Since February 2009 , this blog and Huib's 3 other Euroblogs are together at:

- In Europa Zu Hause [DE]
- L'Europe Chez Soi [FR]
- At Home in Europe [EN]
- In Europa Thuis [NL]

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ukraine and EU

What to do with Ukraine ambitions?

The EU-Observer relates the Yanukovych visit to Barroso in Brussels:
Mr Yanukovych - a former hardman in the pre-Orange Revolution regime
who returned to power in free elections last year - has attracted
interest in Brussels and Washington by bringing more stable energy
relations with Russia while pressing ahead with pro-EU economic
I feel a slight hesitation, when I have to consider an eventual Ukrainian accession to the EU. I have known Kiev in the Gorbatshov days. In spite of its fervent nationalism, ways of dealing and culture there are Soviet. The Western part, Galician, often Polish speaking, is stark oriented to the West: Culturally, but also commercially (agriculture). The Eastern part, however, often russophone, a mining and heavy industry zone, is linked with many ties to old Russia. The Krim and surrounding regions are also Russian, be it with an Asian original population.
Potentially, it is a huge agricultural asset to the EU. Large stretches of fertile land, all the fibres you'll need in the coming century. The same is true for coal: when the petroleum sources will dry up, a coal-based energy policy will need the Ukrainian riches.
Half of the country is decidedly western-oriented. We should not let them down, in spite of their anti-semitism and maffiose structures. The other half, however, is not. It is tied with many ties to mother Russia. The energetical riches there, are very important to a future Russian economy. The strategical locations at the Black Sea (Krim) are vital to the Russians.
I see two ways, how to deal with that dilemma:
  1. If the EU leaves Russia out in the foreseeable future, a deal could be made with the Russians, sharing influence in the Ukraine. The Western regions being progressively incorporated in the EU-market, while the Eastern regions would be linked to the Russian economy and the Krim region would become then a shared Russo-Ukrainian affair.
  2. But, if the EU would decide in the coming years to integrate with Russia, for energetic reasons and strategic reasons, another scenario is thinkable. The 50 million strong Ukraine could become a West- as well as East-oriented country, politically organised as a western democracy, but economically linked to its big Russian neighbour.
The US Americans, as far as I can see, consider an Ukrainian integration (a full one) into NATO and into EU as too bold a step. It would estrange Russia. The actual prime minister is intelligently playing on that field:
"EU officials and Ukrainian diplomats expect Ukraine to join the WTO in Spring or Summer - before Russia. The WTO entry would allow the EU and Ukraine to sign a "deep" free trade agreement down the line, which would remodel Ukraine's economy along EU lines.
These considerable steps [visa facilitations] to the EU will bring us closer in the future to our strategic goal of joining the EU," Mr Yanukovych said. Later, while meeting EU top diplomat Javier Solana, he squeezed his elbow like an old friend amid a chat on visas, and spoke of frequent telephone contact.

In foreign policy terms, Mr Yanukovych also gave Brussels political promises he will extend the mandate of the EU's border-monitoring team in Moldova, which has been a pain in the neck to pro-Russian rebels in the Moldovan region of Transdniestria since it started work.

