Kroes, the Commission is examining the implementation of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMS) in Hungary (and other member states). In addition to these narrow legal grounds, president José Manuel Barroso called the freedom of the press a sacred principle, and he called for Orban to understand the political implications.

Andrew Willis on EUobserver noted that PM Orban was met by strong criticism from many members of the European Parliament:

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban met with an unprecedentedly hostile welcome for an incoming EU presidency in the European Parliament on Wednesday (19 January), with MEPs venting strong criticism against Budapest's new media law.

However, PM Orban remained as pugnacious as ever.

Gulf Stream Blues noted Orban's combative mood as well as the timing of the new law:

The only explanations for the timing of this law are that Orban's administration is either extremely naïve or extremely belligerent. Neither bodes well for the potential of the Hungarian presidency to navigate the EU through the next six months of crisis.

Even if PM Orban is impervious to the founding values of the European Union and no EU institution seems to be prepared to enforce them as such, Hungary is party to the (European) Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, including Article 10 on the Freedom of expression.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. On Verfassungsblog the lawyer, journalist and author Max Steinbeis combines his talents to explain the rulings of the German Bundesverfassungsgericht (Federal Constitutional Court), in constant interplay with the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). Recommended reading.

P.S. 2: You can follow me on Facebook and on Twitter @RalfGrahn.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Deserted by EP majority: EU citizens lead lives of quiet desperation (Updated)

”The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Henry David Thoreau, the author of Walden, is back in the European Union, including the European Parliament.

The International Relations and Security Network (ISN) published a background picture by Jeremy Druker of the repressive Hungarian law and other controversial legislation on its way: Hungary's Media Law – Tip of the Iceberg (18 January 2011).

Druker quoted professor and OSCE observer Miklos Haratszi saying:

Still, whatever the outrage in the West, few see that the media package is just the tip of the iceberg of Orban's very far-reaching illiberal, counter-revolution.

The French Brussels based journalist Jean-Sébastien Lefebvre, @jslefebvre on Twitter, has covered various aspects of the Hungarian presidency of the Council of the European Union on his blog, L'expérience européenne.

On the European Union as the last hope for Hungarian media with regard to the new law: Journaliste en Hongrie: ” notre dernier espoir, c'est l'Union européenne ” (29 December 2010).

A broad canvas about the Hungarian EU Council presidency and the history and neighbours of Hungary: La Présidence hongroise, son Histoire et ses voisins (15 January 2011).

The revealing quality of answers from the Hungarian presidency regarding a few of the controversial government measures: L'argumentaire de la Présidence hongroise (18 January 2011).

On Coulisses de Bruxelles, UE, the French journalist and blogger Jean Quatremer, @quatremer on Twitter, speaks about the lost honour of the European Socialists, the second largest group in the European Parliament: Tunisie, Hongrie, l'honneur perdu des socialistes européens (18 January 2011).

Quatremer presents the scene in his opening phrases:

Le groupe socialiste du Parlement européen, présidé par Martin Schulz, a joint ses voix au groupe conservateur du PPE pour bloquer toute résolution sur la révolution tunisienne et sur la suppression de la liberté de la presse en Hongrie à la consternation des Verts, de la GUE (gauche non socialiste) et des… libéraux et démocrates. Ces deux groupes ayant la majorité à eux deux, l’Europarlement restera donc muet, lui qui est si prompt à condamner la moindre atteinte aux droits de l’homme à condition qu’elle ait lieu à l’extérieur de la zone d’influence de l’Union…

Quatremer's conclusions about the group of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the EP is not rosy for those who hope to see a principled defence of the founding values of the European Union and the liberties of all EU citizens:

Sur la Hongrie, le groupe S&D (Alliance progressiste des socialistes européens) est encore plus vaseux si cela est possible : il veut attendre que la Commission européenne dise en quoi la loi sur les médias adoptée par le parlement hongrois est contraire au droit européen, comme si cela n’était pas évident.

Démocratie, liberté de la presse : les socialistes européens ne semblent vraiment plus savoir ce que sont les valeurs européennes qui fondent l’Union et doivent être défendues tant à l’intérieur qu’à l’extérieur. Après cela, étonnez-vous que la gauche soit en perte de vitesse dans l’Union. Au moins la droite est-elle conséquente en condamnant Cuba et en soutenant la Tunisie de Ben Ali…

Quatremer's text was so damning that I felt the need to check the S&D newsroom, where I found a press release from group leader Martin Schulz (in French). Even if Schulz mentions European values, his statement reduces the issue to an assessment by the Commission of compatibility with EU law:

Le Premier ministre Hongrois, Monsieur Viktor Orban, devrait s'assurer de la modification de cette loi si l'incompatibilité avec le droit européen est avérée, et pour cela, la Commission européenne doit agir en jouant pleinement son rôle qui découle du Traité a conclu Martin Schulz.

Update 19 January 2011: Added link to S&D press release Martin Schulz.

Update 2, 20 January 2011: S&D group leader Martin Schulz has written to the Coulisses de Bruxelles, and Jean Quatremer has commented.


In this instance I understand why Quatremer was somewhat hesitant about the position of the Liberals and Democrats, as reflected in the ALDE press release, leaving the field to the Greens and the Left.

This morning in Strasbourg the European Parliament is going to discuss the programme of activities of the Hungarian presidency of the EU Council. By the looks of it, in the terms of practical action neither the Hungarian government nor the EP majority seems to put the founding values of the European Union first.

Is there any alternative to despair?

Ralf Grahn

P.S. The Franco-German blog vasistas? battles for the freedom of EU citizens on the Internet, so there is little risk of running out of challenges to discuss any time soon. @vasistas_blog is also worth following on Twitter.

P.S. 2: You can follow me on Facebook and on Twitter @RalfGrahn.

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Painful reading for an EU citizen: Hungarian media law in EP

After the discussion about the importance of EU founding values – for the citizens of the European Union and for the EU in the wider world – it was painful to read the press summary from the European Parliament: Hungarian media law sparks controversy at the European Parliament (18 January 2011).

Instead of putting European founding values and citizens first, the representatives of the European People's Party (EPP) persisted in legal sophistry and in belittling the issues at stake.

