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Non-Schengen compliant border control at Buchs SG station, 1 July 2015, 0700

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 18.03.25I was a passenger on the EuroNight 60466 D. Budapest-Keleti at 2100 on 30 June 2015, scheduled arrival Zürich HB at 0820 on 1st July 2015. I was a passenger in the Sleeping Car on this service (there are three carriages from Budapest – a carriage with seats, a couchette car, and the sleeping car), and these are coupled with EN 466 from Wien Hbf west of Salzburg. No carriages on the service start outside the Schengen zone.

At 0700, 4 minutes after the arrival of the service at Buchs SG, the first station stop in Switzerland, and while the train was still stationary, Swiss police came through the train and demanded passports from all passengers in the carriage in which I was travelling. It’s not the first time I have been controlled here. The Policeman had already asked for passports from the two other passengers in the compartment, and then reached up towards me.

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Few people are interacting on Twitter (and those who are aren’t the ones you’d expect)

On 18 May (18 days ago) I started a little experiment. Using SocialBro I started a private Twitter list called People Who Interact. This list was automatically created – out of everyone who either replied to a tweet I wrote, or RTed a tweet of mine. The summary of the results – a screenshot from SocialBro – is here:

twitter-interactSome elements of this are worth examining in some depth.

  1. I have 14261 followers at the time of writing on Twitter, and I write 186 tweets per week (according to FollowerWonk) – so 27 tweets per day. 52.5% of my tweets are @-replies, so about 13 of my daily tweets (or about 227 tweets across the whole 18 day period) will theoretically reach all the 14261 followers.
  2. My tweets have generated interactions – either replies or RTs – from 939 different users over that period. However only 562 of those users are people that actually follow me. 377 of them are people that do not follow me – that’s genuinely interesting, and far higher than I would have imagined. However the stat among my followers is more depressing – a measly 3.94% of the people who follow me actually had some sort of meaningful engagement with my tweets over an 18 day period.
  3. Don’t trust the gender statistic in the graph above – I have debated this at length on Twitter a number of times, and no-one can work out whether these stats are actually reliable.

All of this seems to confirm my intuition that my tweets get less and less effective – that tweeting things feels like tweeting into the ether, and getting decent debates and engagement going with an audience beyond my EU politics core people gets harder and harder. I’ll keep the experiement going for a while longer to see if and when the picture changes, but don’t hold your breath – as Twitter gets more and more commercial, and less and less equal, my fear is that this problem will only worsen further.

This blog will soon be 10 years old, and if you’re reading this you’re invited to the party

blog915 Back in 2005 I was coming towards the end of my term as President of JEF-Europe but I still had ideas. No one will ever invite me to speak at conferences again I thought, so I better try writing things instead. Some friends of mine in Swedish politics were blogging at that time and they inspired me. I thought I would have a go at writing about the European Union, British politics, and whatever else caught my imagination. The blog post that started the whole thing off is here, and my first serious post was about why passengers are so inept at boarding planes.

The odd thing is that back then – and even now as well – I still do not consider myself a writer. But after 1900 blog posts, and a total of 591000 words (enough to fill 5 books), and 11000 comments left by readers, this blog has somehow come to define who I am. While blogs like Nosemonkey and Fistful of Euros started before I did, and Kosmopolit and Julien Frisch shortly after me, I have nevertheless – through stubbornness and persistence – churned out more blog posts about European Union politics (and plenty of other things besides) in the last decade than any other individual. The rise of Twitter, and my intensive use of it (63000 tweets so far) from the autumn of 2008 onwards has proven to be a tremendous complement to the blog.

The blog has had a few successes over the years – it ranked high on Iain Dale’s old blog lists back in the early days, was the launch pad for the atheist bus campaign, became the place for the most intense debate about to pass the Commission entrance exams, and was one of the blogs at the start of BloggingPortal. Writing this blog has allowed me to meet hundreds of people in real life that I would never otherwise ever meet, play some sort of role in the political debate I would never otherwise have, and has remained my favoured place to express my thoughts. I was living in London when I started it, and it has accompanied me to Brussels, back to London, to Copenhagen and now to Berlin. It has been an ever present through whatever other tumult I have been facing in my life.

Anyway, to celebrate the first 10 years of the blog (the exact anniversary is 19th July 2015), you are invited to the 10 Year Anniversary on Saturday 18th July in Berlin. If you are reading this, consider yourself invited. There will be a barbecue (or blogbecue if you like) at Tempelhofer Feld grilling area on the Columbiadamm side from 1800 onwards. Food will be provided, but bring your own drinks. I’d simply ask you to confirm your attendance by e-mail, by DM on Twitter, or by commenting below, so I can have an idea of numbers.

Here’s to the next 10 years!

Security theatre at the European Parliament: letting the terrorists win

This afternoon I tried to go into the European Parliament. The EU institution that is supposed to represent people like me – citizens of the European Union.

I am not a lobbyist or a journalist or an employee of another EU institution. So I could not get in.

I approached the rue Wiertz entrance to the Altiero Spinelli Building and was stopped by the security guards outside. You cannot enter, they told me, because you do not have a pass. I know, I said, I just need to go to the accreditation desk to call the MEP’s office I am visiting (I was to meet the assistant of a French MEP). You cannot even go to the desk they said*. How do I reach them, I asked? With a shrug the security guard pointed to the phone in my hand.

