“priorité à droite” & Belgian peculiarities

There is something in this world that I have yet to understand about Belgium and makes this place difficult to grasp for regular visitors or expats.

There is the famous garbage collection in Brussels, where you basically buy special bags (and pay tax with them), separate garbage and then throw everything on the street the night designated for the area you live in. So you can be throwing it out on Monday evening, or Tuesday, or Wednesday, depending on the commune where you live.

I haven’t met anyone in Belgium that wouldn’t have a story to tell about Belgacom, the notorious telecom provider. Knowing their number by heart is the best guarantee for a permanent internet connection and fair billing. They have improved recently I heard…probably because there is more choice and their number of customers decreasing…

And then there is the registration procedure with the commune, the procedure to get a bank account, the housing mania, the…and my favourite: priorité à droite. There was a fabulous entry in the Economist newsletter, which inspired me to write about it: Continue reading ““priorité à droite” & Belgian peculiarities”

What future then for the Constitution, Mr Lamassoure?

Without going too much in detail over the current Constitutional debate (you can jump to Jon’s comment about Onesta’s proposal), I would just like to share with you some brilliant thoughts of the French Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Alain Lamassoure (thanks for the paper Peter) on the matter.

European ConstitutionAt a recent seminar organised by the European Union’s Institute for Security Studies (iss-eu) in Paris, Mr Lamassoure’s intervention is summarized as following (sorry for the long quote):

Alain Lamassoure (MEP) felt that the CT could not be rescued and strongly argued for launching a new process to produce a new Treaty. This process could only succeed on two conditions. First, failure had to be ruled out from the start. That implied that Member States agreed to exclude referenda. The probability of a negative vote in at least one country across the EU remained very high, but the EU could not afford another such blow. That also meant that the new text could not be called a Constitution. Second, one should not jeopardise the delicate balance achieved in the CT or the deal would unravel. In producing the new text one needed to use the scissors, not the pen. Only those provisions that were truly innovative, form a legal standpoint, should be preserved. It was also necessary to proceed quickly: the longer the waiting time, the older the compromise would become, and the stronger the requirement for setting up a new Convention and starting all over again. Following the ongoing bilateral ‘confessionals’, the German Presidency should be in the position to launch a new IGC at the European Council in June, with a limited mandate to save the innovations of the CT without reopening the Pandora’s box on sensitive questions. The new Treaty could be drafted and signed under the Portuguese Presidency, and ratified by national parliaments in the following 18 months, before the European elections of June 2009.

Continue reading “What future then for the Constitution, Mr Lamassoure?”

Getting IT stuff right, more time on my hands again: NETVIBES

asus w5fmOk, I’m back after a while. It’s not that I’ve been drawn away by something mystical. It’s all about the new laptop I got and few ideas I tried to work on in the recent days.

First, the new laptop is a beautiful piece of engineering (yes Jon, it’s better than an Apple), the small 12″ model by ASUS, the brand one could describe as my favourite when it comes to the IT. For those geeks out there: it’s the W5 12.1″ widescreen model with…Core2Duo T7200 (2.0Ghz) & 1,5GB 667Mhz of RAM & 120 GB of 5400rpm HDD & 1280×800 wide screen & Bluetooth 2.0+EDR & DVD+-RW Dual Layer & Webcam integrated…Plus I got two nice batteries in the pack, one of them keeps the machine at 1.5 kilos, the other gives 4 hours of work and brings the machine up to 1.8 kilos. With both on the road, I can work independently from a plug for over 6 hours…not bad. In both configurations is super light, super fast and oh, super good.

Ok, enough of this. There is a new web discovery to present. I’ve heard about it for a while, but it’s just perfect now that I managed to set it up well. It’s called Netvibes. For those of you that are used to have a lot of RSS feeds either in Firefox or in an independent reader (I used RSS Bandit for a long time): this is it! The ultimate place where you can link all of those, your emails, your favourite news…All on a customizable website that is basically WHATYOUSEEISWHATYOUGET. Fantastic and of course worth investigating. Continue reading “Getting IT stuff right, more time on my hands again: NETVIBES”

IKEA = nočna mora

Samo en razlog obstaja za daljšo odstotnost = IKEA. V soboto sva bila s Saray v slavnem Zaventemu (tudi lokacija glavnega bruseljskega letališča) in uspela v enem dnevu nakupiti več pohištva kot v preteklih 2 letih. Posledično je bila nedelja pohištveno obarvana in sedaj se komaj premikam, pa je že sreda.

