ECI: Let Me Vote

Let Me Vote is a European Citizens Initiative that aims to solve one of the Democratic Deficiencies in the European Union. This ECI calls for the right to vote of EU Citizens to be expanded from just the right the vote in Local and European Elections to National Elections in the Member State in which they reside.

The ECI was launched by Europeens Sans Frontieres. (Website in French)

This is the one issue that the European Union has not managed to sort out since the introduction of European Citizenship. Its stated objective and goal is:

To strengthen the rights listed in article 20§2 TFEU by granting EU citizens residing in another Member State the right to vote in all political elections in their country of residence, on the same conditions as the nationals of that State.

The goal of the initiative is to develop the political dimension of the European project by reinforcing citizens’ awareness that they share a common destiny. It would have the following effects: – To enhance the concept of European Citizenship; – To facilitate freedom of movement within the EU; In addition, it could contribute to remedying the loss of voting rights presently experienced by a significant number of EU citizens who are long-term residents of other Member States.

This is a great ECI and certainly is highlighting a massive issue within the EU. It certainly highlights the anomaly within the EU where Irish Citizens resident in the United Kingdom have the right to vote in Local, National and European Elections and the right that UK Citizens have in Ireland to vote in Local, National and European Elections. Surely this should be the norm between EU member states and not the exception.

Your voting rights should be allowed to move with you through the European Union just like the rest of your rights. This is especially true for countries such as Ireland where citizens abroad are not allowed to vote. Hopefully this ECI will change this and may encourage states that currently do not allow diaspora voting to look again at the issue.

I for one whole heatedly support the Let Me Vote ECI and urge you to read it and sign it here!

For more details see the following links:

I do plan a number of posts on ECI’s I find and I certainly wont agree with them all!

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Time for A Federal Europe?

It’s not hard to figure out that I am European Federalist. I hope that some day there will be some sort of European Federation, which manages to bring all the people closer together. But how will it happen and are current ideas holding this up?

One of the biggest threats to a Federal Europe is this idea of Budget commissioner with the ability to veto budgets of member states. Could you imagine this happening in any federal state? No way! As Jan Macháček writing in Prague’s Respekt states

If individual states in the U.S. were ordered by a central authority to rubber-stamp the financial budgetary rules and budget advice sent to them (i.e., change their own constitutions), to submit their budgets to Washington for approval even before they voted on them themselves – and then send them back for inspection (which is the principle of the European fiscal compact), it would lead to a revolt and the American federation would break up.

But as also pointed out building a federation also takes a long time and the American one was only completed in the 1930’s!

But how are we going to build this federation?)

One idea was floated in Milan’s Il Fogio by Lucio Caracciolo. He suggests a referendum across the 27 (soon to be 28) member states on the issue of more integration, not a treaty text.

The time has come to ask Europeans if they want to bring their country into a union – yes or no. By referendum. And not by one of these national consultations in which the voters of a Member State approve or reject (in the latter case, voters are called to the polls solely to approve the text) a treaty that is unreadable and, therefore, that remains unread.

This referendum among the twenty-seven Member States of the European Union (from next year, twenty-eight), which should take place at the same time and under the same rules throughout the European community, would pose the fundamental question: “Are you for or against the emergence of a European State comprising all member states of the European Union or of some of these states (specify which)?”

This would be a good idea. While it would be a consultative ballot, the power of this on European Leaders would be immense. The appetite for further integration would be quite obvious and ensure countries that want it can move forward. This would have important outcomes for the future of the European Project and how much support exist for a “Federal Europe” among Europhiles!

Whatever the outcome, we would finally have a clear picture of the degree of Europhilia among Europeans. Which is something that the Europhiles have always carefully avoided. It should, however, be clear by now that if we can one day unify Europe or a part of Europe for good, to make of it a force for democracy in the world, it will happen only on the ashes of Europeanism. On the ashes of its complacent paternalistic reflexes and its fundamentally elitist and undemocratic culture. The result is that, 55 years after the Treaty of Rome, not only do we not have a unified Europe, but we are exciting base emotions and tearing out the liberal and democratic roots of its member countries.

Of course it will be a tricky road. As Jan Macháček points out that identity is what will hold this back, something I have long said also.

Critics of federalism argue that the very idea is naive, and even dangerous, because there is no European political nation. An American is first an American, and only then from Minnesota. A German is first a German, and only then a European.
The emergence of a European identity, however, can be “artificially” promoted and accelerated. This and that may help here and there: direct election of a European president, an Institute of European citizenship, some minimum common European tax, and so on.

