View from Brussels - General

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German goal line technology installed in Brazil to prevent another 1966 ghost goal controversy

18 July 2014 by Pelle Neroth

There have been more serious disputes between the English and Germans. World Wars 1 and 2 spontaneously come to mind. But surely few more recent contretemps rank higher than the disputed goal in the World Cup final of 1966, where the referee ruled in England's favour. England went on to win the trophy.

The goal put England 3-2 ahead of West Germany in the 11th minute of extra time. The ball hit the bar, bounced up and down on the line and remained in play until cleared. The Soviet linesman ruled it a goal and the referee, who did not see the incident, went along with the linesman's judgement call over the protests of the German players.

Fired up by being ahead, the English played with renewed verve and Geoff Hurst scored another goal on the final minute, as fans started streaming on to the pitch at Wembley. Final score: 4-2. That third goal has always been a point of contention since. An unconfirmed story has it that the Soviet linesman, when asked why ruled against the West Germans, replied with a single word: "Stalingrad". The huge, vicious battle that turned the tide on the Eastern Front, where half a million Soviet soldiers died, had, after all, taken place just 23 years earlier.

A paper from the Oxford University of Engineering Science by Ian Reid and Andrew Zisserman concludes, after drawing on extensive video analysis, that the ball never CROSSED The line and that it have need to travel another 6cm to do so. In other words, it was not a goal. Their paper is available here.

www.robots.ox.ac.uk/~vg...pers/reid96.pdf


Forty four years on, there was another disputed goal in an England Germany match, during the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. This time the ref favoured the Germans. English player Frank Lampard's shot hit the crossbar and crossed the line before bouncing back into the German goalkeeper's arms. The goal was disallowed, but subsequent video replays show that the ball went in. The goal would have levelled the score to 2-2, but in the end the Germans won 4-1.

The incident reignited calls for goal line technology and, bowing to pressure to innovate, FIFA finally allowed the use of goal line technology in this year's World Cup in Brazil. Technology companies from Germany and England led the bids for the tender. Guess what, one of the German companies won.

The German company Goal Control sent 35 technicians to Brazil and invested 200 to 300,000 euros in equipment in each of the World Cup stadia. The system uses seven cameras trained on each goal, each capable of taking 500 pictures per second and determining accuracy to within 5 millimetres. When the ball crosses the line, the referee receives a GOAL message on a specially designed wristwatch. The system was needed within days, in an inconclusive goal between France and Honduras. It ruled in France's favour.

The system will continue to be used in league games played in Brazil, in those stadia where it was installed. But will it be used elsewhere. There is a lot of resistance elsewhere. Michel Platini, the French head of UEFA, the European football association, is sceptical about the cost to benefit ratio. These "ghost goals" are rarer than one thinks, and the installation in European stadia would cost tens of millions of euros, he says.

Goal Control wasn't the only German technological innovation present on display in Brazil. The German football team, ensconced in its own purpose built football camp, Campo de Bahia, complete with spas and advanced training equipment, wore special monitors threaded into their football kit to monitor performance while training. Heartbeat, speed, acceleration and every move was recorded by the tiny monitors and beamed to the coach's iPad. They beat Brazil 7-1 in the semifinal before going on to win the final, so the technology must have been doing something right.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 18 July 2014 at 02:38 PM by Pelle Neroth

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 18 July 2014 02:20 PM     General     Comments (0)  

EU court's 'Right to be forgotten' ruling causes controversy

10 July 2014 by Pelle Neroth

It is one of those rare European tech stories to have crossed over into the UK media mainstream. Big time. The European Court of Justice ruled in May that EU citizens have a Right to be Forgotten on Google. The judgment said that search engines have to, if requested, remove information deemed "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant", or be subjected to fines.

Google began taking down results at the end of June. In just the first few days it was flooded with 50,000 applications, leaving the company with big backlog to work through, despite hiring more staff, since each application has to be individually assessed. According to latest reports, the number of requests gas now reached the quarter million as of 9 July. Only Europeans are eligible to file requests from the special web page set up by Google, and applicants have to apply in their own name, with photos of identity papers attached.

On the one side of the argument, it has been called the next step in internet censorship and a "licence to rewrite history". On the other, the European Court of Justice points out that privacy is a human right under European conventions, and that individuals should not be forced to live with out-of-date and unflattering information on the internet haunting their lives and careers .

Critics fear that the judgment will lead to groups like corporations, criminals and politicians requesting the removal of important information. But backers of the European court's judgment said the court specifically indicated that Google should not remove links to information when the public's right to know outweighed the individual's right to privacy, ie, the story is in the public interest. Companies or public organisations are not covered by the ruling.

When I touched on the upcoming judgement in a column some time ago, I noted that the whole issue originated in a case the Spanish courts couldn't deal with and so passed upwards to the European level. A Spanish private individual, a lawyer by profession, was irritated to find that Google searches of his name linked prominently to a 1998 notice in La Vanguardia newspaper that his house was being confiscated because of a failure to pay his taxes. The man felt that while true, it was no longer relevant. Besides, it damaged his professional reputation and therefore likely his livelihood as a lawyer.

The ECJ did not quibble with La Vanguardia's right to publish the notice, since it was in the public interest. But it ruled that Google, the world's largest search engine, violated his privacy by making the information so easily available.

Many will sympathise with the right to have disobliging stuff removed about you. Quite a lot of people don't want their lives open to scrutiny by employers, enemies, family and the general public. Many will sympathise with another guy whose case, highlighted by the BBC, involved him being sacked from his job in Britain because someone had googled his name and found an old drink driving conviction. He wasn't even in a job that involved driving. But there is a large grey area. Does a person have a right to have a photo of them behaving badly at party removed from a search? Maybe. But what about reader review sites that rate local doctors' or lawyers' professional competence? Google has already received many requests that pose such ethical dilemmas. Google has an ethics committee including a philosopher at the Oxford Internet Institute and the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales. British journalists, like the BBC's Robert Peston, have complained that disobliging stories by him about business leaders' dodgy dealings are being removed from the Google search, even though the material is in the public interest, so clearly Google are interpreting the ECJ's restrictions generously. Or maybe they are deliberately going along with requests to wipe public interest stories in defiance of instructions in order to get influential journalists to agitate against the ECJ's decision? Just speculation.

Exceptions

It is worth nothing that Google is only deleting information that appears on its own results pages. It can't control information on the original website. (In the Spanish case, for instance, La Vanguardia's online archives.) Further, the ruling does not apply outside Europe, so while results will be censored on google.fr, google.de, google.co.uk etc, they will not be censored at the US parent site google.com.

The information will still be out there! And, for now, experts think that America's commitment to free speech through the First Amendment will mean it is unlikely that US courts would ever impose the European model where privacy rights can trump freedom to publish.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 10 July 2014 at 12:26 PM by Pelle Neroth

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 10 July 2014 12:09 PM     General     Comments (0)  

Technology and access to resources helped tip the scales in the Great War

6 July 2014 by Pelle Neroth

There is a lot of attention being paid to the First World War this year, in commemoration of the centenary of the year the war started, 1914. Two weeks ago, EU leaders met for a memorial dinner in Ypres, Belgium. Our nations' ancestors fought each other on battlefields there, think Passchendaele.

I would like to focus on a less commonly examined angle. World War One was the first telecommunications war and the first oil war.

Some years after the treaty of Versailles was signed, Winston Churchill wrote that the Great War differed from earlier conflicts because of the terrifying strength of the combatants and the enormous means of destruction that they possessed. All of it the result of the rapid developments in technology in the decades preceding this most important of all conflicts. The internal combustion engine was invented in the 1880s.

And along with the naval rearmament race chiefly between Britain and Germany that characterised the 20 year period after 1890 there was a race to discover and exploit the world's oil resources.

When Winston Churchill became First Sea Lord in 1911, most of the
Royal Navy ran on coal fired steam turbines, but coal had obvious disadvantages. Much energy and time was laid down by crew on loading up on coal and feeding the turbines.

Ubiquitous coal dust made for a terrible working environment. And ships were not able to load up on coal while at sea, which seriously limited ships' range. Oil had twice as much energy per unit of weight as did coal. Oil driven ships could accelerate twice as fast and had a higher maximum speed.

The burning of oil gave off less smoke, which made warships harder to discover out at sea. Plus the fuel could be replenished while on the move, which gave oil driven ships a longer range. Much had been invested in a vast necklace of coaling stations in Britain's various far flung colonies.

The price of oil fluctuated wildly. Yet the risky decision taken by Admiralty to adopt oil, helped along by shrewd deals cut with Middle Eastern potentates, paid off: when war finally came, it helped strengthen the Royal Navy over its German counterpart, and, crucially, the Royal Navy dominated control of the world's shipping lanes.

