:::: MENU ::::
Browsing posts in: EU Politics

The term “economic Schengen” needs to be banished before it gains any traction

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 15.09.29

Henrik Enderlein and Jean Pisani-Ferry started to talk of an “economic Schengen” in the autumn of 2014, and Enderlein and Germany’s economy minister Gabriel were at it again today at a conference in the BMWi in Berlin. This is a really bad idea for four reasons, each of which I will explain.

Schengen is actually a village in Luxembourg. It happens to be the place where an agreement on abolishment of border controls was signed in 1985. The name stuck. It is part of a trend where towns give their names to things the EU does, because the agreements were struck there (Treaty of Lisbon, Ioannina Compromise etc.) The thing is that the name bears no relationship to what the agreement actually is. So to then apply the term Schengen to something other that a borders issue doubles the absurdity.

Second, when you say Schengen, that either means an area that is damned hard to get into (if you are coming from outside the EU), or a borderless EU system that keeps on being challenged by its own politicians, and even if you believe in it, it does not work properly as I have documented many times on this blog. In short, if you even know what Schengen is, you are rather unlikely to have a positive view of it. A Schengen for the economy hence sounds like a pretty disastrous idea, even before you get to the detail.

This is how Enderlein explains the idea on Twitter:

If you have any idea what that means then you’re brighter than I am. Or you’re the sort of person that likes abstract concepts more than practical policy recommendations.

The Schengen Agreement was needed outside the EU Treaties in 1985 precisely because there was no way to do what the signatories wanted to do inside the EU Treaties. No legal basis existed. So the signatories started with a separate Treaty that was then eventually integrated within the European Union. This is not the case when it comes to economic policy – as Enderlein and Pisani-Ferry put it, their proposals are to boost economic growth, and to focus on energy and the digital Single Market. Competence to cope with both of these can already be found very easily within the Treaty of Lisbon.

Anything concluded outside the EU Treaties will not make use of the EU’s institutions that, despite their many flaws, at least have some sort of functioning representative democracy through the presence of the European Parliament. There is also the Enhanced cooperation procedure in the Treaty of Lisbon that allows initatives among smaller groups of Member States, staying within the EU institutional framework. So anything agreed, Schengen-like, outside the EU Treaties is going to be intergovernmental and hence less accountable.

Policy outcomes
Enderlein and Pisani-Ferry point out that more action is needed on energy and the digital Single Market. Yet there is plenty of work already being done in these two areas – all of Cañete’s work on the EU Energy Union, and all of the work started by Kroes and continued by Ansip and Oettinger on changes to the digital Single Market, to foster cross border digital services, reform copyright and end roaming. Also in both areas the very countries that are supposed to be the motors of the economic Schengen, France and Germany, are actually brakes to progress rather than the courntries pushing for more speedy action. France worries about copyright reform, while Germany is more worried about how much money the state can rake in from Deutsche Telekom than it is about dealing with roaming or net neutrality. Differing views between France and Germany on renewables and nuclear are a further stumbling block. Further, when it comes to wider issues of economic growth, there is a broad consensus at EU level about what changes are needed to labour market law across the EU – that is what the European Semester reports are supposed to examine.

So, to conclude, an “economic Schengen” is a nightmare of communication, it is questionable as to whether it is legally necessary, it is unlikely to be democratic, and the countries that are supposed to back the core policies within it are the ones stalling the progress in the policy areas just now.

Bin this term!

Jack Straw and Brussels lobbying – what he changed, and how, and who he met

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 11.27.46Relating to the Jack Straw lobbying on behalf of Ukrainian sugar firms (background here), a few quick remarks.

First, we know from this, that:

I got into see the relevant director general and his officials in Brussels … and we got the sugar regulations changed

We also know the meeting took place on June 4th 2013. It is impossible to get a list of the meetings for a given week between registered lobbyists and Commission officials. But the company that Straw was working for – ED&F Man – to this day does not appear in the Transparency Register. Today a Director General would not be allowed to meet a lobbyist from a company not on the register, but as far as I know that was not the case back in the summer of 2013.

The question then comes: what did his lobbying change, exactly, and through which legal process at EU level?

We know from the undercover reports that his lobbying relates to the equivalence system for sugar. Dated 30 October 2013 there is a Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 1063/2013 of 30 October 2013 amending Regulation (EEC) No 2454/93 laying down provisions for the implementation of Council Regulation (EEC) No 2913/92 establishing the Community Customs Code as regards the use of the equivalence system in the sugar sector. The date matches, and I can find nothing else relevant in 2013 or later in a EUR-Lex search.

