30 March 2007
Here is another excellent comment from the EU Observer about the latest speech from German ex-Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer. Fischer will certainly be sorely missed as a Foreign Minister, as his ideas, strong will and imagination were behind some of the best pages of European recent History. Unfortunately, this time, the new Princeton Professor is more playing the role of Cassandra. And rightly so, I could add.
While I would advise you to read the full article, there is I think one point which is absolutely central to Fischer's "prediction" and that I think any European citizen should know about. He says that if the EU has not at least partly settled its institutional problem by the end of 2009, it will most probably be too late. At that time, the quick strengthening of the other major powers (China, India and in a lesser way the USA and Russia) will have render us irrelevant. Europea is already a very secondary player in world politics, not because it is less important, sizable or economically powerful, but simply because it will have become a playground for the other powers. We all know what this means. Europe was forced to be a playground after Second World War and during the Cold War, because it had no political unity and no own military power. After 1989, we got a window of opportunity to create this political unity, which we achieved in some ways by the process between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the latest wave of EU expansion in 2006. But this achievement has been halted, incomplete and dangerously off balance, without an institutional cement which would guarantee its sustainability and practical daily functioning.
Even worse, its military and foreign policy power and influence are, to say the least, ridiculous. This has simply never been considered as a priority by European nation states who wrongly believe that they are better protected on their own. This vision has shown its total obsolescence in the latest years, though no one seems to care or even think it is important. Europe faces major challenges of terrorism, power bullies, capacity projection, environmental issues and economic deficiencies, but it has no way of presenting a coordinated answer to these. One of the main reasons is of course the attitude of some specific member states which are already playing against their fellow European states by favoring one of the super powers, the power bullies as I named them, above the common European interest (the United Kingdom obviously). Others are doing so by simple lack of political vision or mere ignorance (Poland, France).
We have a last window of opportunity. We can vote a new constitution (or whatever you call it), with or without the splinter states who don't want to count in the future world game. We can, if we are fast and clever, create a better Europe for ourselves and for our children. But if we wait too much, if we are not ambitious enough, we will become something like the ASEAN or Latin America: a playground for the USA, China and Russia, where it won't be our interest that will be debated and strengthened but the ones of the American companies, the Chinese corrupt elite and the Russian mafia. If this is what we want, then ok, let's change nothing and enjoy our petty divisions and our exploitation. Who cares, we won't count anymore. We will vote for leaders (if we are still allowed too) but it won't make any difference because these leaders won't actually take the decisions which will influence our lives.
29 March 2007
I am just trying to upload photos to the blog. This function has currently a bug, but I let it in this state to allow Google engineers to see what is wrong and repair it.
Thank you for your patience.
Update: I had enough of this so I edited the picture in My Album in Picasa, and this message accordingly. Google people believe it is a connexion issue, but I am afraid this looks more like a browser incompatibility. Because everything works perfectly from my laptop with IE7.
26 March 2007
Despite the fact that I am now full time seraching for a new position, I try not close myself completely, would it be only to make sure that I continue to cultivate my network. So that's how I was invited yesterday to a DJ's show at the old Rottterdam's club the Exit. The Exit is an old club recently renovated. I used to go there before they changed the whole place. It was always a cool place to dance on Afro-cuban or jazzy music. There were always good dancer, making quite of a show. The only problem was that it was also one of the only place where people were allowed to smoke pot while dancing. Which means that it used to be pretty smoky.
Now the place is much more trendy, though the crowd has kept some of the typical Rotterdam's underground scene. The party was called Semtexx. I hope these guys don't really know what Semtex is, because I think it is a crappy name for a party. But anyway... DJs were pretty good, as far as I can tell. Of course, I am not very knowledgeable in terms of techno and house music. I could tell that it was good though, because of the technique. What you have to know is that many club DJs in Holland are quite bad. They simply ignore the need of a smooth transition between two songs or themes. Nothing of this yesterday. I saw three of them in a three hour succession and they definitely knew their job. As for the music itself, it was ok, even for me. That says it all... :-)
23 March 2007
I take the opportunity of the 50th Anniversary of the European Union and of this excellent article in the EU Observer by BBC's correspondent Mathew Charles to try and show again why the EU integration is such a good thing for us citizens. This journalist compares the Eurovision song contest and the Rome Treaty (born only at one year of interval and for "similar reasons"). He can't fail to notice that the first one has been more successful than the second in terms of popularity.
And though, I can't quite accept the fact that many Europeans feel that the Eurovision has actually brought up more good to them than the European Union. Mathew Charles goes on to show that it is because the EU and the European Parliament are very bad communicators and he is obviously right. He is also right when he says that the EU has a bad image because it lets member States (and I would add the sewer press) make its communication and distort its message. I would go a bit further then, and say that it is also because many European citizens don't even try to understand what is going on. Not only for the EU, to be honest. I have noticed, even amongst relatively educated citizens, an lazy attitude towards information.Most people accept flatly what comes out of their favorite newspaper (or worse, from TV) and just swallows it without any double checking, any critical mindset or even any common sense.