I had hoped that the unfortunate early comments from EPP leaders such as group leader Joseph Daul and EPP president Wilfried Martens would – on reflection – have been scrapped in favour of a principled approach from the strongest political group in the EP, the other EU institutions and the member states.

I was wrong, painfully wrong.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. After a week of technical problems, the multilingual aggregator is again online, bringing you the posts from 732 Euroblogs. European political awareness is needed more than ever.

Monday 17 January 2011

Hungarian EU Council presidency: Website functionality (Updated)

Since 5 January 2011 I have written a number of blog posts critical of the Hungarian presidency of the (other configurations of the) Council of the European Union. (You find the headlines in the right hand margin of the blog.)

Hope springs eternal, so am I able to find something positive to say in all honesty? Let us take a tour of the website of the Hungarian presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The website is available in four EU languages, the national language Hungarian, the most common second language English, the traditionally strong French and during this presidency also German. This is good news for about 90 million German speakers in the EU, the largest native language. At least with regard to front page level items, the different language versions seem to be more or less complete. (I am going to continue by looking at the English version.)

I do not find the layout beautiful, but it looks clear and functional. The front page offers various headlines and links to more detailed pages. The main options for navigation are News and events, Presidency, Contacts and Press. Further items and links are then on offer, both substance and people to contact.

Presidency programme

The presidency trio prepares an 18 month programme, but additionally each six month presidency publishes a work programme. The trio programme is more than a year old, and we live in volatile times. Especially towards the end of one and a half years, the need for an updated road map is obvious.

Since the readers of Grahnlaw tend to be interested in more serious stuff, we note that a few days ago the new programme was published:

The Programme of the Hungarian Presidency of the of the European Union 1 January – 30 June 2011: Strong Europe (about 56 pages)

(This is the first presidency programme I remember seeing with corporate sponsors.)

Update 18 January 2011: Gawain Towler on England Expects turned my discreet remark about corporate sponsorship for government activity into more colourful amazement: The EU Presidency, brought to you by Audi, VW... (17 January 2011).

RSS channels

You can visit the web pages or subscribe to a traditional weekly newsletter, but what I want to mention especially is the choice of eight RSS channels for information practically in real time. I had no problem loading the streams of my choice.

SMS and mobile alerts are available as well.

Social media

The social media page offers you access to six Twitter accounts, a fairly touristic fan page on Facebook and two presidency blogs in English.

Possible improvements

It is still early days with regard to real (formal) Council meetings, and I have only begun to use the presidency pages of Hungary, so my main suggestion is tentative with regard to the (technical) functionality.

Admittedly, the meeting for ministers and state secretaries for employment 16-18 January 2011 is informal, but the main advance offering is a timetable for journalists, without links to relevant documents or presentations of substantive issues.

Better than any Council presidency I remember, in 2009 Sweden managed to create meaningful thematic pages for each Council configuration, with ministerial statements and interviews before and after, agendas, supporting documents and other news items, as well as links to outside discussion.

Will the Hungarian EU Council presidency be able to create the same functionality, interactivity and feeling of unhindered discussion?

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Valéry-Xavier Lentz combines an engagement for Europe with valuable web skills, so his latest blog post concerns the new design of He is also active on Facebook and Twitter, mainly in French, but also in English. One to follow.

P.S. 2: Self-promotion: In addition to writing, I enjoy speaking engagements and invitations to teach EU law and politics in English, Finnish or Swedish, at home or abroad.

Sunday 16 January 2011

Hungarian EU Council presidency: PR or credibility?

The Belgian presidency of the Council of the European Union showed team spirit by using the hashtag #EuTrioBe on Twitter. Now use #EuTrioHu and you find tweets from private EU citizens, media and even the Belgian presidency, but no communication from the Hungarian government.

The pattern is the same as we saw in yesterday's blog post: Hungarian EU Council presidency: Small but telling signs? (15 January 2011). Belgium handed over to but we land at old school On the presidency web pages only the hungarian part of the eutrio logo is used.

Pure coincidence?

The Hungarian EU Council presidency now finds it opportune to tell us about its precedence-setting cooperation with the two other members of the trio:

During the term of the Hungarian Presidency, the Secretaries of State representing the Spanish-Belgian-Hungarian Presidency Trio will continue their excellent cooperation, announced the joint press conference by Enikő Győri, Olivier Chastel and Diego López Garrido in Budapest. The three countries’ cooperation is setting a precedent in the EU.

On a scale between convincing and a hollow ring, where do you place this self-proclaimed truth?

Even in the Hungarian government's press release, the coded language of the the Belgian secretary of state for EU affairs, Olivier Chastel, seems to convey a message to the attentive reader, as he diplomatically:

… spoke highly of the Hungarian Presidency’s programme and the institution of the Trio Presidency. He stressed that the three Presidency’s successes are merged and shared by the three respective countries.

Why do the PR efforts of the Hungarian government remind me of what Hugh Barton-Smith wrote about EU communication on the website of the Belgian chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), in: Can Web 2.0 help save the EU from itself? (4 January 2011):

EU messages tend to be Panglossian in register, which only encourages scepticism.

However, this is where Web 2.0 can be useful. The euro blogo/twitter/facebook sphere is a resonance chamber for sufficiently switched on EU institution actors to assess just how hollow their words can sound.

And whereas most institutional communicators are paid/indoctrinated into falling over each other to find soaring epithets for his new clothes, the bloggers and twitterers can act like the lad pointing out the nakedness of the Emperor.

What would you tell the Hungarian presidency of the Council of the European Union?

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Treffpunkt Europa, the German webzine of the young European federalists (JEF), is back online with a new layout and continued discussion about the future of Europe, like its siblings, Le Taurillon in French, The New Federalist in English and Eurobull in Italian. Recommended reading for every EU citizen.

P.S. 2: After a few years discussing the EU on forums and blogs in Swedish and Finnish, I began blogging on Grahnlaw (in English). Today's Grahnlaw post is number 1,950, so there is a fairly solid archive by now on EU law and politics.