The allies were able to draw on global oil resources in South America and the Middle East, plus American resources when that country joined the war in 1917, while Germany was limited to oil supplies it could source overland from Romania. Shortages meant that the many Germany aircraft stayed on the ground and tanks immobile in the more fluid, latter parts of the war. One of the reasons why the Germans surrendered while the army was still undefeated and in occupation of parts of France was that the German general staff realised that, without access to oil and given the war's growing mechanisation, there was no way Germany could win

Germany had the engineers, the innovation abilities and the technical know how, but the country lacked the resources. Even before the war was over, western companies, backed by their governments, began a wild chase for new oil resources. A race that goes on still.

The Great War also marked a struggle over control for long distance telegraph and telephone communications. The day Britain declared war on Germany over the latter's invasion of Belgium, 4 August 1914, he British cable ship Telconia localised and cut Germany's Atlantic cables and attached the ends of the five cables to Britain's own telecommunications network; France did the same to cut off all links between Germany and South America.

In one instant, Germany lost 5000 kilometres of cable network, 90 per cent of her capacity. Further, in the autumn of 1914, Germany's radio station in her East African colonies were systematically attacked by the British. Germany was reduced to communicating with her overseas outposts via two radio stations in northern Germany and through the diplomatic services of neutral countries with pro German sympathies, chiefly Sweden. Unfortunately for the Kaiser, the British early on broke the German codes, so were able to read Germany's radio traffic for most of the war.

The most important upshot of this activity was British operatives' decoding of the so called Zimmerman telegram, to the German embassy in Mexico, in which Mexico was urged to go to war on the USA. The British leaked the information to the American press immediately and this became one of the causes that shifted America over to the Entente (allied) side and into the war, making Germany's defeat inevitable.

As the Guardian's and Washington Post's revelations last year about the NSA and GCHQ show, even today the Anglo Americans command the world's electronic information highways.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 06 July 2014 at 10:32 PM by Pelle Neroth

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 06 July 2014 10:09 PM     General     Comments (0)  

Brussels, populists versus industry and science communities

1 June 2014 by Pelle Neroth

The European parliament now has a lot of populist MEPs in its ranks. In a way, the EU is now a focus for the public's interest in a way it hasn't been for a generation. Sadly for the European parliament, people still won't care what it thinks or does. Rather there is a macabre kind of interest in what stink bombs the Bash Street Kids will throw at the "serious" politicians.

The European elections last week were a watershed in that they mark the first time there has been an increase in turnout from the steady decline since the first polls over thirty years ago. Largely I believe this is because of the rise of the populists, who believe they stand for regular people's concerns about unemployment and immigration, and blame Europe for some of it.

The Bash Street Kids, ie the populists, with Britain's UKIP and France's Front Nationale at the head, will pit themselves against the swots, that majority of MEPS who take do their homework on time and meet and do the stuff that elected representatives normally do, such as pass legislation. (Quite a lot of it in the European parliament's case) UKIP, which topped the UK poll with 27% of the vote, and Front Nationale, which came top in France with 25%, will also, I predict, be at loggerheads with each other.

Internal squabbles are in the nature of opposition movements. Remember Monty Python's Life of Brian, where the People's front of Judea stand vehemently opposed to the Judean People's Front. In the comedy film, they sit on the bleachers and accuse each other of being splitters. The new populists come from most of the 28 EU member states, in varying sizes, in slightly different flavours, from nationalist to, Eurosceptic to left wing populist, to neo Nazi.

I predict the FN and UKIP will be caught up in the usual Anglo-French rivalries as they scramble to bring on board the six other parties from across the EU to their respective teams for the seven required to create a European political grouping, which brings with it several advantages. This includes European funding and better speaker privileges, and is an important symbol of power - and with potentially even greater powers to disrupt the EU's functioning, if that is what they want.

At the same time parties like UKIP will be wary of associating themselves with the kind of racist parties that will earn the disapprobation of their domestic media. I think the FN will have fewer qualms about this. The British Tories are also fishing in these waters. One of the most "respectable" populist parties, the Danish People's Party, which successfully brought immigration on to the mainstream Danish agenda (which hasn't happened in Sweden), is said to be close to joining the Tory's own parliamentary group, the ECR, the European Conservatives and Reformists.

There is no doubt the new parties represent many people's concerns about jobs and immigration, dilution of identity. Also, the Brussels machine is an oligarchic system where lobbyists and big business feel at home. At the same time, in the UK, despite its Eurosceptic media, a reader's poll in the Mail on Sunday had 44% wanting out of the EU. 40% staying in. And that in a paper which takes an anti European stance.
That suggests there is everything to play for the Europhiles, that the British rather like Europe only not the way it is currently constituted. And British industry and science community remain firmly against leaving. Science journals such as Nature have carried laments from British scientists complaining about the generous funding they'd lose if Britain quit.

Britain is the big winner when European science grants are handed out. The British medical industry and industrial firms fear negative legislation passed that will disadvantage British exporters into Europe if Britain is not part of the club. Other countries have found that Europe's high environmental standards, as they are presented to their own publics, are sometimes a cover for sneaky protectionism.

My suggestion for keeping the populists happy is to look at the regulations allowing total freedom of movement. That is, if the populists are willing to take place in the legislative process. In the last session, they kept away from lawmaking and stuck to using the parliament as a "glorified youtube channel" for vicious attacks on the Brussels elite and their padded lives.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 01 June 2014 10:58 AM     General     Comments (0)  

I understand Ukip's support, but wouldn't vote for them today

22 May 2014 by Pelle Neroth

The European elections are about - what exactly?

For many it is a proxy national election. Or a means to get further into, or out of, Europe. Ironically it could be argued that the European parliament is not the forum for these kinds of discussions.

A decision to get out of the EU will be decided by a public referendum. If the UK stays in, its revised relationship with the EU will be decided by the UK parliament or UK government.

When you choose who to vote for today, you have to realise what the European parliament does. It is certainly a talking shop. Its prestigious foreign affairs committee is powerless, yet produces more hot air and CO2 than a Polish coal plant.

In many areas, however, the European parliament does have quite big powers to modify, or nullify, quite important but quite technical European legislation in many areas in not least technology, issues such as patents, internet privacy, telecommunications, motor vehicle standards and much else I have been covering for years. It is good at standing up to the likes of Google and the United States congress.

When large global agreements are being cooked up, as for instance in the upcoming EU US free trade agreement, it does represent a democratic and accountable body that can demand insight and represent the popular will in negotiations that are otherwise too often only reserved for international bureaucrats and the highly paid lawyers of big business.

To restate: the body is both a forum for resolving differences between member states and the public and industry's interests and a forum that gives the peoples of Europe a voice in international negotiations.

Here is my main point. In both these situations, a vote for Ukip, predicted to top today's poll, is a vote wasted since many of their MEPs don't take a very constructive approach. They get their expenses and do as little work as possible, attending few committees and holding few rapporteurships (the post of piloting a piece of legislation through parliament). They claim it is their way of bringing down the useless EU as quickly as possible. Nice argument! Self interest cannot be discounted, though!

Another way of looking at it is that as long as the UK is in the EU, for another three years at least, until the in/out referendum the Tories have promised in 2017, the UK will have to abide by EU legislation and as long as Ukip don't play the legislative game and stand up for Britain's interests they are abrogating their responsibilities.

Sadly, some of the hardest working, most competent, MEPs, who know their stuff inside out, are Liberal Democrats and thus most under threat from annihilation in the European elections.

Where Ukip is useful is that it articulates a segment of opinion in the UK that, as elsewhere in Europe, is being neglected by mainstream parties.

As the British conservative thinker Phillip Blond has pointed out, there is a socially conservative sector of the population that is not in love with the media's and the mainstream parties' obsession with being as socially liberal as possible on politically correct issues.

They want to live ordered, quite traditional lives, and find the insecurities posed by the internet, globalisation, multiculturalism, and mass immigration quite overwhelming. At the same time as they are being assaulted by this anomistic liberalism, the certainties of the welfare state are crumbling beneath them. A welfare state is essentially a contract between generations of unrelated people in the same community.

The EU has never been able to resolve that,combine it with free movement of labour and "universal" EU citizenship. Ukip's warnings about massive labour migration from Europe - as they correctly point out, over 500 million people are entitled to settle in the UK - is dismissed by the biens pensants of the liberal media. But who knows what the future will hold? In many east European and southern European countries youth unemployment of up to 50% has devastated a generation of young people. And Britain, not least because of the language, remains an attractive destination for them.