OK, I know that it is not always the case, and I have had some happy surprises... But just to bring my stone to the building, I would like to list here some of the great improvements brought by the European Union (on top of the obvious 50 years of peace we had amongst its members, a duration unheard of in human kind History).
- The Water framework (still unrespected by many member states, including France) allows us, in theory, to have a constant access to quality unpolluted water, protects river and coastal fishs and plants and our environment.
- The fight against air pollution goes into the same vein. Without the EU, there wouldn't have been a Kyoto agreement, neither the tremendous improvement in our air quality we enjoyed.
- Safety regulations. Thanks to the EU, a high level of safety regulations for thousands of technical items, objects, toys or machines are protecting our lives and the one of our children, whatever country these goods are coming from.
- The freedom of travel and of circulation of goods has made our lives easier, has helped consistently contain the inflation to the lowest levels ever seen in Europe and has given us the opportunity to relatively cheap holidays in wonderful places, meeting wonderful people. OK. This one is not true for the UK and Ireland, but hey, nobody is perfect and we will have to deal with the Britons all our lives I guess :-(
- the European funding programs have helped hundreds of thousands of students from all over Europe to learn other languages, techniques and cultures. They have also helped thousands of unemployed people to get a professional training to get jobs, hundreds of thousands of scientists to make science go further, improve technologies and ultimately our lives. They also helped producing movies, shows, concerts, and all kind of artistic events and products. Eventually, they have tremendously improved national and transnational infrastructures, roads, railways, bridges, ports, hospitals, and many other things that we take for granted.
I could go on and on like this for pages, but the fact is, the EU has tremendously improved our lives and can continue doing so. But for this, it needs more support from its citizens, so a better communication indeed, and more support from its member states (which means that we must vote for honest people rather than the usual liars that vote for one thing in Brussels, then come back and spit on the EU if it doesn't work or boast for themselves if it did).
21 March 2007
When I came out of my intake interview, I realized the CWI building (in the Delfshaven area) is not a far walk from the Lloyd's kwartier and its old shipyard. So I decided to take advantage of the beautiful (if freezing) weather and go take some nice pictures of the port of Rotterdam. Here are a couple of my shots. The place is on the North bank of the Maas river and there are a couple of new buildings with stunning modern architecture. There is also a shipyard where people are working on rebuilding an old Dutch wooden vessel, the Delft, and a small related museum. Enjoy...
As much as I was appalled by the process of registering for my unemployment benefit, I was also quite happily surprised with the intake meeting today. First, the CWI building was not too far and in a decent building. Second, the waiting time was extremely reduced (a couple of minutes). Third, the intake interview itself was very fast and easy. The two or three persons I had to interact with were friendly, smiling, service minded and supportive. Fourth, the part of registering my declaration and filing for the benefits was done in the same office and practically at the same time. Last but not least, the explanations were clear and all my questions were quickly answered.
If I compare this with my experience of the French ASSEDIC and ANPE, it is like comparing day and night. First, at that time (I am speaking more than 7 years ago), there was no way you could fill in the forms on the Internet. Apart from this, the major hurdle with the French system is that you have two different bureaucracies to register as a job seeker and to file for the benefits. Which means massive queues to get your forms, fill them in, etc.
If anyone had told me that I would one day praise the Dutch bureaucracy, I wouldn't have believed it. But it is so... Of course, the fact that job seekers are nearly three times more numerous in France, compared with the active population, probably doesn't help. I can imagine that it is more difficult to handle more than two millions unemployed persons than a couple of hundreds of thousands.
20 March 2007
I was puzzled today by a CNN program about jobs. Mc Donalds, the famous fast food chain, is trying to change the perception of job opportunities within the company. The term McJob has indeed been used worldwide to mock the products of the company and describe an unattractive, boring and poorly paid job. A job that we would call in French purely alimentary, no pun intended.
To defend its point, the company spokesman presented a statistic showing that a majority (60%, if my memory is reliable) of the higher managers at Mc Donalds are coming from behind the counter. Which is pretty good... as an absolute value. Indeed, this is in no way a measure of the attractivity of a job at Mc Donalds. It is only a measure of the origin of its management.
A better index would have been the percentage of basic employees who actually manage to get a higher position. A good index would have been a ranking of this percentage against other companies in the same sector or against average companies in general.
But I suspect such a scientifically correct measure would have been a very poor one in terms of PR. I have difficulties indeed to believe that Mc Donalds would have fared well with such figures...
19 March 2007
I had last week the "luck" of discovering the Dutch unemployment benefit system. Not that I am proud of it, but let's say that considering I have now 13 days to find a new job and not one decent lead, it is a bit of a safer approach.
