Les risques du métier

september 16, 2008

Europese frustratie

Meglena Kuneva, EU Commissioner

Meglena Kuneva, EU Commissioner

Dit weekend weer met de feiten op de neus gedrukt: Europese Zaken verslaggevers hebben doorgaans geen flauw benul van wat er écht gaande is in de EU. Ze hollen achter de feiten aan en gaan pas over iets berichten wanneer er een officiële persconferentie aan voorafgegaan is. In sommige gevallen pakken ze gewoon letterlijk persberichten over van politieke fracties in het parlement (ja zélfs De Standaard heeft zich hier al aan bezondigd).

Wat met pro-actief zoekwerk? En kritisch nieuwe richtlijnen analyseren? Of gewoonweg al kritisch zijn t.o.v. de eigen regering? Men vergeet iets te gemakkelijk dat de EU 60-80% (niemand kent exacte getal) van onze wetgeving bepaalt. Is het dan ook niet schandalig dat redacties er amper aandacht aan besteden?

Neem nu het nieuws dit weekend dat EU Commissaris Meglena Kuneva België op de vingers tikt voor de sperperiode in de solden en het verbieden van koppelverkoop (wat bij ons vooral zeer dure gsm’s én gsm-abonnementen oplevert).

Minister van Ondernemen en Vereenvoudigen (what’s in a title) Quickie Van Quickenborne liet zich met een beteuterd gezicht de les lezen door de Roemeense dame. Let op: laat u vooral niet misleiden door die pruillip. Sinds Q in januari betrapt werd op het illegaal kraken van zijn Amerikaanse Iphone heeft hij de strijd aangeboden met de koppelverkoop. Het was toen al opvallend hoe licht hij over die aanval toen ging. Hij wist wel degelijk dat hij de Europese wetgeving aan zijn kant had.

Wat ik dan nog veel vreemder vind, is dat ik anderhalf jaar geleden al (februari 2007) een zeer kritisch artikel over deze maatregelen geschreven had maar dat het in de Belgische pers verdacht kalm bleef. En nu na een mooie persvoorstelling (incluus met drank en hapjes waarschijnlijk) schieten ze plots weer in actie.

Alleszins, Quickie zal met een stevige grijns terug naar zijn bureau gekeerd zijn, goed wetend dat hij de socialistische fractie net een goeie peer gestoofd heeft. Want als ik mag afgaan op de pinnige reacties die ik uit die hoek kreeg na mijn artikel, zullen ze daar niet tevreden zijn met zijn klein toneeltje.

Voor wie mijn artikel eens wil lezen (European Voice – Belgium takes the European law into its own hands, writes Lien De Leenheer) kan onderstaande pdf downloaden.

European Voice – Belgium takes the European law into its own hands

De PDF in sublieme kwaliteit is ook verkrijgbaar via mij😉

december 14, 2007

Interview with Michel Daerden a few days before the federal elections of 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lien @ 1:27

I know it was not the best quality, but at least it shows that trouble was on the way:)

Part 1

Part 2

The famous “bye bye Belgium” documentary

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lien @ 12:37
Tags:

I quote my previous post

Frictions between the both sides of the countries became clear after the airing of “La Flandre Indépendante” (Independent Flanders) of the Wallonian national broadcast RTBF in December 2006. In the middle of a popular TV-program, a special news edition was broadcasted. “Good evening, tonight in a special reunion of the Flemish parliament, Flanders has declared itself unilaterally independent. The king has fled the country, citizens cannot cross the borders anymore.” What followed was an hour of fake interviews and reports of happy people in Flanders and sad people in Wallonia.Panic fell over the south of Belgium. Some emptied their saving accounts, others booked tickets out of the country. Elderly people called to their grandchildren in Flanders crying that they would never see them again. In Flanders no one was aware of what was going on on the other side of the country. Afterwards people in Flanders thought it was funny. How could the Wallonians be so naïve to think that Flanders would really declare its independence and in such a way? If it would happen one day it would be with clear negotiations. What the Flemish did not digest well was the way they were portrayed by the French-speaking journalists – as neo-Nazi, extremists, and arrogant materialists without a decent culture. Reminding them the ‘good old times’ where the South looked down on them. Prime minister Guy Verhofstadt stated, “This was a sick joke.”

The original documentary, a year ago (FR/NL)


A year later: the reactions (FR/NL)

Panel discussion between Flemish and Wallonian journalists on “Bye bye Belgium” (NL)

The discussion on the role of the media (English)


december 5, 2007

Belgium, a country in crisis

The land of compromises can no longer find a consensus

By Lien De Leenheer

The tenth of December will mark the grim six-month anniversary of no government in Belgium. According to some, the country is on the verge of separation. The Belgians meanwhile stay relaxed, many urge the politicians to cut to the chase and bury their egos. At least there is still chocolate and beer to forget all their worries.

