Portfolio blogger

Monday, March 19, 2012

What are European officials like? An independent research

The UK Economic and Social Research Council, EU Consent and a private donor financed an interesting research project , about the backgrounds, values, attitudes and motivation of European Commission officials (the Commission is by far the largest European Institution, with about 33 thousand staff ( see details here , more than all other European institutions together).

The project also investigated their opinion on how the Commission works, including the changes introduced by the 2004 reform and the latest big enlargements.

As the Commission supported the research, a representative sample of nearly two thousand officials could be surveyed. Also interviews of different categories of staff were conducted. The research was supported but not influenced by the Commission.

European Voice gave a good summary of the results:
First, the Commission's workforce is more diverse than is often assumed.
Most of them are economists and those who studied natural science are also more than lawyers. More than one-third of the Commission's staff recruited in the last years worked before in business and 90% had already work experience when joining the Commission.
As far as their views about Europe are concerned, only 36% of them are federalists, while 12% believe that the member states should be the central pillars of the Union.
Their motivations are also diverse: competitive remuneration and professional interest are factors of growing importance. Of course most of them share a will to ‘build Europe'.
The administrative reforms did not get a univocal recognition while the best rated president was Delors, but Barroso, the present president came out second after him.
They thought that the Commission is more difficult to manage since enlargement but they appreciated "their talented, enthusiastic and highly motivated colleagues recruited from the ‘new' member states", according to European Voice.
The Commission will soon publish its ‘strategy for e-procurement'. Public procurement should be enabled to use the internet.
Public procurement tender notices of all public authorities in the EEA are already published on the Internet and the submission of these documents is also continuously being streamlined. Notices can be submitted through a web-based for after registration or sent through computer-to-computer connections using the so-called e-sender network. The Commission's informatics directorate general is already doing some e-procurement. E-tendering is being phased in, first documents can be submitted, later the whole process will be possible on the net.

Meanwhile two commissioners, Michel Barnier, the commissioner for the internal market and services, and Karel De Gucht, the commissioner for trade are planning a regulation which would enable municipal authorities to reject bids from companies from countries where EU firms cannot bid in public procurement.

This is part of the EU's fight against discrimination in trade.


I was skiing a couple of weeks ago in Austria. I used the computer in the hall of the hotel. It was subscribed to a content filtering service which classified blog.hu, one of the popular Hungarian blogging sites as pornographic. This would not in itself surprise me, it also had an interface to report errors so I reported that the site certainly has some pornblogs but this is no reason to block the whole site as - plausibly - the different blogs are independent of each other and a number of very good political, cultural and lifestyle blogs can be found on it.
When I wanted to access the site of a left-wing Hungarian weekly, another content filter became active and informed me that based on the frequent occurrence of certain words, this site has been blocked. As this site is in Hungarian, I did not understand it quite. There was no e-mail address or used interface to report errors or to contact them. However, I find this very strange.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The EC proposes to suspend structural funds to Hungary

Without precedent - why does the EU punish us? is the title of a (surprisingly objective if we look at the article but not at all surprising if we look at the author) article in the Hungarian financial and economic portal portfolio.hu. The author, István Madár, in my opinion one of the best macro-economists in Hungary (he taught my son but as he graduated already more than five years ago, there is no conflict of interest) who never associated himself to any party and was always realistic and politically neutral in his opinions. He did not publish much in political newspapers but slowly seems to appear more. He explains why Hungary is the first to suffer the freezing of part of the cohesion funds (the part of structural funds to be managed by the central government) due to its excessive deficit and why the Commission had no other choice. This is the logical next step - not to be postponed - in the excessive deficit proceedings under existing legislation and also under the new fiscal rules which were brought to almost-finalisation by the Hungarian presidency and of which the Hungarian prime minister is so proud.
It has to be noted that this is only a proposition which gives nine months to the Hungarian government to react and rectify the problems indicated.
In spite of the nice numbers about the primary budget balance, the structural balance is far from the required 0.5% and the outlook is bleak. And even the nice numbers are due to one-off drastic measures - confiscation of private pension funds, crippling taxes on foreign enterprises.
It makes thus no sense to speculate how much the conflicts on political issues have influenced the decisions - as there was no choice. Hungary is the country with the longest history of excessive deficit procedure. It is a little paradox that György Szapáry, who was the deputy president of the National Bank, and went to denounce the Gyurcsány-government at the EU when it wanted to avoid the excessive deficit procedure by transferring the motorway-building loans into a company, is so much in favour with FIDESZ that a law was amended to enable him to take the position of the Hungarian ambassador to Washington.
What is more important, though, is that the government should take measures to remedy the situation instead of waving the primary deficit numbers as the only defence.
Another paradox must be discussed here: A lot of people expect the EU to put pressure on the Hungarian government to preserve democracy and follow a reasonable and just economic policy. The measures taken will, according to some opinions, increase anti-EU sentiment in Hungary, however. I think that Hungarians should solve their own problems but again, the EU has no other choice than to speak up, and take measures, in defence of its common values.