Z nakupi pohištva je tako vedno smeh. V Belgiji je namreč skoraj nemogoče naročiti dostavo na dom, ker je potrebno v naprej rezervirati predel ulice za tovornjak, ki pripelje pohištvo. To v praksi pomeni, da se je treba zglasiti pri lokalni policiji in napovedati dan dostave, plačati skromnih 170 EUR takse in potem čez 3 tedne pričakati posebne oznake na ulici, ki omogočajo dostavi parkiranje. Mislim…seveda sva s Saray izbrala bolj normalno pot.
Bila sva torej prepuščena lastni inovativnosti in trem kolegom (Peter, Marko in Jure: hvala!!!), ki so izkazali usmiljenje in znosili nekje pol tone pohištva v tretje nadstropje, medtem ko sem sam preživel dan v najetem dostavniku.

No, ni mi še uspelo vsega zložiti, ampak dnevna soba že zgleda bolj normalno…

Naslednjič kaj bolj globokega.

Politics and ideology

I have to admit that I take politics from a very romantic point of view. I think ideologies still exists (see previous post), I think politicians do politics because their beliefs drive them and I believe politics in their essence are honest. I also believe that people engage in civil society movements because of their ideological beliefs and their urge for participation and exercise of influence.

Not an easy life for me then . Think of the recent visit of Tony Blair to the current French Interior Minister Рnow already better known as one of the candidates for the Presidency of the great (!) Republic РNicolas Sarkozy. Blair placed in the European socialist (PES) family and Sarkozy firmly among the European conservatives (EPP). In the light of the upcoming elections this is a strange encounter. Blair meets Sarkozy and not S̩gol̬ne Royal, the socialist candidate for the Presidency. Easy one, you will say. French Socialists are so far away for Blairism that indeed Sarko places himself closer to the British Prime Minister than S̩gol̬ne. Also, Blair is not the strongest part of the European socialist family, his policies being quite on the edge. Well, I think that in the light of the elections the move is still strange and the symbolism strong (see two articles: here and here).

The second thought which flows out of an earlier discussion with Saray is the debate on the European Constitution – my forever-love. The German EU Presidency is currently in the middle of a stocktaking exercise, meeting national high-level officials (more about the ridiculously non-transparent method on JEF’s website) and looking for ways forward. Merkel’s words (full speech here):

“We need to formulate new proposals by June. I will work to see to it that at the end of the German Presidency it will be possible to adopt a road map for the further constitutional process.”

So, we can expect a “road map” for the much needed institutional changes in June. She firmly stands behind the Constitution, which means that its adoption will be favoured in some form. Now, I’m a firm supporter of the content of the Constitution and someone that has been at the forefront of the campaigns for its adoption (see section About me). But there are things that bother me seriously. And they are again of symbolic and principled nature.

The starting point for my, yet again, romantic reflection on how the business is done is an innocent Press Release issued by the Youth Forum on the outcome of the preparatory meeting for the Youth Summit. There are six demands, this is the first:

“Future of the European Treaty: Europe needs a European Constitution and seriously involving European citizens in its project, either through a referendum or a Constitutional Assembly, and based on the scope and structure of parts one and two.”

Besides the awful wording, I congratulate my friends who have managed to put this bullet point in and I would of course agree with them that in the political setting, this is a nice achievement. But let’s take a step back. What message does this give of the Youth Forum and of youth in general? Part 1, Part 2? Constitutional Assembly? Out of those 60 people present at the meeting, how many have read the actual text? Out of those, how many have had the chance to vote first time around? Out of those how many have voted against? I think it fails to represent a much more vivid discussion on what the future of Europe should be like and what institutional improvements EU needs and under which conditions. Yes, I actually think the French debate in 2005 made a difference, although we lost.

The third thought stopped with the grand coalition in Germany. Besides proving to be a political nightmare for both sides and failing on major reforms promised (see here), it also has, yet again, a politically romantic substance. What if you campaigned for SPD throughout the election period, screamed against both CDU and CSU, voted for SPD on the day of the elections and then got a grand coalition of both SPD and CDU/CSE roughly two months afterwards. Right, you might well say that most people are pragmatic and don’t really give a s***. But think of this – ideologically it’s of course pervert, practically it’s a nightmare. And it doesn’t do good to the image of politics. Why bother then?

So we come to principles – a stock that normally ranks badly and brings low profits if not deficits. Where do I think we should find them? In two public arenas I would wish: civil society movements (youth ones included..) and among brave political leaders. There is still hope.

V Sloveniji končno liberalizem?

Slovenski politični vikend je bil v znamenju LDS. Kongres nekdaj najmočnejše slovenske politične stranke, je ponudil ogromno izhodiščnih točk za komentatorje in novinarje. Sam bom skušal pogledati na trenutno dogajanje znotraj (in zunaj…) LDS predvsem v širšem kontekstu ideološkega čiščenja levice. In zakaj je mogoče zaupnica Kacinu dobra za stranko.