Lately Belgium has been making the headlines with news such as ‘Belgium on the verge of a civil war’, ‘language groups hate each other’ and ‘the richest region, Flanders, is on the verge of declaring its independence’. None of this is true, but in order to understand the real dynamics of what is going on, a small history lesson is needed.

A country of governments

Belgium was established in 1830, fifteen yeats after the battle of Waterloo, as a buffer state in between the sworn enemies France and Germany. Great Britain was keen on a status quo in the lowlands of Europe. Up to then Belgium had been part of France, the Netherlands, French Burgundy, Spain and Austria.

Although the Kingdom of Belgium covers only 33000 km2, it houses 10,2 million people, making it one the most densely populated countries in the world. Belgium has 3 official languages: Dutch, French and German. 60% speak Dutch, French is spoken by 39% and only a small minority speaks German.

Since 1993 the Belgian federal state has been made up of several regional powers based on language groups. The Flemish government lies in the North for the Dutch-speaking community, the French speaking Wallonia is in the South. The Brussels bi-lingual community lies at the heart of the country and a government for the German-speaking community resides in the East. All of the communities are ruled by minister-presidents. The federal government covers national matters such as defence, foreign politics and social security. The regional levels are in charge of everything related to language-use – education, culture, media, housing, services for children and the elderly. The constitution also prevents that one language group can propose new legislation that could harm other language groups. This is called the ‘alarm bell procedure’.

The council of ministers also consists of a good balance between all language groups, with someone from every province of the country. The parliament is also divided into fixed seats for language groups, in order to avoid that one of the regions would get too much voting power. Even in the European Parliament the German minority, worth only 70.000 inhabitants, has a seat next to the elected MEPs from Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia.

Language groups

The cultural connotation of language use has always been a sensitive issue in the flat country of singer Jacques Brel. French was spoken until the 1970’s by the upper classes. In order to be a civil servant, a teacher, a doctor or a lawyer you had to speak the language of Voltaire. Dutch, similar to German, represented the voice of the common people and the rebellious. Wallonia had been for centuries the richest part of the country, with its steel factories and coalmines, looking down on the ‘commons’ from Flanders.

But when the economy changed in the 1960’s and Flanders became the richest region thanks to its services economy and the presence of three major seaports, a cultural revolution resulted. Flemish universities and schools where forced to teach in Dutch and civil servants had to be bilingual. The Flemish people found their culture to be respected again. Little by little they became one of the richest regions in the whole of Europe with today an unemployment rate of only 4,7%. Wallonia has 10,8% unemployment. Brussels has 17,8% even though it is the strongest economical area. This is because the majority of those working in Brussels come from outside of the city, mainly from Flanders, as most of the Flemish manage both Dutch and French very well.

Since the 1970’s Flanders has been asking for gradual changes to state structures, with transfers to regional institutions. The last step was in 1993 with the creation of the regional governments. But now Flanders wants to go even further – social security and some taxes should move to the regional level too. Yves Leterme states, “it is the only way we can provide the Belgians the best suitable solution for their problems based on the economical and social reality.” On the Wallonian side the public thinks otherwise. “They want to become independent and get rid of the poor part of the country,” is the general belief. Many fear that a shift of the social security system to the regional entities will result in high medical costs, to the extend that some will not be able anymore to pay the doctor.


Together but not the same

Culture is language related. Do not try to ask a Wallonian what he thinks of Flemish news anchor Goedele Wachters or popgroup Clouseau. Chances are also high that a Flemish does not know news anchor Nathalie Maleux or singer Christophe Willem. But they will be able to give you lists of VIPs from France or The Netherlands.

Voting habits are also totally different between the different language groups. Former Flemish prime minister Guy Verhofstadt was immensely popular in Wallonia prior to the federal elections. “He did a good job, if it were up to me he can stay,” Rosie Malingraux told me in June in Wallonian capital Namur. Who did she not want as prime minister? “Yves Leterme, I simply hate that guy, the way this Flemish minister-president thinks about the Wallonians disgusts me. And what is even worse: he is a Wallonian himself!”

If you asked the same thing on the other side of the language border you would hear that Guy Verhofstadt was not able to deliver what he promised and that Yves Leterme, until then ruler of the Flemish region, would do a much better job.

The role of the media

How is this possible? The media have a huge influence on public opinion. It does not help that lots of Flemish and Wallonian politicians do not cross the language borders when it comes to pre-election debates, after all they will receive their votes from the people from their own community. Some suggest the establishing of a federal electoral district as a solution.

