Saturday, August 06, 2005

Europe needs to be flatter

The recent announcement of EU Vice President Verheugen to spend 15 million euro on a
"research project to design and demonstrate an anti-terrorist security system architecture to better detect these terrorist threats and hence better protect railway passengers"
seems like a valuable contribution to the fight against terror. Two remarks need to be made, however. First, to me 15 million sounds a lot, but these kind of projects need to be put in perspective in order to be understood. I'm sure that it is only a fraction of the budget that individual member states spend on counter terrorism. Secondly, I cant help but feeling that priority should be given to a further search for underlying reasons for terrorism. More precise, the foreign policy in general and currently the policy on Iran more specifically.
"The European Union - through Britain, Germany and France - has been trying to find a compromise solution over Iran's nuclear plans for two years".
The earlier signalled lack of civil society however is not lost forever. Thomas Friedman foresees on short notice
"a flat world: a global, web-enabled platform for multiple forms of sharing knowledge and work, irrespective of time, distance, geography and increasingly, language".
It has to be noted that Friedman's work is far from unchallenged. John Gray, Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics sharply critises the views of Friedman. But even Gray admits that
Globalization is (...) leveling the playing field, and to that extent it is a force for human advance.

Credits for the pointer of this interesting debate should go to Dutch-Indian journalist Anil Ramdas who wrote about this. Interestingly, the same newspaper showed actual proof of Friedman's theory on August 2, when it described local community web-based initiatives such as these, these and these. Even though it is difficult to argue that sites like these replace the old-fashioned water pump at the town square but it does seem like first signs of virtual civil society.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Europol, Eurojust and the Olympics

Earlier this week, this blog reported about Europol and Eurojust as an answer to need for cooperation in the fight against crime. A closer look at their websites reveals that hard work remains to be done in order to have some impact.

First: Eurojust, based in The Hague, has listed its press releases. It was hard to find information that is NOT about the legal structure of Eurojust itself. The most eye-catching piece is that of the 2003 (!) annual report where Eurojust acknowlegdes to have dealt with more than 300 cases. In the release Eurojust pleas for more authority because
"we need, where necessary, to have the Eurojust decision implemented into national legislations".
The president of Eurojust admits that until that day, it is
"like sending an athlete to the Olympics without running shoes".
Secondly: Europol, also based in The Hague, has got a bit more informative press releases. But there seems to be more achievement in the field of cannabis and biking clubs (here also)than terrorism.

Perhaps the coppers have changed their Olympic aspirations from running into sailing, because they are boasting about their well sponsored sailing regattas.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Peace, economy and values

Of course the main reason for the founders of the European Union was the longing for peace, after the terrible events of World War II. But they tried to reach that goal through economic cooperation, starting with the European Community for Cokes and Steel. They reasoned that when nations work together in a common market, they won't go to war with each other. And with succes, for in the West we enjoyed a unique stability and our economies boomed.

With the Schengen treaty, control of the borders between the nation states gradually disappeared. Later on, we even got ourselves a common coin, the euro. However, because of the diminished border control, it became easier for criminal networks to cross borders and for instance smuggle drugs from one country to the other. That's why more or less necessarily the need for cooperation in the fight against crime evolved. This resulted not only in the harmonizing of penal law, but also in the creation of institutions like Europol and Eurojust.

The last few years, (islamic) terrorism has reared its ugly head in the Western world. Even before Madrid and London. Fo instance, some of the attackers of 9/11 lived and studied for years in Hamburg, Germany. They visited Holland and other European countries as well. Essential in the war on terror is the sharing of information, because the individual countries all hold parts of the jigsaw puzzle. This does not mean that we need a European intelligence agency to replace the national ones, but we do need an institution to collect the data and analyze it on a European scale. This is what Europol already does. Apart from that, the European Union itself can contribute to the prevention of attacks. Yesterday it announced that it will contribute 15 million euro to the development of different technologies for this goal:
Vice-President Günter Verheugen said: “The recent events in London show how vulnerable public transport systems are to terrorist attacks. The Commission is determined to do its part to better protect our citizens and fund EU wide targeted research efforts.”
To return to your remarks on civil society and the views of Robert Putnam: I could not agree more that a well functioning civil society is crucial. Europe misses it almost completely: apart from the official institutions, there is no public space yet where one can be a true European citizen. Even in our own country the problem is well understood, for instance by prime minister Balkenende, who made it a key issue for his government. Former minister Thom de Graaf was working on a paper on this very subject before he resigned. The question is how we can revitalize neighbourhoods, schools and sports clubs, that lack volunteers and suffer from crime - at least in the cities. Many people want the benefits, but not the hard work that comes with it. So deeper below lies the problem of our values. Next time more on that.