Categories
Government Environment Technology

Empowering Europe’s Electricity Market

Unlike humans some jellyfish are self-sufficient electricity providers. Courtesy of x3nomik/flickr

Europe is talking energy and there is no easy way out of existing dilemmas: While nuclear and fossil-fueled power plants entail considerable risks, most sources of alternative energy are not yet considered mature enough to fuel Europe’s economies on their own. Like elsewhere across the globe, Europeans are facing tough challenges in their attempt to secure a clean, reliable and affordable power supply.

As in every crisis, the risk looms that countries just look after their own narrowly-defined national interests and either ignore or forget the advantages of a regionally coordinated approach. In their struggle for secure energy, European nations should not lose sight of the potential of the common electricity market. In the long run, it could play a crucial role in enabling a more efficient energy future both from an economic and an ecological point of view. Yet, many obstacles still need to be overcome at the moment.

In an integrated market, electricity could be exchanged efficiently across the continent, connecting demand to the most inexpensive supply no matter where in Europe. Consumers could benefit from choosing from a wide range of suppliers, which in turn would boost competition and innovation. Currently, however, the European electricity markets remain regionally fragmented. Countries and companies are not investing enough in transmission capacities across national borders because they struggle to agree on the financial burden-sharing of these expensive projects. As long as national grids are not fully interconnected, trade cannot evolve.

Categories
Culture History Human Rights

Europe’s Pariah People

One man in ten million, photo: Zsolt Bugarszki/flickr

With over 10 million members, the Roma (also called Romani) constitute today’s largest EU minority group. Scattered across a dozen countries, with their largest concentrated populations in Central and Eastern Europe, they have become Europe’s current pariah people.

In July of this year, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced his government’s plans to deport thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma migrants back to their home countries. Already in 2009, roughly 10,000 Roma were expelled from France, and around the same number has been driven out thus far this year. In Italy, where authorities already started to deal with the ‘Roma question’ back in 2008, large-scale evictions of Roma from settlements across the country are already taking place. In Milan alone, officials have expelled over 7,000 Roma over the past two years.

France and Italy are, however, not alone in evicting the Roma. Across Western Europe, politicians and public officials are tripping over themselves with declarations proclaiming that Roma as an ethnic group are dangerous and predisposed to crime and other antisocial behavior, and must therefore be removed from society as quickly as possible. In light of this, numerous Western European countries (namely Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and the UK) have either already moved to expel the Roma, or intend to do so in the nearby future.

In Eastern Europe, meanwhile, where most Roma live, the situation has never been anything but hideous. Across the region, Roma communities are denied equal access to adequate housing, education, health, water and sanitation, and thus remain deprived of all prospects. In addition, anti-Roma violence remains a serious and, in many places even an increasing problem, exacerbated by the fact that most perpetrators of violence against Roma continue to act with impunity.

However, discrimination against the Roma is not a new phenomenon.

Categories
International Relations Government Culture

On Course with European Identity

Pieces of a European puzzle, photo: Cemre/flickr

South Wales is not renowned as a symbol of European identity. Indeed, if you were fortunate enough to watch the drama unfold at the 38th Ryder Cup last week – the biennial golfing contest between Europe and the USA – you might have missed the phenomenon occurring beyond the playing area.

Yes, what might just have passed for a raucous band of Brussels bureaucrats on tour was, in fact, a crowd of 50,000 European golf fans (many of them British) bedecked in blue and yellow – many literally wrapped in the EU flag – cheering on their team with endless chants of ‘Europe, Europe’. For this supporter, bred on a British media diet of fear and skepticism regarding the Brussels ‘takeover’, the passionate display of ‘europeanness’ was faintly startling.

Put the tournament in its proper context as the one event where Europe is represented as a single team and with a television audience of one billion people (making this the third largest sporting event in the world) and you’ll understand why President Barroso of the European Commission was positively giddy as he opened proceedings.  Remember, this is also from the perspective of a country where 71 percent want a referendum on EU membership, and of a Union to which less than half its members’ populations feel any attachment.

But what does it say about European identity when its most fervent popular expression is in a sport characterized by birdies, bogeys and bunkers?

Categories
International Relations Security

South America: Opposing Signals

F-16 jet, courtesy of Jeffk42/flickr
F-16 Jet, courtesy of Jeffk42/flickr

In his article for the ISN weekly theme, Dr Markus Schultze-Kraft explains that the “political-ideological rift that divides the region, deep mutual distrust, opposed geopolitical projects and international alliances, and not least the enormously challenging nature of the transnational security threats, such as Colombia’s armed conflict and drug-trafficking, all conspire against regional security improvements.”

I will not argue against this statement that summarizes perfectly the issues that South America is facing today. I will elaborate on something that has not been mentioned and that is, to me, crucial to the (non-)establishment of confidence and regional security in the continent: the militarization of South American countries.

Categories
Uncategorized International Relations Elections

The Lisbon Treaty, Back in Fashion

Vote Maybe to Lisbon- a recipe for more confusion? Photo: Tom Phillips / flickr
Vote Maybe to Lisbon- a recipe for more confusion? Photo: Tom Phillips / flickr

Today, 2 October, in an event likely to be a defining moment in the slow evolution of the European Union, the Irish are voting in a second referendum over the fate of the Lisbon Treaty. The Treaty, which aims to transfer more power to the EU and to streamline operations to match the new challenges faced by the Union as one unity, was rejected last year in Ireland in a campaign that brought emotive issues such as abortion into a debate over a legal document riddled with Euro jargon. The ingenious motto of the ‘No’ camp was, befittingly,  “If you don’t know, vote no.” It was more like, “If you don’t know- we’ll invent something for you”.

There were more than a few muted smiles around, particularly among Conservatives in neighboring England, when the Treaty was rejected. A pet project of more Eurocentric nations like France and Germany, the Treaty was received with hostility in smaller countries, and in traditionally Euroskeptic circles, where fears of political unaccountability and loss of control dominated EU-related debates.

But Europhiles persisted and pushed Ireland to think again. Bullying or not, the Irish were encouraged to reconsider and seem to have changed course. With familiarity comes acceptance and with acceptance a sense of purpose more in line with the majority of member states that have already, mostly through parliamentary ratification, accepted the Treaty’s status as the foundation of a new and improved Union.

Although much still depends on the staunchly Euroskeptic Czechs (their president more specifically) and possibly a soon-to-be Tory government in Britain (general elections there are set for the first half of 2010), a ‘Yes’ vote would mark a dramatic U-turn for the Irish in terms of the majority’s views of the EU and its future.

What gives?