Frictions between the both sides of the countries became clear after the airing of “Bye bye Belgium” of the Wallonian national broadcast RTBF in December 2006. In the middle of a popular TV-program, a special news edition was broadcasted. “Good evening, tonight in a special reunion of the Flemish parliament, Flanders has declared itself unilaterally independent. The king has fled the country, citizens cannot cross the borders anymore.” What followed was an hour of fake interviews and reports of happy people in Flanders and sad people in Wallonia.Panic fell over the south of Belgium. Some emptied their saving accounts, others booked tickets out of the country. Elderly people called to their grandchildren in Flanders crying that they would never see them again. In Flanders no one was aware of what was going on on the other side of the country. Afterwards people in Flanders thought it was funny. How could the Wallonians be so naïve to think that Flanders would really declare its independence and in such a way? If it would happen one day it would be with clear negotiations. What the Flemish did not digest well was the way they were portrayed by the French-speaking journalists – as neo-Nazi, extremists, and arrogant materialists without a decent culture. Reminding them the ‘good old times’ where the South looked down on them. Prime minister Guy Verhofstadt stated, “This was a sick joke.”

In the months following the broadcast the language groups became more and more antagonised. The Flemish were irritated by the way they were portrayed on a daily basis by the Wallonian press. Flemish like to think of themselves as being really relaxed, hardworking, social people with a Europe minded mentality, open to all languages and cultures. After all, most of the people in Flanders speak at least three foreign languages fluently, so the international news reports stating that Flemish do not speak French, are far from the truth. They are based on the political situation in some of the surrounding cities of Brussels, where lots of French-speaking people moved to in search for a wealthier life, but did not want to learn Flemish. The state offered them a service by granting them ‘facilities’ f.e. every official document can be offered in French to them. Now recently, after the communal elections, several of those city councils have a majority of French-speaking representatives who want to address the city council in their native language, which is against the language legislations.

The media also had a strong influence on voting behaviour in June. In Wallonia the violet coalition was still considered a winner, although questions remained if the socialists were going to loose big time after several fraud scandals. In Flanders the media were bashing the violet coalition of liberal Guy Verhofstadt and his ‘fraudulent’ socialists partners, introducing Yves Leterme as “prime minister to be”.

It was also obvious that all parties from the north agreed to demand more power for the regional governments, backed up by the public opinion after the recent fraud scandals in Wallonia. In the South however a united “French” front was created, agreeing to say “NO” to every attempt of the Flemish to change the structure of the state.

The formation of a new government

On the tenth of June the public voted. Yves Leterme got the largest amount of personal votes in Flanders, leaving no other option than asking him to form a new government. The natural partners would have been the socialists but they got a severe blow having one of their lowest results in history. An olive coalition was out of the question. The only other possible majority was a coalition of Christian democrats and liberals.

Since June six parties have been negotiating for the formation of a government. As national political groups do not exist anymore on a federal level, political partners find allies in their natural partners on the other side of the language border to form a political family.

For the Christian-democrats the CD&V and N-VA on the Flemish side and CDh for the Walloons sit together. They have been in opposition on a federal level since 1999. Their collaboration is characterised by distrust, as CDh is not keen on prime minister-to-be Yves Leterme (CD&V). He stated last summer in French Libération that “he can only assume that either the Wallonians do not want to learn French or that they are not intellectually capable to do so.” Nationalist NVA, cartel partner of CD&V, has an openly separatist program, and is not keen on working together with CDh, who is saying “no” to every attempt to have a reform of the state. The liberals (Open VLD in Flanders and MR+FDF in Wallonia) seem to be able to agree on much more, trying to find a way out of the status quo.

And what now?

The last six months have been characterised by ‘negotiations to sit together to negotiate’. Up to now no agreements were found. The Flemish parties only want to form a government if state reforms are possible; the Wallonians keep on saying “non!” They have one solution. Expand the borders of Brussels, where a majority speaks French, so the capital will reach to the borders of Wallonia, giving the Wallons the right to claim Brussels if the country falls apart. A non-negotionable proposition for the north.

Last Friday Yves Leterme went to the King to put down his role as formation leader. The former Prime Minister got a mandate to rule a government of “current affairs” with limited powers. Meanwhile he is looking for new solutions out of this crisis. It is no secret that he would like to continue with his former coalition partners. Recent polls show that sixty percent of the Belgian population would love to have him back as prime minister. Only the future will tell if Guy Verhofstadt, who dreamed of retiring, will be succeeding himself as prime minister.

For those wondering: I am Belgian, living in Flanders, child of a Flemish father and a Wallonian mother. So I am aware of both sides of the discussion😉

To know more details on Belgium please visit the website of the Belgian Federal government.

Picture: Anthony Albers

november 24, 2007

Action Carbon – Pollution has its price

by Lien De Leenheer

beautiful nature

A remarkable stand at the entrance of the European Development Days – a tower of fluorescent light, green and red. Some thought it was the information stand of the EU development days, others thought it was an XL sound meter. In reality, it was a huge carbon dioxide meter. The red bars showed the amount of CO2 the EU development days were producing – just think about everyone flying in from all-over the world. The green part showed how much people were ‘paying back’. A trip from Brussels? 15 euro please. A trip from Paris? 12 euro please.

