Thursday, May 28, 2009

Guest-blogging on TH!NK ABOUT IT

Apologies for the lack of updates.

It's been a hectic week - and it's about to get more hectic. I've just started guest-blogging over at TH!NK ABOUT IT.

I'll be blogging there this week, so I may neglect my duties here at Citizen Europe. But please do comment on my ramblings at TH!NK!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Monday Cartoon: A United Europe?

I will try to post a cartoon every Monday, if I am able. Today's Monday cartoon is on Tuesday - but my excuse is that this has been a busy week!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Blogger Interviews Irish Minister for European Affairs

Ireland5Image via Wikipedia

This is a follow-up to an earlier post (here)

Frank Schnittger, a blogger over at TH!NK ABOUT IT managed to interview Dick Roche, Ireland's Minister for European Affairs (watch his interview here).

He asked a good mix of questions, focusing on both domestic Irish issues and on broader European issues as well. Dick seemed happier talking about the broader European picture, but Frank did ask some difficult questions and tried to pin the Minister down on specifics.

It's great that someone at the level of a Minister has granted a 50 minute interview to a blogger, so (no matter what you think of his politics) Dick Roche should be congratulated for that.

The audio quality on the recording is not amazing, and Frank unfortunately managed to lose part two of the video (leaving only parts one and three). He says this was a technical fault, but I'm wondering if it wasn't because Dick Roche let slip about the EU plans for world-domination, and "they" confiscated the video. Probably not...

Anyway - Well done to Frank for scoring this interview!
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Launching Citizen Europe (Lite)

The Prudent Investor left a comment on one of my posts (here)

Giuseppe, [EDIT: For that would be my name in Italian]
nice blog. May I only suggest you change the colors as white script on dark backgrounds is tremendously eye-tiring (to the older geezers like me? Humans have got used to black on light backgrounds since Gutenberg.

Prudent has a point, and it's something that troubled me when I started up my blog. It's a question of access.

I like my blog. I like my colour scheme. I like all my gadgets and widgets and gizmos cluttering the place up.

But if you're reading my blog and you're colour-blind (or if you just don't have the eye-sight of a hawk) then you might not find my layout so stylish.

Moreover, if you're reading my blog on a mobile phone or if you're using a dial-up modem or have a dodgy internet connection, you might not appreciate all my widgets and gadgets and things.

So, I've started up another blog. It's exactly the same content as Citizen Europe, but it's just plain black text on a white background. There will be no pictures, videos, gadgets or widgets slowing down your connection (although I will try to provide text links to pictures and videos so you're not missing out).

The address is:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

European Democracy: The Politicians are United but the Voters are Divided

Frank Schnittger, a blogger over at TH!NK ABOUT IT, is undertaking a truly interesting experiment. What he's attempting on his blog (here) is a relatively novel way of conducting an interview... yet it raises questions about the nature of EU democracy.

Frank will be interviewing Dick Roche, Ireland's Minister for European Affairs, and he has posted his questions online for the community to read. Furthermore, he is now asking for suggestions for more questions.

One of the amazing things about this is that Dick Roche (or, more likely, one of his aides) will also be able to read the questions Frank is going to ask him, and so will be better prepared for them.

Second round of the French presidential electi...Image via Wikipedia

In other words, it's almost an "open" interview, between Dick Roche and the TH!NK ABOUT IT community, with Frank as a mediator. Great stuff!

The problem is, a lot of the questions suggested by Frank are very specific to national, Irish politics. This makes sense: MEPs are elected by national voters and so they campaign on issues that will interest and affect specifically those same national voters.

As Frank points out:
"[Dick Roche] is not going to want to raise additional issues... [that] have the potential to lose him votes."
I agree with Frank. But I think this is a terrible way to conduct politics.

This is one of the reasons the public are so frustrated with European politics. Now is the only time that we - the European public/s - have any say over these issues. Now is the only time we can hold our politicians accountable.

Two years down the line, when these issues are actually being addressed, there will be no public accountability. It is only now that we can reward or punish our politicians for their future vision. So, Frank, please press him on at least some of these issues!

For example, I definitely want to know about the Barroso coronation. I want to vote for a political group that intends to put forward a candidate to run against Barroso. I do not want to do this because I dislike Barroso, but because I believe that competition is in the interests of democracy. After the elections, though, the power to push for this sort of thing will be out of our hands.