Saturday 15 January 2011

Hungarian EU Council presidency: Small but telling signs?

The holders of the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union (Wikipedia) have not contributed only to the great events and mundane work of European integration, but the main developments are reflected in more intimate details.

Traditionally, the presidency appeared on the web in the form eu-year-national top level domain, such as (although France could be counted on to use the inverted ue characteristic of French and other Romance languages).

Even back then, although the member state in question tended to be forgetful, it was not the EU President but the president (chair) of the Council (configurations).


Sweden was the last member state to begin its EU Council presidency under the Treaty of Nice, chairing the European Council summits and the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) in addition to the other Council configurations.

The Swedish government added a small, but nice touch, by profiling its competent presidency under the EU top level domain:

Presidency trios

The Treaty of Lisbon, which finally entered into force on 1 December 2009, enshrined and tried to boost the principle of presidency trios in order to promote continuity and consistency in the work of the Council.

If you are interested, you find the references back to the Lisbon Treaty in the decision adopted:

EUROPEAN COUNCIL DECISION 2009/881/EU of 1 December 2009 on the exercise of the Presidency of the Council (OJEU 2.12.2009 L 315/50)

Article 1 provides for the 18 month trio (officially, group) and its common programme:

Article 1

1. The Presidency of the Council, with the exception of the Foreign Affairs configuration, shall be held by pre-established groups of three Member States for a period of 18 months. The groups shall be made up on a basis of equal rotation among the Member States, taking into account their diversity and geographical balance within the Union.

2. Each member of the group shall in turn chair for a six-month period all configurations of the Council, with the exception of the Foreign Affairs configuration. The other members of the group shall assist the Chair in all its responsibilities on the basis of a common programme. Members of the team may decide alternative arrangements among themselves.

(Worth noticing are the provisions on the Coreper and FAC and other preparatory external action bodies, as well as the noble intentions to strengthen the fledgling General Affairs Council GAC, which in spite of this still today looks like an additional habitat for foreign ministers.)


Spain did not know very much in advance before assuming the presidency that the Lisbon Treaty would be in force, and the Spanish government had some difficulties in adapting to the more modest role of the new presidency of the Council, so we find the website at the old style address:

However, the Spanish government did use the eutrio logo extensively.

There was (and is) a joint programme for the work of the ES-BE-HU presidency trio, although officially it is still called a draft and it has not, to my knowledge, been printed in a more glossy form like the individual six month work programmes:

[Draft] 18 month programme of the Council (27 November 2009, document 16771/10)

Belgium seems to have been the main protagonist of team spirit, producing web pages for the Trio of Presidencies of the Council of the European Union and profiling itself as a part of the team:

The Belgian presidency offered us the following explanation about the logo:

Each version of the logo assumes the colours of the country's flag, but the addition of the word “trio” as an exponent denotes the solidarity between the three countries.


As I wrote before, the government of Belgium showed team spirit by using the web address and the #EuTrioBe hashtag on Twitter, in: Belgian EU Council presidency legacy (6 January 2011).

The last thing the Belgian presidency did on its web page was to hand the presidency over to

If the take-off was European, the landing is Hungarian. You arrive at:

You find the Hungarian part of the common logo displayed all over the place, but without references to the trio. The web address is distinctly from the past.

Pure coincidence or tell-tale sign? Was team spirit a six month flash in the pan? Are we back at the spirit of the Nice Treaty in A.D. 2011 and beyond?

Ralf Grahn

P.S. ” Hongrie 2011 : Une présidence de trop ? ” asked the French euroblogger Cédric Puisney in the latest post on his blog Un européen jamais content, although I would be happy to se him post more often. (Combine improving knowledge and language skills by reading Euroblogs.)

Friday 14 January 2011

State minimalism and parliamentary absolutism in EU

Max Steinbeis on Verfassungsblog vividly described Belgium: Failed State mitten in Europa (12 January 2011). Given the slow but seemingly inexorable descent into oblivion, Belgium's greatest gift to Europe could be to cede an ample enough territory to establish the real European Capital (E.C.): Brussels E.C? (7 January 2011).

Square this tenuous statehood and EU membership with the fiery fundamentalist rhetoric about parliamentary sovereignty – nay, absolutism crowding out the rule of law - a stone's throw away, across the Channel in UK Westminster.

We wonder if, or for how long, Belgium remains a state, and we begin to think about how the assets and liabilities should be divided.

We wonder how long it takes before the British people wake up to demand a modern and comprehensive Constitution with fundamental rights, instead of an elective dictatorship based on unrepresentative elections.

United or not, Europe is excelling in diversity.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. On Think about it 4 you find promising young bloggers from around the world writing in English about climate change. Think 4 is organised by the European Journalism Centre.

P.S. 2: There are now five updates worth reading to my previous blog post on the EUSSR and the new Pilgrim Fathers.

Thursday 13 January 2011

Time for a UK mass exodus from the clutches of the EUSSR? (5 x updated)

Was I uncharitable regarding British tabloids, large parts of the political establishment and the UK educational system, which have utterly failed to frame the UK discussion on ”Europe” in constructive and forward-looking terms? My criticism in UK and the fall of the ”EU dictatorship” (12 January 2011) seems mild in comparison to fellow euroblogger @Nosemonkey who tweeted about the ”barking mad #EUbill reading/debate”.

Westminster bubble

Generally ”Europe” is treated as an alien, hostile and threatening empire (EUSSR), rather than as the team the United Kingdom is playing on (and should be playing for).

I invite you to be your own judge. Read the record of the 11 January debate on the European Union Bill in the Westminster Parliament.

How do you, as an EU citizen, perceive that the House of Commons debate on parliamentary sovereignty (or Crown in Parliament), especially the Tory rebellion led by Bill Cash targeting the independence of courts (the rule of law), addresses our real concerns about values, security and prosperity in a world increasingly shaped by rising powers (BRICs)?

Bleak House ahead

The Gulf Stream Blues blog noted that the Tory rebellion was defeated, but the government's European Union Bill is heading for adoption, and Bleak House lies ahead: UK throws a spanner in EU integration (12 January 2011):

In the end, if the British vote 'no' on something the rest of the EU is ready to approve, the only logical next step would be for the British to have an 'in or out' referendum on its own membership. One can't quite predict how that will go, but I suspect it would be a 'yes' because deep down the British know they need the EU. But they can't stay in it if they're going to drag it down by rejecting every attempt at treaty change.