Drawing the line at NATO

But the steely-eyed Ukrainian, whose Party of the Regions to an extent represents the old Ukraine of oligarchs and the Russophone, anti-NATO part of Ukrainian society in the east, showed the limits of his pro-western feeling when reacting to news the US Congress had approved Ukraine's future NATO membership.
This is why I think, that a successful integration of the Ukraine is dependent on a more independent EU foreign policy and an arrangement between the EU and Russia.
"Nowadays Ukraine is not ready for accession. The level of public support is about 20 percent and the decision on NATO will be taken by a national referendum," he said, adding "no dates" were ever mentioned in a deal he made on foreign policy with Ukraine's pro-NATO president Viktor Yushchenko last year.
Perhaps, a Russian-oriented government in Ukraine is not as bad as it seems, for the EU. Yanulovytch is a person, who could make arrangements with both the EU and Russia, without being suspected of selling out Ukrainian national interests.
When Mr Yanukovych's political rivals come to Brussels, they paint him as a danger to the country's pro-EU path. "Let's see this process [Yanukovych's return to power] not as a tragic one but as a test," Mr Yushchenko said on 8 March. Last November, [but] ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko called Yanukovych "Kuchma-lite," referring to Leonid Kuchma, the repressive, pre-Orange Revolution president.
The State Department has a balanced view:
But in Brussels and even in some of the Russia-wary capitals of the
EU's new member states, Mr Yanukovych has earned himself the reputation
of a "pragmatist" and a cool-headed professional, who fits the EU's
current agenda of bringing Ukraine closer without any promise of
"He is, I think, someone who's different than when he was prime
minister in 2004," senior US diplomat David Kramer told EUobserver two
weeks back. "It is extremely important for Ukraine to have close,
vibrant relations with Russia...we approach him with our eyes wide open
and with a view to helping Ukraine."
"Let's stop talking about Russia and Ukraine as if it was still the old Soviet Union - those days are gone now," a Ukrainian diplomat said.
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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Valerie Plame Affair endangers Europe

Starting with "An 21st Century Caligula..." on November 2, 2005, on the Legal Alien in New York blog, I followed the deployment of the 2003 Valerie Plame affair closely.
In my opinion, the primary target of the White House smearing campaign was not, as commonly thought, Plame's husband Wilson, but the liquidation of the CIA front store in Istanbul, led by Plame.
The CIA-Agency involved, was a branch of a CIA-created American firm. Its Istanbul bureau monitored Middle East nuclear efforts. That includes: Turkey, Israel, Syria and Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. And, maybe, Saudi-Arabia and the Gulf States, as well as Egypt.

It is more than probable, that the Plame-Agency produced embarrassing information about Iraq: No nuclear program there, confirming the El-Baradei assessments. But the main embarrassment came from reports about Turkish-Israeli nuclear collaboration, that Cheney did not want to disturb, while the Iranian efforts to obtain a nuclear capacity should not, at that moment be too much published, for that would undermine the reasoning for an attack on Iraq.

Cheney saw a CIA conspiration against his designs. So, when Plame-spouse Wilson, former US ambassador to Iraq and presented as a hero in 1990, when Saddam Hussein took Western nationals as hostages, went public with a denial of Saddam's supposed deal with the Central African Republic for yellowcake, in June 2003, Cheney reacted as if the CIA were using the same methods as he does: His marginal remarks on the Wilson Op-Ed in the New York Times, revealed at the Libby trial, show a hysteric and revengeful psychopath, cought in his own intrigues.

Meanwhile, the CIA has been more or less dismantled. I have no reason to deplore that. The Agency was during 50 years across my way, in Holland and in Europe. But it's liquidation means also more freedom for the Bush cabal to manipulate information from abroad so as to lure the US into extremely dangerous adventures.

Juan Cole, the indefatigable Middle East Professor from the University of Michigan, daily blogger about Iraq and the Middle East region, produced Saturday an analysis, concise and clear, about the Plame affair. I left out the paragraphs about the details of the US juridical system. The main message is evident: The affair is not about an error of judgment, but it is about high treason. The US have been unnecessarily endangered by the Cheney intrigue. In my view, it is not by chance, that, in June 2003, Cheney obtained the (hitherto) presidential privilege of being allowed to mention undercover US agents.

Juan Cole:

Giving Aid and Comfort to the Enemy: the Plame Affair

Valerie Plame Wilson, whose career Karl Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney wanted destroyed in a fit of pique, was finally allowed to testify before Congress on Friday.
Some in the blogosphere are arguing that the outing of Plame Wilson was an impeachable offense. Defenders of Rove and Cheney say that if they did not know that Valerie Plame Wilson was an undercover operative, then they did not break the law by trying to out her.
Moreover, they did know that Plame Wilson was involved in counter-proliferation efforts, including against Iran. By leaking her name with the intent that journalists such as Judy Miller publish it, they were conveying information about a CIA operation to Iran. That is high treason, even if they did not know she was covert. All they had to know is that she was trying to impede Iran's nuclear program, and that the Iranians did not know that that was what she was doing. You can't make her public without also letting the Iranians know.
It aided and comforted Iran to know that Valerie Plame Wilson and her dummy CIA corporation, Brewster Jennings & Associates, had been engaged in counter-proliferation efforts against it. Bush put Iran in the Axis of Evil, thus declaring it an enemy of the US.
Therefore, Rove and Cheney (and maybe Bush himself) gave aid and comfort to an enemy of these United States by a deliberate act of outing a CIA operative who was not known to Iran and whose cover and activities had not been.
That's treason. That warrants impeachment.
With an internally divided and short Democrat majority in Congress, an impeachment of the Vice-President, and the more so of the President, is not soon to be expected.
As a two-thirds majority in the Senate is necessary, this option is still far away.

The European Union, endangered by the liquidation of the CIA anti-proliferation outpost in Istanbul, should act on its own now. The nuclear configuration of the Middle East, with Israel at it's core, should be monitored daily, for it is on Europe's doorstep. US adventurism, launching Israeli (and Turkish?) nuclear strikes against Iran, would provoke a nuclear response against Europe, the South-East (Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, Turkey) in the first place.
Where is our plan?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Roaming Charges: UK tries to block EU deal

A new defeat for the mobile phone providers.
The EU Commission proposal for a cap on roaming charges gets support from national ministers in a meeting in Germany.

But that is not yet the end of the story. In one of its next meetings, a formal European Council will have to accept the proposal. The Companies are trying to get a compromise by offering complicated programmes for customers, that may roughly cut 40% of the extra roaming charges.

But the conditions are unclear, and are linked, as in the case of my provider, the Belgian Proximus an affiliate of Vodafone, to subscriptions that make a change of provider very difficult. The programmes do not offer, either, a reduction of the high costs for receiving calls abroad, nor for extra international SMS-charges.

An EU-test case
The EU-Commission initiative is a test case for its capacity to show European citizens, that Europe protects them. In view of rising Euroscepticism, the cap on roaming charges has become a major issue. It may show, that the Barroso Commission is as social as its predecessor, who capped to 0% the international transfer charges in Euros of the banks.

Today's EU-Observer evaluates the question:
"All citizens in the EU should be able to judge in July how effective the work of their ministers and their parliamentarians has been," said EU telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding - a staunch supporter and initiator of the roaming price cuts.
The Test Case reasoning, as you see.
However, Vodafone's lobbying in the UK has had some effect:
But British [Minister] Margaret Hodge has argued against a system which would introduce rigid price limits for roaming, saying the potential costs to companies of €2.9 billion would be spread across the sector and harm innovation in the area.

"If we have a rigid maximum price ceiling it will quickly turn into a minimum price, and that I think will inhibit real competition. You don't want to lose flexibility," Ms Hodge said in an interview with the Financial Times.
Ms. Hodge argues against something the Commission is NOT proposing. The price cap is not 'rigid'. It imposes solely a maximum percentage extra costs for roaming above the existing charges related to the moment, the time and the distance of calls. If those costs rise or sink, the value in money of the maximum extra roaming charge will correspondingly rise or sink. That is not what is commonly called 'rigid', isn't it?

A conservative, anti-free market struggle
In fact, as we explained earlier here, Mobile Communications providers are since about 10 years profiting from an anomaly in Europe's common market. National frontiers, that are technically no obstacle at all for transmitting communications, are used as milk-cows for imposing extra charges. Licenses for mobile phone (and internet access-, see later) net works, are nationally allocated (and -heavily- paid for). This creates technically redundant frontiers, separations, between national network complexes.

This situation is falsifying open competition, a configuration that would result in lower prices for transnational calls and communications. The champions of open competition should attack this national allocation system as the real falsifier, and not the European regulations that intend to limit the harm it does to the market and its providers and consumers!