Key-word v primeru LDS je tokrat izstop. Iz stranke so v preteklih dneh izstopili Slavko Gaber, Jani Möderndorfer, Roman Jakič, Vika Potočnik, Matej Lahovnik, Maksimiljan Lavrinc, Milan M. Cvikl. Pred časom so stranko zapustili tudi Ivo Vajgl, Bogdan Biščak in Gregor Golobič (po Delu, tudi stran LDS). Ali bodo nekateri izmed teh zaenkrat ostali v poslanski skupini še ni jasno, ampak to sedaj ni tako pomembno. Predsednik ostaja Jelko Kacin, podpredsednica ostaja Zdenka Cerar, nov podpredsednik postaja Dušan Keber, sicer tudi znan kot avtor prvega osnutka manifesta LDS (takratni naslove je bil “Za ljudi pred profitom), ki je bil v svoji končni obliki sprejet na tokratnem kongresu.

Naslov manifesta je spremenjen v “Za svobodo posameznika, za blaginjo vseh”. In čeprav je vsebina vsaj po prvih medijskih poročanjih manj pomembna v luči številnih odstopov, je naslov z bistvenimi načeli:

Naše vrednote so svoboda, ustvarjalnost, odgovornost, strpnost, enakopravnost, solidarnost, socialna pravičnost in zakonitost.”

zgovoren. Svoboda in položaj posameznika se pomakneta znatno višje na vrednotni lestvici, odmik od “Za ljudi pred profitom” je očiten. Ali je to zanemarljivo? Hm, kljub običajno težki določljivosti ideoloških opredelitev v Sloveniji, se vsaj meni zdi bistven. Continue reading “V Sloveniji končno liberalizem?”

Spare ribs and flights

Once back into more trivial material. The last January weekend was lazy, but pleasant. Let’s first take a look at the weekend before.

Saray (who got a special page – click here) got back from Nairobi and then left on Friday for a day meeting to Berlin with SPD. I had an interesting conference on gender equality to manage for one of the clients on Thursday, where we hosted Vladimir Å pidla, the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities and Pat Cox, the former President of the European Parliament and now president of the European Movement. All fine, many people turned up and we had a nice response from the hosting and partner institutions – European Economic and Social Commitee and the European Commission. If you feel like, read the Press Release here. Perhaps would be good to write something about the topic once…will note down.

download Eagle vs Shark We finished Thursday with a nice dinner together with other campaign partners in the Slovenian House – a nice Slovenian resto, just off Place Jourdan. Run by a friend, the place is always a nice refuge for a group of people, they serve good food and an even better wine. Boštjan, thanks for being an excellent host again. Continue reading “Spare ribs and flights”

Whereabouts of European democracy

Oh, I couldn’t avoid introducing a bit of EU politics in the blog. Two political faces made resounding comments in the last days (and both are female!): Angela Merkel (the German Chancellor) and Margot Wallström (The Vice-President of the European Commission). From different corners they both disappointed, let me explain why.

The German Chancellor has made first a resounding speech in the European Parliament last week, making her case for the revival of the European Constition and then made a strong Davos speech about globalisation. In the first, she softly announced “consultations with the national capitals” (no quoting here, only rephrasing), while in the second emphasized the need for national politicans to convince voters of the benefits that globalisation brings. While the second is becoming mainstream “The Economist” thinking (see the editorial from the last issue here) and is of course a bit lame and full of statistics, the first one contradicts her point completely. Her stand on the way forward of the Constitution is simply: let us fix the problems and let us quickly ratify the text once and for all (see Jan’s blog entry on sherpas). And there is an interesting link with globalisation – for some of the voters in France and the Netherlands thought that the Constitution was a neo-liberal project, set to put the EU on the fast-track of neo-liberal policies and thus ride globalisation with no social concerns. So, you get a rejection of the Constitution because of concerns on globalisation, but you end up discussing globalisation only, while preventing discussing the Constitution. And of course, what can the abstract discussion on globalisation really bring new? People should discuss the Constitution instead, as a tool that equips the EU to deal with it. For Merkel, it’s better to keep this a private matter for governments. A bit of reflection from her PR team would be welcome. Continue reading “Whereabouts of European democracy”

Koliko je 258,5 miljona evrov?