So there you have it, quite a bleak future for the UK's relationship with the EU. And there's little chance of this bill being overturned by a later government.

For Europeans, being dragged down by the United Kingdom is not the brightest of prospects.

Sterile sovereignty

In my view, framing the debate about the European Union in terms of (parliamentary) sovereignty is sterile. The rights and interest of citizens are primary, which a House self-obsessed with its own sovereignty does little to serve.

Yesterday, the Federal Union blog made a similar observation, in: Where sovereignty lies (12 January 2011). What matters, are the rights of citizens, not the rights of MPs. The rights of citizens need to be strengthened:

For a number of reasons, most of them good ones, the principle that what parliament says, goes, is no longer unbending. International treaty obligations, including notably those of the European Union, plus many other home-grown concerns, combine to restrict what parliament may do. Purists of the old school, as exemplified by Bill Cash, may dislike what has happened, but it is nevertheless the case. Even leaving the EU would not restore parliamentary powers to their former glory. What matters, though, are the rights of citizens, not the rights of MPs – do not confuse the two – and those rights are being strengthened.

Pace of learning

In the political culture of the United Kingdom the concept and meaning of national citizenship have yet to take root.

Sixty years after the establishment of the Council of Europe (CoE) and the conclusion of the (European) Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), the protection of citizens' rights through the rule of law seems alien to considerable parts of the British political establishement.

In addition, the rulings by the European Court of Human Rights ECtHR are often confused with decisions by the European Union, itself no spring chicken, with roots going back to the 1957 (EEC) Treaty of Rome.

If you do not believe me about the constant confusion and misinformation, see Talking about the EU: The European Court of Human Rights is NOT an EU institution (11 January 2011).

Ignore, deny or accept

Ignoring, denying and accepting all seem to be alternatives equally presentable, even if we discuss a matter of fact.

Little wonder that the Federal Trust is going to host a conference 20 January 2011 on these great unknowns: Citizenship and the Lisbon Treaty – can the British ever be European citizens?

Dual citizenship

Despite the excruciatingly slow pace of learning, legally the case is clear. Citizenship of the European Union was introduced by the Treaty on European Union (TEU), also known as the Maastricht Treaty, which was signed in 1992 and entered into force in 1993.

Today, this dual citizenship – national and EU – is enshrined in Title II on provisions on democratic principles of the Treaty on European Union (OJEU 30.3.2010 C 83/20):


Article 9 TEU

In all its activities, the Union shall observe the principle of the equality of its citizens, who shall receive equal attention from its institutions, bodies, offices and agencies. Every national of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to and not replace national citizenship.

Concrete provisions on and benefits of the bonus EU citizenship are found in Part Two of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), Non-discrimination and citizenship of the Union (Articles 18 to 25).

Through the treaties and secondary legislation EU citizenship confers some, but not full, political rights on the citizens. The European Union is still ”owned” by the member states, instead of vested in its citizens.

The member states even hold the keys to who becomes an EU citizen, since it follows automatically from national citizenship, without effective brakes on mass naturalisation by an individual government: National and EU citizenship: What if? (30 November 2010). .

As we saw, EU citizenship is less than twenty years old, almost nothing compared to the age of the Council of Europe, the ECHR, the Treaty of Rome (EEC) and other landmarks of European integration still freely ignored or misunderstood by large sections of British media and nationals.

Ignorance or denial?

Should we rejoice that denial is better than ignorance, because the denier at least is aware of the existence of his or her citizenship of the European Union?

In addition, the protest comes without cost. If you tell the world that you reject your EU citizenship, you still retain your status and the benefits.

The effective, non-gratuitous way to get rid of EU citizenship is to become a national of a state which is neither an EU member, nor a potential member. This leaves plenty of exotic options among the 192 member states of the United Nations.

Mass exodus?

The Tory rebellion having failed, European Union Bill of the UK government is on the road to the statute book, and the campaigns to get Britain out of the EU seem to be going nowhere (even if UK secession might be a blessing for the rest of the union).

Why don't the tabloids, Bill Cash, Daniel Hannan and others act in the spirit of the Pilgrim Fathers to flee oppression by the EUSSR dictatorship and head for a new start in a more promising land?

Afghanistan? Belarus? Burma? Cuba? North Korea? Iran? Libya? Pakistan? Saudi Arabia? Zimbabwe?

The choice is almost endless for those who cherish their age-old English liberties enough to flee the evil European Union. (See Freedom in the World, Freedom House ratings of more than a hundred countries in 2010.)

Do I see lines forming in front of the Consulates, crowds crying Exodus, English political notables packing their bags and media campaigning in overdrive to spur people to take liberty into their own hands?

Update 13 January 2011: The European Citizen has written a blog post on the trials and tribulations of the UK Parliament to come to terms with sovereignty in the context of the debate on the European Union Bill.

Update 2, 14 January 2011: Nosemonkey has returned to the EU and UK sovereignty in a long, but interesting blog post.

Update 3, 14 January 2011: Eva en Europa writes (in Spanish) about the British drift away from the rest of Europe manifested by the European Union Bill debate.

Update 4, 14 January 2011: The House of Commons debate on the European Union Bill does not convince Caroline Bradley of Blenderlaw about the merits of parliamentary sovereignty.

Update 5, January 2011: Charles Reed on the Ethics and Foreign Policy blog wonders if the European Union Bill introduces referendums for the wrong type of questions.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. The Parliament magazine focuses on the directly elected European Parliament, which co-legislates on more of the important issues concerning EU businesses and citizens than before the Lisbon Treaty. Lobbyists have spotted the influence of the EP. Should EU citizens too?

Wednesday 12 January 2011

UK and the fall of the ”EU dictatorship”

”Gov(ernmen)t sees off revolt by Tory eurosceptics”, if we believe the AFP, but readers of Mail Online are happy to be served ”Tory eurosceptics win battle over UK 'sovereignty clause' ”.