Ukip represents those in Britain who feel disenfranchised by politics. These are people who socially are on the right but economically on the left who would have happily voted for the old pre Blair Labour party. Or in France or Italy they would have voted communist. Today the French working class votes for the rightist Marine Le Pen. In the UK, they are drawn to Ukip. For the "elite" people who work in steady jobs in global finance or well paid media, or yes, the European institutions, to dismiss these parties s populist or fascist is insulting and wrong. To draw a US parallel, these people are like Nixon's or Bush's red staters.

No one could claim, though, that the quality of US lawmaking has improved by the growing polarisation of Congress. The worry is if happens in Brussels. When British interests, for instance to preserve the right to research stem cell therapies, are challenged in the European parliament, can you trust a Ukip MEP to fight the fight for British interests?

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 22 May 2014 at 11:31 AM by Pelle Neroth

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 22 May 2014 10:26 AM     General     Comments (0)  

Scotland markets itself as indispensable to Europe

9 May 2014 by Pelle Neroth

A few years ago, Jacques Delors, retired ex-president of the European Commission and Margaret Thatcher's old nemesis, confidently predicted to a French newspaper that Scotland would soon become independent. Did that wily old fox know something that Westminster didn't?

This when the polls showed that Scottish independence was an unlikely prospect and few politicians or mainstream commentators in London thought it was likely to happen.There is an argument, a bit conspiratorial I will admit, that says the commission always planned regional subsidies with the aim of splitting up nation states, the biggest barrier in the commission's "plans" to create a federal Europe. What is true is that larger regions, and many cities, have found it imperative to have lobbying offices in Brussels, jockeying for influence and EU money.

From there it is but a short step to wish to extend influence even further by having a seat on what remains the EU's most powerful body, the Council of Ministers, where the nation states are represented. It is entirely rational for large subnational entities like Scotland to do this, to cut out one layer of politicians, in national parliaments and in national governments, and have a seat directly at the top table.

But Scottish membership of the EU is not automatic. It will have to reapply from outside, commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said in February. Any member state could veto Scottish membership, and several countries, like Spain, have powerful regions, such as Catalonia, that could go Scotland's way if Scotland is given too easy a ride. So might be tempted to punish Scotland with a no.

Consequently, Scotland has been busy marketing itself in Brussels as an indispensable member, a technology and science hub, with Europe's richest resources of oil, wind and tidal power and some of Europe's top universities. With an eye to the situation in Ukraine, Scottish first minister Alex Salmond said, in a speech in Belgium this month, that Scotland was vital to Europe's energy security. Speaking at the European college in Bruges, Nick Clegg's alma mater and the site of Mrs Thatcher's most famous speech against European integration (the "No, no,no" Bruges speech from 1988 ) he also threw Scotland's attractive fishing grounds on to the scales. What Spanish government in its right mind would deny this bonanza to its fishermen by vetoing Scottish EU entry?

What he did not say was that Scottish green initiatives have be so far not been the cash cow hoped. That in fact withdrawal of UK subsidies for Scottish green initiatives could leave a large hole in the Scottish budget. Although Scotland produces 10% of the UK's electricity, it receives 28% of current renewables support. In my opinion, it is clear that wind power - which Scotland is touting along with tidal energy - is the least promising renewable. Scotland's threat that the rest of the UK could face blackouts and miss its carbon targets without Scottish renewables has also been questioned.

UK energy secretary Ed Davy has rejected this by saying the rest UK (rUK) could easily source its green electricity from elsewhere. Scotland provides just 5% of the rest of the UK's needs, and rUK could easily import any shortfall via cables that have been built to Belgium and France, whose electricity is mostly produced in non carbon emitting nuclear reactors. Both of these countries are closer to South East England and their supplies are cheaper at the current market price. The unspoken thought is that if Scotland is not really essential to rUK, it is unlikely to be indispensable to the rest of Europe either. There are no cables linking Scotland's energy supplies to potential customers on the Continent.

Scotland's claim to be an energy haven may weaken yet more as cheaper solar energy becomes available. A recent analysis from Citi group, quoted by energy secretary Davy, is that we may see a collapse in the price of solar panels in the same way we have seen a huge fall in the price of computer chips. Exponential falls leading to a huge rise in computing power. Another report already suggests that the price of solar is falling by three quarters this decade. In that case, the power in renewables will shift to southern Europe.

Unless Alex Salmond has some scheme to change Scotland's climate to something sunnier up his sleeve.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 09 May 2014 at 03:50 PM by Pelle Neroth

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 09 May 2014 03:27 PM     General     Comments (0)  

Europe braces itself for US takeovers

4 May 2014 by Pelle Neroth

This is ironic. A remote ethnic conflict of little concern to Britain becomes a huge source of concern and fingerwagging to British ministers. But a foreign takeover that could lead to the crippling of Britain's future means to pay its way, its life sciences industry, is just blithely waved through.

The British government appears to have given its informal green light to the biggest takeover bid ever seen in the British isles, US drug company Pfizer's 60 billion dollar bid for AstraZeneca, the jewel in the crown of Britain's most successful manufacturing sector, pharmaceuticals.

Most newspaper commentators are up in arms. Scientists are worried about losing jobs and patent portfolios to America. That old warhorse and fan of industrial strategy Michael Heseltine points out that most non European countries have the national interest defence when strategic firms are subject to takeover bids.

The British government, in the grip of free market ideology like no other major state, says the shareholders should decide. Yet shareholders will be enormously subjected to pressures from lobbyists, PR people and lawyers ostensibly working for the interests of the target company but, who, as always in mergers and acquisitions cases, stand to gain personally financially from the deal.

Executives get a quick cash in from share options and enjoy the feeling of expanding their empire, regardless of the fact that surveys show that mergers and acquisitions seldom pay off in terms of increased synergy. So much time is taken up merging company cultures and dealing with the inevitable layoffs that the cost-benefit trade off is highly dubious.

If this is not a moral hazard problem I don't know what is. The loser will be the British research base and, down the line, British industry and jobs. There is no such thing as a pure free market. Everything is political, and US companies benefit enormously from the "exorbitant privilege" of the United States which is able to print money and issue debt to ultimately pay for the subsidies that its many defence firms get when competing on the global market.

Ironically even were not Britain's Treasury in hock to free market ideology, the competition directorate in Brussels, largely a British creation, has the real power in this area. Often it is European companies that chafe under its "tyranny". The French are less able to defend their national champions than in the past, and have responded rather than the outright rejection they may have chosen to a parallel raid from the US's General Electric on French engineering firm Alstom by seeking a deal with Germany's Siemens.

Armand de Montebourg, the finance minister of France, supported a Franco German engineering alliance with the words "Faced with being bought out by Boeing it is better to create another Airbus". According to the French media, the political class agree with him in opposing the GE takeover proposals, and report that the Germans are enthusiastic politically for a share swap that would create a European engineering giant, despite GE's and Alstom's greater complementarity. The final word, though, rests with Brussels, which could block either merger.

The frustration of national leaders faced with power ceded to corporations and Brussels could explain the enthusiasm to which they take to old fashioned 19th century sabre rattling and geopolitics. Hence, perhaps, all the grandstanding over Ukraine.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 04 May 2014 at 11:05 AM by Pelle Neroth

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 04 May 2014 10:47 AM     General     Comments (0)  

ECJ rejects controversial data retention law

13 April 2014 by Pelle Neroth

Tony Blair was unpopular in large parts of Brussels, for his role in getting Britain involved in the controversial Iraq war and splitting European foreign policy right down the middle.

Now one of the most controversial pieces of European legislation pushed through Brussels under Blair's government has been given the thumbs down by the European Court of Justice.

According to the EU's top court, the mass storage of telecommunications data is illegal and breaches privacy rights, in a ruling announced on 8 April.

The directive, passed in 2006, obliges telecommunications providers to store all connection data about individuals for at least six months. No prior suspicion is necessary. The name and address of the subscriber, his phone number and date of the phone call are recorded. However, the content of the conversation is not recorded.

For mobile calls, the location where the call was made is added to the information stored. Many billions of pieces of information about people's lives were stored across Europe. Now it has been declared illegal and governments have to go back to the drawing board.

The Luxembourg based ECJ said the measures went beyond those necessary to fight terrorism and serious crime. Germany, with a different political culture, never implemented the directive, which was accused of being a case of policy laundering by the British government.

In 2001, Britain passed the Anti Terrorism Crime and Security Act which gave extensive powers to oversee data retention. The legal provision for Internet Service providers store information without compensation was thought to be a step too far, so the UK parliament put a small spanner in the works for the Labour government: it made the code voluntary for Internet Service Providers.