“The red part was put at 1000 tons, I think the real emission amount is much higher, but we decided to have a reachable target”, says Ruy Korscha Anaya de la Rosa of Action Carbone. This French NPO started with the beautiful pictures of Yann Arthus Bertrand, who travelled the world with his helicopter to capture our majestic nature in an attempt to push us to take care of the world around us and protect the biodiversity. “But you are polluting the world too with your helicopter” was an often heard critique. Yann Arthus Bertrand agreed. He could not stop flying because it was essential for his pictures but he could calculate how much he was polluting and pay back by supporting a project in Cambodia. Others wanted to follow his idea and that is how Goodplanet.org was founded, and Action Carbone is the offset website of the organisation. Offset is the term often used when you want to compensate your emissions. With the funds from “offset” development projects were funded, often investments in renewable energies such as solar energy, biomass, biogas and wind energy. Most of the projects are done abroad in developing countries.

Why not over here in the developed countries? “First of all the cost for a project is much lower in developing countries because they do not need the same amount of energy as the developed countries need, so with less budget we can achieve much more.”

But could the developed countries not benefit more from renewable energies, in order to put a hold to enormous pollution? “Yes, that is why we are urgently looking for domestic projects. The problem is that it is hard to convince companies to invest in local projects, it is marketing wise much more attractive if you can show off with a project in Africa for example.”

Is it not enough to plant a tree? “It is not enough. Trees are only good for those countries where biomass is a way of surviving, 96% of their energy needs are met as such. They need the forest, the fauna and flora, it fertilities the sole, trees retain water and protect animals. That is why deforestation is such a drama. But the problem with trees is that it is not a permanent carbon dioxide retainer. Once the tree dies or there is a wood fire, all the carbon dioxide goes back into the atmosphere. So we need a balance.”

But why do we pay 15 euro to fly from Brussels? “I’ll be honest with you that price is totally arbitrary, based on how we work. 15 percent of the 15 euro you pay (2,25 euro) goes to daily costs such as wages, the rest of 12,75 euro goes to a project. There is a lot of speculation going on in the market of offset and some people are getting nasty rich from it. The world is fucked up (sigh). Luckily there are still some good companies, some of them are working together with airline companies, offering the travellers to pay their offset right away while booking the trip.”

After three days of European Development Days the attending polluters, all of them strongly involved in development organisations and environmental organisations, paid only half of the 1000 ton back.

www.goodplanet.org

www.actioncarbone.org


What are CO2 equivalents and what is GWP?

Often emissions are expressed in CO2 equivalents, abbreviated CO2-eq. This allows us to compare the influence of several emission gasses on global warming. It is based on the “Global Warming Potential’ (GWP), the level in which a gas is contributing to global warming. For example: Methane has a GWP of 21 CO2-eqen. This means that 1 kilo of methane is contributing over a period of 100 year 21 times more than 1 kilo CO2 to global warming, and is more harmful. Consequently the offset prices for methane are higher.

European Development Days: We are suffering because of you”

Filed under: Europa,Europe,Journalism — Lien @ 8:50
Tags: , , , ,

How political strategy from the North annoys the South

by Lien De Leenheer

Knokke

Deep into Africa a man sees a girl next to a lake. She is throwing little fish into the water. Around her are standing hundreds of buckets full of these fish. The man stops and asks: “What are you doing?” She looks up, surprised, and tells him she wants to save them. He frowns, “But you will never manage to save them all.” “Thank you sir for your answer”, she answers. She is clearly irritated and continues her activity. From her mouth she mumbles: “This one will make it, this one will make it, and this one will make it.”

With this story Nigerian Ndidi Nnoli Fdozien of Growing Businesses Foundation (GBF) expresses the distinct difference between the way the North and the South look at climate change and its influence on developing countries. Where in the North the emphasis is on “how to exhaust less carbon dioxide”, the South addresses the international community with an emotional message: “People are dying in Africa on a daily basis. If you do not take your responsibility as industrialized countries, more and more people will die. We who contribute the less to global warming are forced to deal with the biggest consequences.”

Managing Director at Deloitte and former Minister of Privatisation of Niger, Mahamadou Sako: “The world is as round as a football. We all live on this football, climate change does not need a visa, it travels freely. When we play with the football it will deflate anyway, but we can give it air again. But if we ignore the ball while he is lying in the corner it will shrink totally.”

A common heard complaint is that Europe and the rest of the industrialised countries are chatting too much about possible strategies but in the end actions are not taken. Kofi Annan, former UN Secratry-General: “The best promises are the promises that are kept.” Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), spoke very frankly at the European Development Days: “Yes, the North is doing efforts. But, if you look at the kind of funds they invest in, you know that their priority is reducing greenhouse gas emissions quotas per capita, often by buying clean air abroad, and only a small percentage of their budget goes towards investment in adaptation incentives and innovative technologies.”

Marc Buys, advisor-general of the ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belgium, puts it even more bluntly: “It is all very nice that European countries are showing off their willingness to give 0.7% of their GDP to development. But the truth is that this percentage is based on information from the sixties. Back then the studies showed that 1% of the GDP of the wealthiest countries could help the development of the developing countries. The consensus was that 30% of the investment had to come from private sources thus the other 70% would be provided by the governments. We are now 2007 and only from 2012 on some of the countries will spend 0.70% of their GDP on development. Even though that percentage is not up to date anymore and is not taking into account new emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil.”