My good surprise was to discover that you can do most of the work online. There is a form to register as a job seeker and another one to apply for the unemployment benefits. Both are on the same CWI website. The good thing is that if you fill them in in the right order, data from the first will be reused from the second, which is a big winner on the time aspect.
The very bad thing is that just the first form takes literally hours to fill in. And considering I am a foreigner, so a bit slower than average, it is a miracle my browser didn't crash in the process. Second bad surprise was that despite the electronic (lengthy) registration, I still have to present myself physically to an "intake meeting" with all the papers you can imagine... So all this time won for... not much in the end. In the best case scenario, I will get 70% of my salary, which is barely enough to pay my mortgage, my bills and my food. :-(
12 March 2007
I have never hidden my political ideas, nor my sympathy for one of the candidates running for the next French presidential election. So it won't be a surprise for you when I say that I am appalled by the declaration of another candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, proposing a new French Ministry of Immigration and National Identity. This Ministry, whose responsibilities are otherwise quite shadowy, would be in charge of the integration of immigrants trying to come to France to live there.
I have always said that a better controlled immigration would be a good thing for France and Europe as well. I also strongly believe in a very open society, where political refugees would receive not only shelter but also support and where migrants would also be given opportunities, depending on what they can offer to our countries as well as what our countries can propose to them. And of course, I always thought that the best way of keeping emigration flows bearable both for the origin and destination countries was for the destination ones to sincerely and significantly support the origin countries development. This is obviously not happening at the moment, for different reasons, one of the first being the low level of European cooperation in these matters.
But I also know for sure, and thanks to the Dutch experience, that creating a Ministry of Integration (or whatever you call it) is not the good solution. Creating more bureaucracy is not a human way of answering an urgent problem. Economic and political problems can be handled only with economic and political solution. Mister Sarkozy fell into the same populist trap than Rita Verdonk's VVD in the Netherlands: giving a purely administrative answer to a human issue. I know all too well of the terrible consequences this sometimes had here, with heart breaking stories of people sent back to countries where they could face death (or worse), of children torn off from their families or of decent working and tax paying residents being given 28 days to leave all their life behind them...
So I beg you, my dear fellow French voters, vote for whoever you want, it's up to you as this is (still) a free country. But for good people's sake, don't bring to the Presidency a male version of "Iron Rita". The country of Human Rights and Enlightenment deserves better... just like the country of Humanism deserved better than the VVD.
09 March 2007
On wednesday, there was the Dutch Regional elections. As some journalist from the NRC Handelsblat put it, these are more important than they seem, because you actually vote for three reasons with one voice. First, Dutch citizens were voting for the Regional Councils. This was actually the real election. But these give also the results of the First Chamber of the Parliament, based on the results in each Region. So that's actually two votes in one, from a constitutional point of view. But the journalist was making a case (and was proved right) that it was also a kind of referendum for the current brand new coalition. This one is an odd mix of the CDA (Christian Democrat, the party of middle class families, rather right wing), CU (another Christian Democrat one, but more protestant and more centre left) and PvdA (Blair style Labour, but still left wing). It turn out to be reflecting quite exactly the results of the last legislative elections which gave way to this coalition, including the rise of the popular but very left wing SP (Socialist Party).
But what got my attention more than anything else during this process, apart from the total lack of participation, is the discovery that there is no ID check to vote. I mean, theortically, there is one. But a (male) journalist of free newspaper Metro managed to vote no less than five times, including once with the ID of a woman! This means that there is simply no ID check for voters, or at least no serious one. This came of course as a surprise to me, French citizen used to carry a photo ID on me all the time, passport or ID card. But then I realized that Dutch citizens are extremely against the use of personal ID in their life. This is both part of the country free culture and mentality. It is also a result of recent History: when a policeman was asking a citizen for an ID, it was until last year not uncommon to hear te outraged citizen let out an "Ausweis bitte!" to the unfortunate civil servant. German occupation is still vivid in many memories... Until last year only, I wrote, because with the new post 9/11 antiterrorist laws, it is now mandatory to carry an ID at all times, just like in France. But ultimately, this story of multiple votes is saying more about the state of mind in politics in the Netherlands. Nobody checks IDs because nobody believes anyone would actually cheat to vote. That would be so... asocial!
05 March 2007
I had an interesting visit to Utrecht this week-end. I wanted to enjoy a concert by the Hasse Poulsen Jazz Band. These are Danish jazzmen, living in France but singing (sometimes) in English. I wasn't disappointed. Though their style, a mix of jazz, blues, house and heavy metal, was not my particular cup of tea, I could still appreciate the virtuosity and the energy of the band. As usual, the sound of the SJU was excellent and the beer very drinkable...
So here is a picture of these guys, sorry for the blur, but it's not that easy to get a decent photo in a dark room without a flash.
Anyway, if you like good music and inventive musicians, don't hesitate to listen to these guys. They are touring Europe regularly, so it should be easy if you live on the old continent. And bravo to the SJU and the Utrecht Jazz Festival for an excellent (if short) concert.