In UK discourse about the EU even the most basic of facts are contested, if we assume that the reporting concerns the same Parliament and the same European Union (Bill).

Those who are able to stomach it can delve deeper into parliamentary debate on Europe, UK style.


Ahead of the parliamentary debate in the United Kingdom, EuroGoblin was more interested in the coming vote than in the crusade from the Daily Express: We Are the Knights Who Say … No! (10 January 2011).

In my view it would be wrong to ignore the astounding argumentation concerning the ”EU dictatorship” by the self-proclaimed ”world's greatest newspaper” The Daily Express, presented on 23 pages in order to ”Get Britain out of the EU” (8 January 2011).

That a newspaper can thrive on such writing anywhere in the free world beggars belief, not only with regard to editorial standards, but the quality of large parts of the political establishment and the educational system of the nation.

BRICs rising and Europe sinking

I wrote a comment on the EuroGoblin blog, where I tried to explain why the European Union needs less retrograde thinking and a whole lot more of energy in a world increasingly shaped by the BRICs. Even if the United Kingdom is an extreme example of toxic discourse, the rest of Europe is well on its way to oblivion:

I am actually less insouciant than you [EuroGoblin], because the debate in the United Kingdom is characterised by varying degrees of backwardness, even more than in Europe generally.

In the real world various Asian countries have already surpassed the EU member states in educational achievements (Pisa), China is about to pass Europe in research and development within a decade, the world’s industrial output is increasingly produced in Asia, the Chinese armed forces are strenghtened at a rapid pace, the US and European governments are in hock to China, and as consumers we spend more than we earn on Chinese goods.

There seem to be only token efforts to put the European Union back on the world map and on the road to economic prosperity.

Discussing various scenarios of backward mobility (as in the UK) gives me the impression of criminal neglect from our beloved leaders.

Energy and democracy

In my view, the citizens of the European Union need an energetic and effective union in the crucial matters of security and prosperity, but this union has to be based on its citizens, meaning full EU level democracy and political accountability.

A Britain erring between the Scylla of still more sterile sovereignty or the Charybdis of EU withdrawal is certainly not the leadership model Europeans need for the high seas of the 21st century. The best we can hope for from the United Kingdom is to do as little damage as possible.

But where are the leaders the rest of us EU citizens need?

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Oh, US is US, and EU is EU, and never the twain shall meet? Forgive me, Kipling, but it will be interesting to see what my new acquaintance The Worden Report makes of his comparison of federalism in the United States and the European Union in the end. In my humble opinion, Europe has substantially more than a healthy dose of Anti-Federalist (News)Papers for the challenges of the 21st century, especially in the English language.

Domestic legislation as an embarrassment for the EU (Hungarian media law)

Politically, already serious discussion about the commencement of proceedings is an embarrassment for a wayward government, despite the slender risk of condemnation, I said in my comment regarding the founding values of the European Union in Article 2 TEU and the possible sanctions for serious breaches foreseen in Article 7 TEU: Are EU founding values effective? (Hungarian media law)(11 January 2011).

Governments in the European Union (and beyond) want to be seen as respectable, even when their actions are not. The Hungarian Fidesz government of Viktor Orban moved from angry denial to more conciliatory language in order to defuse the problem, but the embarrassment must be felt by their political friends, such as Wilfried Martens, the president of the European People's Party, who endorsed the Hungarian media law, and EPP group leader Joseph Daul, who belittled and procrastinated instead of taking a principled stand for the rights of EU citizens. .

I have no special desire to see the EPP leadership with egg on its face, but the freedoms and rights of EU citizens are more important to me than misplaced consideration for blatant political misjudgments.

In summary, even when national political leaders think that they can act with impunity domestically, they can cause serious political damage to their country and their ”friends” at the European level.

International repercussions

The potential damage is not limited to intra-European affairs. Internationally the European Union portrays itself as the champion of the universal values of human rights. The foreign, security, defence and trade policy (external action) of the European Union is not based on interests alone, but on acting in accordance with and promoting the founding values of the EU.

This is (or should be) more than wishful thinking, since Title V of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), General provisions on the Union's external action and specific provisions on the foreign and security policy, opens by stating the value based character of all EU action on the world stage, in Article 21(1) TEU:


Article 21 TEU

1. The Union’s action on the international scene shall be guided by the principles which have inspired its own creation, development and enlargement, and which it seeks to advance in the wider world: democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity, and respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.

The Union shall seek to develop relations and build partnerships with third countries, and international, regional or global organisations which share the principles referred to in the first subparagraph. It shall promote multilateral solutions to common problems, in particular in the framework of the United Nations.

Evidently, if the European Union, even by individual member states, slips at home, it loses credibility abroad. In other words, a domestic embarrassment becomes a global shame.

Dictators and authoritarian rulers are quick enough to praise their rule(s), if a ”fifth column” inside the EU passes the ammunition.

On the website of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and in the Social Europe Journal, Susi Dennison made the point about double standards and welcomed a debate at European level (7 January 2011):

... it has to be a positive development that a political conversation has finally started about these matters at a European level. A Union that has in its founding treaties respect for democracy, rule of law and human rights cannot credibly turn a blind eye to potential breaches of these principles by constituent states.

Member states and Europarties

In the eyes of EU citizens and the wider world, the acts of national governments can seriously undermine the purposes and credibility of the European Union. The member states who ”own” the union and the Europarties who are supposed to contribute to forming European political awareness and to express the will of the citizens of the union have special responsibilities, including robust peer pressure on bad apples.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Thoughtful analysis, reasoned arguments, European perspectives … already as an undergraduate Conor Slowey aka Eurocentric wrote one of star blogs of the Euroblogosphere, The European Citizen. Now a graduate student in Leiden, he is a generous contributor on Facebook and on Twitter as @EuropeanCitizen. Highly recommended.

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Are EU founding values effective? (Hungarian media law)

In the Social Europe Journal, Gabor Gyori explained that the tribulations of democracy in Hungary could not be framed in the terms of dictatorship or its opposite. There were many other problems besides the new media law. For the sake of Hungary and the whole EU, the union must start taking democracy and the rule of law as seriously as economic issues: For Hungary, the Issue is not Dictatorship but the Quality of Democracy (10 January 2011).

