Commission clears 1st round, vows institutional reform
More openness in EU Council
TheEuropeanUnionisbecomingeverydaymoreopentocitizens’demands.ThistimeitwastheabilityofparticipantsinEUpersonnelexaminationswhofailedtoseetheirownpapers.TheEUregularlyconductssuchexaminationsfornewper-sonnelbutuntilnownoone,failuresorsuccessessawtheirmarkedpapers,eventomakesurethatmarkingwasjusttothem.Thiswasacontinuingdemandandmany,mainlyfailures,hadaskedinvaintoseetheirmarkedpapers.NowforthersttimethisispossibleduetotheeortsoftheEUOmbudsmanNikiforosDiamandouros.More precisely, this followed theOmbudsman's draft recommendationmadeinAprilthisyear.ThecitizeninquestionhadfailedtoobtainthepassmarkinawrittentestinacompetitionforEUclericalassistantsandaskedtoseehermarkedscript.WhentheCouncilrefused,sheturnedtotheOmbudsman.At rst, the Council maintained itsrefusal,arguingthattheStaRegulationssaytheproceedingsofSelectionBoardsshouldbesecretinordertoguaranteetheirindependenceandtheobjectivityof theproceedings.TheOmbudsmaninsist-edthatthisdidnotmeanthatacandi-datecouldnotseeherownmarkedscript.HeaskedtheCounciltoreviewitsposi-tion outlining the benets of givingaccess.AfterthistheCouncilgaveitsauthorisationforthepapertobepresent-edtothecandidate,atthesametimebreakinganoldrowwiththeCommis-sionandParliamenttogiveaccesstomarkedexaminationscripts.There is no question this will nowbecomearegularthingfortheCounciltooandcandidatesthathaveanyreservesoverthepromptnessofthemarkingof theirpaperswillbeabletoverifyitbythemselves.
he veiled European Parlia-mentary questioning of European CommissionPresident Romano Prodizzled out as he refused to sack thebloc's top monetary aairs ocialover alleged fraud and corruption atEurostat, the European Union's dataand statistical agency. But ghtingcharges that he turned a blind eye tothe festering Eurostat nancial scan-dal, Prodi vowed to clean up theagency and step up the ght againstgraft in EU institutions. Summonedby the Parliament to explain the Euro-stat aair, Prodi insisted, "After care-ful thought and in full awareness of the issues, I consider there is no rea-son to ask any commissioner toassume the political responsibility andresign."But in a sign of potential troubleahead, Parliament President Pat Coxtold reporters that despite havinggrilled Prodi for a two-and-a-half hourclosed-door session, leaders of theassembly's political groups had notmade up their minds about the aair."It is premature to arrive at any con-clusive judgment ... further work needs to be done in depth," Coxunderlined. Cox accused the Commis-sion of "passivity" in responding to ini-tial reports of Eurostat fraud, sayingthe aair revealed serious "gaps ingovernance" at the EU executive.Moreover, the Budget ControlCommittee (Cocobu) of the EuropeanParliament in its latest meeting askedfor an investigative report into allegednancial discrepancies in the AthensInternational Airport (AIA)Project,which were highlighted by
over the past months.
Latviansvotedinfavourof joiningtheEuropeanUnion,giving the green light forocialenlargement,whichisscheduledtotakeplaceonMay1,2004.Inareferen-dum heldonSeptember20,66.9percentofLatvianvot-ersapprovedtheircountry'smembershipintheEU.EntryintotheEU,however,didnotfairwellfortheLat-vian government. It col-lapsedonSeptember21asthreeofthefourcoalitionpartieswithdrewtheirsup-port for Prime MinisterEinarRepse.Repse welcomed the out-comeofthereferendumasaresponsibledecisionbythecitizens."LatviahasjoinedthefamilyofdemocraticanddevelopedEuropeancoun-tries," he said. PresidentVaira Vike-Freiberga alsohailedtheresults."Iam surewewon'tregretthemoveto jointheEU."GovernmentsacrosstheEUwelcomedtheresults,withFrench Europe MinisterNoelleLenoirsayingtheref-erendum concludeda"greatseries of victories" forEurope.