But at the end of the day I agree with Claudio Magris writing in the Corrierre Della Sera, it is a long hard road, but it will be worth it.

The establishment of a real European state is the only way to ensure that we can look forward to a worthwhile future. The problems we face are not national, they are of concern to us all. It is ridiculous, for example, to have different immigration laws in different countries, just as it would be to have different rules on migration in Bologna and Genoa. Furthermore, a genuine European state would result in significantly lower costs by, for example, doing away with the expense of endless committees, agencies and parasitic institutions.
Europe is a great power, and it is painful to see it reduced to bickering, or worse still, to the timid powerlessness of a building residents’ meeting. If it is to really become an entity that is able to punch its weight, the European Union will have to establish a decisive and authoritative government, give up on wooly ecumenisms, and abandon any reluctance to confront those who keep their own houses in order by dumping rubbish on their neighbours. No doubt it will have difficulty assuming a role of unshakeable authority, but if the European Union continues on the dangerous course on which it is currently embarked, its days will be numbered.
For the first time in history, we are attempting to build a large political community without recourse to the instrument of war. However, the rejection of war implies the need for a functional authority, and it is in this context that hesitancy is not democracy, but rather its death. It is natural for believers in Europe to feel dejected and uneasy, as I did on that in evening in Madrid, when faced with the spectacle of a European unity that is crumbling and fading away. However, that does not mean that we should surrender to melancholy. We have not been brought into the world to indulge our moods, or to give into gloom like so many small-minded sufferers from indigestion. No matter how we feel, we must continue to work for what we believe to be right, or at least for options that we believe to be better, with the stubborn conviction of “non praevalebunt”, they shall not prevail.
We must be prepared to fight against the evils of pessimism and weariness, which are continuing to gain ground. However, that is not to say that we cannot acknowledge the discrepancy between our terrible era and the aspiration for unity in the great professions of faith written by Europe’s founding fathers. As Karl Valentin, the great cabaret artist who inspired Brecht, liked to put it: the future was better in those days.


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And Estonia makes 11

Financial Transaction Tax campaign
Financial Transaction Tax campaign (Photo credit: Leonardo Domenici)

Late yesterday, Estonia joined the 10 countries that plan on implementing a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT), due to the lack of agreement on implementing an EU wide Tax.

The 11 countries who will implement the tax next year are:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Estonia
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Italy
  • Portugal
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain

According to Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso

“This tax can raise billions of euros of much-needed revenue for member states in these difficult times. [..] This is about fairness – we need to ensure the costs of the crisis are shared by the financial sector instead of shouldered by ordinary citizens.”

But where will this money go? One suggestion is that this tax revenue would go into a Eurozone budget as all 11 countries use the Euro. While Development NGOs argue that the revenue should go towards those most in need in developing countries.

The Tax this has a way to go before it comes into force, and still has to be approved by the majority of Member State’s at council level as well as the European Parliament.

The EU-wide tax was shelved following opposition from Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom, who fear being at a disadvantage in the absence of a World-Wide Tax.

More states can still sign up to this, but until details on the amount of tax charged on financial transaction and where the revenue goes is agreed, it is doubtful if the number of states involved in this enhanced co-operation will increase..

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Portugal Approves Fiscal Compact

BERLIN, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 01:  Portuguese Pr...

Portugal today became the first state to approve the Fiscal Compact. 25 of the 27 EU Member states signed up to the tightened budget rules. The United Kingdom and the Czech Republic are the only two not to sign up. It is interesting that Portugal were first to approve the treaty as they were the third country to get a bailout of the EU/ECB/IMF after Ireland and Greece.

The Portuguese Government were supported by the opposition Socialists in passing the pact which was approved by 204 votes to 24, with two abstentions.

Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho told parliament that the pact represented a “moment of confirmation of the European consensus”

Antonio José Seguro, the Socialist leader, said: “This treaty is vital to Portugal staying in the euro.”

Mr Seguro said: “This treaty may be a response to markets, but it is not a response to the crisis and to the problems of Portuguese, to unemployment. It is an unbalanced treaty.”

Mr Seguro raises some valid points as the Pact also does not deal with issues of Bank Debt but it is part of a number of initiatives to try and fix the Crisis in the Eurozone.

Ireland will be voting on the Fiscal Compact on May 31st. Ireland will be the only country to hold a referendum on the pact.

Don’t forget you can read the Fiscal Compact here

Gay Blood Ban Against EU Law – EU Commissioner

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John Dali, the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, has stated that a blanked ban on Gay and Bisexual Men giving blood is against EU law.