In regard to these new developed countries a lot of worries are expressed. Théodore Skylakakis, Secretary General for Development of the Ministery of Foreign Affairs of Greece: “It is vital that the first decisions in the development path of these economies are good ones. We have to prevent the use of carbon intensive buildings, roads and other infrastructure. This can only be done with incentives and a clear political message.”

juni 23, 2007

Brussels, the city of suits

Filed under: Europa,Europe,Journalism — Lien @ 9:08

 

Written for the European Youth Media Days‘ guide.

Brussels, the city of suits

 

Morning traffic jam
A few years ago I was walking through Brussels with Lithuanian exchange students. They had just arrived from Brussels airport and were devouring the city with their eyes. Smilté, a vivid outgoing girl with a very curious temperament, asked me surprised: “Are all people in Belgium walking around in suits all the time?”

Looking around I realised the first time Brussels was filled with men in suits and picture perfect ladies. Each day thousands of them travel to Brussels to work in one of the local, regional, national or international institutions and firms. Only 1 million people actually live in Brussels. Finding a home in Brussels is challenging: high real estate prices for small living space. For companies the situation is even worse: multinationals fight with the international institutions over the few office space available. There is only one way to get: paying the demanded excessive rents.

Everyone wants to be in Brussels

To explain the massive presence of all the international and national institutions in Brussels there is only one rule to remember: along with powerful institutions come the powerful people and the money.

Let’s start with the Belgian institutions. Belgium is a federal country, with a complicated structure that is hard to explain in a few lines. Basically this means that each of the three language groups in the country (Dutch speaking, French speaking and German speaking) has its own government and parliament. Which means Belgium has seven different governments of which five have their own parliament. The federal government, the Flemish government and the Brussels Capital government all have their institutions and supporting services in Brussels. On top of this, all eleven Belgian political parties have their headquarters in Brussels. Luckily the Wallonian institutions and the German speaking community decided to stay away from Brussels and planted heir institutions in the French speaking part of the country, leaving space for other those who wanting an acre of highly sought after office space.

As Brussels is hometown of the European Union and its institutions (European Commission, European Parliament, the Council, the Committee of Regions, the European Bank, etc.) the city is attractive to other institutions and powerful companies. So along with the 18.000 people who are already working for the EU right now, come the 15.000 lobbyists.
Every self-respecting multinational has an office in Brussels, ça fait chic. 5000 lobbyists have an accreditation to freely move around in the European Parliament, whereas there are only 750 members of Parliament. So there are 7 lobbyists for one MEP. Seventy percent of the lobbyists work for an international firm, 20% are society-related organisations such as NGO’s and 10% of them defend the interests of the member states. Recently the Commission proposed to force lobbyists to publish the source of their funds.

But not only firms want to be in the centre of Europe: the headquarters of the NATO are situated in the outskirts of the city, the United Nations have a department in Brussels, the World Bank has an office in the capital of Belgium and 190 embassies wave their flags in Brussels.

So next time you see a suited man or woman walking in Brussels, realise you are walking on powerful soil.

Interview with Jaume Duch Guillot, spokesman European Parliament

Filed under: Europa,Europe,Journalism — Lien @ 8:49

Behind the scenes: European Parliament spokesperson Jaume Duch Guillot, director for media

“The media like drama, the EU cannot deliver it”

Jaume Duch Guillot

On the second floor of the press service building, in the shadow of the European Parliament (EP), a charming 45-year old Spaniard is preparing his workday. Jaume Duch Guillot, spokesperson of the EP and head of media starts his day by reading all the résumés his colleagues wrote: “Those résumés contain both news from the media and internal news. A good spokesperson is always informed of what is really going on in the parliament. Conducting a press office is similar to conducting an orchestra. When you are on stage, you have to project a single image of the European Parliament, instead of different sounds from the different political groups.”

“The real spokespeople of a parliament are the members of parliament. But in a supranational parliament like the European Union, with difficult proceedings, lots of technicalities and various languages, it is useful for journalists to have someone who can explain to them how the institution works.” The EP spokesperson is bound to rules. He can only proclaim institutional messages such as which debates are scheduled or what kind of majority is needed. Jaume Duch Guillot: “Sometimes it is difficult to define what is political and what is institutional. Together with Katrin Ruhrmann, spokesperson of the president, we have to look for the right balance.”

“If the EU would be more political and less about

policies, it would be easier to communicate”

In the last three years, the press service has evolved into a proactive organisation: “We try to communicate with the citizens. On the one hand we have the internet and on the other hand there are the journalists. I’m convinced this will be our principal mean to communicate to the Europeans.”