Tony Blair's New Labour, to get its way, decided on what Liberal Democrat MEP and European parliament home affairs spokesperson Sarah Ludford calls "Brussels policy laundering". That is, get something controversial that can't get passed domestically instead pushed through the Brussels policy machine, beyond the range of attention of the domestic media and policy makers. Then, as the date for domestic implementation arrives, shrug and "blame it in Brussels".

A deal struck between the right and left wing blocs in the European parliament meant the body agreed to what British home secretary Charles Clarke had already pushed the Council of Ministers into agreeing. Horror and sympathy for the London bombings in 2005 did play a part.

The Germans were always cool on the legislation, though, in part because of the legacy of the Gestapo and Stasi meant public opinion was very sensitive about privacy issues. There are more checks and balances in the Germany system and, although the Bundestag approved the implementation of the EU directive, the German constitutional court rejected it. It was not against mass storage of data in principle, but wanted it to remain limited to cases of serious crime and had concerns about the security of the data stored. The German government couldn't agree on a revision and the EU commission actually launched an infringement directive to force the Germans to implement the directive.

The directive actually helped boost a German version of euroscepticism, as it was seen as meddling with German freedoms.

The ECJ usually deals with a problem after an issue has been referred to it by national courts. In this case it was the regional court in the Austrian province of Carinthia. Last December the ECJ's advocate general came to the conclusion that the directive breached the EU's relatively new Charter of Fundamental Rights. So it wasn't surprising the full court came to this conclusion too. It usually does. The mass storage of telephone data of citizens was in contravention of the right to a private life as enshrined in the Charter, it was ruled.

Privacy International, a lobby group with offices in London, put out a statement that the court states that it is not and never was proportionate to "spy on the entire population of Europe". The information stored was "incredibly revealing about Europeans' lives". it said it was right and overdue that the legislation was given the thumbs down.

The legislation caused tensions with the British coalition government. The Conservatives, like their Labour predecessors, being less concerned about the privacy costs compared to what they believed was a security benefit than the Liberals.

In response to the ruling, Liberal MEP Sarah Ludford writes that she is "delighted that the authoritarian government under Tony Blair's leadership has finally got its comeuppance from judges in Luxembourg".

According to the BBC, the official British government position is rather more ambivalent. Governments don't have an option to ignore ECJ rulings but a British government spokesman said: "We cannot be in a position we companies are unable to retain this data" and said that legislation played a crucial role in maintaining national security. The BBC said it was ironic to see a British government angry, rather than pleased, about the repeal of a piece of Brussels legislation.

In theory it ought to give eurosceptics pause for thought. That Brussels strikes down intrusive legislation that the British government wishes to preserve somehow doesn't fit into their rather smug picture of an ever encroaching Brussels apparat.

Europe's governments now have to contemplate new legislation on data preservation in such a way that it helps the fight against serious crime and terrorism while satisfying the ECJ's judgments about the right to privacy. A narrower law, with a much smaller number of records stored, and on a targeted rather than a wholesale basis, is more likely. The European commission will have a look at it in the autumn.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 13 April 2014 at 03:52 PM by Pelle Neroth

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 13 April 2014 10:58 AM     General     Comments (0)  

Ukip are winners in social media game

5 April 2014 by Pelle Neroth

The European parliament gathered together a large number of internet gurus and experts the other day to tell them how to reach the European electorate via social media. The four yearly elections are held over four days, May 22-25, depending on the country,

MEPs were curious to be taught. But the messages from the experts were not simple. What is an indisputable fact is that today's young voters present a challenge to political establishments as never before. Statistics show that young Europeans spend five or six hours a day online, which is twice the time their parents' generation spent watching TV. Political parties are seeing big drops in memberships.

To avoid further declines in interest, some experts say politicians have to be aggressive about going after voters where they most often are, that is, online. However, politicians tend to feel overwhelmed by the new power shift from hierarchies to networks that means they no longer control the message the way they used to, when leaders sent their voters messages twice a day, via the newspaper and the evening TV news. Now, with much more interactivity, and most media sites offering reader comments, the politicians' message was in danger of getting made fun of or distorted.

Some politicians were winners in this new media landscape, typically populists. The Tea Party wing of the Republicans in the United States had managed to virtually take over the venerable party because of its ability to organise online. Whereas ten years ago, it would have remained a minority sect. Europe's populists, like the French rightwinger Marine Le Pen, Italian comedian Beppe Grillo's Five Star party, polling at 25 percent in Italy, or Nigel Farage's Ukip, had an advantage in that their simple messages were punchy enough to break through the internet hubbub.

Their underdog status gives them an authenticity that travels well on the "narcissitic" internet. These are predicted to be winners in the European elections.

Andrew Keen, an internet entrepreneur, told an interviewer that social media users have a sweet spot. A politicians who breaks into the personalised version of the universe that the social media user has constructed for himself is on to a winner. It is not easy, but perhaps the way forward is for politicians to build up networks. While people increasingly don't trust politicians, or mainstream journalists, for that matter, too often both seen as part of the same establishment, they do trust the opinions of their peers, friends, family and colleagues who are part of the same network. A more sceptical view liking an internet page that your friend recommended could be just gesture politics, nothing to with real engagement.

The European parliament had one million followers on Facebook, but how many of those were really likely to go out and vote?
One common sentiment was that the internet has bred a generation of narcissists, living in private bubbles. The mass politics of the second half of the last century. where unions and party youth associations brought people together as activists, was a matter of distant history.

Some mainstream politicians are good at working the new media. The conference mentioned two Scandinavians. Carl Bildt, foreign minister of Sweden, who has been a prolific blogger for over a decade, was one. Alexander Stubb, the FInnish foreign minister, was another. Arguably their being early adopters of social media strategies fits in well with their countries' brand aspirations to be seen at the forefront of global technological progress.

Getting interest in European parliament as an institution, and the rather technical legislation it passes, was seen as being very difficult to translate to social media.

A lot of interesting material was handled at the conference. But in my opinion, the speakers were a bit hard on the populists. The truth is that establishments can no longer reply on consensus formation as much as they used to when they had sole control of content dissemination. For better or worse, they could create truths, narratives, which people had no choice but to accept.

In my opinion, it has had a deleterious consequences for the climate change debate, where the internet has favoured the message peddled by the deniers. In other respects it has been more positive. For instance, foreign policy, where it used to be that the establishment could claim in concerted media campaigns that this or that renegade country posed a threat to the west. Famously you had the Iraq war of 2003, fought on false premises.

The internet has brought more sources of information to the table and a lot of thinking voters are realising the truth is more complex than the leaders and the mainstream media make out. Hence public hostility to action in Syria, and extreme scepticism over whether Putin really is as bad as he is made out to be in the paid for newspapers. In many regards, bloggers, commenters and twitterers keep journalists on their toes, quick to force them into being more consistently accurate.

Summary: some politicians are winners in the social media game, and we could see a much more populist European parliament than ever before. A lot of populists hate the European parliament and the whole elite,corporativist politics it stands for. So the next term could be quite interesting.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 05 April 2014 at 05:51 PM by Pelle Neroth

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 05 April 2014 05:42 PM     General     Comments (0)  

Russia stops selling cheap gas to Ukraine. Will EU taxpayers ultimately pick up the tab?

28 March 2014 by Pelle Neroth

The EU, unprecedentedly unpopular in current member states, has found itself a new task in life: Ukraine.

This week, a pile of European commissioners and their entourages travelled to Kiev in the wake of the part completion of a political and economic association agreement between the EU and the former Soviet republic. But the enormous rise in gas prices as Russia cuts its subsidies and the big austerity programme imposed by the IMF could lead to economic hardships for the Ukraine, experts fear.

The energy subsidies, which have involved Russia selling Ukraine gas at well below market prices since the end of the Soviet Union, are to cease on 1 April following the breakdown in relations between the two neighbours following recent events in Kiev and the Crimea, when pro EU protesters toppled the pro Russian, if fairly and popularly elected, government and Russia responded by invading the peninsula on which one of its principal naval bases is located.

Ukraine already owes the Russian gas company Gazprom 1 billion dollars. The energy subsidies on their own represent 8% of Ukraine's Gross Domestic Product. With Russia terminating Ukraine's privileged relationship, Ukraine's interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatseniuk, told the Ukrainian parliament this week that the country was on the brink of bankruptcy, and that the economy could decline by a tenth this year unless urgent steps were taken

The IMF, the international monetary fund, has promised to tie Ukraine over with huge loans totalling up to 20 billion dollars, but these come with harsh strings attached, which will make it harder for the money to reach poorer families in need, which will be hit by the higher gas prices as well. Not a smart move if you wish to preserve social stability and dampen extremism in the run up to May's elections.