All across the EU, each individual voter will have their own set of key issues that they will be voting on. MEPs should clearly set out their positions on ALL of these issues, and then let the voters decide. But the system, as it stands today, encourages MEPs to campaign only at the national level on national issues for national votes. Given this is the case - what questions can I, a citizen of another EU member-state with only a cursory knowledge of Irish politics, possibly suggest for Frank to ask?

This is why I think we need some sort of European-wide accountability, represented by some part of the EU institutions being directly elected by all EU citizens voting together. At the moment, the politics are united, but the vote is fragmented. MEPs take European-wide decisions, but they campaign on national issues. I cannot vote for Irish MEPs, so Irish MEPs are not interested in my opinions, yet they help take big-picture decisions in my name.

Still, perhaps I am jumping the gun a bit.

I have no idea how Dick Roche will respond to these sorts of long-term questions. The fact that he is willing to be interviewed by a blogger at all is fantastic, and this should immediately win him respect.

But my appeal to Frank is this: don't ignore the long-term questions. June 2009 will be the only time (until the next set of elections) that we have any real power to influence what happens.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Review: Villa Margon

April 18th to April 16th 2009 was "Culture Week" in Italy. Determined to imbibe some late-Renaissance European culture, my lady and I (and a couple of friends from Brazil) visited Villa Margon in Ravina (not too far from Trento). Here's a quick review of the villa and what it can tell us about European culture.

Villa Margon, constructed in the 16th century, sits atop a hill (which is a bit of a shlep if you don't have a car), with vineyards below and the Italian alps above. The villa showcases some superb frescoes (typical of the region) depicting various historical and Biblical scenes.

There are five rooms of frescoes, divided into three sets: one of Biblical scenes, one of historical battles of the Holy Roman Empire, and one showing the cycle of the months. The "cycle of the months" theme seems to have been fairly popular for frescoes in this part of Italy. There is a cycle fresco in the Aquila Tower of Castle Buonconsiglio, another in a Venetian residence in Rovereto, and I've heard of at least one more in a castle somewhere in Trentino.

My favourite panel from the Margon cycle depicts the Villa's noble family sat at a table having lunch on the porch of Villa Margon, watching peasants happily threshing wheat under a scorching sun. Ah, the nobility... what better way to work up an appetite than by watching other people work for a living, eh?

The Margon cycle of the months was an idyllic representation of an ordered society, where peasants knew their place - and it probably contrasted fairly sharply with the actual political situation in Trentino at the time they were painted. Certainly, when similar frescoes were painted in Trento's Buonconsiglio castle, there was discontent and disruption at all levels of society.

Interestingly, there's actually some perspective on display in these frescoes: the peasants that are nearer to the foreground are depicted as being larger than the noble family taking supper in the background. This is completely different to the Buonconsiglio frescoes in Trento, in which nobles are always depicted as being larger than peasants even if they are in the background (how can you display a lowly villein in more detail than a just and beautiful nobleman?).

The reception hall contains frescoes painted by a Flemish artist circa 1560, depicting the historical conquests of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. These are amazingly detailed and very colourful - they look almost cartoony they're so vibrant, with knights and horses crashing about all over the place. The frescoes, commissioned by an Italian noble family (and painted by a Flemish artist), depicting a Spanish emperor of a "German" Roman Empire, remind us of the intensely smooshed-together nature of European history and culture.

Finally, we arrive at the Biblical frescoes. I didn't recognise all of the stories, but I seem to remember both Old and New Testament stories were depicted (possibly seperated into two rooms - I can't remember). In terms of visual excitiment, Old Testament is always more fun. One of my favourite panels showed the flood scene from Genesis. Noah's ark is painted as a great big wooden box of a thing, and if you look closely at the water you can see the little people of the Earth drowning. One or two are even desperately clinging on to the side of the ark.

Not really the sort of thing you'd want peering down at you from your bedroom wall.

Overall, Villa Margon was tremendous fun with some amazing frescoes and striking scenery. If you find yourself in Trento with nothing to do - this would make the perfect afternoon trip.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Review Criteria
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Comment: What does "EU 2.0" Actually Mean?

There's an interesting debate going on between Julien Frisch and Ralf Grahn about the nature of EU 2.0.

Julien is critical of Ralf for his use of the term EU 2.0, preferring to restrict all uses of the term "2.0" to the "Web 2.0" context it was originally intended for.

I argued that, whatever the context:

[2.0] represent a single goal and emphasis: "community."