The spokesperson is also pleased with the high standard of European affairs journalists: “It is clearly specialised work. However, it is almost impossible for journalists who are not full-time covering the EU to immediately know how the institutions work and what the specifications of a certain dossiers are. I’m convinced it takes up to six months to really understand the European machine.” Could this be the reason why so few EU topics get in the media? “Compared to what happens on the national political level of member states, on a daily basis there is more relevant news coming from the European Union. And yet there may be only one person covering European affairs for a television broadcast or a newspaper, and, at the end of the day, only a small percentage of the news actually reaches the public. The explanation for this is quite simple. The media prefer drama and the soft politics of Brussels is not delivering it. Political drama is found on the national level. I am convinced that if the EU were more political and less about policies, it would be easier to communicate. Now that the parliament is acquiring more power and has more influence on the decision-making, the press service is more proactive and we see that the press interest is much stronger than it was five or ten years ago.”

Does it disturb him that journalists have more attention for the Commission’s briefings? “Some journalists have indeed more attention for their briefings than those of the Parliament. To me this is an old-fashioned way of reporting. There used to be a time when a journalist could stay a whole day at the Commission and be very well informed on the daily topics. But this is not longer the case. Of course, the Wednesday briefing in the Commission is a key briefing for the media. However, what is more disturbing is that some journalists still think that news is only produced in the Commission at the beginning and in the Council at the end. And they forget that before the Commission makes a proposal, and at the end before the Council decides, the European Parliament co-decides as well. Too often we see in the media: “the European Council has decided,” when it should be: “has co-decided with the parliament.” But let’s look at the bright side: The union is evolving on a daily basis and so are the journalists.”

“On a daily basis, there is more EU news than national news”

At 10:30, Jaume Duch Guillot heads off to the preparatory meeting for a pre-session briefing held the week before the plenary sitting of the members of the European Parliament. Together with his young team, he goes over the plenary agenda. They decide whether a topic needs media attention or not. A lot of humour is woven into their conversations. Later on in the day, Federico De Girolamo, in charge of constitutional affairs, tells me the best part of his job is the team: “We have been working there for three years now and no-one even thinks of leaving. And of course I have the best boss (laugh).” Although Jaume Duch Guillot speaks six languages, the meeting is held in French, one of the three official work languages of the Union, as well as English and German: “French used to be the diplomatic language. All of us are confronted with English on a daily basis, so speaking French is a way of keeping the tradition alive.”

At 11:00, he heads to the Parliament press room for the briefing. After his run-through of the important topics, Marjory van den Broeke speaks as head of the Press Unit. Alongside them are sitting the spokespeople of the political groups who each get their moment to express the points of view of their members. Back at the office, Jaume Duch Guillot points to the growing pile of documents he has to read and sign: “Within a few hours, that pile will be up to half a metre high.” Most of the documents are purely administrative: “I am not only a spokesperson, but also the manager of five different services. That is one of the hardest parts – combining both aspects of my job. Later in the day, I have a purely administrative meeting, followed by an interview with three Spanish journalists in regard to the upcoming plenary sitting. But I love my job. I don’t sleep a lot, but luckily I don’t need much sleep (laugh).”

Lien De Leenheer

Interview for the guide book of the European Youth Media Days.

Europese top: De zaal der zombies

Filed under: Europa,Europe,Journalism — Lien @ 2:42

Europese top – vrijdag 22 Juni 2007 – zaterdag 23 juni 2007 (4u40)

Het is een tijdje geleden dat ik op deze blog mijn gedachten nog met “de wereld” gedeeld heb. Daar waren verschillende redenen voor, maar samengevat komt het erop neer dat ik het gewoon te druk heb gehad.  

Waar heb ik dan uitgehangen de laatse maanden? Ik heb meegewerkt aan het opstarten van het Wobbing Europe project van het Fonds Pascal Decroos. Hiermee wil FDP journalisten aanmoedigen om openbaarheidswetgeving te “gebruiken” om aan officiële documenten te komen en op die manier een diepgravende journalistiek te doen. Meer weten? http://www.wobsite.be/ 

Daarna heb ik een kleine toer door Europa gedaan voor een artikel: Parijs, Kosovo, Albanië voor een artikel (dat hopelijk heel snel gepubliceerd wordt).  http://www.flickr.com/photos/lieneuh voor het fotomateriaal.

Verder maak ik deel uit van een team van 45 organisatoren die allen maar één doel hebben, een fantastisch project laten slagen: European Youth Media Days. Een samenwerking tussen European Youth Press en het Europees Parlement. Tweehonderd zeventig jonge journalisten (20-28) uit alle hoeken van de EU komen van 27 tot en met 20 juni samen in het parlement om hun originele projecten om aan EU verslaggeving te doen voor te stellen en échte Europese media, zonder nationale reflexen, te creëren.  Meer weten? www.youthmediadays.euwww.cafebabel.com , www.europocket.tv , http://www.euradionantes.eu, http://www.politikfabrik.de, http://www.indigomag.eu

Maar nu zit ik dus op de Europese Top in Brussel. Zaterdagmorgen 4u30, een perszaal vol slapende mensen in de meest oncomfortable houdingen, en nog steeds geen nieuws over hoe de onderhandelingen verlopen zijn. Achter mij hoor ik twee mensen van staatsveiligheid met elkaar praten. Blijkbaar ligt het volledige staatsveiligheidsteam van de Duitsers te slapen. Het is nu maar te hopen dat de Poolse broertjes Kaczynski Merkel niet een kopje kleiner maken.