So what is the justification for this, keeping people outside on the street, I asked the guard. The yellow security alert he told me. So the terrorists have won, I responded, and he started to get edgy. “C’est pour votre securité” he told me.

How is this for an impression then? Here I am, as a citizen of the European Union, and the security of the European Parliament is keeping me out on the street.

jonworth_2015-May-29While I was digging around in my phone to find the number of the office I needed to reach, and a dozen or so other people were also milling around in the street, a large car pulled up and parked opposite the EP entrance – as pictured.

The reaction of the security guard?

To tell me off for taking a photo.

Tell me seriously – what is the greater danger? Me there outside the EP being barred for getting just into the building to call an office, or a car that could be full of explosive pulling up outside the building, and parking under the bridge connecting the two halves of the building.

I of course pointed out this absurdity to the security, and the response was “Vous voulez entrez dans le Parlement, monsieur?”

This is not about security. This is about giving an impression of power. It is theatre. The rules are both absurd and do not actually improve security. They do not make the EP look important; they make it look foolish and closed.

By this point the person I was due to meet had come down to fetch me, so as a final step before being accompanied inside I asked the security personnel for their names. I managed to note the name of one of them without him realising and I have reported his rude behaviour towards me, but the other guard hid her EP badge from view when I asked her for her name.

Welcome to the European Parliament. House of the people, where the terrorists seem to have won.

(my tweets from outside the EP earlier are here, here, here, here, here and here).

* – this morning I had a meeting at the Berlaymont, the most important building of the Commission that also houses all the Commissioners. There I explained to the security who I was meeting, they looked into my bag, and I was allowed to proceed to the desk. Why, if the Commission can do it, is the EP incapable of doing so?

Twitter’s defective account suspension ‘system’

I’ve registered a whole bunch of Twitter accounts over the years for a variety of purposes. Recently two of these accounts were suspended by Twitter, and the process of what (didn’t) happen as a result requires a little bit more analysis. Both were suspended in late March 2015, and I contacted Twitter to appeal the suspensions shortly thereafter.

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Cameron’s “proper choice” in the EU referendum ought to mean there’s a third option on the ballot paper

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 10.40.04So Cameron is in Riga, trying to charm fellow EU leaders that British exceptionalism a reformed EU is possible. News about it here. But one phrase particularly struck me from Cameron’s words – we’re going to give the people a “proper choice” he says.

The choice Cameron proposes is his negotiated, amended, weakened relationship between the UK and the EU, or Britain should leave altogether. This is no “proper choice” for people like me who, at the very least, would prefer no watering down of the UK’s relationship with the European Union, let alone no option for those who would actually advocate further integration between the UK and the EU (a point made by PolitiCrumb and Ralf Grahn on Twitter). There are rumblings from some on the left – the GMB Trade Union for example – that may switch to advocate a No vote if Cameron’s renegotiations are too harsh on workers’ rights (see this in the Indy about the different pro and anti camps).

So then, here is an idea for a “proper choice” in the referendum. Put two questions on the ballot paper – same style as was used in 1997 to establish the Scottish Parliament. Here’s some suggested wording:

Q1: Do you want the United Kingdom to remain a Member State of the European Union?
[ ] YES     [ ] NO

Q2: Do you support the renegotiated settlement proposed by HM Government?
[ ] YES     [ ] NO

A No to Q2 would simply leave Britain’s relationship with the EU as it is. Now I am aware that a renegotiated settlement is probably likely to be more popular (the “in but grumpy” option as Edmund Edgar rightly calls it), but at least a two-question referendum would allow a voter to separate EU membership (or not) from the way that Cameron plans to taint things with his assault on freedom of movement.

What Labour’s leadership hopefuls ought to say about the EU

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 17.09.14So the Labour Party has another leadership election. Unlike in 2010, when I was still a Labour Party member and heavily involved in the process*, this time I have no vote (having quit Labour to join the German Grüne as I now live in Berlin). However that doesn’t mean I have no interest in the process, or who may win – not least because with an EU referendum on the horizon in the UK, my EU citizenship rights could be in jeopardy due to what happens in the UK.

What then, I wonder, should the leadership hopefuls, say about Labour’s position on the European Union? Here is a kind of annotated speech one of them could give.

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What precisely is this EU “red tape” that JCB speaks of?

jcb-volvoThe construction vehicles pictured above are a JCB 3CX (on the left), manufactured in Rocester, UK, and  two Volvo Construction Equipment machines (on the right), a L120F and L120E, both manufactured in Arvika, Sweden.

My point of course – in light of comments yesterday by Chief Executive of JCB, Graeme MacDonald – is that in the future the Arvika Volvo plant might be still in the European Union, and JCB’s Rocester plant would not.

MacDonald confirmed that EU countries are an important export market for JCB, but said this:

What is needed is a lot less red tape and bureaucracy. Some of it is costly for us and quite frankly ridiculous. Whether that means renegotiating or exiting, I don’t think it can carry on as it is. It’s a burden on our business and it’s easier selling to North America than to Europe sometimes.

Now let’s think of the machines pictured above. Everything from the emissions standards from the engines, to the chemicals that are (or are not) allowed in the paint on the machines, through to the coolants permitted in the machines’ radiators is determined by EU law within the EU. If the UK were to leave the European Union that would make no difference whatsoever to any of these standards, and JCB – if it wanted to export to the European Union – would have to respect every single one of those standards anyway.

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