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Dealing with the Institutions of the European Union

by nanne Tue Jun 24th, 2008 at 05:49:53 AM EST

The European Union will be a Union of the People, or it will not be.
(paraphrase looking for attribution)

If the process of drafting, approving and ratifying the Lisbon Treaty has shown anything, it is that the normal treaty procedure which the European Union requires for institutional changes is broken and should be replaced by something better.

Due to a series of dilemmas that tie into one another very much like the clichéd Gordian knot (1), chances of getting something better across are slim. Still, this is an attempt to set some goals.

There are two basic requirements for a new institutional solution. First, it needs to be presented as a short, readable text. That is easier than it might seem. Second, it needs to set a framework that can self-adapt. In other words, it needs to do away with the current problem that all major changes in the powers, institutions and objectives of the European Union require a cascade of national parliamentary ratifications.

(This diary is one outcome of a chat with Migeru on the EU. More should follow.)

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Forza Nederlandia!

by nanne Sat Apr 12th, 2008 at 05:43:02 AM EST

While the foreign press has been rambling on about the latest stunt of Geert Wilders, the peroxide-dyed agitator from Limburg, a far more potent force on the right has emerged in the Netherlands.

Rita Verdonk, a former minister from the second Balkenende cabinet and deeply involved in the fall of that cabinet over the Ayaan Hirsi Ali citizenship controversy, has launched her 'political movement' Trots Op Nederland (proud of NL).

Verdonk and her Americophile campaign manager Kay van der Linde launched the "it's not a party, it's a movement!" in the bombastic style of a US party convention.


Promoted by Migeru

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Piebalgs on Biofuels

by nanne Sat Mar 15th, 2008 at 05:06:54 AM EST

Maybe I'm stealing Euan's schtick here, and maybe Piebalgs blogging is getting repetitive. But the energy Commissioner has written another blog post in which he takes the opponents of biofuels to task:

Commissioner Andris Piebalgs - Blog - Biofuels Good or Evil?

[Statements opposing biofuels] have been widely reported and set the dominant tone on the biofuel debate. Contrary views are hardly heard. Yet, these statements are misleading or plain wrong. I myself drive an ethanol-powered Saab 9-5 and certainly I would not even think of it if I had the slightest suspicion that I'm contributing in any way to global warming, or, even worse, to an international genocide. This is why I consider that it is essential to regain a sense of proportion in this debate and try to have a discussion on this issue that is less intemperate and one-sided. I'm confident that this blog can be a good place to do this, and I plan to have a number of entries on this issue, and of course, your comments to them will be extremely welcome. 

Increased attention to the pitfalls of biofuels is most welcome, and I do not think that views supporting biofuels have really been drowned out. Having bought in to biofuels personally, moreover, can hardly be an argument. Ethanol car drivers should take a page from Alan AtKisson instead of presuming that they could not have made a mistake.

Promoted by Colman

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Dawkins and 'The New Atheism'

by nanne Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 10:48:01 AM EST

I tried to get out of the atheism debate, but they keep pulling me back in.

The small band of people who are now referred to as 'the new atheists' finally lost the last bit of my respect when a few years ago, they were trying to re-label themselves as 'brights'. To be honest, I never cared all that much for Dawkins, but I had expected Dennett to know better. At the time, I was more sympathetic to the notion of developing a fitting label for philosophical naturalists than I am now -- but not something that self-evidently stupid. The entire episode made me cringe.

If you want a reasoned take, read Chris Mooney.

Upon first hearing of the 'new atheists', then, I must admit I had a preconceived idea about Dawkins and Dennett. I also had a preconceived idea about Christopher Hitchens, based upon Hitchens doing a joint tour of the UK with David Horowitz, and reading oh, dozens of his columns on Slate either spewing bile and unsupported allegations on Bill Clinton or claiming that there really were WMD in Iraq. Hitchens is a polemicist for the sake of polemics and I feel I've quite saturated the empirics to make that determination without reading his latest column or book. It just is not worthwhile anymore.

So you have this group of people (including Sam Harris, whom I don't know much about and thereby won't comment upon) who go into the media with each to his a book with a provocative title, talking about how they are no longer going to be quiet in the face of the widespread societal intolerance engendered by people of faith! It doesn't take much to think that these people are just being confrontational. I used a common pejorative to describe that, which I shan't repeat in this rejoinder.