De verschillende berichten die de afgelopen uren mondjesmaat binnensijpelden (doorgaans via mensen van Coreper die eventjes de stand van zaken kwamen melden) vervulden ons jonge all-European team soms met complete afschuuw. Zoals het bericht dat de grondwet zou uitgesteld worden tot 2017.  We konden dan weer wel smakelijk lachen met de diplomatieke zet van Duitsland om Polen uit de intergouvermentele conferentie te houden. Enfin het is nu gewoon afwachten wat er uit de bus zal komen. Ondertussen heb ik samen met Max genesteld in de zalige zachte zetels van de perszaal van de Raad, waar we ondertussen al enkele keren in slaap gedommeld zijn.

Maar er is nu blijkbaar goed nieuws (4u40). De perszaal begint zich te vullen omdat AFP en Reuters hebben gemeld dat er een compromis uit de bus is gekomen. Alleszins, het zal de eerste keer zijn dat ik straks in levende lijve Barroso en Merkel zal zien, en laten we hopen dat ze goed nieuws brengen.

februari 23, 2007

Het resultaat van het “Consumption”-stuk

Filed under: Europa,Europe,Journalism — Lien @ 2:44

Gisteren is mijn tweede artikel gepubliceerd. Dit maal nog groter dan ervoor😀 Een volledige pagina! Het artikel gaat over de manier waarop Belgie -sorry geen trema’s hier!- de Europese Richtlijnen met betrekking tot consumentenbeschermingswetgeving (wat een woord) omzet. Het schrijven van dit stuk was geen sinecure omdat ik geen jurist ben. Heb dus  zelf de Belgische wetgeving moeten nalezen, alle Europese richtlijnen moeten nalezen en vooral met heel veel specialisten moeten praten (die elk dan weer iets anders zeggen). Dat vond ik op zich ook het moeilijkste: hoe kan ik nu als non-juriste weten wie gelijk heeft? het is een kwestie van aanvoelen wie er het meest ervaring heeft met de materie, wie wordt er door collega’s gezien als een authoriteit, wie heeft wat gepubliceerd, etc.

 Alleszins: hier is het resultaat

Belgium takes the European law into its own hands

By Lien De Leenheer

Belgium provides an example on the European Commission’s doorstep of how the application of consumer protection law can inhibit the single market.

The level of consumer protection in Belgium is often more protective – and more restrictive – than the standards laid down in European directives. The Belgian government says the purpose is to protect the Belgian consumer. Critics say that the government is protecting its market against cross-border commerce.
Belgium has a long history of elaborate consumer protection law, which dates back to 1930s. The economic depression prompted the government to introduce legislation intended to protect small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the poor. There were laws on cut-price selling, doorstep selling and price labelling. The paternalistic attitude towards consumers has persisted. The trade practices act of 1971, which is still in force, contained trade regulations and consumer protection regulations. The requirements of the various EU directives were added to this act. Germany, by contrast, took a different approach and rewrote its entire consumer protection legislation in 2002.
The transposition of the directive on unfair commercial practices into Belgian law is currently in hand. Belgian European law specialist Jules Stuyck argues that it is not being converted correctly. He predicts challenges at the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
A close look at the draft of the national legislation suggests that Belgium is yet again applying the directive in a different way from its EU neighbours. The Belgium habit is to add extra restrictions and often not to take the option of exemptions. For example, Belgium decided to apply the directive on the indication of unit prices for services as well as for goods, although member states were permitted to exempt services from the scope of the national legislation. Specialists are still arguing over whether services and sales promotions should be subject to this directive.
Belgium outlaws certain practices that would be permitted elsewhere in the EU. For example, telecoms companies cannot package a free phone along with a one-year phone line rental. Airline companies which promote ‘free trips’ but omit to mention the extra taxes, break the law on the indication of prices. Sales promotion legislation bans shops from offering cut-price goods six weeks prior to the official sales periods. Distance contracts are also forbidden.
Charles Gheur of the Federation of Enterprises in Belgium says: “We are convinced these measures disable us in favour of our neighbouring countries. The government is ignoring the objections expressed by the Belgian Council of State, which is in favour of a more European-oriented renewed law. Moreover the current draft does not protect us enough against dishonest custumers.”
No one will admit that some of the legislation is created to protect the Belgian market but critics suspect this to be the case. In order to protect SMEs against commercial giants, the labelling rules are more restrictive in Belgium and sale at a loss is prohibited, similar to the situation in France. But Belgium goes even further, adding a ban on exceptionally low profit margins.
The European Commission’s proposals for a directive on credit agreements are anxiously awaited in Belgium, which, unlike the UK, has not much experience with consumer credit. Aside from credit cards and car loans, Belgians are not accustomed to buying on credit. In 1987 Belgium created the Central Individual Credit Register (CICR) run by the National Bank of Belgium to control the Belgian debt rate. This database contains all solvency information on Belgian citizens.
Credit suppliers are obliged to check the database before agreeing on a loan. If their client is not solvent, the credit is denied. If the Commission’s proposal on consumer credit passes and maximum harmonisation is applied, the obligatory consultation of the database could not be imposed anymore on financial institutions. Hugues Thibaut of the Belgian Consumers Association (BSA) argues: “Mainly credit suppliers with high rates will benefit from this, as they will attract the rejected clients from more serious suppliers, who will continue to use the CICR. There is a risk more people are sent into poverty. The argument saying credit is beneficial for the economy doesn’t outweigh the risk on having an overly indebted population. Belgium has up till now a healthy debt rate and it should stay like this.”
Both the BSA and the federal ministry of consumer affairs defend the extensive legislation on consumer protection. For them, consumers are a weak group in need of extra protection.
© Copyright 2007 The Economist Newspaper Limited. All rights reserved.