And that, personally:

I would define EU 2.0 as the interaction between Web 2.0 and European politics

Julien's comments were in response to this post by Ralf.


Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, May 11, 2009

Cartoon: Five Years of EU Expansion

A friend of mine drew these cartoons to mark the five year anniversary of EU expansion into Eastern Europe. They made me laugh, so I thought I would share them with you here. All images are copyright Sergio Fischer, 2009, under a Commerical Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Comment: How Much Should Bloggers Self-Promote?

Etan Smallman, one of the TH!NK bloggers, is continuing to impress with his well-argued posts and original interviews. His latest post is here.

[EDIT: It turns out that this post isn't actually an original interview by Etan. Whoops! Still, his last post DID have original interviews in it: here]

I left this comment:

Is this another original interview, Etan?

If it is - then I have a piece of criticism for you (in an otherwise excellent post) - you're not making that clear enough!

You're being too modest and what you need to do is self-promote more. If this is indeed original research, you need to say "in my interview with Mike Smithson, he said..."

People do not expect bloggers to interview. What you are doing is amazing. If you do not make it clear that this is what you are doing, people will assume you have just cut and pasted from an article and are doing regular blogging (i.e. news analysis).

I'm continually impressed by your efforts, Etan - so I'm going to be more critical with you.

Your title "Does this suggest a low turnout on June 4th? Place your bets…" is too ambigious.

This title would be perfect for a sub-heading, in the main body of the text but beneath your main title. But it is unsuitable for your title.

You have to think about how your title will come across in web-searches, RSS feeds and archive lists. It must be as clear as possible.

I can be guilty of ambigious titles myself - and it's something I also have to work at. But something like "UK Public Interest in EU Lowest Since 1988" is clear and attention grabbing.

You can probably think of a better example - but it should strike a balance between being clear (but boring) and being interesting (but ambigious).

Keep up the good work, Etan!



Comment: Invasion of the Mutant Zombie Chickens

Radovana, a Slovak student blogger, came across a pair of giant chickens promoting the EU elections in Trnava yesterday (her post is here). She got funny looks as she took photos of the chickens, and didn't want to hang around too long!

My comment:
Hi, Radovana!

A great discovery!

But you are a blogger now! It is your duty to disqualify yourself from social life and a normal existence in your hometown.

You must be as curious as possible, and try to satisfy that curiosity - even if it means strange behaviour in public (ESPECIALLY if it means strange behaviour in public!) :D

You should return to the chickens and stand next to them, interviewing all people who walk past. Ask them if they know what the chickens mean and if they think the sculpture is effective.

And try to steal some of the chicken! Maybe take it home and cook it. Write a review!

Perhaps that's going to far...


Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Communist Totalitarian System of Barroso

Libertas founder, Declan Ganley, is apparently publishing a book outlining his "political vision." He's hoping, no doubt, to emulate the recent success of President Obama.

Others have already written about Libertas (notably Ralf Grahn here, Julien Frisch here, and there's an entire blog devoted to derailing Libertas here), so I won't go into detail about the party. I just want to comment on Ganley's claim (made, apparently, in his book) that the European Union is a "a Communist totalitarian system of José Manuel Barroso -- a former Maoist Communist."

[Image: Barroso/Che, Josef Litobarski, 2009, Attribution 3.0 Unported, from:
José Manuel Barroso2, Besoin d'air, 2007, Attribution ShareAlike 2.0
Guerrillero Heroico - Che Guevara, Alberto Korda (Korda), 1960,
Public Domain (Controversial)]

I've not read (and probably won't read) Ganley's book, and only have access to his quote because it's in the Irish Independent. I can only assume, therefore, that the Independent has quoted Ganley horribly out of context. If not, this was an... exceedingly ill-advised thing to say.

The EU is a Communist totalitarian system? Run by Barroso? You're having a laugh, right?

If the EU were a totalitarian system, Ganley simply would not exist. I would not exist. Ganley would not be able to run an opposition party. I would not be writing this blog. Me and Ganley would both have been liquidated by the state. There would simply be no space for political opposition or for civil society. The state would have total control of both the public and the private spheres of society. Total control. Not some control. Not a little bit of control.

It's not called alittlebitarianism. It's called totalitarianism.

And yet I exist.

And Ganley exists.

So the EU is not a Communist totalitarian system.

And as for Barroso in the role of Glorious Comrade Number One? In a totalitarian state there would be no seperation of power. Power would be concentrated in the hands of the ruling dictator/junta. But the checks and balances of the EU do exist. There is a seperation of power.