(This diary is a response to Ted Welch's 'On misunderstanding Dawkins', which was in turn sparked by ThatBritGuy's diary 'On not understanding Religion')

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You and the EU, A Year in Review

by nanne Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 05:38:57 AM EST

Eager to shore up its relations with the public, the European Commission has launched a slick website boasting 10 achievements the European Union has made for you in 2007. The Commissioner for Communication, Margot Wallström, writes:

The EU is there for the citizens and its aim is to respond to their needs and concerns. In 2007, its 50th anniversary, the Union has again taken concrete actions leading to concrete results. These range from measures to combat climate change to providing the European consumer with a wider choice of goods and services at lower prices.

In 2006, when the Commission was still at a loss at what to do about the stranded Constitution, it launched a "citizen's agenda", which focused on "delivering results for Europe" through concrete policy drives. The focus on implementing policies that will benefit citizens in order to increase the popularity of the EU was deliberate, as the Communication (.pdf) testifies. The promotional website and folder on "Europe and you in 2007" have to be seen through this lens.

(Originally posted as 'EU Achievements for Its Citizens 2007' on the Atlantic Community and 'The State of the Citizen's European Union' on the Atlantic Review

Diary rescue by Migeru

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Europe vs. Clinton, Edwards and Obama

by nanne Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 05:28:39 PM EST

The next US President is going to be a huge improvement for relations between the US and Europe. If, as seems likely, it's going to be a Democrat.

If we focus on the relations of the EU and of our individual countries with the US, there are substantial differences between the three Democrats who could still win the Democratic nomination: Clinton, Edwards and Obama. Those differences are nowhere near as big as the differences between these three and any Republican, but they're important.

Europe is still going to have challenges to work out with all three candidates. All three are still firm believers in American exceptionalism, but express it in different ways.

(Adapted from Obama and Europe)

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Limits on Car CO2 Emissions and the Rebound Effect

by nanne Sat Dec 22nd, 2007 at 06:10:46 PM EST

Peter Sain ley Berry is out to get my goat with his latest column in the EUobserver:

Making cars more efficient will not necessarily curb our emissions

Just the title is false. Making cars more efficient will curb our emissions. Not as a matter of logical necessity, but as a matter of empirical fact.

Sain ley Berry gets out the usual argument made in this context, known among economists as Jevons paradox and among greens as the rebound effect.

Moreover, the reason that vehicle emissions are increasing is not, surely, that people are buying bigger cars, but that they are buying more cars and driving them further. This may be because, relative to everything else, fuel prices have fallen in Europe since the 1950s, and the capital cost of vehicles has tumbled.

Improving car emission performance will reduce motoring costs even further. We may emit less carbon per kilometre, but overall there will be more cars and more kilometres. It does not necessarily follow that if emissions per kilometre fall, then total emissions will fall. This is particularly true if a big car is substituted by two smaller cars.


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Making Sustainability Simple

by nanne Mon Dec 10th, 2007 at 06:58:12 PM EST

Between all the talk we have here about the cliff we're driving towards at increasing speed due to the unsustainability of the economic and technological systems we live and participate in, I'm afraid we're losing sight of just how managable the issue really is.

As the light green PR thinkers Nordhaus and Schellenberger have rightly pointed out many times, bombarding people with a plethora of dangers which they should worry about does not lead to a positive, liberal response. Instead, it fuels conservative sentiments.

At the same time, Schellenberger and Nordhaus seem to have internalised a right-wing narrative about the American way of life which if you think about it comes down pretty much to 'the eternal yankee'. The eternal yankee is a consumer and proud of it. The extent of his freedom is defined by the quantity of his material possessions. Global warming politics, according to Schellenberger and Nordhaus, needs to be fitted around this perspective of the eternal yankee. This means it cannot affect material consumption. ((comments Diary Rescue by Migeru))

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Beyond GDP - Day 2 (afternoon) Summary

by nanne Wed Nov 21st, 2007 at 07:06:19 AM EST

The second day of the Beyond GDP conference in Brussels is split into two parts. The first part could be called 'the meat', consisting of two sessions going deeper into alternative measures by exploring 'insights from recent practice' and looking at 'what the new measures say and how they can be used'. The second part was about the way forward. This is a summary of that second part.

Once again, I refer to the programme.

Although I missed most of the first part, at the end of the conference the chair said that the videos from the individual sessions would be put online, as well as the presentations given and the proceedings. So another part may be upcoming...

Tuesday's afternoon sessions consisted of one panel with four speeches; a discussion by the audience which in practice turned into a session of speeches and comments as input for the conclusions on the way forward (the coherence of these varied), and concluding remarks by Stavros Dimas.