Prof Michael Orenstein, a US academic associated witrh Harvard, says that the reforms imposed by the international community, with Europe at the head, could make things worse before they get better, even if the grace period is granted where the austerity is imposed after the election.

What is going on with the EU and the Ukraine is happening under the radar of European public opinion, distracted by the high profile occupation of the Crimea by Russia. It's the Pottery Barn rule: break it, and you own it. Do European voters really want to take responsibility for a huge and extremely poor East European state, with all its geopolitical baggage? One of this week's big political stories in the UK was a political debate between British liberal leader Nick Clegg, pro European and the leader of the anti EU Ukip party, Nigel Farage.

Farage made much of the Ukraine and Europe's responsibility for the conflict. And it does raise questions: even if some kind of closer association goes ahead, won't Ukraine's antiquated industries go to the wall if the doors are opened to European imports? Will Ukrainian agriculture, dependent on pesticides banned in the EU, be able to export to the EU?

And, if it all fails, is the European voter prepared to pay for the whole thing? If not, isn't there some truth to Farage's claim that an "imperialist, expansionist" EU "fed a group of Ukrainians with false hopes so they that actually toppled their own elected leader".

He added that "I do not want a European foreign policy". A Yougov poll of British viewers held immediately after the debate gave Farage a victory with 57% of the vote, while 36% of respondents supported Clegg. If a similar result is achieved in the European election in May, Ukip will be the largest British party in the European parliament and this would push the UK a little bit closer to the EU exit. It would be ironic if, having attracted Ukraine, the Eurocrats find themselves losing Britain.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 28 March 2014 at 10:34 AM by Pelle Neroth

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 28 March 2014 09:33 AM     General     Comments (1)  

Net neutrality under attack

14 March 2014 by Pelle Neroth

Is net neutrality on its way out in Europe? On 24 February, a crucial vote on a net neutrality proposal was postponed in the European parliament's industry committee, ostensibly because of technical reasons: the amendment proposals had not been translated into all the EU's languages.

For activists against the current proposals, and in favour of net neutrality, it gives a few weeks' breathing space to mobilise opinion against the proposals as they currently stand. Net neutrality is the idea that internet should blindly deliver packets of data from one place to the next. Internet providers are banned from throttling, or cutting, at their whim, the flow of data from any particular service, such as Netflix or Facebook, all in order to ensure a level playing field for the competition. One exception to the ban on throttling particular services is the broad rule that allows internet operators to manage pressure on their networks. Streaming television for instance is a huge bandwidth hogger, and operators are allowed to manage this to ensure their network works well. But the throttling has to be applied evenly and fairly, without favour.
What is getting activists up in arms is the European parliament centre right's proposal in the net neutrality legislation.

They are critical of the "weaselly wording" that could allow companies to offer "specialised services" that could lead to a two tier internet. They are okay with it as long as the services - for example, interruption-free high speed television for large financial institutions - are run entirely separately from the open, public, internet, and doesn't create a two tier internet between those who can afford to pay and those who can't. But the current proposals do not give a clear definition on whether the specialised services can be part of the internet or not: whether those on a cheaper subscription rate will be consigned to a relatively degraded service.

The MEP in charge of the hugely important role of piloting the legislation through the parliament, Pilar del Castillo Vera, has come under criticism for writing her proposal with unacceptable ambiguities. This could allow enough loopholes for larger companies such as Telefonica, Orange and Deutsche Telekom to exploit their incumbent position to promote their services, say, of high quality IPTV, at the expense of start ups and smaller companies selling internet services.

The centre left parties, such as the European Socialists, and the Liberals, are in favour of net neutrality - in theory. But the clever thing about the net neutrality proposals, say activists, is that they are bundled with the rest of the telecoms bill, which includes such crowd pleasing laws such as the end to mobile roaming fees. If they hurry through the committee vote, the telecoms bill could yet pass through the last plenary session of the full parliament in April. Before the European elections. Jens Rohde, the liberal leader on the committee, who has a swing vote, is said to be reluctant to fight too hard against the current ambiguous proposals if it means MEPs can't return home to their voters and say they had cut the public's international roaming charges before the elections in May.

Besides, since the telecoms companies are losing out on the roaming income, they ought to be given a let up on the net neutrality laws, right? The activists have set up a website, savetheinternet.eu, with a list of email addresses for MEPs on the committee. They urge those who care about the issue to call, and write, to Brussels. It has been the principles of net neutrality that have allowed today's internet giants like facebook to scale up so easily from the minnows, "two guys in a bedroom", they once were. It would be a shame if net neutrality were allowed to degrade.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 14 March 2014 10:20 AM     General     Comments (0)  

Net neutrality under attack
Is net neutrality on its way out in Europe? On 24 February, a crucial vote on a net neutrality proposal was postponed in the European parliament's industry committee, ostensibly because of technical reasons: the amendment proposals had not been translated into all the EU's languages.

For activists against the current proposals, and in favour of net neutrality, it gives a few weeks' breathing space to mobilise opinion against the proposals as they currently stand. Net neutrality is the idea that internet should blindly deliver packets of data from one place to the next. Internet providers are banned from throttling, or cutting, at their whim, the flow of data from any particular service, such as Netflix or Facebook, all in order to ensure a level playing field for the competition. One exception to the ban on throttling particular services is the broad rule that allows internet operators to manage pressure on their networks. Streaming television for instance is a huge bandwidth hogger, and operators are allowed to manage this to ensure their network works well. But the throttling has to be applied evenly and fairly, without favour.
What is getting activists up in arms is the European parliament centre right's proposal in the net neutrality legislation.

They are critical of the "weaselly wording" that could allow companies to offer "specialised services" that could lead to a two tier internet. They are okay with it as long as the services - for example, interruption-free high speed television for large financial institutions - are run entirely separately from the open, public, internet, and doesn't create a two tier internet between those who can afford to pay and those who can't. But the current proposals do not give a clear definition on whether the specialised services can be part of the internet or not: whether those on a cheaper subscription rate will be consigned to a relatively degraded service.

The MEP in charge of the hugely important role of piloting the legislation through the parliament, Pilar del Castillo Vera, has come under criticism for writing her proposal with unacceptable ambiguities. This could allow enough loopholes for larger companies such as Telefonica, Orange and Deutsche Telekom to exploit their incumbent position to promote their services, say, of high quality IPTV, at the expense of start ups and smaller companies selling internet services.

The centre left parties, such as the European Socialists, and the Liberals, are in favour of net neutrality - in theory. But the clever thing about the net neutrality proposals, say activists, is that they are bundled with the rest of the telecoms bill, which includes such crowd pleasing laws such as the end to mobile roaming fees. If they hurry through the committee vote, the telecoms bill could yet pass through the last plenary session of the full parliament in April. Before the European elections. Jens Rohde, the liberal leader on the committee, who has a swing vote, is said to be reluctant to fight too hard against the current ambiguous proposals if it means MEPs can't return home to their voters and say they had cut the public's international roaming charges before the elections in May.

Besides, since the telecoms companies are losing out on the roaming income, they ought to be given a let up on the net neutrality laws, right? The activists have set up a website, savetheinternet.eu, with a list of email addresses for MEPs on the committee. They urge those who care about the issue to call, and write, to Brussels. It has been the principles of net neutrality that have allowed today's internet giants like facebook to scale up so easily from the minnows, "two guys in a bedroom", they once were. It would be a shame if net neutrality were allowed to degrade.

-------------------------
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 14 March 2014 10:20 AM     General     Comments (0)  

Eurocrats in Ukraine

8 March 2014 by Pelle Neroth

Forty percent of the gas used in Germany comes from Russia. That figure rises much higher for some east European countries, whose dependence on Russian gas is almost total. So what would be the consequences if Russian president Vladimir Putin, in response to the Ukraine crisis, were to turn off the taps?

Well, in the short term, probably not much, say experts. A mild winter, and America's fracking revolution, has led to a glut in the global gas markets. Gas reservoirs are filled up with about four months' worth of supplies. If the pipelines through the Ukraine somehow become cut off by Ukrainians, perhaps in the event of civil unrest, there is the Nordstream pipeline across the Baltic, and the Yamal pipelines through Belarus and Poland, that could pick up the slack. If Russia cut off supplies, gas could be shipped in through LNG terminals, although Germany, for one, lacks such terminals. However, Russia, even in the darkest days of the Cold War, always honoured its gas contracts.

Which leads us the question of how the Ukraine got into this crisis, and whether the EU played a part in its making.

One hears all sorts of hostile comments about Russia these days. I don't agree with those who argue that Putin is the new Stalin. And it is a bit rich for the nation that invaded Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands and effectively destroying the country, to condemn an "invasion" of Crimea, which has killed no one so far. If Russia acted in the world the way the United States, or its allies, has done, in the last decade, the calls to do something would be deafening.

