Portfolio blogger

Sunday, April 12, 2015

What will happen to extremist parties?

The Hungarian extreme right won its first individual constituency in the Hungarian by-election. The latest times they tried to pull more to the center, their president recognised the Holocaust and paid tribute to the mourning of the Jews and said that imminent exit from the EU is not a possibility. Where do extreme right parties go? This is also the question in France. The Figaro, considering the future of the extreme right Front National, discusses whether the fate of extreme parties in Italy can be considered an example. Unfortunately, the free part of the article only deals with the communist party, which normalised itself "by banalisation"
What happened to the extreme right party in Italy?
The Italian Social Movement (MSI), a minor neofascist party, was formed in Italy in 1946. In 1995, however, the MSI dissolved itself as it was transformed into a new party (National Alliance) headed by former MSI leader Gianfranco Fini and including the majority of former MSI members. Fini's right-wing National Alliance rejected fascist ideology, including anti-Semitism, and embraced democracy as one of its principles and has participated in center-right governing coalitions.
In 1988, at the party's congress, Gianfranco Fini defeated the right wing of the party and was elected party secretary. After a short stint at the helm by the more right-wing Pino Rauti, Fini returned to his role as party secretary in July 1. During the 1990s Fini gradually began to move the MSI away from its neo-fascist ideology to a more traditionally conservative political agenda. The party won wider support when the pervasive corruption of the governing parties was exposed in the early 1990s. The project to form a new party, called National Aliiance was launched in 1993.
The party became a partner in the conservative government formed after the 1994 elections. In January 1995, the Party's congress in Fiuggi marked a radical change, afterwards referred to as la svolta di Fiuggi (the turning point at Fiuggi) and merged the MSI-DN with conservative elements of the disbanded Christian Democrats to form the National Alliance (AN), of which Fini assumed the presidency.
Fini began a personal evolution towards more socially liberal positions in the 2000s, notwithstanding the opposition of the rest of his party.
At the end of January 2007, Berlusconi declared that Fini would be his only successor in case of unification of centre-right parties, provoking dissent from theNorthern League and the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (UDC).
In 2007 Berlusconi proclaimed the dissolution of his Forza Italia party and the birth of a new unitary party of the centre-right, the People of Freedom. At first, Fini reacted coldly, affirming that AN would not participate, judging the way the new party was born confused and superficial, and expressing open dissent against his ally of the "former coalition".
However, two months later, he moved closer to Berlusconi again, soon after the fall of the Prodi II Cabinet. They agreed to present the two parties under the same symbol of the People of Freedom in the April 2008 parliamentary election, and then to proceed towards a unitary centre-right party. Here is an interesting description .
Between 2009 and 2010 Gianfranco Fini became a vocal critic of the leadership of Berlusconi. He departed from party's majority line on stem cell research, end of life issues, advance health care directive and immigration, but, most of all, he was a proponent of a more structured party organisation. His criticism was aimed at the leadership style of Berlusconi, who tended to rely on his personal charisma to lead the party from the centre and supported a lighter form of party, which in his mind was to be a movement-party active only at election times.
2010 there was a split from the party by Gianfranco Fini. It was soon clear that FLI would leave the PdL and become an independent party. On 7 November, during a convention in Bastia Umbra, Fini asked Berlusconi to step down as Prime Minister and proposed a new government including the Union of the Centre (UdC). A few days later, the four FLI members in the government resigned. On 14 December FLI voted against Berlusconi in a vote of confidence in the Chamber of Deputies, a vote won by Berlusconi by 314 to 311 On 30 July 2010, Fini held a press conference during which he announced the formation of separate groups from the PdL both in the Chamber and the Senate under the name Future and Freedom (FLI). On 11–13 February 2011 FLI was officially established as a party during a congress in Milan and Gianfranco Fini was elected president of it.
In the 2013 general election, held in February 2013, the party ran as part of the With Monti for Italy alliance with the UdC and Civic Choice and obtained a mere 0.4% of the vote, returning no seats in the Chamber and one in the Senate, plus two elects by Italians abroad.
What remained of the party started to cooperate with The Right, Tricolour Flame, I South and other right-wing parties and people to form a "new National Alliance"
On 15 November 2013, the day before the PdL's dissolution in the new FI, the "doves" left the party to form the New Centre-Right party.
The MSI/AN/FLI is not the only extreme right party in the West which faces tough choices and ideological turmoil. The Dutch extreme right – and a series of other alternative right-wing and Eurosceptic movements – are also trespassing hence unsurmountable barriers: The homosexuality of Pim Fortuyn is just a marginal issue, but some of these parties also embrace economic liberalism – if only to have a basis to deny redistribution to the favour of the poorer classes, who are more and more consisting of immigrants.
Can this be an example for the Hungarian Jobbik party, too? At the moment the Hungarian “right” is nationalising, but also stigmatising the poor and making their life even more difficult. But they also detest the “plutocracy”, the financial elite and want to develop a “national” bourgeoisie by giving them state money, mainly in the form of state contracts instead of enabling them to pursue freely their business. But Jobbik tries to show a more “human”, civilised face, to abandon the call for immediate exit from the EU. This will anger the “hardliners” so they may face already opposition from them – and this may start a fermentation. On the other hand, I hear more syrene sounds from the moderate right, which did not yet organise itself, towards left-leaning voters. While the left disintegrates further, there is no real conservative or liberal force. So there are more questions than answers. Source: mainly Wikipedia