These first two parts certainly provided a good deal more entertainment than Monday's sessions. There was a lot of criticism of neoclassical economics, and some different views were put forward on whether economists should be re-educated, or if we would have to breed a new generation of economists. I think we might take some inspiration from this and now venture into a lengthy debate on the pressing question of whether economists should be tried for treason, or merely be sent to re-education camps.

Just to push the overton window a bit...

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Beyond GDP - Day 1 Summary

by nanne Tue Nov 20th, 2007 at 08:38:42 AM EST

A few days ago, Bruno-Ken posted a brief write-up of the Beyond GDP conference, which takes place this Monday and Tuesday. Saving on my carbon budget, I was able to follow the first day of the conference over the live stream. Though of course this offers no replacement for networking with assorted officials of international institutions, etcetera. Here's a run-down of Mondays proceedings:

The conference is about "measuring progress, true wealth and the well-being of nations". There is a growing realisation that the current set of macro-economic indicators that dominate decision-making are no longer adequate for the policy challenges that the world faces today. This theme is by now so familiar that when Barroso, in the opening address, stated that "to deal with the challenges of the future, we can't use the measures of the past", it sounded like a platitude.

Maybe that was because Barroso said it, though it certainly didn't sound any more meaningful when Almunia repeated it in similar words.

As this is not going to be chronological, taking a glance at the programme might be of help.

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Lazy Quote Diary: Gisele BŁndchen Flees The Dollar

by nanne Mon Nov 5th, 2007 at 11:15:05 AM EST

In keeping for the demand for more T&A, here's a throwaway diary about Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen.

Last Saturday I asked Helen what exactly we could do to push the Dollar into a free fall. Not that I'd want to trigger a free fall, but I just think that our influence in the larger scheme of things is not quite big enough. I mentioned that there are enough credible people with plenty of money shouting from the rooftops that everyone should dump the dollar and move their assets out of the US.

This, of course, betrays a fatal misunderstanding of the age we live in on my part. Face it. No one listens to boring old white billionaire investors anymore. When you want attention, what you need is a celebrity.

Now we have one!

(I suspect that rg has something to do with this...)

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Neolibs against Biofuels - Lazy Quote Diary

by nanne Wed Oct 31st, 2007 at 09:33:54 AM EST

I disagree with much of public choice theory, almost as much as metatone. Government is much more than a mere collection of rent-seekers. But I think that public choice theory sometimes provides a valuable heuristic for single cases, as there clearly are many single policies and political processes in which rent-seeking by various parties outside and inside government comes to dominate 'public' decision making.

The current biofuels madness may be such a case.

At any rate, some of neoliberalism's advocates are using public choice theory to come out against it.

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The Candidates on Libby

by nanne Tue Jul 3rd, 2007 at 04:46:04 AM EST

Thanks to TPM Election Central, here's an overview of the statements the Democratic US presidential candidates gave on Bush giving Libby a get out of jail free card.

Most of the statements make me think "right on". Except Barack Obama's. That one makes me think "lame on-message spin". I'm calling this one for Hillary Clinton, personally. But there's a poll!

P.S. No Dennis Kucinich statement yet.

P.P.S. Same for Mike Gravel.

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VŠclav & Me

by nanne Fri Jun 22nd, 2007 at 09:16:41 AM EST

Well, I must say Mr. Klaus has a way of really engaging the argument!

Nanne Zwagerman: All that environmentalists demand is responsibility. Responsibility of those who cause damage to others to pay for that damage, and to do their utmost to stop inflicting it. I had the impression that responsibility was supposed to be a conservative virtue, and a necessary complement to the great freedom we have in our open market economies. But more and more I see the supporters of capitalism demand that they be free to dump their waste on their neighbours lawns without consequence. What happened?

Vaclav Klaus: Environmentalists do not demand responsibility. Responsibility is not their idea, it is a basic, elementary aspect of human behaviour - on condition government policies do not give wrong incentives. The idea of responsibility for damage done to others is not the environmentalists' copyright. It is a standard of human behaviour. Environmentalists - especially in the case of global warming - artificially created "a damage" (higher temperature) and made all of us responsible for it. I don't believe in this "damage" and I am not ready to pay for it. The role of men in slightly higher global temperature (0.6°C in the last century) is only marginal, if any.

To say that "the supporters of capitalism demand that they are free to dump their waste on their neighbours lawns without consequence" has the beauty of communist propaganda I had a chance to "enjoy" during the first 48 years of my life.