I think the EU made a serious mistake in sending the negotiators into Ukraine with a free trade deal that included a back door clause that would have made Ukraine part of the foreign and defence policy of the EU. Buried in the small print, not many may have paid attention to it. But it was certainly noticed by the Russians. It shows the problems of allowing unelected technocrats to effectively make policy an autopilot with huge political ramifications, without political oversight.

Russia sees EU defence policy as a kind of back door to NATO. NATO membership for Ukraine is a neuralgic issue for Russians which, whether Putin is in charge or not, has legitimate geopolitical interests.

Gorbachov, the last Soviet president, was promised by the West when he let the East European states go their own way that NATO would not be allowed to expand into Eastern Europe. The Clinton regime brazenly ignored this and allowed Poland, then Hungary and the Baltic States in.

Then there has always been this idea that NATO could expand further yet, to Ukraine and Georgia. Ukraine is strategically important to Russia. Even if one does not accept that a country that was invaded by Europe twice last century had security interests, one must not discount the reality that Russia is a country armed with nuclear weapons.

It was a bad calculation by the EU in that, while the commission's negotiators may have thought they were making a dry free trade agreement, the Ukrainians saw it differently. There is absolutely no support among the European public for letting in Ukraine as a member of the EU. Ukraine is even poorer than Romania and Bulgaria, the newest and most controversial entrants, and would be the most populous arrival since the UK itself joined in 1973.

Ukraine is poorer by far than neighbouring Russia and Belarus even, caused in large part by the efforts of its gargantuanly corrupt political class, and so would require huge subsidy transfers. We can assume that in the medium term, EU membership for Ukraine is just not on. Ukrainian young liberal idealists, though, the free trade agreement must have been seen as an opening towards just such a membership, and saw it snatched away before their very eyes by their president, attracted by the promise of immediate soft loans from Russia - more appealing than the short term austerity of the EU Free trade agreement - and that was what prompted the initial demonstrations. It is irresponsible to encourage a nation's young to go onto the streets with promises one was not going to to able fulfill.

An alliance of idealist liberals and far rightists has now topped their pro Russian leader and Ukraine is in limbo. Relations between Europe and Russia are at a post cold war low. The western media nearly to a man blame Putin's peaceful occupation of Russian speaking Crimea for the breakdown in relations. (The Russian media say Russia was just responding to fears about new nationalist noises coming out of Kiev against the Russian speaking East), but the EU on autopilot has been irresponsible with its promises.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 08 March 2014 at 10:55 AM by Pelle Neroth

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 08 March 2014 10:46 AM     General     Comments (0)  

Finland's technology industry restructuring made harder by being member of the Eurozone

27 February 2014 by Pelle Neroth

The countries that have been role models about how to cope with the increasing pace of technological development and growing globalisation have arguably been the Nordic states.

Finland and Sweden's economic policies have been characterised by high taxes, generous welfare systems and an active labour policy market aimed at helping workers adapt as quickly as possibly to technological change. High R&D expenditures and a clever focuses on targeted hi tech manufacturing sectors have also been ingredients in the mix.

This, combined with high levels of foreign trade, have allowed the countries to grow their productivity and production levels and export their way to higher levels of wealth in the last decade or two, while maintaining enviably egalitarian societies. What has been interesting is that Finland's and Sweden's successes went in parallel, despite the fact that Finland was in the euro, while Sweden was outside the euro. As long as the good times rolled, it did not really matter what currency choice the two Nordic countries had made. Other factors mattered more.

However, the picture has diverged between the countries since about 2008, the start of the great financial crisis. Finland has grown a great deal slower while Sweden has continued to prosper. Finland's GDP is still, today, four percent lower than in 2008, while Sweden's is six per cent higher.

The reason for this is that, while Finland's membership of the euro mattered less when the global and European economies were going well, the euro mattered more in times of crisis. Nokia, Finland's technological crown jewel, fell behind when its competitors, like Apple and Google, developed new operating systems for their mobiles. Nokia is now selling its handset division to Microsoft. At the same time, Finland's wood pulp industry is exporting less because of a drop in the demand for paper following the digitalisation of people's reading habits. Finland, extremely dependent on foreign exports of specialised goods, would have been able to manage the readjustments far better if it had had a separate currency that would have devalued in response to Finland's lost competitiveness. As it is, Finland has had to restore competitiveness by wage restraints, which is far harder.

It is a problem for small countries: how to focus research and innovation broadly enough so they don't put all their eggs in one basket, yet at the same time ensure their research efforts in a few areas at least put them in the forefront of technological innovation. It is a hard line to balance, and the Nordics have generally done it well, but Euro membership had made Finland's challenge harder.

Significantly, only a very small percentage of the Swedish population wishes to join the euro. Very few want to leave the EU altogether, on the other hand. Brits take note.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 27 February 2014 at 11:43 AM by Pelle Neroth

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 27 February 2014 11:36 AM     General     Comments (0)  

Will the European elections deal with how Europe is falling behind in the technology race?

23 February 2014 by Pelle Neroth

Fewer than a tenth of the world's top 100 tech companies are based in Europe. Only 17% of European university students major in mathematics, computer science or engineering, compared to about 30% in China, South Korea and Taiwan. Asian and US companies dwarf European ones when it comes to spending on R&D.

According to a study by the consulting company AT Kearney, R&D investment in Europe is a proportion of GDP, 2%, is less than half the figure of South Korea and 0.8 percentage points less than the United States. Britain, at 1.7%, falls below even this European average. Europe has only a fifth of the venture capital , $4bn, available to its startups compared to the $20bn that US businesses have access to.

When Finnish-based Nokia's sale of its handset division to Microsoft is finalised this spring, Europe will lose one of its flagship technology symbols and Europe will lack a single entrant among the world's top ten handset makers. Europe's countries are outperformed even in an area where one would think they would dominate, that is, European patent filings. The United States tops that list with 25% share of European patent filings in 2012. Japan is second with 20% and Germany third with 13%. Britain is not among the top six patent filers in Europe, beaten even by Canada.

The AT Kearney team concludes that "No matter how you slice the global ICT industry, Europe's representation is low, even as the continent accounts for one-quarter of the industry's global sales." Europe succeeds in some smaller niche sectors, but the tech firms lack the resources to scale up and become a top 100 tech firm: as they become more successful, they become more vulnerable to buyouts from more powerful non European firms. Europe lacks the large ICT firms that could act as consolidators for European companies in their market segment, the consultancy argues.

Although the EU has just launched the next iteration of its science and technology funding programme, Horizon 2020, which will invest about 70 billion euros into promising technology sectors, the consultancy argues that this is still far less than is needed. It called for a strategic master plan from the commission.

Well, some might debate the necessity of a European industrial policy as the consultancy's chiefly continental European consultants seem to be calling for. But where is the debate? There isn't one. The debate in Europe in the runup to the European elections to be held in May ought to start with one basic, agreed upon fact. Europe is falling behind Asia and America in the chief driver for future economic prosperity and growth, which is technology investment. Britain, the chief Eurosceptic country, is absolutely no over achiever in this area. It can't be boiled down to anti or pro European stances. Opinion formers ought to be debating if and then how Europeans, who are in the same boat, can collaborate when competing on a global scale. That is not airy fairy euro idealism, but clever self interest. However, debates about science and technology will probably be as marginal in these Euro elections as they always have been in national ones.

And the debate is likely to be dominated by those whose minds have been made up and say "We don't like Europe" rather than ask "How can Europe work for us". At the last general election, the arch eurosceptic Ukip's science policy was roundly criticised by a national newspaper, which looked at the party's climate change denial, hostility to stem cell research and various other things: "On science, Ukip is dire, with no credibility in the scientific community and candidates who have a demonstrably poor grasp of basic scientific principles".

Can't Ukip's patriotic voters, who are on course for making the party the second largest, if not the largest, of the UK parties in the European parliament, ask what is patriotic about having ill thought out science and technology policies?

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 23 February 2014 at 11:59 AM by Pelle Neroth

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 23 February 2014 11:48 AM     General     Comments (1)  

UK life science industry seeks EU reform, not exit

14 February 2014 by Pelle Neroth

All Tories want to do something about the European Union: some want to reform it, others want to leave. The moderate Fresh Start group, which numbers around 100 Tory MPs, wants to change Europe for the better, while staying in the EU, and has just published a report suggesting improvements to EU policy in the life sciences and biotechnology field.