Sunday, April 5, 2015

3 years of the European Citizens' Initiative

Article 11(4) of the Lisbon Treaty created the European Citizens’ Initiative, as a new tool for citizens to influence the politics of the European Union. A Regulation was adopted by the European Parliament and the Council on 16 February 2011 which defined the detailed rules. National authorities were designated to certifying the online support collection system and to verify the statements of support and delivering the relevant certificate as for an initiative to be successful, it has to be backed by at least one million EU citizens, coming from at least 7 out of the 28 member states. A minimum number of signatories is required in each of those 7 member states. The proposal must be in an area where the Commission has the power to propose legislation, for example environment, agriculture, transport or public health. If an initiative receives the necessary number of signatures, the Commission has to take action within 3 months after receiving the initiative.
The organisers get the opportunity to explain in detail the issues raised in their initiative to the Commission and at a public hearing in the European Parliament
The Commission is not obliged to propose legislation as a result of an initiative but has to publish a formal response – published in all 24 EU official languages - spelling out what action it will propose in response to the citizens' initiative, if any, and the reasons for doing or not doing so.. If the Commission decides to put forward a legislative proposal, the normal legislative procedure kicks off: the Commission proposal is submitted to the legislator and, if adopted, it becomes law.
The process can be found here in detail , so I will not talk about it more.

