José Barroso giving a speech at Princeton University

This post might get me into trouble next time I want to deal with the European Union, but as I usually say “whatever”, I am never afraid to say the truth.

The President of the EU Commission José Barroso gave a speech at Princeton this Thursday, emphasizing great prospects of the EU economy and the EU-US cooperation. The speech was followed by a few questions from the audience, and I stepped up to address the question of regulation vs. deregulation in the EU.  To be precise, I was wondering if the financial and debt crises influenced the EU in the direction of regulation or deregulation.

I wasn’t please by Barroso’s answer, to be honest. He simply replied as every eurocrat would have replied, addressing the issues of subsidiary and how the EU is making less regulations by taking responsibility from the country level onto its own level for making reforms. Technically, he didn’t really answer the question, so I’ll try to answer it on my on.

I’ve spent a week in the EU Parliament, and trust me, I couldn’t believe how much legislation the Parliament makes and amends every day. They do tons of work, lets give the parliamentarians some credit, but this workload sometimes have a footprint on the quality and, what’s more important, the quantity of laws. The MEPs make tons of laws, in many cases not even knowing the substance of the problem. The result is that their regulations actually do more harm than good in a free market society.

By creating regulations, the EU feels like it has more control of what’s going on in the society, but with the increasing amount of control their power increases too. In the end we get more a kind of an authoritarian regime, where the policy makers think they know better than people in the industry.

I wished Barroso gave me hope that the EU would be moving more towards deregulation in the future. But it is hard to say and implement certain policies, if you are an epitome of them.



At EPP’s libertarian seminar with Christofer Fjellner

With numerous corridors and doors in the EU Parliament it is easy to get lost in this building when you have the first working day there. It is even easier to get lost in all the papers and reports when you are working for a Member of the EU Parliament (MEP). My task at the office of an MEP from the Swedish Moderate Party Christofer Fjellner was to understand the working process as fast as possible and perform my best in only 4 days of my high-speed internship.

The first day started with reading two reports that we were later to decide to vote either against or for in committees. The first report was a motion from a Greek MEP from Popular Orthodox Rally intending to protect environment from fishermen. After the first reading I was fully convinced that Christopher’s Parliamentary group European People’s Party will never accept the motion. A proposal to establish long term planning (a 5 year plan, to be more specific) on a regional level of how much fish is one allowed catching in my view resembled a 5-year economic plan of the Soviet Union. How surprised I was to learn that this proposal is actually more liberal than the legislation the EU has regarding fisheries today. In the end the Greeks’ proposal came out as a good plan. The motion was favoring the environment and was trying to protect fish from extinction, which is a big problem in Europe now since subsidized fishermen catch more fish than they can sell and let the extra fish die. The only issue that the EPP didn’t like was that the Greek demanded additional EU budget allocation for research and bay police to save fish. Political advisors and me agreed that Christofer should vote against this part of the motion and demand to use the already established budget funds for the purpose.

The next report was more a set of amendments to a legislation that prohibited countries from freely reallocating subsidies from vine growers to the rest of the farmers under Single Payment Scheme. As I understood, the problem was that some countries got more advantages in the agricultural sector when they all of a sudden moved extra funds assigned for vineries to farmers. In this case these farmers become more competitive than others from those countries, which didn’t give extra subsidies. Sweden didn’t really have strong position regarding the issue, but the proposal to make the amount of annual transfers from vineries to farmers fixed and stable could prevent Swedish farmers from unforeseen competition from farmers in the countries where wine production is big. Thus, the decision was to support the legislation proposals and amendments.

The next day had a focus on tobacco. There were rumors (or actually undisclosed facts) that the EU commission was preparing a new legislation prohibiting any kinds of tobacco products in the EU except for cigarettes. Sweden is the only country in the EU that allows sales of “snus”, a moist powder tobacco product consumed by placing it under the lip for extended periods of time. Christofer is also a big fan and a protectionist of the snus industry. There were numerous articles about him using his diplomatic immunity at the Parliament and selling snus to others in Belgium. The rumor about the legislation put the office into little panic. Sweden has big production of snus and the ban would affect both the industry and the Swedes who switched to snus from tobacco. An ultimate decision was made to start writing articles about snus and it’s possible ban to save the situation and get support for the legislation’s prohibition.

On Wednesday a desk officer from the EU foreign aid commission stopped by our office to show some interesting figures. A Xerox copy contained European Development Fund (EDF) and Development Cooperation Instrument’s (DCI) budget plans for the period 2014-2020. What amazed me was the fact the EU planned allocating some funds to aid Cuba and North Korea. As I learned later from my colleagues, in Cuba funds were supposed to aim at democratic development. But what was about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea? What was aid aimed at there and which institutions was it supposed to be channeled through? After all, North Korea doesn’t allow foreign interference inside their borders. Additionally, DCI increased support for countries with low absorptive capacity (less than 50%), like Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Mauritania, Burundi, which meant that countries where aid didn’t work got more funds. We decided to write down official questions to the commission regarding these interesting details. The answers were supposed to come out in 6 weeks from the submission.

These were the major tasks I managed to notice and undertake during my stay at Fjellner’s office. Apart from these important issues, I was helping organizing a libertarian seminar and simply making coffee. But the 4-day internship gave me a great insight into the EU world. I got both inspired and disappointed. I believe what MEPs are doing is great indeed, but sometimes they are doing too much (read: creating too many regulations) which might harm in the long run. I believe that Christofer is on the right way though. Let’s see if other Eurocrats move into the right direction too.

I’ve been amused and felt very sorry for some people here in Sweden recently. I first want to say a few words in regard to what happened to Thomas Böhlmark, a political secretary and an author of Moderate Party’s Twitter account, who mentioned a word ‘klappturk’ while speaking about Social Democrats and, some people claim, alluding to their member Nalin Pekgul in his private Twitter account. This tweet created a big scandal, when Thomas has been called a racist, because apparently a ‘klappturk’ is a derogatory term used in a racist video circulating around the Internet. I’ve met Thomas before, and I think he is the nicest person and I do not even feel sorry but rather angry about all the hurricane of criticism that has broken onto him. After all, if you claim that he used this word to describe a specific person, aren’t you even more racist then when you feel that the word and the specific person associate together?

Some Swedes claim they and everyone else in Sweden are so tolerant and understanding towards other nations and nationalities… Alas! Göran Pettersson, an MP from the Moderate Party, and I have recently co-signed an article for Svenska Dagbladet about Russia. The main idea was that to help Russia get out of almost-authoritarian regime and make it more Europe-friendly, European countries themselves should be more open to Russia and show Russians the European way of living rather than establishing an iron-curtain again. What do you think the reaction of the readers was? My boss got tons of e-mails accusing him and the Parliament of being naïve and taking a Russian as an intern since there is a high chance I was a spy. I am not going to apologize or try proving I am not a spy. I feel sorry for those people, who nowadays are in oblivion and perceive every smart or successful Russian as a KGB agent. You are the ones who are racist. You judge a person by some Cold War stereotypes without even meeting and talking to him or her. You are the ones who should feel shameful.

Now coming back to the story of Thomas Böhlmark. I think he has already apologized enough. I don’t see him as a bad person in this situation. I blame the society, who claims it is tolerant. It is not. It might be politically correct on the outside, but on the inside it still judges people by stereotypes and thinks of people of different nationalities as ‘klappturks’ and ‘spies’.

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