But no, oligopolistic market providers are conservative at heart. Rectifying the division of charges between national and international callers, would mean, that an easy and profitable extra source of income will need to be replaced by others. That is difficult and painful. It means extra work for the top bureaucracy of the providers. And, maybe, the loss of extra fat that is now invested into sponsoring of, for instance, golf tournaments (with free tickets for the direction) and conventions in the Caribbean for top- and middle managers and their spouses and secretaries. Money that is not serving any 'innovation'.

Setting up one category of consumers against another
So, as a last resort, our companies are playing the card of setting up two categories of consumers against each other. "If we will have to cut the charges for transnational callers, we will be obliged to rise them for national calls!" Ms. Hedgehodge obediently launches this scarecrow point to her European colleagues:
As opposed to the commission's proposal to see the new roaming limits apply automatically, Britain favours an "opt-in" regime in which the new maximum tariff is only applied if customers request it.

"People are not daft. People are pretty adept at working out the best package," Ms Hodge said in the interview.
Ms. Hedgehodge sticks all her pins out against those continental dirigists. Her arguments are exactly those, we denounced earlier, when we analysed a 'Financial Times' contribution by a hired British lobbyist for Vodafone. Most mobile phone consumers go on holiday abroad. They have all the experience of bad surprise at the ensuing monthly bill. They are outraged at the exceptional high costs for their international calls, made and received.

An European price regulation would be an obstacle to free competition and innovation?

Nor Ms. Hodge, neither the lobbyists, will be able to reason that away. Even, if the side of the professional international callers has been weakened by granting preferential tariffs for roaming to big companies. That argument is pure demagogy.

It is very sound for the companies and for the economy in general, if extra profits resulting from pre-common market anomalies, are regulated away. The EU position is more in line with free market thinking than that of the mobile phone providers and of the British Government.

An alternative for sound companies: Open the national networks to everyone!
I do not understand the opposition of big European transnational players like the French Orange, the German Telekom (T-Mobile), the British Vodafone and -even- the smaller Dutch KPN with its dedicated networks in Germany, Belgium and some central European countries. They could deploy in a free European market, that would be no more falsified by national allocations. They could demand access to national markets that are now closed to them, in order to offer European-wide competing tariffs and get, in that way, millions of new clients, who would provide them the means for innovation. In stead of rear-guard lobbying, they would do better to justify their claim on a supplement to the EU regulation, allowing any European provider to sell his subscriptions in every EU country.

They would quickly take an advance on their competitors like the Luxembourg providers, who, profiting from the national allocation, operate from an area not bigger than a post stamp, mainly in order to catch the calls of transiting European citizens in their networks and being able to charge them extra roaming tariffs!

You see, all this is why so-called free markets need reasonable regulators. For their own well-being!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Afghanistan: Italy and Spain agree to abstain

The US, and the UK via NATO, are urging European countries to join the hopeless anti-guerrilla struggle in (Southern) Afghanistan. Two relatively big European powers, Italy and Spain, decided recently not to join in. Certainly one of the reasons, why the Blair Government, days after their announcement of the Iraq troop reduction, felt obliged to increase their number of military in Afghanistan.

In the European press, remarkably few attention has been paid to the Latin 'defection'. If any, there was some muttering about circumstantial causes:
Such is not our view.
Both governments witness responsibility, diplomatic finesse and realistic assessment.
The Italians, for instance, are not afraid to take the lead in the UN Southern Lebanon dissuasion force. They rightly think, that that investment has a real impact upon a vital interest for Europe and that it has some chances to succeed. Spain, the home country of EU foreign Commissioner Solana, apparently has adopted a more EU-oriented international security policy, which is not made into an issue by its ferociously antisocialist opposition.

In the actual Afghanistan, the conditions are not open to a productive intervention by European states. What started as a popular uprising against a foreign oppressor, is being taken over by Pakistan-based 'Talibans'. That struggle cannot be won, either by terror (the American-British-Australian way), nor by appeasing (the Dutch way in Uruzgan).

The British and Dutch governments should sit down and listen to their European partners. A common European security policy is more needed than ever.
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