The Commission recently summarised the experience with the initiatives and published a report about it.
Since April 2012 till the date of the report, end March 2015, the Commission has received 51 requests for registration of proposed citizens’ initiatives. 31 of them were registered (16 registrations in 2012, nine in 2013, five in 2014 and one in 2015). 20 proposed initiatives did not fulfil the registration criteria and therefore could not be registered. The most frequently cited reason for refusal was that the subject of the initiative was outside the legislative powers of the EU and thus did not qualify for being a European Citizens’ Initiative.
18 initiatives have reached the end of their collection period (10 others were withdrawn before the end of their collection period). Among those 18, three initiatives have reached the required number of statements of support and were submitted to the Commission. Two of them have already received a formal response from the Commission: 'Water and sanitation are a human right! Water is a public good, not a commodity!' ('Right2Water') and 'One of us'.
The first one calls for: 1. The EU institutions and Member States be obliged to ensure that all inhabitants enjoy the right to water and sanitation. 2. Water supply and management of water resources not be subject to ‘internal market rules’ and that water services are excluded from liberalisation. 3. The EU increases its efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation.
After the organisers met the Commission and a public hearing took place in the European Parliament, the topic was taken up in the course of actions concerning the Drinking Water Directive. The evaluation of the directive is ongoing. The roadmap will be published shortly The EP Rapporteur presented the first draft of the Environment Committee Report on the Right2Water initiative. The vote in the Committee is provisionally scheduled for 26/05/2015 and the vote in the EP Plenary is provisionally foreseen for 08/06/2015
. The second one calls for a ban and end the financing of activities which presuppose the destruction of human embryos, in particular in the areas of research, development aid and public health.
There was a meeting with the organisers and a public hearing in the European Parliament. As a result, the Commission has decided not to submit a legislative proposal as the policy of the EU is clear and rigorous rules are in place. 156.7 million euros were spent on stem cell research out of a total of 6 billion between 2007 and 2013 and Embryonic stem cells are unique and offer the potential for life-saving treatments, with clinical trials already underway. The Commission will continue to apply the strict ethical rules and restrictions in place for EU-funded research, including not funding the destruction of embryos.
The third one ('Stop vivisection') is under examination by the Commission and will receive an answer by 3 June 2015.
Looking at the aborted and refused initiatives, there are three main areas where most of the initiatives fall into: Social questions (of course the proposal for an unconditional basic income is one of them) like protection of minorities, cohesion policy for the equality of the regions and sustainability of the regional cultures and a new European poverty criterion or the one to stop legal prositution, animal welfare, like “Dairy Cow Welfare” “Ethics for Animals (and Kids)” and political – some of them outrightly provocative like “Stop TTIP”, the one calling for a self-abolition of the European Parliament and its structures or the one entitled: “Should the current failing form of EG be replaced by one without democratic deficit?”.
A handful of initiatives dealt with environmental questions, among them the one of the three hitherto successful ones.
Still are open , one of them calling for an online collection plpatform for support of citizens’ initiatives, one to stop the climate initiatives except energy efficiency unless other big emitters also agree. A software tool for online data collection enables citizens to support a given initiative and organizers to manage its operations.
Further information can be found here.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Donald Tusk declared victory after the first day of tbe European council, and not without reason. The perspective of agreeing to start creating an energy union was not rosy , several member states were weary to give up their independence, among them the Hungarian prime minister, who made several shady energy deals with Russia, including an obscure offshore company skimming the difference between the cost an sales price of gas supplies and a nuclear power plant (some ten years in advance of the real need of starting it, if energy needs i. 2035, the expected expiry of life of the present plant, is at all foreseeable) to be constructed exclusively by the Russians and also financed by a loan from them), but other countries were also not enthusiastic. So what about the result? Euobserver analysis is cautiously optimistic. The conclusions paint a more sober picture than the triumphantdeclarations: they reflect the limitations imposed by the self-interest of the member states jealous to save their separate ways: ..".the European Council focused on some of the aspects", "ensuring full compliance with EU law of all agreements for buying gas from external suppliers" - isn't this so without emphasising it? "confidentiality of commercially sensitive information just be guaranteed" -as if Orbán had it dictated... And finally: "assessing options for voluntary demand aggregation mechanisms" - no common buying arrangements, just assessing options; emphasising sovereignty and right of the member states twice. Some positive e!ements are no doubt a!so present: cooperation,reinforcing the legislative framework for secure supply of electricity and gas. So, the first small steps were taken. But the plans earned already criticism: this article reveals why the development of domestic energy resources and the freedom of member states to decide on their energy resources features prominently in the text: Poland is strongly dependent on coal and wants to develop shale gas. See also here So it was not just the reluctant followers who got their special deal, but also the leader.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

What does the portfolio allocated to the Hungarian commissioner mean for the EU and Hungary?



