Finnish Presidency Logo
The Finns take over the EU’s rotating Presidency in one month, and now they have the logo and website of the Presidency up and running. While the logo will not draw the ridicule that the UK’s flying swans attracted, I think it looks a bit drab. OK, it’s smart and symbolises openness and being forward looking etc., etc., but does it reflect the mood in the EU at the moment?

Further, the website of the Presidency looks quite professional, but the information is only in English and French. So much for efforts to communicate Europe to the people which is one of the arguments why the 6 month rotation should be maintained. Loads of building work has been going on for months in Helsinki to make the place even smarter for the Presidency, much to the chagrin of the locals, and I don’t think the website is going to do that much to overcome local cynicism.

CORRECTION: have just found this information in Swedish where the Foreign Ministry will send out an information pack about the Presidency if you want one. The site looks quite old fashioned in comparison to the Presidency one though!

6 Comments

  1. Emmanuel

    Hi Jon.

    I quite agree with you here. How are they suppose to bring Europe closer to its citizens (one of the reasons why there is a rotating presidency) if they don’t at least have their website in the local languages (Finnish and Swedish)?

    Furthermore, it seems to me that German should have been added too. After all, it is the third working language in Brussels (although not in the Council), the second most widely spoken language in Europe and the first native language in the EU. It clearly had its place on the website.

    If you had the chance to have a look at the website of the previous Finnish presidency (back in 1999): http://presidency.finland.fi/site.html#site, some info was available in all those languages (Swedish, Finnish, German), and they even set up a very interesting Latin section (with current news published in Latin), which tends to show that it would be feasable, if one wanted to, to operate on a single (neutral) language basis in the EU: http://www.yleradio1.fi/nuntii/.

    An example of a recent news item about the Italian withdrawal from Irak:

    Italiani ex Iraquia abituri
    26.05.2006, klo 10.41
    Romano Prodi, primus minister Italiae, ait bellum Iraquicum fuisse gravem errorem, quod problema securitatis non solvisset sed difficilius fecisset; itaque Italiam cum nationibus confoederatis colloquia de copiis suis ex Iraquia deducendis incepturam esse.

    Italia in Iraquia adhuc circiter duo milia sescentos milites habet.

  2. Robert

    Jon, the wrangle of the services directive was dominated by one issue: should it be free-market or social-model based. As the EU countries seem to be split 50-50 on this, as well as what overall direction the EU economy should take, that was no surprise. You can’t deny that a lot of the feeling of remoteness by the people is due to their ignorance caused partly by their idleness to not get themselves informed and partly due to the abysmal reporting on EU affairs by our media. I feel even the BBC’s crap at that.

    As for the UK Presidency, they may have finally opened negotiations with Turkey but the way it was done was a mess! Austria holding out, other countries talking of ‘associate membership’, etc. It really demonstrated that a presidency ends up being more about management than leadership.

    There there was what the UK presidency did about the Constitution – nothing!

  3. I agree the Presidency is a very confused halfway house between just chairing the meetings (as happens at the UN and as it started in the EU), and what the presidency government always tell their national press, that they get to set the EU agenda for 6 months – never nearly as true as they make it out to be, but not without some basis.

    My own wacky solution to this issue when debate on it raged hard in the Convention was that the presidency should continue to rotate so you do not always have the same nation in the chair, and that it is more like the UN, where they just chair the meeting – but that holding it is limited to medium-sized member states, the ones with a population between say 5 million and 30 million. This excludes the very large member states who everyone resents and who almost without exception seem to do a crap job of it, it excludes the very small countries who find it quite a burden, and leaves it in the hands of the medium sized ones (Ireland, NL, Hungary, for example) who are up to doing it properly but no-one finds threatening. The UK presidency last year was dreadful, the Italian one just a mess – but for sheer arrogance and disastrous mishandling the record for the worst of all must surely go to the French Presidency in the second half of 2001 – the one which gave us the Nice Treaty.

    Oh, and I think a very good case can be made that the medium-sized countries’ track record of doing it in recent years is actually much the best!

  4. Robert – what you say about the Services Directive precisely demonstrates the problem of the supposed ‘practical agenda’ or whatever we are calling it! Of course the Services Directive was going to be a pain, as will a whole load of other Directives… These matters are intensely political, and need plenty of compromise – making that look like the EU is purely coming up with practical policies for its citizens is next to impossible.

    Turkey – would anyone else have done any better against Austria? To be honest I doubt it. Plassnik was in a corner and knew it. If the Presidency was a country that was more luke warm abbout Turkey I reckon we would not have got a deal on that. The ends justify the means there I think. As for associate membership – that one just never goes away. Merkel has still been talking of it, even after accession talks have been opened!

    Constitution – yes, they did nothing. But no-one else seems to have a clue about it either at the moment… 🙁

  5. Robert

    I don’t think the Finnish Presidency would find it easy or practical to support twenty languages on their website.

    Personally, I see little merit in the rotating presidency. Most initiatives that are not completed in the given six months either have to be started again from scratch by the next presidency or end up being discarded.

    Hence (possibly) the current focus on practical achievements of the EU that make a real difference in citizen’s lives, rather than symbolic activities.

  6. In response to Robert:
    Maybe I should have been clearer… Some information in the 2 languages of Finland would have been a start!

    I don’t see much merit in the rotating Presidency either, but we are going to have to live with it for a bit longer I reckon. The Constitution’s team Presidencies idea was quite a mess in any case and I doubt that would have improved things much.

    As for Barroso and the Commission’s ‘practical outcomes’ approach – it’s no bad thing, but the question is whether the institutions can seriously deliver this. The danger is all the institutions get into a wrangle like the one for the Services Directive and the population is left confused and/or disappointed. Give Barroso his due though – he is trying hard, and his views have more coherency than those of most of the Heads of State on EU issues.

    In response to Jeremy:
    I’ve never heard that suggestion of the middle sized countries doing it… But the idea of just chairing – rather than also trying to somehow prioritise – is a fine one and would for sure be a good idea. That’s what Blair’s idea of a more permanent European Council Presidency was aiming to achieve there, although the independence of such a person is questionable.

    As for the UK Presidency – I don’t think it was a complete disaster. Have a look at this evaluation [PDF] done by Richard Whitman at Chatham House. The Presidency managed to achieve some decent progress on the technical dossiers it had to get to grips with, and the opening of accession negotiations with Turkey was a major coup. On the other hand, the political atmosphere was poisonous, and there was deliberately no progress on the Constitutional questions. Effectively it was a good presidency in terms of the low level bureaucracy, but poor politically. In contrast, the Austrian Presidency seems to have managed completely the opposite – less competent bureaucracy and administration, but nicer political noises to keep all Member States happy.

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