Tokrat v slovenščini o Sloveniji. Kar ne morem nehati razmišljati o tem, da je moja država nabavila za 258,5 miljona evrov vojaške opreme. 135 oklepnikov dokaj ciničnega imena Patria.

patriaOk, najprej dajmo cifro v perspektivo. 258,5 miljona evrov je skoraj 62 miljard bivših tolarjev (po Financah). Državni proračun Slovenije za leto 2007 je 1954,3 miljard tolarjev oziroma 8,15 miljarde evrov. Povprečna plača za mesec november 2006 je bila približno 1400 evrov. Danes je bilo objavljeno poslovanje LEKa v letu 2006 – celotna prodaja enega največjih podjetij v Sloveniji je v obdobju enega leta znašala 721 miljonov evrov. Celotna mirovna operacija OZN v Zahodni Sahari (MINURSO) je do danes stala 1,1 miljarde evrov, traja pa že 16 let. Enoleten proračun EU znaša 100 miljard evrov. Mladina poda še eno zanimivo primerjavo:

“Na začetku leta 2006 je v državi službovalo 969 sodnikov. Njihova povprečna letna bruto plača po podatkih vrhovnega sodišca znaša 8 milijonov. Torej bi lahko z vsoto, namenjeno oklepnikom, vse sodnike v državi plačevali dobrih osem let.”

Torej: za 135 oklepnikov plačamo enako kot za 8 let delovanja vseh sodnikov v državi. Ali za recimo 3 leta in 3/4 120 let mirovnih operacij OZN. Slovenska prioriteta so torej oklepniki. Zakaj?

Težko je pravzaprav priti do razlogov za nakup. Mediji se predvsem posvečajo raziskovanju razpisne dokumentacije, poteka izbire dobavitelja, ministrovim nespretnim izjavam (zanimiv primer na 24ur, hvala Jure), vendar obenem pozabljajo na bistveno vprašanje. Kaj je slovensko vlado (prejšnjo in zdajšnjo) pripeljalo do odločitve, da porabi 8,15 miljarde 258,5 miljona evrov za nakup oklepnikov (sic!)?

Politično spretni se sklicujejo na NATO, ker je to vedno varno področje. Nasprotniki vstopa Slovenije so bili po porazu na referendumu leta 2003 relativno tiho, politična elita se zaveda finančnih posledic vstopa in ergo: nihče sedaj smiselnosti nabave ne postavlja pod vprašaj. Recimo, da je to sprejemljiv finančen zalogaj za vstop v NATO, zakaj prav oklepniki? V mirnem času so neuporabni. Zakaj ne helikopterji, zakaj ne medicinske enote, zakaj ne sredstva za vojaški transport, zakaj ne…?

Zakaj sta NATO in EU vedno argumenta za izdatke, ki se ne smejo postaviti pod politični vprašaj in so nespremenljivi? Slovenska politika bi se lahko naučila bolje argumentirati svoje naložbe.

Predstavljajte si 135 oklepnikov v koloni. En oklepnik je dolg 7,75 metra (podatki tukaj). čŒe jih na tesno parkiraš dobiš več kot en kilometer dolgo gmoto jekla. In 1080 gum.

For those that are better skilled in English: The Slovenian government recently announced the purchase of 135 military armoured vehicles named Patria. The only reason for this brilliant decision that I have come accross is our membership in NATO. I simply cannot swallow this: it can’t be so easy. The politicians should begin to argue better their case and not pretend we have to comply with orders “from above”. Take it or leave it.

Maja, hvala za popravke pri številkah.

The weekend gone, nice progress.

It’s again well over 1am and I’m still in front the computer. But I have to admit, I took it relatively easy until very late today. It was a Sunday at the end of the day.

KulaFor those sceptics of Belgian weather note this: it’s the 21st of January and I went for a nice ride with the bike to the Forêt de Soignes (Sonian Forest) – the large forest attached to Brussels. The day started with a very promising sunshine waking me up around 11am, so would have been a pity to miss it. After 1,5 hours of riding through mud and meeting mostly horses, I was on my way back home when it started to rain. Quite pleasant, but not a real surprise.

I also met someone I should probably call up more often. I will Tomaz, I will.

Then off I went to a friends’ place to work on some federalist planning:) Since I’m still chairing the JEF Europe Federal Committee (=FC) together with Florian and Elina, we have to do our bit of work. After a pleasant conversation over German/EU politics (Verheugen was on the list as well…) we finished the draft and I left to have a siesta.

At this point I have to admit. Yes, I saw “Pride and Prejudice” – the classic novel written by Jane Austen back in 1813 turned into a nice movie by Joe Wright. Saray would have been surprised that I appreciate anything less superb as Scorsese (just recently seen his “The Departed”). Well I did.

A short chat with a good friend that just returned from a mission in Kosovo, a short chat with my mum and a bit of work on the Masters applications. Will write on this more, it’s a nice story to tell.

Off to another working week.