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

Wir gestalten unsere Zukunft europäisch – Grüner Aufruf

Europa in der Krise. Man mag in diesen Monaten sarkastisch antworten wollen: Schon wieder oder immer noch? Die europäische Bilanz der letzten Jahre scheint wirklich mager zu sein: Vertrag von Lissabon formerly known als Europäische Verfassung? Gerade mal mit Ach und Krach über die Ziellinie gerettet! Weltweiter Vorreiter im Klimaschutz? Das war einmal! Friedensmacht? Nationale Sprache scheint wichtiger als gemeinsamer Auswärtiger Dienst! Handlungsfähiger Akteur zur Bewältigung der Finanz- und Wirtschaftskrise? Im nationalstaatlichen Klein-Klein weitgehend zerredet! Kein Wunder also, dass das Vertrauen in die politischen Institutionen – auf allen Ebenen – rasant schwindet.

Die EU und ihre 27 Mitgliedstaaten stolpern offenbar von einer ausweglosen Situation in die nächste. Und doch ist die Frage berechtigt, ob Europa wirklich stärker in der Krise steckt als sonst. Auf und Abs haben die europäische Integration seit der Nachkriegszeit geprägt. Schon 1956 sprach der damalige Bundeskanzler Adenauer von der „Europäischen Not“ und dem Umstand, dass die Europäer sich nur zu einigen Konferenzen aufmühen können und gemeinsames Handeln eher die Ausnahme als die Regel sei. Ist das Krisengerede also alles nur Hysterie?

Nein, im Gegenteil! Denn im letzten Jahrhundert trieb eine gemeinsame Vision die Zusammenarbeit voran: Zukünftige Kriege durch eine verstärkte europäische Zusammenarbeit für immer zu verhindern. Heute hingegen geht es den Regierungsoberhäuptern primär um den eigenen Machterhalt. Der europäische Geist ist zum Mittel für die eigene Inszenierung verkommen. Anders als 1956 befinden sich die Europäische Union und ihre Mitgliedsstaaten in einer Identitätskrise, die wie ein Damoklesschwert über jeder (natürlichen) Alltagskrise hängt. Jedes europäische Tief wird damit gleich zur europäischen Sinnkrise. Verfassungskrise, Demokratiekrise, Finanzkrise – man schlittert mit Vollgas auf den Abgrund zu bis im letzten Moment doch noch jemand den europäischen Geist beschwört. Gut gehen wird das nicht mehr lange. Daher ist es Zeit, das Kind beim Namen zu nennen.

“Generation Kleingeister”

Das Kind nennt sich „Generation Kleingeister“. Schaut man sich heute in Europa um 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

Merkels Atompolitik jetzt attackieren

Gestern kam es zum Showdown der Bundesregierung beim Thema Atomenergie. Ausnahmsweise scheint es nach Monaten des Streits dazu einmal Einigkeit unter den drei Koalitionspartnern gegeben zu haben. Wie Spiegel Online zu entnehmen ist, sieht die “Loesung” vor, den weichen Atomkompromiss von Rot-Grün noch einmal zu verwässern. SpOn fasst die Eckpunkte wie folgt zusammen:

• Ältere Kernkraftwerke sollen eine längere Laufzeit von 8 Jahren erhalten
• Jüngere Meiler bekommen sogar ein Plus von 14 Jahren
• Stromkonzerne sollen Öko-Energie mit 15 Milliarden Euro unterstützen.

Wenn alle Parteien, die es mit ihrer Kritik an der Atomenergie ernst meinen, wirklich ein Zeichen setzen wollen, dann müssen sie nicht nur “Verfassungsklage” brüllen, sondern klar sagen, was sie nach einer eventuellen Machtübernahme, die ja spätestens 2013 stattfinden wird, tun werden.

Auf Grund der Schwere des Vertrauensbruchs durch die Energiekonzerne (man führe sich noch einmal deren 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

Rentendebatte und die besonderen Ost-Frauen-Renten

Vielleicht liegt es am Sommerloch, vielleicht an der ungelösten langfristigen Finanzierung. Jedenfalls läuft mal wieder die Rentendebatte in Deutschland. Spiegel Online zieht die Debatte an einem Diskussionsanstoß der EU Kommission (Papier hier) hoch, die andeutet, dass das Renteneinstiegsalter mittel- oder langfristig bei 70 Jahren liegen sollte. Derzeit liegt der Durchschnitt beim Renteneintritt in Deutschland bei 61,7 Jahren, also in der Realität weit vom aktuellen Zielwert 65 entfernt. Die vor einiger Zeit beschlossene Rente mit 67 wird schrittweise eingeführt und gilt komplett erst für 1964 und danach Geborene.

Leider wird der notwendige Schritt des späteren Renteneinstiegs nicht nur von der SPD zunehmend in Frage gestellt, sondern auch von Abgeordneten der Grünen (so Wolfgang Strengmann-Kuhn, der den Beginn des Angleichsprozesses nach hinten schieben will). Das Problem dabei ist, dass so der Druck auf das Rentensystem nur zunimmt. Dazu kommt, dass man nicht dauernd wieder an eh schon schwierigen Entscheidungen im Nachhinein rumdoktern sollte, zumal wir wissen, dass auch diese Anpassungen nicht ausreichen, um “die Rente” in Deutschland langfristig zu finanzieren. Ich finde die Erhöhung des Renteneinstiegsalters angesichts rasant gestiegener Lebenserwartung und einer zunehmenden Verschiebung von manueller Arbeit hin zu Dienstleistungen die sozialste Alternative. Natürlich ist das aber keine Entscheidung, die allein das Probem löst, so lange nicht in vielen anhängigen Bereichen (wie Erwerbsmöglichkeiten 50+, steuerliche Anreize, Abbau von Eintrittsbarrieren im Arbeitsmarkt und v.a. Arbeitsplätze) endlich Fortschritte erzielt werden. Unabhängig davon frage ich mich, wann die Deutschen endlich begreifen, 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.