Mijn stuk over de Oostenrijkse studenten is gesneuveld voor een meer “actueel stuk”, het wordt behouden voor eventueel een dossier over onderwijs.  Mijn ander stuk over de vervanging van Camiel Eurlings (vroeger MEP, nu gloednieuw Nederlands Minister van Verkeer) wordt naar de volgende editie verplaatst EN het wordt uitgebreider. Ik heb de afgelopen week een hele hoop medewerkers van Eurlings aan de lijn gehad om te horen wie hem ging vervangen. Zijn opvolger Joop Post is wat men eufimistisch “een kleurijk figuur” noemt. De moeite waard dus om wat nader te onderzoeken ;) Toen ik Post thuis in Nederland probeerde te bereiken kreeg ik zijn vrouw aan de lijn. Ik wou vissen of ze al wist in welke commissies haar man graag zou zetelen: “Nou, je moet weten dat ik niet echt een politiek beest ben,  ik heb er dus geen idee van.” Ik had een beetje medelijden met zijn vrouw. Als ik zijn CV bekijk (is er eigenlijk een branche waar hij NIET in zit?) en nu dat Post europarlementslid is vraag ik me af of ze hem uberhaupt veel ziet of hoort.

Eergisteren naar de persconferentie van de Commissie gaan luisteren/kijken. De Commissie kondigde net de monsterboete voor de liftkartels aan. Een Frans journalist vroeg of de Commissie zelf slachtoffer van dit kartel was geworden (een vraag die bij mij ook spontaan opkwam, als je in de Berlayemont rondloopt begrijp je onmiddellijk waarom). Geeft de woordvoerder schoorvoetend toe dat dat inderdaad het geval was. De journalist die bloed geroken had ging verder: “En toen de Commissie de offertes van die bedrijven gezien had, is hen dan opgevallen dat er sprake was van kartelvorming?” Een micro-seconde zag je een blik van “Verdorie, we gaan hier af als een gieter.” Daarna kwam het antwoord: “Neen, we hebben het niet beseft.” Un coup de grace noemen ze dat.

Deze middag ga ik naar de eerste persconferentie van Roemeens commissaris Leonard Orban voor Meertaligheid. Hij mag dan zijn eerste kindje voorstellen aan de Europese pers.

Verder blijf ik werken aan drie stukken over evoluties in de Gezondheidszorg in de EU. Erg boeiende materie eigenlijk. Tussendoor verduidelijk ik voor de andere collega’s soms Belgische dossiers (vertaal Vlaamse berichten) en verklaar ik hoe sommige krachtsverhoudingen liggen.

Donderdag heb ik op de redactievergadering volledig zelf bepaald welke onderwerpen ik ga bespreken.

Het systeem gaat als volgt:

  • Op donderdag om 10u30 is het redactievergadering.
  • Je loopt al je bronnen af voor onderwerpen (ik zal binnenkort eens een lijstje maken)
  • Voor 10u25 moet je zelf je onderwerpen doorgestuurd hebben naar hoofdredactrice en haar adjunct.
  • Op de vergadering wordt elk onderwerp ik groep overlopen. Het blijft me verbazen hoezeer Dana (Spinant) en Tim (King) een scherpe klare kijk hebben over hoe een artikel aangepakt moet worden. De redactie zit vol met mensen die een erg uitgebreide ervaring in verslaggeving hebben, en toch worden ze elke keer overtroeft door het duo.
  • Alleszins: al mijn onderwerpen en invalshoeken zijn aanvaard:)

Enfin, a la prochaine!

Volgende pagina »

Maak een gratis website of blog op WordPress.com.

Volg

Ontvang elk nieuw bericht direct in je inbox.