The strained relationship of the Hungarian government with the EU makes this question very interesting. Are turf wars being fought? How will the new Hungarian commissioner fit into the team? How will he perform? Will this mean something to Hungary? The topic is also good to give rise to some remarks on the sidelines about the structure of the new commission and about other portfolio assignments.
1., Contrary to his demands Mr Navracsics did not receive the enlargement or neighbourhood portfolio. This went to Johannes Hahn from Austria, previously commissioner for regional policy. Given the Hungarian government's nationalist rhetoric and recent tentatives to appease with Russia and to slip out of sanctions, this is no surprise.
2., Thus, the message of the president, that it is not countries but people to whom the portfolios are allocated (in plain English, that the experience and assumed capabilities of people defined the allocation, not the performance of their country – even, as the example of Mr Moskovici shows, their performance in their country), may not quite be true for the Hungarian commissioner. I will go into more detail below, it is just to mention that the performance and lines taken by a politician in his/her own country cannot be entirely separated from his/her capabilities and expected performance. The "persons, not countries" approach is rather true for the French and the British Commissioners. Although Mr Moskovici is under the coordination of Mr Katainen, he got a weighty portfolio (see below). By the nomination of Mr Katainen, however, according to Open Europe, a British think-tank close to the Conservative Party (and thus not really an euro-enthusiast) " Germany has ensured that there is a voice in favour of austerity and structural reform to balance out the French preference for fiscal expansion." See: http://www.euractiv.com/sections/eu-priorities-2020/dutch-eu-nominee-wield-veto-right-over-excessive-bureaucracy-308344. Mr Hill of Britain got the financial services (but not the internal market) portfolio and a dedicated new directorate general will be set up. To draw conclusions from the reorganisation (i.e. which parts of the organisation move to this new DG), requires a separate analysis.
2., Previous gossip that he may get the trade portfolio (although this version was quickly questioned: http://blogs.ft.com/brusselsblog/2014/09/03/the-mysterious-new-commission-organigram/) or development (somewhat akin to the enlargement or neighbourhood portfolio he was eyeing) did quickly subside (International Cooperation & Development was allocated to Neven Mimica, delegated by Croatia and commissioner since Croatia's accession, dealing with consumer protection,-separated from the health and consumer protection portfolio for him), but the latest guess that he may get customs also has proven wrong (customs was not, as it would have been in this scenario, separated from taxation and both were assigned to Mr Moskovici, to create sort of a super-portfolio of economics). Finally, he received the "Education, Culture, Youth and Citizenship" portfolio.
3., The EU does not have too many rights in education and culture (in federal Germany, education is not even federal, but "Länder" competence). Mr Navracsics has no great credentials in this area, either. The areas related to the labour market, skills, continuing and professional education etc., have been taken over to the Belgian Commissioner, Marianne Thyssen, to be responsible for employment, social affairs, skills and labour mobility Some bits and pieces were added to Navracsics's portfolio: the EIT, situated in Hungary and led by a strongly reform-minded ex education minister of Hungary (oh, another potential controversy), who is liberal by the way while Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister declared that he wants to build an "illiberal" state (whatever this means), the Joint Research Centre (with the message that the JRC has to support his activity by scientific analysis) – but research and innovation is the portfolio of the Portuguese Carlos Moedas - and the Publications Office (with a Director General, who is a Luxembourger and is at the moment assigned the portfolio of Ms Reding – both Luxembourg and the former Fundamental Rights commissioner and vice president Reding had a controversial relationship to Hungary and vice versa). As a small irony, he will take over part of that portfolio (although small): to manage the communication of the Europe for Citizens Programme, and the responsibility for the Preparatory Action “New Narrative on Europe” 2015.
4., He is mentioned in the press release as a strong point in the Commission as an ex deputy prime minister and ex minister (which is true) and as having extensive foreign relations experience as an ex minister of foreign affairs – a post he occupied for some five months and this only as a preparation for his post as commissioner. His real area as minister was law and administration where his track record has not been dismal in technical terms but he was part of some very controversial actions of the government (forced retirement of judges, cutting the rights of the Constitutional Court, creation of a mameluks' university "called Public Service University) and he was also part of the effort to curb media freedom. Besides his personal track record, he is a fathful member of FIDESZ, whose leader, the Hungarian prime minister was the only besides Cameron who voted against the nomination of Juncker as Commission president in the decisive Council meeting. If Navracsics and Juncker want to demonstrate that in spite of all these controversies, they can work well together, and thus avoid future controversies, may be helping the spirit but lead to conflict-avoidance even in questions where conflict could be productive. But having actions guided by past offences is not productive either. There is a declared will to co-operate, at least.
5., Five years are a long time. Mr Navracsics may plan to return to domestic politics thereafter (or try to spend another cycle as there is a probability that his party, FIDESZ will win the 2018 elections) but to do any of these, he has to perform in his role. To return to domestic politics, however, he also has to be in line of the government's lukewarm attitude to the EU. This is a contradiction in itself. He faces and even more difficult choice, on the other hand, if we assume that the elections in 2018 bring a new government in Hungary. The EU has not too many prerogatives in education but reading the mission letter http://ec.europa.eu/about/juncker-commission/docs/navracsics_en.pdf we can see that there are tasks. But these are not the ones in which the Hungarian government excelled – although independently of the influence of the new commissioner.
He is to take part in several priority projects of president Juncker where he will have to work under the co-ordination of several vice presidents, among others with Andrus Ansip from Estonia (a selection where the country is also right: Estonia is spearheading e-administration), where Hungary just recently closed its representation. There are interesting times ahead.
Further details: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-14-523_en.htm