In an answer to Glenis Willmott (S&D) and Michael Cashman (S&D) he explained that EU law warranted the deferral of those “at high risk of acquiring severe infectious diseases” due to their “sexual behaviour”. Mr Dalli underlined that “‘sexual behaviour’ is not identical with ‘sexual orientation’”.

The Commission also noted that when implementing EU law, Member States must not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. This means a blanket ban on all gay and bisexual men would be illegal under EU law.

According to the European Parliaments Intergroup on LGBT Rights, National Authorities often cite a 2004 Directive on technical requirements for blood and blood components to justify the ban. Most member states have a de facto ban on gay men from giving blood and this includes Ireland.

Michael Cashman MEP, Co-President of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights, said the Commission’s answer “makes a lot of sense. Commissioner John Dalli reminds Member States that it is individuals who are at risk—not groups. Being gay or bisexual cannot automatically pose a threat to public health; but risky sexual behaviour in men or women, gay or straight, is a real risk. I hope the British government’s announcement later today will prefer scientific evidence to prejudice.”

Further commenting the Commission’s answer, Sirpa Pietikäinen MEP, Vice-President of the LGBT Intergroup and Member of the Committee on Public Health added: “It is our highest priority to look after public health, and thus take care of the quality of donated blood. But health ministers must bear in mind that sexual orientation, ethnic background and other identity traits are fully irrelevant to a person’s health. Denying blood donation from these groups is discriminatory and goes fully against logic.”


The European Year of the Volunteer 2011

2011 has been designated the European Year of the Volunteer by the European Union. This is following a campaign led by Marian Harkin MEP (Ireland/ALDE). She worked with the unofficial “EP Volunteering Interest Group” to lobby the Parliament, the Council and the Commission on this initiative.

Volunteering is very important in many Member States. Across the EU 92 to 94 million adults are involved in volunteering in the EU. That is 23% of all Europeans over 15 years of age. But is that enough?

Also it varies widely among the member states. In Austria, Netherlands, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom have volunteering rates of over 40%. In Denmark, Finland, Germany and Luxembourg volunteering is between 30%-39% of over 15 year olds. Estonia, France and Lithuania have rates between 20%-29%. In Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Ireland, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Romania, Sweden and Spain it is between 10-19%. And in Bulgaria, Greece, Italy and Latvia volunteering is at less then 10%.

While each country does have different definitions of volunteering and some have legal definitions, the disparate figures go to show that volunteer in most member states could do with a helping hand.

This is especially important in our current economic times as volunteering can add to GDP. For example, volunteering accounts for between 3% and 5% of GDP in Asutria, Netherlands and Sweden. In Ireland it contributes between 1-2% of GDP. This is a resource that we can build on and may help us overcome some of our difficulties.

There are a number of websites out there to highlight the year,

So get out there, and volunteer. Help make a difference to someone else’s life and your own!

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EU Border Guards?

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Here is an interesting Press Release I got today from Maltese MEP Simon Busuttil of the European People’s Party.

European Union Border Guard System proposed. Simon Busuttil MEP

“Europe can no longer look on powerless at emergency situations because it is unable to muster resources or pool assets.” Simon Busuttil MEP

Simon Busuttil MEP is proposing the establishment of a European Union Border Guard System that would bolster the EU’s external border agency, Frontex.

Busuttil presented his proposal in a draft Report on the review of the 2004 legislation that set up the Agency. The Report draws lessons from the first years of experience of the Agency and gives it a renewed mandate with more resources and tools to become more effective.

In his Report, presented last week in the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee, Busuttil tabled 68 amendments to the law.

“I welcome the Commission proposal to review Frontex and I hope to improve it through a series of amendments that are contained in my Report”, Mr Busuttil said.

“Frontex must be available at all times when needed, including in emergency situations. Europe can no longer look on powerless at emergency situations because it is unable to muster resources or pool assets. Frontex must therefore have the necessary means and equipment to deliver in a timely and efficient manner and its founding legislation must be changed to help us get there”, he said.

Busuttil’s most noteworthy political initiative is his proposal to establish a European Union Border Guard System. This would be composed of all national border guards who participate in Frontex missions, such as joint operations and rapid intervention teams. The EU Border Guard System would also include border guards who are seconded by individual Member States. On their part, EU countries will be obliged, by law, to participate in the system under the principle of ‘compulsory solidarity’.

In his Report, Busuttil also supports the European Commission’s proposal to grant Frontex the power to purchase or lease its own equipment in order to enable it to better respond to challenges at the Union’s external borders. Moreover, he proposes to grant the Agency the power to process personal data collected during its operations in order to help it play a stronger role in combating cross-border crime and illegal immigration.

