20 May 2007

Darwin Award

Dear readers,

Just a word to say that the first Darwin Award this year has come to a 36 year old Dutch male, on 1st January 2007! Yes, the moron did buy an illegal piece of fireworks in Belgium and smuggled it in the Netherlands. And yes, he didn't read the notice which stated that there was no timer (or maybe he didn't buy the notice with the rocket). So he lit it with a naked flame... while keeping his head above it. Instant kill was a result. He had no children, which made him this year first winner.

I know it is not very funny, but on the other hand, these guys break our ears every year with their illegal fireworks...

17 May 2007

Galileo Europei

Dear readers,

The European Commission has finally decided to move the responsibility of building the Galileo satellite positioning system from the private sector to the public sector. The decision is met with relief by all sides, considering that the 8 company private consortium which was in charge until now had not reached any agreement in its 4 years of existence, becoming ultimately responsible for a similar delay in the implementation of this vital European infrastructure.

Galileo is a global positioning system by satellite which will eventually compete with the American GPS system (a military owned one with free civilian use) and the Russian and Chinese projects. It is a very good (or bad) example of what challenges Europe is today facing. Europe wishes to build independent capacities in many sectors. This independence is vital for the survival of our block of countries in this century. We are facing competition from old forces (Russia) but also new ones (China and India, soon Brazil and maybe South Africa). We are also more and more realizing that we can't only depend on the traditional US ally. Our interests do not fit theirs and if our ideas are somewhat similar (which is also true for India and Brazil, by the way), our ways of implementing them differ radically.

Unfortunately in this story, the project has met all the usual hurdles characterizing the European building. The first one has been the strong opposition of the USA which have tried everything they could to stop or torpedo the project. This shows again the limits of our alliance with them. Their military system has no interest in seeing a GPS system which they won't be able to disable at will such as the current one. They also don't want to see Europe reinforce its leadership in the space field which they see (and very truly so) as strategic. Quite logically then, the EU has seen internal opposition to the project coming from the USA most unconditional allies, namely the UK. Seeing that its maneuvers were failing, the US government has requested from its usual Troyan Horse to do as much damage as possible.

But fair enough, the worse hurdles have come in an also very usual way for European projects. Member states could not agree on the level of public funding to allow for this project. At a time when telecoms and computer companies were thriving, they decided that a private public partnership (led by a private consortium) with a concession system would be the best option. You have to remember that unlike GPS, Galileo will be a fee paying system. It was supposed to make its implementation attractive for public and private investment. To beat the American free competition, the Galileo system will offer a tenfold better precision on all axis, which should allow a much wider use and in areas were GPS level of approximation was forbidding its application. Tests and real size trials have shown that it was perfectly reachable for EU technologies. But the consortium could still not reach any agreement. This in a very "Airbus" way. That is meaning that each member of the consortium tried to get more of the business than reasonable while each member state involved also applied unacceptable pressure to make sure that its population would benefit the most, through employment and indirect effects.

All this means that the EU proposal of making the project public again (at least for the implementation phase) has all chances to be agreed on. This implementation will most likely will entrusted to ESA, which has showed its efficiency in earlier projects. Private companies will then only get concessions in the exploitation phase, in a similar way to what happens in the transportation world. This is probably ironical if you think that most applications of the systems will be in the same sector. Vehicle positioning is the most obvious use, but transportation companies are also impatiently waiting for the system to be implemented. Indeed, in our containerized world, one need a much better precision to be able to trace containers individually over the planet. GPS is unable to provide this with an acceptable margin of error at the moment, but Galileo with its metric precision could revolution the transportation world.

14 May 2007


Dear readers,

Today was 14th May and a very special day in Rotterdam. It was Herdenkingdag, the commemoration of the day when, 67 years ago, the historical town center was totally wiped out by 95 Henkel 111 from the Luftwaffe. The old city (which was at that time looking very much like Den Haag) burned completely, leaving 73,000 homeless and 850 killed.

To give you an idea and commemorate this horrible day in my own way, I have uploaded two pictures which speak for themselves. They show the exact area where I know live, before and after the bombing.

My street is about in the top left corner of the pictures... To the best of my knowledge, these pictures are the property of the educational organisation KMLA.

The picture below though is my own. It shows the lights produced by the hundreds of projectors that the city placed around the border of the destroyed area today. The Dutch call it the Vuurzeegrens (the border of the sea of fire). It speaks for itself, I guess.

Eventually, you can find a lot more information there: Gemeentearchief.

11 May 2007

Mouvement Démocrate

Dear readers and especially dear brother,

I want to answer a comment you made to my previous post, about the lack of support for François Bayrou new political party, the MD (Mouvement Démocrate). I do not agree with you on the risk of Bayrou's voters afraid that he goes too much on the left side. I think that many voters interested in the new MD are actually fed up with the artificial opposition between right and left. Not that this opposition has no roots or ideological reasons (as you pointed out I learned at "Science Po" what it meant). But it is used by the two main parties to strangle and crush any alternative way, any attempt to think out of the frame. The MD is, I believe, one of these attempts. Don't take me wrong, I do not agree with everything they say. I don't look happily at Bayrou's face, dreaming of him as France and Europe's savior.

