Posts Tagged 'EU'

Eurotrash: sliding down the EU Tube

The great French statesman Charles de Gaulle once said: “It is Europe, it is the whole of Europe, that will decide the fate of the world.” Though de Gaulle is gone, the sentiment lives on, housed in the shining edifices of the European Commission.

Earlier this month I went to Brussels with 14 of my fellow Journalism students from City University. There, we were initiated into the secrets of the Eurocrats and the mantle of responsiblity was laid upon our quivering shoulders. barroso20king2

Despite the unquestionable importance of the EU, we were told, the British public has a skewed perspective on the affairs of Brussels because of the agendas of the media moguls. And it is up to us to fix it.

As Albert Maes, a previous EU ambassador to Jerusalem and lecturer in economics at the University of Namur in Belgium, put it: “The easy solution for the tabloids is always sarcasm.”

Out of a press core of over 1,200 journalists from all over Europe, many British news outlets don’t even have their own correspondents in Brussels. Those that do will often be charged with covering Europe as a whole.

One of the spokespeople we met, who did not wish to be named, said that many of the journalists she dealt with from the UK tabloids were not only rude but massively ignorant about anything to do with the EU.

This is because, to put it bluntly, the EU is boring as hell. No amount of free coffee and walks around stunning white buildings could hide the fact that the domain of the Eurocrats is unbelievably tedious.

Even the most talented British journalists have serious problems sparking interest in the latest regulations on, say, water pollution, even if it does mean that Blackpool beach will be littered with slightly less crap than usual.

Mark Mardell, the BBC’s Europe editor, said: “The job of journalists is to inform and entertain. The EU comes down heavily on the inform side.”

Believe it or not, I am generally pro-Europe. Yet after being told repeatedly how important it was for us, as future journalists, to raise awareness of the EU, I cannot help but feel a certain smug amusement at the revelation in today’s Sunday Times that the EU’s latest online project has received as little attention from its continental audience as it has on British shores.

Launched 18 months ago by the commission’s communications bureau, EU Tube – Europe’s take on the video-sharing website YouTube – has attracted dismal viewing figures. Some videos, such as the Controlling the Use of Chemicals in Europe and the Better Rights for Temporary Workers, have had only a few dozen hits.

Still, there is one success story in the EU archive. The “Let’s come together” video, made to promote the Brussels film subsidy, has reportedly had more than 7m views. The video (above) features clips of couples having sex, watched by a gaping cinema audience.

It seems the Eurocrats have learnt something Rupert Murdoch could have told them years ago: sex sells, no matter where you are.

Europe’s final frontier

An Italian man who was attempting to row across the Pacific Ocean solo has had to be rescued from fierce storms just off the Australian coast.

Alex Bellini had been at sea since February when he set out from Peru, 18,000 kilometres (10,000 nautical miles) away. But beset by a raging tempest, he was forced to call for help just 120km from his final destination, the Sydney harbour.

He said: “I didn’t put the cherry on top of the cake. But the cake is very good, very big and I will never forget about it.”

After years of preparation, Bellini can still see the merit of struggling towards a distant goal, even if it remains tantalisingly out of reach. Back in Europe, the 27 leaders of the Eurozone that gathered at the Brussels summit yesterday must be feeling something similar.

Despite having agreed one of the most ambitious climate change deals in the world, which pledged to cut carbon emissions for the Eurozone by 20 per cent by 2020, the niggling problem of the Lisbon treaty remains.

For years, Lisbon has been the thorn in the side of the EU. The treaty is designed to amend previous treaties to streamline the democratic process and includes creating a President of the European Union and High Representative for Foreign Affairs to present a more coherent approach to unified action.

After being turned down by the Irish public in a referendum this summer, it seemed the treaty might sink into the backwaters of EU policy. Yet a plan outlining new concessions to appease Irish voters has reportedly been greeted with enthusiasm by the summit.

These include questions over military neutrality, and fears that it would have to cede control over taxation, ethical and social issues while losing representation in the European Commission.

The UK is seeking more clarity in the legal language referring to the 25 countries that have already ratified the treaty, though Ireland’s foreign minister, Micheál Martin, said that Ireland is looking for the “most robust” guarantees possible.

In the UK the goings on of the EU can often seem little more than the distant rumblings of frustrated bureaucrats. Yet if nothing else, the past six months have taught us that Britain’s fate is inextricably linked with that of the Eurozone.

As EU president, Sarkozy has been instrumental in coordinating the international response to the financial crisis. While Brown has tried to cast himself as the level-headed champion of the crisis, it has been Sarkozy’s mischievous grin that has graced the front pages of papers around the world.

Yet as January approaches and the end of Sarkozy’s term draws ever closer the future of the treaty remains uncertain. The leader-in-waiting, Czech President Vaclav Klaus, is an avowed Eurosceptic and the Czech Republic remains one of two countries that have not ratified the Lisbon Treaty over fears that it would undermine national sovreignity.

Ceding authority at any level will never be a popular move. Yet, the EU itself was born out of the need to present a unified front in a time of crisis.

As the pound plunges to new lows against the Euro and the recession deepens, the spirit of the EU is more important than ever. And we cannot afford look away.


Europeana crashes

Britain has a consistently appalling record when it comes to managing major IT projects. According to the Department of Work and Pensions, seven out of 10 government IT projects fail and since 2000, the UK has wasted more than £2 billion on failed projects.

With such a shameful track record, it is good to know that when it comes to thorough incompetence, our European brothers are not far behind. This weekend saw the launch – and crash – of  Europe’s first digital museum and library.

Europeana, which houses thousands of digital records of items representing Europe’s cultural history, reported up to 13 million hits per hour – three times the maximum level expected by the European Commission. Within hours of the site going online, it had between 3,000 and 4,000 users accessing information at the same time.

The Commission said: “This massive interest slowed down the service so much that after having already doubled server capacity, the Europeana management and the Commission had to temporarily take down the site.”

The site will be re-launched in mid-December after its server’s capacity has been increased. Let’s hope everyone’s lost interest by then so Europeana can descend into quiet obscurity like most EU initiatives.

April 2020

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