So how does Commission Implementing Regulation No 1063/2013 work? As the line above states, it relates to Regulation 2454/93 (PDF here). The title of that Regulation is important: COMMISSION REGULATION (EEC) No 2454/93 of 2 July 1993 laying down provisions for the implementation of Council Regulation (EEC) No 2913/92 establishing the Community Customs Code. Firstly, this means we are clearly in the area of Customs law, not anything related to trade or agriculture. Secondly, this Commission Regulation relates to a further Council Regulation 2454/93 (text here) that sets up the whole system. Also recall that all of this was agreed in a pre-codecision era, hence the older titles of the legislation.

The relevant line of the Commission Implementing Regulation 1063/2013 (i.e. the one Straw pushed for) is this:

Having regard to Council Regulation (EEC) No 2913/92 of 12 October 1992 establishing the Community Customs Code, and in particular Article 247 thereof

And Article 247 of Council Regulation 2913/92 reads thus:

1. A Customs Code committee, hereinafter called ‘the committee’, composed of representatives of the Member States with a representative of the Commission as chairman, is hereby established.

2. The committee shall adopt its rules of procedure.

So what are the powers of this Committee? These are explained on the Commission’s website here, and in Article 249 of Council Regulation 2913/92. This then leads me to this record in the Comitology Register, where is states that the Commission Implementing Regulation 1063/2013 was agreed with the Examination Procedure. This procedure is explained in this PDF. The preamble to 1063/2013 states “The measures provided for in this Regulation are in accordance with the opinion of the Customs Code Committee”, meaning either the Committee gave no opinion or gave a positive opinion.

So, in short, as far as I can tell: the European Commission DG Taxation and Customs Union proposed a Commission Implementing Regulation after meeting with Jack Straw. This was submitted to the Customs Code Committee (that comprises representatives of Member States) and that Committee did not have a problem with the draft that was subsequently adopted.

Which then leads us to the final piece of the puzzle – who exactly did Straw meet? The Director General of the DG Taxation and Customs Union has been Heinz Zourek since 2012. So if Straw did meet the Director General, as he said, then Mr Zourek has a few questions to answer. The organogram of the DG is here (PDF) – Philip Kermode is the Director for Customs (Directorate A), and has held this position since at least 2011, but the exact positions of the officials that Straw met are not known.

[UPDATE 23.2.2015, 1415] Text above re. the transparency register amended. I had misunderstood the low amount of data available in the Transparency Register in 2013!

[UPDATE 24.2.2015, 1300] According to Bruno Waterfield on Twitter, Straw never met a DG and was boasting. That the Regulation was changed by Committee I’d worked out already yesterday (see above in this blog entry), but that it was agreed there does not necessarily exclude that Straw lobbied.

[UPDATE 24.2.2015, 1520] Although we now know some meetings, at a lower level, did take place:

Now Dresden-Wrocław trains are cancelled for good – third piece of bad news for PL-DE rail this winter alone

Following the end of the Berlin – Wrocław EC Wawel (early December 2014), Frankfurt(Oder) – Poznań RegionalExpress trains (end December 2014), we now have the news that Dresden – Wrocław RegionalExpress trains will cease at the end of February 2015. News of this cancellation can be found here in Polish (Google translated), and from the rail company here (Google translated). Currently it seems there are no plans to make things connect at Görlitz to allow passengers to change trains there – the Polish news story makes reference to passengers needing to take a bus instead. The reason given for the cancellation is inadequate funding on the Polish side.

This leaves Poland – Germany rail connections in a very sorry state indeed, and Wrocław now has no rail connection at all with Germany. The southern part of the Poland – Germany border is especially badly served.

Here is the map of rail connections between the two countries from the end of February 2015 (click to enlarge):

Continue Reading

“Source market pricing” – euphemism for car hire companies screwing customers

Following my presentation yesterday at a European Commission event about services in the EU Single Market (blog entry here, slides here), I was told by a representative of Leaseurope that Hertz charging someone using hertz.be €20.06 more for 4 days of precisely the same car hire in Brussels than someone booking from hertz.de was perfectly permissible, and that this is simply “source market pricing”. Continue Reading

Revisiting car hire price discrimination – 1 step forward (Europcar), 2 steps back (Hertz, Avis)

Back in July 2014 I discovered some price discrimination in prices for car hire, when hiring a car for a Belgium-Germany trip. The details of that discrimination can be found here, and the largest difference was €5.47.