(From Lto R) European Parliament President Pat Cox,European Council Sec-retary General David O’Sullivan and European Commission President RomanoProdi
Cocobu launches investigation into AIA finances
EU counts on Russia toratify Kyoto protocol
s more than 50 countries prepare for the start of thethird conference on climate change in Moscow onMonday (September 29), one key issue overshadows allothers: Will President Vladimir Putin nally throw Rus-sia's weight behind the Kyoto protocol and sign the treatyto cut global emissions of climate-changing gases intoreality?After the rejection of the protocol in 2001 for econom-ic reasons by the United States, the world's worst pol-luter, Russian ratication is now essential if it is to comeinto force. But evidently vexed at the lack of tangible ben-ets, the Kremlin and the Russian government did nothurry as initially hoped to climb on board in time for theconference, which Putin initiated.Putin himself seems torn between shouldering weightyecological commitments and striving to be seen as a "goodEuropean" as Russia seeks deeper integration with theEuropean Union.The European Parliament hopes the Kremlin leaderwill sign the protocol and send it to the State Duma(Russian parliament) for ratication before the housegets bogged down in preparations for elections in Decem-ber.
“The devil is compromise.” Henrik Ibsen.
AFP PHOTO/JOHN THYS
A decade ago, then Commission chief, Romano Pro-di emerged from a closed session in the parliamentover alleged corruption unscathed, but promisinginstitutional reform to tackle corruption.No commissioner had to resign over the matter, andin those golden days, it was possible to tell if a com-missioner had resigned or not.Poland’s Ambassador told us of the economic ben-efits adopting the Euro would bring the nation.Two thirds of Latvians voted to join the union, tothe delight of France, whose Europe minister, NoelleLenoir said the referendum result was part of a “greatseries of victories” for Europe.Perhaps a European victory was more obvious then.
n e 1 0 Y e A R S A GO
Angela Merkel is back. Not that she has been away; but onceagain she has been returned as German Chancellor. As all theserious journals tell us; she is now on the brink of being thelongest-serving female leader in European history, condemningthe sainted Margaret Thatcher into second place.It is true that Merkel is a popular figure in German politics,although the popularity of her CDU/CSU party overall hasdropped. That’s OK, though, so did the popularity of the mainopposition party, the SDP. Also, the Greens. The left increased,and from a standing start, the anti-EU, anti-euro party, Alterna-tives Für Deütschland (AfD) managed a vaguely credible 4.7%,not enough for them under the threshold system to get a seatin parliament, but enough to gie them confidence to perhapsget an MEP in the European Parliament elections in May, andmaybe after that some local seats.Of course, the big losers, headline-worthy at least, were theFDP, the pro-business liberal party who formed the junior coa-lition partner with Merkel’s party. They didn’t even qualify fora single seat in parliament. And with that, Merkel is looking fornew friends. It may take some time.The political betting is on a return to a grand coalition – a col-laboration between the DCU and the SDP. It has happened before in Germany – in Merkel’s first term, for example – andelsewhere in Europe; the convergence of ideological oppositesseems now a matter of course than the shocking exception to theaccepted way of things. As right and left (albeit centre-right andcentre-left) converge, is oppositional politics in Europe dead?The answer, even from a superficial analysis would appear not; but power – that driver of consensus – would suggest the oppo-site. The politics of contentment, to ever-so-slightly misquote JK Galbraith, is upon us. When the main (ie, powerful) politi-cal parties stop being ideological, and fear the electoral impactfrom their own flank, rather than progress their ideas throughconfronting and challenging their rivals, then politics is truly doomed in Europe.Ideology should not be confused with dogmatism, of course, but the easy acceptance by certain political parties that opposi-tion automatically equates to unreasonable political posturingis wrong; honest debate and well-thought through argumentsshould never be embarrassingly downplayed by politicians. Itseems as if power is everything, justifying that power is shame-ful. Better to keep your head down, admit or stand for nothing,and hope that your core supporters will get out there and votefor you; you certainly don’t want to attempt to increase support;that might mean genuine engagement, which in turn could gen-uine debate. And then you have to go off-message, a disaster forany media-trained, professional politician these days.So anyway, Merkel will probably go with her nominal rivals (al-though, I would rule out the Greens) to make up that parlia-mentary majority. In doing so, the country has voted conserva-tive, but will have to concede to the left – no right-minded SDPcoalition would allow a CDU member as finance minister. So, you vote right, you get a melange; meanwhile Europe stagnates.Role on 2014.
The soupy middle