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Women in work - the trend increases in spite of traditional family values rethoric - introducing also the Eurostat gadget

Eurostat has a gadget generator on its site. I used this to show the proportion of women in work in Hungary during the latest years:

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hungarians in the European Institutions

The European elections mark a change in the composition of not just the Parliament but also the Commission, election of the new president of the European Council and of the High Representative of Foreign and Security Policy, who is at the same time the vice-president of the Commission responsible for external affairs, head of the European External Action Service and chairs the meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council (all other Council configurations being chaired by the respective minister or prime minister or head of state of the country holding the rotating six months presidency of the Council, depending on the configuration).
Civil servants do not change, only some directors general may change posts (usually remaining directors general, just in another Directorate General), but this is a much smaller change even among directors general than the usual rotation after they have spent about five to seven years on their post. It is not going without attention, however, at least in some member states, how they are represented among civil servants of the EU (see here the British and here the French), in particular on management posts. So we will give a little analysis of what can be seen now in the “strength” of Hungarians in the EU.

The data and positions of the MEPs are public, and the Commission also publishes regularly different staff statistics. As far as the Parliament is concerned, the blog of Julien Frisch published overall nationality data. No data were found about the Council secretariat. Here is what Julien Frisch knows about it. Here you can find interesting research about the attitudes of Commission staff.

Hungary has 21 members in the European Parliament. Two of the members of the FIDESZ-group (EPP) are from the Hungarian minority in the neighbouring countries (Romania and Serbia) while three MEP-s won mandate from the Hungarian parties, one in Slovakia and two from Romania. One representative of the FIDESZ party was elected vice president of the Parliament – the FIDESZ-group already gave a vice president in the last cycle so this is confirmation of their position. As the EPP lost places, the support of the relatively large FIDESZ-group is important.
The distribution of Hungarians in the committees is not quite even, in some (the Committee of Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs) there are too many Hungarians (OK, this will or could be the scene for discussions of the rights of national minorities, as here are two of the representatives of the Hungarians in Romania and in Slovakia in this committee besides the two MEPs from FIDESZ and one from Gyurcsány’s party; also, this was the committee which prepared and approved the famous “Tavares report” and also in the Committee for the Environment while there is no Hungarian in the important committees “Economic and Financial Affairs” and “Budget”. As far as vice-presidents of the committees are concerned, of the 20 committees and 2 sub-committees, four have Hungarian vice-president, among them one from the Socials and Democrats grooup (but not the leader of the Hungarian delegation of this group, who eyed a vice president's position in the Employment Committee,. The real power in the committees belongs, however, to the co-ordinators. Out of 56, 21 are German, 4-4 are Dutch, Spanish and French. All other countries have less posts – Hungary ne, and one vice-coordinator, both from FIDESZ.

The Parliament disclosed in 2010 the number of its officials by nationality (MEPs and their assistants have a special status, they are probably not included): out of 7652, 210 are Hungarian, which is a little more than the 2% (a little less since the accession of Croatia) Hungary represents in the number of inhabitants in the EU.