The 47 member states of the pan-European Council of Europe have committed themselves to the European values enshrined in many treaties, most notably the (European) Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR).

There are at least three lines of defence. First, the member states are supposed to live up to their promises voluntarily. Second, the CoE officials and intergovernmental bodies try to deal with emerging problems politically. Third, ultimately the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rules on applications ”after all domestic remedies have been exhausted”, so it is a slow and laborious road, but the member states have undertaken to abide by the final judgment of the Court. Abidance is monitored by the CoE.

As I tried to explain yesterday, there are pan-European values, common to all CoE members, not Western European, Central European or Eastern European values and norms designed to give people in Central or Eastern Europe less protection than their more fortunate counterparts in the older CoE members in the West: European values and Hungarian media law: ECHR (10 January 2011).

European Union values

The European Union (EU) is a tight and deep political union, as opposed to the intergovernmental Council of Europe, so it would be natural to expect the EU to be better equipped to deal with deviant behaviour against the freedoms and rights of its citizens.

In addition, the Lisbon Treaty was marketed as an improvement for citizens in many respects: more democratic, fundamental rights, citizens' initiative etc.

EU founding values

Let us look at the bright side of life. In my view, the founding values of the European Union are admirable (OJEU 30.3.2010 C 83/17):

Article 2 TEU

The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.

(You can notice the inclusion among the founding values of ”the rights of persons belonging to minorities”, treasured by a Hungary solicitous about 3.5 million ethnic Hungarians outside its borders.)


As long as states remain candidates for EU accession, they have to convince all the member states that they respect these founding values and that they are committed to promoting them (Article 49 TEU).


Once inside, a member state is less at risk legally, because the hurdles against sanctions are still quite high. According to Article 7 TEU, the Council needs to determine by a four fifths majority that there is a ”clear risk of a serious breach” of the founding values by a member state.

The process can be initiated by a third of the member states, by the European Parliament or by the European Commission. The procedure can lead to recommendations.

Real legal sanctions are possible only when a unanimous European Council determines a ”serious and persistent breach” by a member state.

Legally, we have a blunt weapon, not especially well adapted to minor but important infringements by member states' governments.

Politically, already serious discussion about the commencement of proceedings is an embarrassment for a wayward government, despite the slender risk of condemnation.

However, it requires a degree of moral courage from the institutional players involved to get even a principled discussion going.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. The Daniel Mason writes The Endless Track, a British Euroblog refreshingly interested in actual EU policies and the place of South Yorkshire within the European Union. You can follow @danmason21 on Twitter when he hopefully returns with new tweets.

Monday 10 January 2011

European values and Hungarian media law: ECHR

The discussion about the Hungarian media law prone to arbitrary implementation has revealed profound ignorance about or lack of care for European values, even outright denial of their existence.

For the legal text (to the extent that the Act has been translated) you can go to

Act CLXXXV of 2010 on media services and mass media (in English)

The text on is followed by a lot of comments discussing the law (48 by now), even if they reflect only a tiny proportion of an ongoing discussion in many media articles and blog posts.


I have tried to shed some light on political and legal aspects of freedom of speech in Europe in earlier blog posts:

Help EPP group leader Joseph Daul defend media freedom (5 January 2011)

EPP president Wilfried Martens versus Free Press for Hungary (5 January 2011)

Hungarian media law and EU Council presidency: Evolving European opinion (8 January 2011)

Hungary: Is free speech a socialist issue? (9 January 2011)

Presidency or Troll? Describing itself as the unofficial troll blog of the Hungarian presidency, EUphobia made its confused and confusing appearance on the Euroblog scene: The Party has Started (8 January 2011). If I understand the blog entry and the following discussion correctly, the Hungarian media law is bad, but press freedom needs to be suppressed in Hungary for partisan reasons. EUphobia seems to imply that there are no European standards to uphold.

Council of Europe (CoE)

All the members of the European Union (EU) are members of the pan-European Council of Europe (CoE) and thus parties to the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), an evolving system of protection of the rights of citizens against abuse by governments and public authorities, as shown by the preamble:

The governments signatory hereto, being members of the Council of Europe,

Considering the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10th December 1948;

Considering that this Declaration aims at securing the universal and effective recognition and observance of the Rights therein declared;

Considering that the aim of the Council of Europe is the achievement of greater unity between its members and that one of the methods by which that aim is to be pursued is the maintenance and further realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms;

Reaffirming their profound belief in those fundamental freedoms which are the foundation of justice and peace in the world and are best maintained on the one hand by an effective political democracy and on the other by a common understanding and observance of the human rights upon which they depend;

Being resolved, as the governments of European countries which are like-minded and have a common heritage of political traditions, ideals, freedom and the rule of law, to take the first steps for the collective enforcement of certain of the rights stated in the Universal Declaration,

Have agreed as follows: ---

The ratifying states have not only declared their profound belief in the fundamental freedoms, but pledged a common understanding and observance of human rights, which are legally binding in every member state of the CoE.

In short, the purpose is to give citizens' rights and freedoms teeth:

Article 1 – Obligation to respect human rights

The High Contracting Parties shall secure to everyone within their jurisdiction the rights and freedoms defined in Section I of this Convention.

Key word ”secure”.

Freedom of expression

Section 1 of the ECHR contains Article 10, which enshrines the freedom of expression:

Article 10 – Freedom of expression

1.Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

2.The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

This text binds national legislators, governments and public administrations, as well as Courts. Ultimately observance of the engagements undertaken by the member states is ensured by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). (See Article 19)

As we see, some restrictions are possible on freedom of expression, but they have to be strictly justifiable. Let me make just two points: 1) ”Interference” by public authority is a much wider concept than crude prior censorship; 2) Conditions have to be prescribed by law, ”necessary in a democratic society” and they have to be based on the enumerated grounds.

Rich pickings are available on the ECtHR's search portal Hudoc for those who are interested in case law can find. I link to newer cases concerning ECHR Article 10.