I know politics too much to ignore that politicians (as brilliant as they may be) are always disappointing and that as soon as they seize power, power corrupts them quickly. Sarkozy and Bayrou are no exceptions. I also dislike the not so secular ideas of both (in very different ways, obvously). Eventually, I also dislike in both the temptation they always had to maneuver with the party barons rather than to appeal to the citizens.

But I prefer in Bayrou the freshness of the approach, the sincere Europeanism and Humanism and most of all the anti-Jacobin stance. This man knows what to do with local powers, regional and communal collectivities and what the real place of the state as well of Europe should be. This guy believes in subsidiarity or at least he says he believes in it. About Europe, I believe a few images could be more eloquent than my prose:

08 May 2007

Results of the French Elections

Dear readers,

Now that the emotions of the first hours have passed, I'll have a comment on the results of the French elections. There was very little suspense of course, so I won't say that I was not expecting it. Nicolas Sarkozy, right wing (UMP) contender and the son of Hungarian immigrants in France, has won the Presidency. He will officially become French Vth Republic 6th President on 16th May. Legislative elections will follow where he will likely catch another absolute majority for his party, ensuring that all powers depends on him.

Wait, rewind... Not so sure after all. The Socialists, a bit stun by the defeat but encouraged by an historically high level of votes are going to put up a bitter fight. More importantly for me and for millions of voters (18% of them actually), there will be a third choice. Again, like for the first round of the Presidential elections, there will be more choice than between right wing conservatism and unchecked free market or left wing conservatism and all around state intervention. Ségolène Royale (the Socialist) just like Nicolas Sarkozy are trying to sell us the idea that the legislative is not a third round ("la belle" in French card games). But it actually is. There is eventually a chance for all people that are not happy with the choice they had in the second round to put enough Representative to the Parliament to make their voice heard.

The alternative choice to the UMP conservatists will of course be to give more legislative (and potentially Ministerial) power to the Socialists, to one of the extreme right or left parties (National Front, Workers Party, Revolutionary Communist League, Communist Party, etc.) to the Greens or of course to François Bayrou new MD party. MD stands for "Mouvement Démocratique" (French for democratic movement, obviously) and is a centrist party, fishing in the Christian democrat style as well as the socio-democrat ideas. The MD will replace the old UDF, a notability party whose politicians totally discredited themselves by betraying their leader to support the obvious winner Sarkozy.

Unfortunately, as a French citizen residing abroad, I won't have any voice in this third round. French abroad are not represented in the National Assembly and can't vote to elect its Representants (called "Députés" in French). There is no good reason for this, nor any explanation. It is just like that. It's likely to be because of the lack of funding of the French Foreign Ministry... And it is unlikely to change any time soon. Parties only interest themselves in French citizens abroad when it's Presidential election. Because they represent a large body of voters, they are interesting. But making them happy the rest of the time is not worth it. French people abroad have more open minds and broader views. They could bring challenges and innovation to France politics and of course our politicians don't want anything to trouble their good sleep and peace of mind... sorry, their hard work in service of the citizens. ;-)

04 May 2007

EU Observer - A tale of two summits

Dear readers,

Here is an excellent editorial of Peter Sain ley Berry, Editor of Europa World, on the EU Observer website. I won't comment, because I couldn't add anything to another spot on analysis. I just encourage you to have a look at it.

03 May 2007

A Mini-treaty or a Mini-Europe?

Dear readers,

In this day of celebrating Free Press all over the World, I couldn't abstain from blogging. I was happily surprised today to read in the as usual excellent EU-Observer that Romano Prodi is now favoring an adoption of the rejected EU constitutional treaty by the countries which already ratified it. These 18 countries (which include Italy and Germany but not France nor the Netherlands) could then go on with the improved decision rules, while the others stay with the unpractical Nice treaty provisions.

I have to say that I am totally in favor of this. Some countries didn't join the Euro or the Schengen agreement, either because they were not ready for these improvements or because they had political reservations. Why not do the same for this new addendum to the European building? We (the French and the Dutch), together with the English, are obviously not ready to enjoy the improvements of the new rules. French and Dutch citizens seem to appreciate the opacity and lack of democracy of the current rules. Why should we stop other citizens, more interested in their rights and more advanced in their political culture, to go further than us along that road.

When our populations and politicians will be adult enough to understand this, then they will be able to join the rest of Europe. This, and maybe also the fear of being left behind with the English... ;-)

01 May 2007


Dear readers,

Today was Queen's Day, or in the Dutch lingo "Koninginedag" (try to say that fast and don't forget that the g is pronounced like a Spanish j, except after another consonant...). Lots of people dressed up in orange in the streets, and with the most outrageous outfit. It was fun though. I even went to help M-So to sell old cloths in the street. We had quite good fun, a lot of tanning, but didn't sell much. I'll post some pictures about this event tomorrow. Just to give you who read me from around the world an idea of what it's like in this low land.

To stay on the bright side, I might have a new job very soon. Contract isn't signed yet, but it looks good so far.

And a last treat, for you French readers, I added a link to my brother's blog. Enjoy!