More detailed data (although only the latest status) are available from the Commission which is the biggest institution and also very important in preparing decisions. Although final decisions are taken in the Council and the Parliament, their staff has less influence on the decision of their institutions. In the Commission there were 2.39% Hungarians among the officials (and temporary agents, a category to replace them when their status is empty), this increased to 2.59% by now. This is important even if not a big increase, as slowly the return of officials to Hungary started: some didn’t like the environment or working abroad, the spouses could not accommodate, or, they were temporary agents and their contract expired (this was the case of several management officials).
The proportion of Hungarian administrators (the higher of the two main employee categories till the 2013 reform – as a third, lower category was introduced in 2013, their numbers are not meaningful) is higher than of assistants (the other group).

Statistics on management positions are currently not available (got hold of some before, when they were new) but we know that there are about 1200-1400 heads of unit in the Commission. We also see the composition of officials by grade and as Hungarians are not long ago in the organisations, it could be assumed for a while that those who are in grades where managers are, are indeed managers and not clerks who rose through time to a high grade. 2009 and 2011 data were published on the overall number of heads of unit and the proportion of Hungarians among them was only 1.89% in 2009 but 2.43% in 2011. Slowly, however, administrators who entered the Commission as AD5 or AD7, reach the level of AD 9 which is the lowest grade for heads of unit. So today’s figure of more than 3% can be misleading. A quick count through the EU Official Directory (showing management staff) and allowing for some people with Hungarian-sounding names who are not Hungarians but only of Hungarian origin – and the other way round, there are about 25-30 Hungarian heads of unit (so a little still more than 2%) and about 10 directors and equivalents, which always was above the 2%. Further analysis, however, shows that in at least three important central department (DG) there is no Hungarian manager: in the Secretariat General, the Legal Service and the Budget Directorate General. This darkens a little the bright picture shown by the numbers.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The "Google case" - right to be forgotten by search providers

„Dumm hat Glück” - stupid is lucky, says the German. Sometimes lazy people also have luck: I did not have the energy to comment about the „right to be forgotten” case involving Google search results but recent days brought new developments, so I have an occasion to make up for this.

We read from time to time that “Google is evil”. Even Google gives nice results for this. And we also read sometimes interesting reactions to that. But it is not just Google. What appears once on the net, will stay there (or at least in references or at least in the cache of some computer) forever. So Viviane Reding, vice-president of the European Commission responsible for Justice, fundamental rights and citizenship made the “right to be forgotten” an important element of the EU data protection reform. We will give links to more recent materials on the reform below, and the blog quoted above also carries an analysis of the judgment of the European Court of Justice.

The case will be called “Google Spain”, it carries the number C-131/12 and the judgment can be found here . It says that the operator of a search engine is responsible for the processing it executes on personal data which appear on web pages of third parties and is obliged to remove the data from its search results on a legitimate request of the data subject, even if the data remain on the original web page. There are conditions, however, among others for the processing to fall under European law, and the Court also explained one aspect of the legitimacy of the request.

A Spanish citizen sued Google to remove from its search results data concerning him. The Court found that given that Google has an operation in Spain whose activity was found to be related to presenting the search results to Spanish users. The processing of the data and the presentation of search results was not done by Google Spain, who was only selling advertisements to be shown on the Spanish search result pages. This was sufficient for the Court to say that the activity was related. On the other hand, the Court also said that there may be reasons of overriding public interest which would justify that the search engine does not remove the data from its search results.

What is important in this judgment, that although the “right to be forgotten” will only be enshrined (if the Member States and the European Parliament approve – see a recent argument by the British minister of Justice) in new data protection regulation now under preparation, it already recognised based on the present legal framework that data subjects have the right not only to request the deletion of their data from the records of those who process their data, but also the indirect appearance of these data on the Internet.

This of course has consequences to all who provide references to data others put on the web. But also means that even if some data cannot be deleted (like official documents published), they may have to disappear from secondary sources, thus making finding this information more difficult or even impossible. If will be an interesting question whether the search results of the primary publisher of the information also will have to “forget” the information.

The saga is, however continuing as Google receives thousands of requests to remove information from its search results, and took an overly cautious approach and removed links to several articles on a public personality but was forced to retreat and reinstate the references.

For those who want to read more, here is a thorough analysis. And the Guardian, who was one of those whose articles were removed, who gave also a good reporting of the case.

On data protection reform, here is the latest text under discussion by the Council.