The life sciences are one of Britain's great areas of expertise: the industry has a turnover of 50 billion pounds and employs 167,000 people in 4,500 companies. Medical research makes up 45% of all business R&D in the UK. One in four of the world's top 100 medicines and 45% of Europe's product pipeline originate in the UK. The pressure on global resources in a world whose population is expected to hit 10 billion by 2050 means there is a need for innovations to help "feed, fuel and heal" the world with the cleverest possible use of technology - and the UK is well placed to provide it, as it seeks pay in its way in a world with an economic model that plays to the UK's strengths.

So is the EU a help or a hindrance for the industry? Having organised four hearings in parliament and taken evidence from 50 British stakeholders - pharmaceutical companies, charities, investors and researchers - the report finds the British life sciences industry has a lot of good to say about the EU. The "vast majority" of stakeholders made the point the EU was a major sponsor of science and research through its various funding programmes, where Britain routinely wins a disproportionately large slice of the grant funding. Many EU policies have worked well, opening up the European market for British companies by imposing a common regulatory framework on 28 member states, for instance, in the area of medical devices. The European Medicines Agency (EMA), based in London, incidentally, is often praised for allowing European pharmaceutical products to come to market faster, by up to three years compared to the US. Professor Derek Hill, CEO of IXICO Ltd, reported that when it came to imaging biomarkers aimed at improving the efficiency of Alzheimer's trials, the EMA process is much more rapid and much less formal than the American equivalent, the FDA.

The EU is able to strike beneficial Free Trade deals with other countries on favourable terms using its size as a negotiating factor - and this has been particularly beneficial for UK pharmaceutical companies. The EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement abolished tariffs on imports of European medicines, and British exports leaped 20% in 2013 even before the new agreement took effect. The figure could rise yet further this year. Finally, the EU provides "critical mass" in the treatment and research of rare diseases, The EU tissue and cells regulatory system increases the potential donor pool for UK patients to undergo a particular type of stem cell transplantation.

Stakeholders had a lot of good things to say, at the same time, there was also a lot of griping about bad law-making, particularly but not limited to the European parliament, susceptible to the appeals of well organised "green" lobbyists and "fringe political groups" with "little or no support or public legitimacy" who "often pushed science regulations on ignorance rather than evidence". This sometimes pushed the EU institutions beyond their level of competence, and small UK life science companies lacked both the resources and the expertise to compete in the lobbying game.

The big area of EU regulatory failure here was GM crops, which have enormous potential. not just as pest resistant high productivity foods, but as "foods as medicines"; for instance, doctored crops that produce omega 3 fatty acid substitutes for fish oils that benefit human health. Although the commission itself concluded in 2010 that there is no evidence that associate GM crops with higher risks for the environment, an anti-scientific bias has still crept into EU decision-making on biotechnology issues.

As a result, there was just one GM field trial in 2012 in the UK compared to 28 in 1995. With biotech giant Monsanto saying it has dropped plans to introduce new GM crops in Europe, even as they are flourishing elsewhere, the UK's leading agricultural technology company, Syngenta, has also indicated that unless progress is made it will not able to avoid reviewing its commitment to the EU and UK market.

In its list of suggestions for reform, the Tory Fresh Start group calls on a clear statement of the EU policy on biotechnology and the bioeconomy. "The EU needs to make it clear that it aims to be a player in this fast growing and increasingly global field". There ought to be ways to amend flawed EU legislation and European Court of Justice rulings. As well as more joined-up policy making in the EU level, since one of the problems of the EU process is that policy proposals can have a significant, but not immediately obvious, impact in other areas. More transparent and accessible early consultation processes before proposals are put on the table. And better engagement from UK government and MPs in the Brussels policymaking process. Even though more powers for national parliaments was often mooted, UK MPs should liaise with their MEP counterparts at the European level on a regular, informal basis to ensure UK interests are taken into account.

Stakeholders said it was important to avoid the "'better off out' sentiments so often put forward by those not engaged in developing scientific solutions to the global challenges".

With the UK media so overwhelmingly Eurosceptic, it is useful to publicise tones of moderation like these from the Life Sciences industry.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 14 February 2014 at 04:49 PM by Pelle Neroth

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 14 February 2014 04:38 PM     General     Comments (0)  

Germany embraces Snowden, moves forward with surveillance inquiry

9 February 2014 by Pelle Neroth

The Germans had the Stasi and the Gestapo. Britain has James Bond. With those remarks, and some brittle laughter, some of the tensions were lowered at the recent episode of the Radio 4 programme Start the Week, where the gap between British and German attitudes on internet surveillance were discussed.

The programme featured a correspondent from ARD, the German television network, who remarked that, in Germany, Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, was regarded as a "hero" while in Britain he was often regarded as a "traitor". On cue, an implicit criticism of Snowden was offered by a fellow panellist, a British popular philosopher, whom one had always thought of as a kind of anarchic, freedom loving guy, who said he was deeply uncomfortable with the kind of cyber libertarianism which saw no positive role for the state. And a former head of GCHQ, David Omand, laced his remarks with an air of menace throughout the programme.

He condemned the Guardian for presuming to know which secrets to leak without damaging the national security. The Guardian's correspondent, the final panellist, came across as a somewhat chastened schoolboy to this attack. The ARD correspondent did not say much. But she was brought back into the conversation with a joke that, well, the German stance was understandable because they had had experience of snooping dictatorships, two in fact. While Britain thought of its spies as heroic, think James Bond.

Until the Snowden revelations, the British and Germans were getting along so splendidly Merkel and Cameron had established a personal friendship and the two North European countries made common cause against South European profligacy during the euro crisis. I wonder though if the Snowden revelations won't tear the alliance apart, and isolating Britain in Europe. At the same time, though, it could be a coming of age moment for Germany, that the country have finally found an ideological issue that could resonate with the global public.

A BBC World Service poll from last May showed that modern Germany most popular country in the world. Britain does well too: significantly, much of its respect comes from developing countries and the English-speaking nations. Britain is not particularly popular in France and Germany. And I fear that the image of an offshore casino economy centre that can't make cars whose doors don't fall off may be replaced as a country of run-amok intelligence services who shore up the country's fading position through dirty tricks campaigns. Grossly unfair, but perceptions are as important in politics as realities. It saps the good will Britain is going to need from other member states it seeks to reform Europe.

Last week, stories emerged in the German media that one of the country's top lawyers, Wolfgang Kaleck, has agreed to represent Snowden in discussions about whether it will be possible to strike some kind of deal and return to his homeland. According to der Tagespiegel newspaper, the 53-year-old lawyer will also advise Snowden on the rights of asylum seekers in Germany. That is a very remote possibility at the moment, but the fact it has even been suggested suggests that the climate of opinion is believed to be more sympathetic in Germany than elsewhere. Elsewhere in Germany, the governing Social Democrat (SPD) and Christian Democrat (CDU) coalition has made further moves in setting up a parliamentary committee and inquiry to discuss the revelations of "public surveillance from allied countries".

While the SPD 's main candidate for the European elections in May, Martin Schulz, a former president of the European parliament. has written and argued for a the project for Social Democracy in the 21th century: just as the 19th century Social Democrats looked to claw workers' rights from rapacious employers, the new citizen's rights to privacy will have to be carved out from a world of ever increasing state surveillance. Once upon a time, the effects of industrialization have tamed and channelled into socially acceptable paths, Social Democracy ought to put itself in a position to meet the recent revolution, Whether you agree with him or not, it is interesting that there are leading politicians in Germany looking to formulate a politics to cope with the challenges posed by technology in the new century. You don't get that in Britain.

In Britain, meanwhile, with the bizarre exception of the Daily Mail (and a few smaller technology news websites) silence has greeted the astonishing revelations published by NBC news in America that GCHQ have employed "dirty tricks" including false flag operations (ie posing as someone else), and 'honey traps' to trap nations, hackers, terror groups, suspected criminals and arms dealers.

More here:

">NBC
.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 09 February 2014 at 08:19 AM by Pelle Neroth

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 09 February 2014 07:25 AM     General     Comments (0)  

New science programme may provide lifeline for cash squeezed European scientists

23 January 2014 by Pelle Neroth

The week's science news from EU-topia: the latest EU multiyear science programme, Horizon 2020, to last from 2014 until 2020, has just been launched, with streamlined rules for new applicants. On the debit side, competition may be tougher than ever before .

Of the 7.8bn euros to be spent in 2014, down slightly from 8.1bn euros in 2013, 1.8billion euros will support Europe's industrial leadership in areas such as robotics, manufacturing and ICT.

Three billion euros will go towards "excellent science" projects, including1.7 billion euros for the prestigious grants for "top scientists" awarded by the European Research Council, and 800 million euros for the Marie Curie fellowships for younger researchers. Marie Geoghegan Quinn, the commissioner for science, told a press conference that the money would provide a welcome boost for researchers who in many countries find science budgets squeezed.