The good fight

In the end governments miss the whole purpose of protecting the health of their democratic system and the rights of individuals if they propel themselves into a race to the bottom and a competition who can get away with the least.

We are, at least hopefully, dealing with the rights of humans, not maximising those of governments at the expense of citizens, despite the obvious temptations.

Individual politicians, politcal parties at national and European level, legislatures, governments and public authorities should compete to improve the standards and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including free speech, in order to be able to claim at the end of the day: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.

This is what European values are about.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Anarchic in spirit, but vigilant for the rights of EU netizens is @telecomix on Twitter, describing itself in the following terms: The Telecomix News Agency aims to inform about the telecoms package, ACTA, data retention, net neutrality and censorship within EU and the rest of the world. Worth following.

Sunday 9 January 2011

Hungary: Is free speech a socialist issue?

Freedom of opinion is an ideal too important to be swept under the rug by vague promises by high officials, or limited to purely legal scrutiny of a patchwork of minimum standards, so we continue to look at the Euroblog discussion, as in: Hungarian media law and EU Council presidency: Evolving European opinion (8 January 2011).

Mathew Lowry

One of the earlier blog posts against the authoritarian media law in Hungary was Mathew Lowry: Censoring Hungarian Blogs during the Hungarian EU Presidency (originally 22 December 2010, but now updated four times).

Among the updates is a link to the text of Act CLXXXV of 2010 on media services and mass media in English on as well as a lot of comments discussing the law (48 by now).

Some among the 51 comments to Lowry's blog post are chilling reading for anyone who, like Gandhi, thinks that Western civilisation would be a good idea. Imposing legal sanctions on other than impartial reporting, as defined by a politically nominated authority of party hacks, is a far cry from freedom of speech, even if restricted to important events. There seems to be little protection against arbitrariness.

If commitments to democracy, freedom of speech and rule of law are luxuries of wealthy western states Hungarians (and other Central Europeans) can ill afford, their country should not have joined the Council of Europe or the European Union, which embody the continuing quest for higher standards of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

If official Hungary is opposed to improving fundamental rights of EU citizens, including free speech, the government should not have assumed the responsibility to represent the EU to its 501 million citizens or to champion human rights in the wider world.

As Mathew said, media freedom is not a left/right issue, it is a democracy/authoritarianism issue.

Mathew punctured the allegations that criticism of the media law came from socialists only or mainly, by mentioning in addition to The Economist known for its free market views:

- the French Govt (quite right wing, many would say)
- the German Govt (centre right)
- the UK Gov’t (a centre right coalition led by the UK’s Conservative Party)
- the Luxembourg Govt (centre-right)

The ones who proclaim that free speech is a socialist issue are offering socialist Europarties undeserved kudos. Free media becomes a socialist issue only if others betray our trust. Since appearances matter as well as substance, this puts the other political parties at European level under pressure to come out resoundingly in favour of improving media freedom, in Hungary, in Europe and universally.

A return to darker times is not an option EU citizens should have to contemplate.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Does ”Onward and upward in 2011” mean Talking about the EU on the blog, on the official website of the European Commission in the United Kingdom, on Facebook or on Twitter? Antonia is not the only (social) media user and producer to wonder.

Saturday 8 January 2011

Hungarian media law and EU Council presidency: Evolving European opinion

A measure of European public opinion is already reflected on multilingual, which aggregates 732 Euroblogs. The Hungarian media law is one of the recurring themes on the front page.

Naturally, there is an impact from the fact that the blog called for action against censorship in Hungary (21 December 2010), but all journalists, newspapers and bloggers follow their own conscience and express their own views. There is a link to OSCE's legal analysis, and sixty comments present some of the reactions to the call.

Hungary topics page

Let us turn to the topics page on Hungary to see the impression the Fidesz (member of the European People's Party, EPP) government of Viktor Orban has made among European journalists and bloggers.You can see the Hungary topics page for yourself (and return for possible updates), but I will refer to and comment on a few blog posts at a time.

Netzpolitik was one of the first European blogs outside Hungary to react to the media law (in German): Hintergründe zum ungarischen Mediengesetz (21 December 2010). The informative blog post is followed by 47 comments with complementing views and links.


China is great in many ways. However, when we speak about freedom of opinion, the parallel with China is hardly flattering for an EU member state, but this is how Metronaut referred to the Hungarian media law due to its authoritarian character (in German): Zensur in Ungarn: China mitten in Europa (22 December 2010).

Metronaut wondered at the silence from European governments (with the exception of Luxembourg).


Vice-president Anna Maria Darmanin, responsible for communication at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), wrote on her blog at the EESC website that the media law casts a black cloud over the commencement of the Hungarian Presidency, and that she believed that any attempt to reduce the freedom expression is a direct attack on democracy and in the longer term a disservice to the whole country and its citizens. Darmanin joined the action against censorship: Hungary's media law raises eyebrows and concerns (22 December 2010).


When I reread these blog posts, I find them serious and reasoned, hardly evil spirited, party political or emotional outbursts of the kind Hungarian government representatives have depicted. But, dear readers, that is for you to judge.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. I want you, my readers and friends, to follow blogs on European issues and – why not – start blogging yourselves. Today I want to highlight the blog of Irish Eroblogger Stephen Spillane, who deals with current issues in Europe and Ireland.

Friday 7 January 2011

Brussels E.C?

As Arthur Beesley tells us in the Irish Times about the country which still a few days ago had a driving role in the process of European integration, ”Belgian political stalemate continues as Flemish parties reject compromise”:

THE TWO largest Dutch-speaking parties in Belgium have rejected new compromise proposals to broker a power-sharing deal with their French-speaking counterparts, prolonging a political saga that has left the country in the control of a caretaker government for 208 days.

Little by little I start wondering if the European Union should acquire Brussels with surroundings and make it the European Capital (E.C.), administered as an EU territory with 23 official languages.

The non-discussions between the linguistic communities and regions of Belgium could then be limited to the rest of the country and the ”negotiations” could continue until the state falls apart from exhaustion.