[format of my question edited]

Update [2007-6-22 2:33:16 by nanne]: See Jerome's post 'Unbelievable' for the origin of this little exchange

And sometimes they answer questions! From the diaries ~ whataboutbob

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Belgian Elections 2007: The Background

by nanne Fri Jun 8th, 2007 at 08:43:50 AM EST

The elections for the federal parliament of Belgium are coming this Sunday. As there is little in-depth reporting in the online English-language press, here's a stab at collecting some of the background and the trends.

Brought across by afew

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The Commission's Environment Score

by nanne Fri May 18th, 2007 at 04:49:54 AM EST

The European Commission, that curious organ which is the Union's main administration and executive, is by now halfway into its current 5 year term under the presidency of José Manuel Durãu Barroso. High time for a review of its performance. At least, so the G10 thought. The G10 being, in this case, a consortium of Big Environment with G, being, well, you know.

So they have given the Commission a scorecard, obviously with the intent of directly lobbying the Commission with regard to its further agenda, as suggestions for improvement are given along with the notes on the scorecard. The average is a 4+ on a scale from 1 to 10. 10 being the best.

The Mid-Term Report (pdf)

From the diaries ~ whataboutbob

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In Critiquing European Policy, Washington Newspaper Misses The Crux; Gets It Wrong

by nanne Fri Apr 13th, 2007 at 10:56:06 AM EST

Yes, the title is a joke. I hope Steve Mufson didn't come up with this one himself:

Europe's Problems Color U.S. Plans to Curb Carbon Gases


It's a rather long Washington Post piece which makes three points about the "unexpected and costly side-effects" of Europe's Emissions Trading Scheme:

  1. It is distorting competition with foreign companies who do not have to obey similar standards.
  2. European companies are circumvening it by outsourcing/offshoring the most polluting phases of construction
  3. Energy prices have gone up! Energy companies have profited!
(Crossposted from DJ Nozem)

From the diaries ~ whataboutbob

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Working Together, Living Together

by nanne Tue Feb 20th, 2007 at 04:27:36 AM EST

On November 22nd, the Dutch went to the polls to elect a new parliament. The government, which is based upon these elections in our parliamentary democracy, will form in a couple of days.

Balkenende IV (already!), a coalition of the christian democrats, social democrats and a small christian party, is ready to start.

The new government has been characterised by some in advance as a do-nothing bunch, because the programme is rather unambitious. The conjuctural trend in the Netherlands is rather positive, so there are no great pressures for further reforms. Indeed the coalition accord which will form the basis of the government's policy foresees the budget surplus growing from the 0.5% to 0.9% at the end its period, while neither saving nor investing a whole lot of extra money. Six billion is to be saved, seven billion is to be invested on top of current commitments. These sums represent less than a third of a percent of the expected Dutch national income in the period. Further social liberalisation is also not part of the agenda. But there also won't be much of a rollback.

Considering that this is a heavily Christian government, it could have been worse.

A comprehensive survey of what faces the Netherlands for the four years to come - afew

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The Fourth IPCC Assessment Report

by nanne Thu Feb 15th, 2007 at 07:49:56 AM EST

On the second of January, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a large body of scientists established by two United Nations agencies, released the first details of its fourth assessment report.

The IPCC's fourth assessment report will come in three main parts. One part will deal with the scientific basis, another with vulnerabilities, and yet another with options for curbing climate change. What we have now is the summary for policymakers of the report on the scientific basis. This is an 18-page summary of what will eventually become a 400 page document. Obviously, it does not contain all the scientific information that is relevant for policy-making.

Following the publication of the summary for policymakers, a debate has ensued on whether or not the fourth assessment report is more or less alarmist than the third. This debate is premature, as the estimates of the damages climate change will cause are contained in the second part of the report, which is expected to be released in early April. It's also a silly debate to have.

Bumped/promoted by DoDo & whataboutbob

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Eurozone Economic Governance

by nanne Sun Feb 4th, 2007 at 08:25:24 PM EST

The French are the only ones who bring up 'economic governance' in the Ecofin.

Quote by outgoing Dutch Minister of Finance Gerrit Zalm, who deems deeper cooperation to be unlikely and undesirable. (Dutch source)

Zalm is something of a neoliberal. Although I think that he has done good work in the Netherlands from the viewpoint of intergenerational equity in cutting the budget deficit, he also has some whacky ideas and an obvious bias in this case. On the other hand, I didn't attend any Ecofin meetings (or had the time to investigate and read any potentially existing transcripts) and he went to quite a lot of them.

So France, the only country to bring this up. According to Zalm, also the only country that didn't live up to some of the Ecofin agreements on collective action in the few cases where they were made. But that's a different problem (for the moment). Is it good that France is the only one calling for more  economic governance? Or should we have more of it?

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