In fact, both the ERC programme and the rest of Horizon 2020 programme are expected to receive more than the normal flood of applications since crisis-hit governments are holding back on their science spending, and 18 months, rather than the usual 12, have passed since the most recent call for proposals.

That may increase competition for grants, so the ERC part of the programme has announced rules designed to discourage those who are less likely to make the grade. Researchers who apply for ERC grants are being asked to ask themselves whether they have the "right level of excellence".

A new rule has been introduced against candidates whose proposals receive a low score this year: they will be barred from reapplying for a grant in the next two years. While those who receive a middling score will be barred from reapplying for one year. The mainstream programme , will not be subjected to those rules - but the commission warns that acceptance rates may be slightly lower than the 20% of previous years.

Apart from that, the new rules are designed to make paperwork easier for applicants. Ever since they began decades ago, the EU's science programmes, even Framework Programme 7 that ended in 2013, have been plagued by accusations of bureaucracy: researchers have been put off by the elaborate, time consuming application procedures where feedback for failed proposals was minimal. Another common criticism was that that the bureaucrats were too prescriptive in the way they wrote their calls for proposals, leading to accusations of "top down" science. And projects with many multinational teams seemed to be rewarded just for the sake of it.

Auditing requirements were complicated and onerous. The European Research Council grants, introduced in 2007, tried to deal with those criticisms: the commission was looking for "blue skies science" where the best ideas were awarded generous grants, and single country teams were not penalised. With the ERC popular despite the low acceptance rates, the industry-facing mainstream research programme has borrowed from that model, trying to be less prescriptive and more streamlined than ever before.

The commission says that the "strong challenge-based approach of Horizon 2020 will allow applicants to have considerable freedom to come up with innovative solutions". Of the 12 focus areas, one is digital security where applicants are expected to work for solutions that increase the security of current applications, services and infrastructures. Another spending area is "smart cities and communities", energy efficiency in town neighbourhoods, and smart mobility services.

Business plans that allow easy large scale replication will be especially favoured. In another novelty, the commission is promising a faster turnover of applications - a pledge of eight months rather than a year - and a simpler method for accounting for grants. The old ways provided plenty of income for consultants to advise clients how to stay out of trouble with the EU's auditors. So there was a sense of optimism in the presentation from the EU science directorate . The consultants, if simpler rules put them out of business, might be less happy about the EU's new science programme launch.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 23 January 2014 at 10:59 PM by Pelle Neroth

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 23 January 2014 10:00 PM     General     Comments (0)  

Should Europe's defence industry be reformed?

16 January 2014 by Pelle Neroth

Last year, overall EU defence spending fell by 10%. That is the background to the fact that Airbus, despite posting record civilian orders, has just carried out big cuts to its defence division.

These cuts have widened the defence spending gap with the United States. Last year, the US spent 682 billion dollars on defence, the EU countries only 153 billion dollars. Of these, only France, Britain and Greece reach the figure of 2% of GDP. For Spain the figure is just 0.8%. The figure is down a quarter compared to just a few years ago. Whole weapons programmes like Germany's Eurohawk unmanned aerial vehicle, and Britain's Nimrod programme, have been scrapped. The EU institute of strategic studies in Paris talks about the emergence of "Bonsai" armies in three to five years.

Worse, EU states are not just spending less, they are spending it badly. A new European parliament report has highlighted this. It says that if the EU operated in a more integrated manner and in conditions similar to the United States, it would get a lot more bang for its buck: those 153 billion dollars would go a lot further. Or, they could spend a lot less than the current defence budget of 153 billion and still achieve the same level of efficiency.

The cost, the report says, comes from lack of integration of the military structures of the EU member states. European armed forces often operate together on an international basis, but are still organised on a mainly national basis, with national defence staffs and national procurement policies. This leads to a needless multiplication in the cost of maintaining, forming and operating military forces in Europe, argues the report.

Also, there is a lack of a truly integrated market, with 28 different national defence markets, each with their own regulations and admin burdens. The cost of being "non European" in defence issues costs the EU between 26 billion euros at a low estimate and 30 billion euros at a high estimate. It mattered less when defence budgets were large, and the
USA's defence interests coincided more with Europe's, but neither of those situations any longer apply. The war in Syria show that security threats can erupt on Europe's doorstep. Not having armed forces is not an option - but it would be nice if it was cheaper. The combined cost of development of the three European combat aircraft, the Eurofighter, the Rafale and Gripen, was 10.2bn euros more than American Joint Strike Fighter. In Europe, there are 16 shipyards for making warships, in the USA, two. Europe prices itself out of the export market like this. The loser is the European taxpayer.

Governments know this, but are worried about two things: the loss of sovereignty that would result in creating the political structures that would oversee a common defence market, and the loss of jobs and income that would be the consequence of removing duplication of effort and merging defence firms to create European leaders.

Bernard Levy, the CEO of Thales, told a recent conference in London: "On the one hand, governments want competitive products. On the other hand, they want to buy from companies that create jobs in their own countries." Engineering jobs, one might add,

The regular summit of EU leaders in Brussels in December, Cameron opposed a European defence policy. Part of this was for sound reasons: a refusal to underwrite a French vision of a common and defence policy, which would start with - quelle coincidence - the Europeans funding French military missions in Africa. But there were also cheap points scored against the commission for wishing to oversee things.

The British arms industry has conducted a long campaign in Whitehall against an "over regulated market place" for arms procurement, where the "commission is involved in everything". And in that it seems to have been successful. But scoring against the commission does not alter a basic fact that Europe's defence industry is too expensive for purpose.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 16 January 2014 11:34 AM     General     Comments (1)  

Pirates seek new ways to avoid internet blocking

10 January 2014 by Pelle Neroth

Pirate Bay, the world's most popular illegal download site, which originated in Sweden, has moved around plenty over the years as the authorities seek to close it down. Its latest domain names have included the obscure .sx, for the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten, and ac, for Ascension Island, in the Atlantic.

But now the organisation is trying to overcome attempts to take the site offline by creating a browser-like client that avoids the need for a public-facing URL.

A new browser-like app will allow the site's torrent file index to shared among users in a peer-to-peer manner. Since the index will be stored on individual users' computers rather than a central server, IP blocking and domain blocking will become a thing of the past, the organisation says. A standalone client and plugins for browsers Firefox and Chrome are expected soon.

In a separate development, one of the company's founders, the Swede Gottfrid Svartholm Warg - also known to the online world as Anakata - has been in a Danish jail over Christmas, living under solitary contact conditions and denied books or any other reading materials pending a trial hearing in February. The Danish police are continuing to gather evidence to provide cause for an indictment. Supporters set up an online petition addressed to Danish prime minister Helle Thorning Schmidt to alter the terms of his custody. The invitation to sign was, yesterday at least, placed prominently on Pirate Bay's homepage.

Perhaps out of a sense of guilty gratitude for being allowed to download so much expensive software, ebooks and pirated first run movies for free, members of the public dropping into Pirate Bay have been signing at a rate of hundreds per minute, 96,000 in total by the morning of 10 January 2014.

The petition text drew comparisons to the treatment received by Scandinavia's most notorious prisoner, the mass murderer Anders Breivik, who massacred 77 youths at a summer camp on a Norwegian island in 2011. He, the petition claimed, is allowed books, while their man isn't. "Stop treating internet activists worse than mass murderers," the petition says. Yesterday evening some sources reported that Warg was out of solitary confinement, and a link to petition appears to have been removed from the Pirate Bay's homepage.

The case that Warg potentially faces in Denmark has nothing to do with Pirate Bay. Rather, he could face prison on allegations of a separate activity: hacking into a public database controlled by the IT firm CSC, containing police passwords, Denmark's social security database , driving licence database and the register of wanted persons in the Schengen region zone for passport free travel in Europe.

Last year Warg was convicted in Sweden last year on allegations of hacking the database of the IT services firm which provides tax services for the Swedish government. He was extradited when his sentence had a month to run.

According to the English language Copenhagen Post, his Danish lawyer Luise Hoj has been critical of Danish police tactics to isolate him. "It is simply another case of trying to bring him down and put pressure on him, It is a deliberate strategy by the police, I guess to try and make him in participate in more questioning and talk about other issues," she told the paper. She also objected to the hearings being held behind closed doors. "I don't think the things we are discussing are particularly delicate, and it would be good for the Danish people to see what is really going on this case."

She expects him to win his case on a similar argument that got him acquitted in a second Swedish case, involving the Nordea bank: that the prosecutors can't prove that his computer was not being remotely operated by a third party when the hack took place.

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Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 10 January 2014 at 11:47 AM by Pelle Neroth

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 10 January 2014 11:32 AM     General     Comments (0)  

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