By the way: Yes, Barroso was a member of an underground Maoist party as a young man. So was Andrew Marr, apparently (although he was a bit younger - 11 years old). Whether Barroso was a Maoist or not is neither here nor there - he most definitely isn't one now and the system he is part of does not permit the totalitarian concentration of power into his hands.

But I'm being silly. And Ganley is being silly. The EU is not a totalitarian system.

Describing it as such is shrill, hysterical hyperbole. It undermines Ganley's argument.

There are very valid reasons to criticise the EU. If you make up reasons, or overstate your case, you are shooting yourself in the foot.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Comment: Unionist Identity in Northern Ireland and the European Union

Great post by Eurocentric on his blog (The European Citizen: Hearts and Minds and Europe)

I left a detailed comment in response. I'm going to disable comments on all my "Comments" posts in future, as I want to drive traffic to other people's blogs. If you want to respond to what I've written - please do so on Eurocentric's blog!

Another great post!

I'm interested in your presentation about unionist nationalism in Northern Ireland (I'm giving a presentation on Tuesday about UK nationalism in general). Could I get a look at the notes for your presentation? Either as a blogpost or sent to me directly?

In return, I'll post the results of my presentation as well! :D

As to the rest of your post:

"Although the Republic doesn't really want NI until it can afford it"

I think this is a really interesting point. On the other side of the coin; when I was in Northern Ireland I heard people say that they don't think the UK really wants NI (too expensive to police and support economically) - but it can't afford to be blamed for any bloodshed that unification would bring.

And in Derry/Londonderry, I had an interesting talk with a nationalist about why a lot of Catholics don't support unification. His take (in Derry, at least) was that if the Republic took over government in the North (and hence welfare support), it would simply be unable to cope with the high levels of unemployment.

Northern Irish Catholic identity (i.e. I don't mean just "nationalist") is also a very interesting thing. Chatting with NI Catholics, I got a real sense that they have some mixed feelings towards Catholics in the Republic. There's sometimes a sense that NI Catholics have gone through something that people from the Republic don't really understand - they haven't shared in it.

In a sense, just as NI Protestants are alienated (or at least distinct) from people in Britain, NI Catholics are distinct from those in the South (I'm deliberately avoiding the terms "Unionist" and "Nationalist" to make this particular point - although I'm aware of all the problems of terminology. These are big, clumsy statements I'm making!)

"Irish reunification would be a lot easier and acceptable for unionists within a European context"

When I first arrived in NI, I really supported this idea. But after living there for a while, I started to understand how much unionists (in general) seem to hate the EU. It almost seems that any symbol of identity supported by one community automatically cannot be supported by the other.

These are only my observations after less than a year living in NI, so I could be completely barking up the wrong tree!

Comment: Should Iceland Join the EU?

I've just recently started reading RZ's blog Re:Europa and came across an interesting bit of debate about Iceland joining the EU (Re:Europa: Everybody Loves Iceland).

A chap from Australia (Ty Buchanan) commented and explained how he was sceptical. His family had been forced to close their local business (growing vegetable produce) because of increased competition from overseas.

In my comment, I tried to link his experience to the exact same (extremely valid) concerns I think many in Iceland's fishing industry are having at the moment. I wonder, though, if staying out of the EU would really reduce these pressures or just postpone them.

Hi, Ty!

I'm sorry to hear about your family business. Iceland's fishing industry fears that exactly the same thing will happen to them if they join. And with Iceland's banking sector obliterated overnight, fishing is now one of Iceland's most important remaining industries. They had banking and fish. Now they have fish.

It's a difficult situation to deal with. But I don't think it's just a problem with the EU; it's also a problem with globalization in general. If the UK hadn't joined the EC, then local producers would still have been under pressure from the advance of foreign multinationals - they would always be able to under-sell local producers.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

EU Fisheries: Two Views

A giant grouper.Image via Wikipedia

Two interesting blog posts written in response to the recent publication of the European Commission's Green paper: Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.

One critical post (here) written by Bruno Waterfield of the Daily Telegraph. The second more supportive (here), written by Peter Sain ley Berry over at the EU Observer. These two views are not necessarily mutually exclusive - both men make some very valid points.

Fisheries is something I really want to read up on, as something is currently going very wrong in our seas. If we're not careful, the fishing industry will be destroyed and fish stocks will collapse.

I might consider blogging on this, if only to force myself to read up on it!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]