Category Archives: English

articles in English

Never forget to pay your bills in Singapore

Some say Singaporeans are greedy, some say they are bureaucratic and some that they are uber-honest. I think this is all crap stereotyping (as if the Germans would be orderly… or the Indians talkative…). But here is a warning from the Singapore university library of what happens if you do not settle your fines (no matter what amount!):

Blogs and news on the EU budget

The budget review has sparked some fresh and good debate on the future of the EU’s budget. A couple of blogs have been opened recently to contribute to this debate and they are probably the best place to gather information over what is going on. Here comes an overview:

LowCarbonBudget.eu by the UK’s Green Alliance. Focuses on the ‘green’ side of the budget but has very competent staff behind and also up-to-date information on general developments.

Budget in Perspective by the German Foreign Ministry. This blog is curently in beta status and will present contributions from known experts, academics and obviously some German officials. It has a useful press overview Continue reading

German elections today: Green prime minister

There is currently so much dynamics in German politic that I thought I put this into perspective for my international friends.

Chancelor Angela Merkel is obviously known abroad and what I find interesting is that her leadership is not questioned too much in international media. However, if we had elections in Germany this Sunday, the politics of the country would take a pretty big turn. According to the latest poll, the most likely outcome would be a government led by the Green Party!

How crazy is this, you might (rightly) wonder!?

Let me try to explain this in short. The weird thing that happened after the last election in September (just a year ago) is that the new government of the Christian-Democrats (CDU & CSU) and ‘Liberals’ (FDP) got a pretty decent majority in the Bundestag (main chamber) and also held a convincing majority in the Bundesrat (upper chamber comprised of state/Lander governments). Everyone was expecting that these two parties would go into some brave economic reform. Pustekuchen Continue reading

The schizophrenia of some business leaders

In my reading for a paper on voluntary environmental stewerdship I have  come across this classic article by Milton Friedman “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Proft” (New York Times Magazine, 1970). The following passage reminds me of many of Germany’s industrial barons from the old dirty industries who tend to be overrepresented in industrial associations and politics:

I have been impressed time and again by the schizophrenic character of many businessmen. They are capable of being extremely far-sighted and clear-headed in matters that are internal to their businesses. They are incredibly short-sighted and muddle-headed in matters that are outside their businesses but affect the possible survival of business in general. This short-sightedness is strikingly exemplified in the calls from many businessmen for wage and price guidelines or controls or income policies. There is nothing that could do more in a brief period to destroy a market system and replace it by a centrally controlled system than effective governmental control of prices and wages.

Eating out and food in Singapore

Ok. Today is a special day. I could write a comment about some Florida idiots who wanted to burn books some consider holy – or the reactions to this. But all these crazies on either side really deserve no further attention. It is time to start writing about Singapore. And what could be more important than religious debates? – Something that is more visible in Singapore than politics. Something that is big story in Singapore. Food.

One of the first things you read in any travel guide about Singapore is its focus on food. Or should I say obsession? Given the lack of what us westerners would regard as classical or traditional culture, this special place Singapore is surely building some of its culture around food. And food comes in many particular ways here. Lesson one: food (like so many other products here) is not big here because it is grown in Singapore but because locals (and probably even more immigrants) have been skilled to make the best of varieties of influence from all around the south east asian region (and beyond). Thanks to these diverse cultural influences food is big here. And it is diverse. You can probably generalise and say that the Singaporean kitchen is composed of the same ethnic influence as its society overall: Chinese, Malaysian and Indian. On top of that you have the hard-to-avoid American Continue reading

France and German tax systems, EU cooperation

After visiting German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, French budget minister Francois Baroin comes up with some weird comments on Franco-German tax cooperation and the EU budget according to the EUobserver. Firstly, he recognises a broad consensus for deficit reduction in Germany. Apparently the impression most people have of France is that they like to run excessive budget deficits and do not have their budget in order. What is interesting here is that this picture of stark contrast is not really met in reality. France – just like Germany – has the highest credit ratings (i.e. paying the lowest rates on its debt because people see long-term value and not a debt swamp). Its business cycle broadly matches the German over the last 10-20 years but with obvious short-term divergences as we can witness these months. At the same time the French budget system itself is much more modern than the German, having Continue reading

Buying a light PC notebook is not that easy

Here we go. After probably around 4 years of good service my Acer Travelmate 3300 (3302 WXMi) is getting slower and slower. I have a weird blue-green vertical line through my screen and the typical Acer graphics problem increases its frequency: random shutdown of the screen. Time to buy a new notebook but which one?