He full proposals are available in this PDF.

Personally I don’t see this happening. I can’t see the UK agreeing to the ‘compulsory solidarity’. I would think other member states may have issues on that also.

Simon Busuttil MEP
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Croatia to be the 28th EU Memeber State?

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A meeting of the EU-Croatia Joint Parliamentary Committee has concluded that,

“Croatian Accession negotiations can be concluded in the first half of 2011 provided that Croatia meets all the outstanding closing benchmarks in the remaining chapters.”

Swedish EPP MEP, who co-chairs the EU-Croatia Joint Parliamentary Committee stressed the importance to the Balkans of Croatia joining the EU.

“Both for the EU and for the region, it is important that the conditionality linked to a credible EU enlargement process remains a strong incentive for reform. In this sense, the Croatian case is very important for regional dynamics because it can swing the doors wide open for the rest of the region. The goal is to have mutually cooperating countries of the Western Balkans inside the EU. We also expect that Croatia, as a Member State, will be actively contributing to EU policy in the region.”

“A credible enlargement also means Croatia has to be fully prepared for membership. Since our last meeting, the country has substantially advanced in EU negotiations and the end is in sight. It is now very important that Croatia engages all its reform potential in order to make sure that there are no hesitations left in anybody’s mind when the time comes to say yes to EU accession.”

Currently 34 (out of 35) accession chapters have been opened for negotiations between the EU and Croatia, and 25 chapters have been provisionally closed. So Croatia is making good speed on implementing the acquis communautaire of the EU.

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A European Divorce


Tomorrow the European Parliaments Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs will hear about the state of play on the first use of the Enhanced Co-Operation Procedure. 12 member states are proposing new rules in regards to Divorce and when it is of a trans-national nature.

To me this is a perfect use of the Enhanced Co-operation procedure as it can mean couples can choose the law that suits them most. For example a German married to Italian but living in Spain, have the choice to choose between German, Italian and Spanish law when it comes to their case. It also means that these rules will have no bearings on Malta, where divorce is illegal, and Ireland, where divorce is a long wait.

The 12 member states who want this are:

  • France
  • Italy
  • Spain
  • Austria
  • Hungary
  • Slovenia
  • Luxembourg
  • Romania
  • Bulgaria
  • Belgium
  • Germany
  • Latvia

Greece was initially on board but withdrew.

Under the current rules 9 member states are the minimum required to use the enhanced co-operation procedure. No member state can veto the use of procedure (except in the area of Foreign Affairs).

It will be interesting to see this in action.

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A European Army??

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Last Tuesday I attended the Alliance Francaise de Cork/UCC European Symposium. In the afternoon we split into round-tables. I went along to the round-table entitled “The Question of the European Army”. This round-table was led by Quentin Perret of Atelier Europe, Nevin Power and Frank O’Callaghan.

Quentin seemed to be on his own on the Pro-Army side. He based his arguments around four points.

  1. Security
  2. Influence
  3. Military Division
  4. Efficiencies from Commonalities

On the other hand the Irish in attendance were very much opposed to the idea of an European Union. The arguments weren’t as easily grouped as we weren’t the ones guiding the discussion, but they centred around the following ideas

  1. Neutrality
  2. Language
  3. Agreement at EU Level
  4. lack of need for hard power

It was quite an interesting discussion. I think in Ireland we do need to discuss this more. We seem to have a “lalala – fingers in ears” reaction to any discussion about a European Army. I know I found it hard to discuss myself.

Towards the end of the discussions we found two scenarios when a European Army is possible. The appearance of another. For example, if Russia became belligerent against the EU member states,  or if the United States decided to withdraw from supporting European security. Then there will be a big hole in European defence structures and a lack of ways of European Armies to be deployed around the world. (NATO is heavily dependent on US Military might). I think it is highly probably in either of those cases that a European Army will be on table.

One thing that Quentin said though is true, if Europe is to become a European Federation (United States of Europe) then it will certainly need some sort of army. That is true of any state.

Ireland has a strange relationship with military power. As a small country we bat way above our weight without having to resort to use military force, or the threat of such force.

I think we need to start really talking about a European Army in Ireland so we can be properly aware of when it is acceptable to us that an army is created. It should not be a discussion that should be led down the road of conscription and the loss of the triple lock etc, they will still be our Governments choice. As long as the Common Foreign and Security Policy is an area where unanimity is needed then there will be no European Army, but what will Ireland’s relationship with an Army set up under the enhanced co-operation procedure be?

This is a big and complicated issue and one there needs to be civilised public discourse on. Will it happen? I doubt.

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