Le Taurillon

Even on a more serious note, these questions are now more widely discussed. There are three recent articles worth mentioning, with viewpoints on both Belgium and Europe, in the eurozine Le Taurillon. The writers discuss Belgian as well as European aspects:

Marine Cornelis: Les difficultés gouvernementales en Belgique, quelles leçons pour l'Europe (4 January 2011)

Quel rôle pour l'UE en cas de scission de la Belgique ? 1/2

Quel rôle pour l'UE en cas de scission de la Belgique ? 2/2

Johan Vande Lanotte

The Wikipedia article ”2010-2011 Belgian government formation” follows the (non)events on the ground until two Flemish parties rejected the mediation proposal by Johan Vande Lanotte, who did not publish the proposal, so we do not know by how much the federal state would be further hollowed out even by the failed proposal.


Bloomberg offers a picture of the background as well as of the economic fallout of the rejected proposal: Belgium's Leaders seek To Exit From Political Impasse as Bond Spreads Widen (7 January 2011)

Long term we can ask if it is possible or even reasonable to keep a couple together if one of the partners has decided to split.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Strasbourg Observers is the legal blog team of five researchers led by Professor Eva Brems at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University. Events these last days have shown why human and fundamental rights need constant strengthening in Europe. Here is the mission statement: Blog commenting on developments in the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.

Thursday 6 January 2011

Belgian EU Council presidency legacy

On 1 July 2010 Belgium took over the presidency of the Council of the European Union from Spain, as the second country in the presidency trio. The Belgian government showed team spirit by using the web address and the #EuTrioBe hashtag on Twitter.

The Belgian presidency was wrapped up three days before Christmas day by foreign minister Steven Vanackere, which left aficionados of EU politics and policies with two documents:

An assessment of the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union (1 July– 31 December 2010; 5 pages)

The presidency in figures (2 pages)


The government of Belgium offers an overview of the main dossiers moved forward during the six month stint chairing most of the Council configurations and working groups. The headlines give an impression of key areas of activity:

Implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon
Fighting the economic crisis – working on sustainable economic growth
Towards a more coherent European external policy - EU enlargement and common trade policy
Climate, environment and energy
A more social Europe
Justice, home affairs, asylum and migration

Little more than four pages of text, so the summary is far from an detailed report informative enough for EU policy experts. However, the self-assessment is refreshingly free from self-congratulatory overtones, and it is clearly and consicely written. Thus, it manages to pack fairly much information for a general reader or policy novice.

Presidency mechanics

Despite the rotating presidency (a general symptom of weak organisations) few of the 501 million EU inhabitants will gain first hand experience within a Council presidency, so the one page plus glimpse offered by the presidency in figures note provides some insight into the budget and meeting circus during six months of fame (or shame).

Full report?

Belgium loyally stepped aside to give room to Hungary, so there have been no fresh updates on the Belgian website. I failed to find any notice that the Belgian presidency is about to publish a full report on its activities, even if I find such reports useful for policy buffs.

I have written about the Europe 2020 – Implementation report earlier, and I still wonder why it is not accesible to the public (document 17574/10). Neither is the revision (17574/1/10). The EU2020 strategy needs all the attention it can get if Europe wants to get back on stage. .

By the way, when I looked at the latest document references on the Council website a short while ago, 16 of the latest 25 entries were not available to the public (versus 9 public ones, although few of substance).

Ralf Grahn

P.S. More than a hundered persons have joined Free Press For Hungary (International Version) on Facebook since yesterday. Every voice is needed in order to strengthen our fundamental rights in the European Union. Solidarity between EU citizens.

Wednesday 5 January 2011

EPP president Wilfried Martens versus Free Press for Hungary

A short while ago 2,129 persons had already joined the new Facebook group Free Press For Hungary. International Version.

Established earlier, the Hungarian version had attracted 54,834 supporters against the authoritarian media law of the government of Viktor Orban.

There are many convincing media reports and blog posts about the essentials of the Hungarian censorship law, but translations into English and other EU languages would be most welcome for those who want to study the legislation in detail.

EPP ”dominant position”

The European People's Party likes to remind editors of its importance:

The EPP is the largest and most influential European-level political party of the centre-right, which currently includes 73 member-parties from 39 countries, the Presidents of the Commission, Council, and Parliament, 14 EU and 6 non-EU heads of state and government, 13 members of the European Commission and the largest Group in the European Parliament.

Update 2, 5 January 2011: Actually even this note is too modest. If the president of the Council means the rotating presidency, now held by EPP member party Fidesz in the Hungarian government of Viktor Orban, the text forgets to mention the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy.

From EU competition law and policy we know the concept ”abuse of a dominant position”.

We have seen all too many examples of cronyism, turning a blind eye and abdication of responsiblity from the EPP in various situations.

This is why we have to ask: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Top down reform

The real low water mark internationally was recorded by the EPP chairman Wilfried Martens who actively lauded the Hungarian media (censorship) law as an improvement ”with the aim to strengthen the freedom of the press, the culture of respect, the protection of minors and human dignity”.

I would like to see the biggest Europarty, the European People's Party, taking the greatest responsibility for our basic values, but instead I realise the need for a crash course from the top down concerning the European Convention on Human Rigths (ECHR), the founding values of the European Union (Article 2 TEU), the rights, freedoms and principles set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rigths of the European Union (Article 6 TEU) and the process to start determining a serious breach of the founding values (Article 7 TEU).

They are the cornerstones of European integration and for the citizens of the European Union, and they should be for the EPP (otherwise it is ineligible for Europarty funds).

Perhaps EU citizens could tweet @MartensEPP before his Europarty has become even more discredited.

I am not against the European People's Party. On the contrary, I want a better EPP and a better EU for voters, citizens and businesses of the European Union. Taking a principled approach is the only salvation from the current morass.

Update 5 January 2011: Thanks to Andreas Müllerleile who pointed out an English translation of the Hungarian Act on Media Services and Mass Media (about 200 pages).

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Despite the diminished stature of the presidency of the Council of the European Union, the government of Hungary has deservedly gained an astonishing amount of visibility in a few days, as seen on the front page of, the multiligual aggregator of 729 Euroblogs. Should we congratulate PM Orban on the achievement?