Little did I know that the European Commission was looking at the very same issue at the same time, cumulating with news about the Commission’s investigation in August. The European Commission’s press release is here.

As a result of this convenient parallel experience I have been asked to a European Commission conference in Brussels today entitled “Buying Services everywhere in the Single Market“. I view it as my role here to try to defend the consumer side, based on my own experience. The slides presented are here.

As part of my preparation I have re-visited the car hire issue, re-working my July 2014 example. Now, as then, I have looked for 4 days of car hire (this case Friday 13.3.15, 0800 until Monday 16.3.15 at 1800), with two drivers, and looking at prices with Avis, Hertz and Europcar. Continue Reading

The vexed issue of politicians on Twitter – is it really them?

malmström-barrosoI’ve never met European Commission for Trade Cecilia Malmström in person. But from tweets exchanged over the years with @MalmstromEU I have some picture of what Malmström must be like as a person. From serious discussions about the implementation of Schengen (her previous Commission post was Home Affairs), via deleted tweets about TTIP, to joking about Barroso’s farewell speech (see screenshot), so I develop a picture of a straightforward and open person, someone ready to listen, and one with a sense of humour. And all of this even though I politically disagree with her. Twitter in other words allows me to separate the person from the issue to a certain extent.

The crucial issue here of course is that the tweets in question actually come from Malmström herself. No member of staff would ever dare write the tweet about Barroso and the Bye Bye Barroso bingo game!

Continue Reading

Repeat after me: EU myth rebuttal does not work

New year. Same old UK-EU comms. Two tweets from today:

Why, oh why, do British pro-EU folks keep on doing this? If you fight a battle using the frames and the words of your opponents, you lose. George Lakoff called his practical guide to political framing “Don’t Think of an Elephant” for a reason – because you think of an elephant when you read that.

When I read Richard Corbett being defensive about the EU budget, or Damian Green being defensive about the number of pro-EU Tories, it is not helpful. Make your case, on its own terms. Do not make your case while emphasising the argument of your opponents.

If you need practical tips how do it, then either try Lakoff’s book, or the Skeptical Science Debunking Handbook (PDF). “The often-seen technique of headlining your debunking with the myth in big, bold letters is the last thing you want to do,” the handbook says. Very true.

Frankfurt(Oder) – Poznań regional trains axed from 1st January 2015


Following my post about the final EC Wawel, and the funding absurdity for PKP’s new high speed trains in Poland, here’s yet more bad news when it comes to Germany-Poland rail connections – the two daily regional trains each way in each direction between Frankfurt(Oder) and Poznań will not run from 1st January 2015, stopping only 5 months after they were first re-instated with some fanfare. Die Welt reported about the new train, and the German Foreign Ministry welcomed the establishment of the new connection.

Screen Shot 2014-12-26 at 11.25.46News about the cut can be found (in German) in the DBV’s newsletter here, and this relates to a DB Regio press release about the closure that can be found here. This is the vital section:

Mit Bedauern hat DB Regio Nordost die Entscheidung der PKP PR zur Kenntnis genommen, die erst im August 2014 eingeführte Verbindung zwischen Frankfurt (Oder) und Poznan zum 31. Dezember dieses Jahres einzustellen, da die Leistungen auf der polnischen Seite nicht finanziert sind.

Basically the Poles don’t want to run the service, and hence it will be axed. 4 EuroCity trains each way each day will continue to link Frankfurt(Oder) and Poznań, but those have limited stops along the way.

The problem – alluded to in the DBV press release – relates at least in part to the available rolling stock. The new service used DB 646 class DMUs for the connection, despite the fact that the line between Frankfurt(Oder) and Poznań is electrified the whole way.

The problem of course is in the detail – German signalling, and 15kV electrification for the short run to the marshalling yard just to the west of the river bridge, and Polish signalling and 3kV electrification for the main part of the route on the Polish side. The only passenger locomotives approved for through working are PKP’s Class 370 designed for express passenger trains, and even those require a change of driver at the border, and there are not enough of them to put them into service on regional trains. Neither PKP nor DB owns regional EMUs capable of running on the other side of the border.

As if this were not enough, funding for the Dresden-Wroclaw regional services are only guaranteed until February 2015, according to World Car Free Network (point 7 in close here).

So much for improving German-Polish relations across the border! When it comes to railway services, things go from bad to worse it seems.