Essentially I want the following:
1. PC (no argument, Jon!)
2. Light weight (i.e. around 1.5 kg)
3. Reasonably-sized screen (13″ or rather 14″)
4. Price under 800 Euro

The nice thing about my current Acer Continue reading

Poland now under PO control

The second round of the Polish presidential elections are over. The moderate candidate Bronislaw Komorowski from the governing PO has won over the last Kaczynski brother. This will hopefully set the end of the PiS/Kaczynski era in Polish politics.

Probably no other political figure/family as the Kaczynskis has attracted so much attention in Germany over the past years. Even worse, no other figure has evoked so much good-bad sentiments as the PiS (Kaczynski) vs PO (Tusk) competition. German media and also the progressive left (particularly leading Greens) have kept on portraying Tusk-PO as the great and pure good.This is a fair point when it comes to foreign policy, EU and lustration issues – and these are very important questions. However, a little less external advice and black-and-white-painting towards Polish voters, might have been of help more often. It is also easy to point at the Kaczynskys for what they stood for. But I wish the same broad criticism would also have been extended to Silvio Berlusconi who is possibly even more of a threat to Italian and European democracy than the Polish “potatoes“.

As much as PO deserves credit for bringing back reason to Polish politics, I wish commentators would also look at their specific policies with a little more detail. The energy-environmental policy of the current government is a desaster. As solid coal defenders and nuclear promoters, their horizon goes as far forward as the 1970s. The stupid Kaczynski vs PO competition over the last years has also covered a much more serious long-term challenge of Polish democracy: the inexistence of a viable centre-left party – not to mention a credible Green Party.

Now with PO in solid power, I assume that PiS-Kaczynski will be weakened and might disappear over the coming years. This is the chance for a revival of the left. They should grab it, to bring Polish domestic politics back into the European mainstream.

A low-carbon budget for the EU budget

Perspectives on EU Budget ReformThe Green Alliance, a leading environmental think tank in the UK has recently published “unlocking a low-carbon Europe“, an excellent collection of articles about a climate-friendly budget for the EU. I had the chance to contribute with my article “Winning the Budget Battles” lining out (institutional) strategies to achieve a more friendly outcome for our climate.

Reform of the EU budget matters deeply for the pursuit of the low-carbon economy. For there is arguably no policy lever as important as the EU budget for setting the direction of EU action. While the size of the budget remains close to just one per cent of EU’s Gross National Income, it has the ability to lever additional spending by member states and the private sector. However, it is perhaps its political value that is of most influence. For the way in which the EU spends its resources is the primary indicator of its political priorities and its institutional ability to organise their pursuit.

This collection of viewpoints from diverse businesses and NGOs, social organisations and think tanks, addresses the political challenge of acting on these two priority areas of climate change and the reform of the EU budget Continue reading

West Wing to explain the EU

CC from http://www.flickr.com/photos/foreignoffice/2228903659/Conor aka The European Citizen has written an interesting post about why the EU should possibly have its own West Wing (WW) series to explain the EU. And yes, there is not only West Wing but also Yes, (Prime) Minister or The Thick of it. I do not know well the two latter ones and vaguely remember that also the German public TV (ZDF) once tried to copy WW with Das Kanzleramt – and flopped. But why would an EU version of West Wing be interesting – and why would it help to explain the EU?

Let’s first consider what West Wing was: It was, no question, the the best (I say THE best) TV series ever! – It was so good not because it was about politics and that is what I like. No, it was good because it was smart, it had brilliantly-drawn characters with personality, excellent actors, it was realistic – and it had an intelligent but all-embracing humour. I am sure that we can find excellent actors and draw equivalent characters for an EU “13th floor” (as Conor calls it) series. But would we have the play writers to come up with dialogues and characters of such brilliance? In the end, I have not come across any European TV series that has impressed me so far…

I am sure public broadcasters in the EU with possible arte as a frontrunner would be happy to unite and prepare such a show. Moreover, the EU will surely make its MEDIA funds available for this – and the Commission, Parliament (and possibly less so the Council) would be happy to offer some insights and filming opportunities. So, all this should be set – if we only found the script writers!

Would this help to explain the EU?

Yes, Continue reading