Friday, 27 June 2008

Europe goes after the skies

Amid all of the hand-wringing and fear that the Ireland ‘no’ vote will bring the EU to a chaotic standstill in January, judging by the news yesterday Brussels isn’t ratcheting down its ambition in the mean time.

After much negotiation, the EU at long last reached an agreement Thursday to add airlines to the ‘carbon credits’ scheme that requires big polluters to purchase credits in order to pollute. It is a truly landmark agreement because it will force not just European airlines, but foreign ones as well, to participate in the carbon scheme in order to use European airports. That part of the agreement is surely going to result in a fiery showdown with the United States, which today called the scheme both “illegal” and “unworkable.”

The Emissions Trading Scheme was started in 2005, and so far has only included heavy industry. It requires them to buy credits for each set amount of carbon dioxide they release into the atmosphere beyond a specific allotted amount. The European Commission and EU regulators have been eyeing adding airlines to the scheme for some time, as heavy industry argued it was being unfairly targeted. It’s the first such requirement in the history of aviation, requiring all airlines arriving or leaving from airports in the European Union to buy pollution credits beginning in 2012. The proposal still needs the approval of the European Parliament and the EU member states, but Slovenia, which currently holds the EU presidency, has apparently already gotten member states on board.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

US neo-cons responsible for Irish 'no'?

Of all the explanations for the Ireland referendum vote I’ve heard, this is perhaps the wackiest. On Saturday the French Europe minister Jean–Pierre Jouyet gave a speech in Lyons blaming Ireland’s ‘no’ vote on the Lisbon reform treaty on American neo-conservatives, saying Europe has “powerful enemies with deep pockets." He said that “the role of the American neo-conservatives in the Irish referendum was very important.” His comments were greeted with applause from the audience, according to the AFP. His comments have been picked up by the major papers on the continent such as Le Monde in France and Der Spiegel in Germany.

But the allegation isn’t just being made on the continent. In Ireland, Irish member of parliament Lucinda Creighton made the allegation shortly after the vote. She is arguing that two Irish businessmen, Declan Ganley and Ulick McEvaddy, who spent a huge amount of money on funding the ‘no’ campaign, did so because of their extensive business contacts with the American military. Her implication seems to be that US government interests were funding the Irish ‘no’ campaign, because it is in US’s interest to maintain a divided Europe dependant on America both militarily and economically.

Certainly the fact that it was Ireland - the country in Europe with the most economic ties to the United States – that derailed this treaty probably seems highly suspicious to the continent. And of course the fact is the United States does have a lot to lose if it saw Europe united economically and militarily.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Worldwide family events

I’ve returned from my intensive week of ceremonies, back in London but quite exhausted from moving around so much. Though I’m disappointed to have been in the US during all of the post-Ireland-referendum-panic last week, perhaps it was for the best. After all, it was good to get away and get a little perspective during the very heated debate that’s been taking place.

But this I can report: as with most EU matters, no one in the US is even vaguely aware of what’s going on with the Ireland referendum or with the Lisbon reform treaty in general, as it has received basically zero media coverage.

I started my travels Friday the 13th when I flew to Zurich for my youngest brother’s high school graduation ceremony on Saturday. My family moved to Switzerland two years ago from the New York area, and my youngest brother went with them and finished high school at an international school there. It was a beautiful day for it, held at a reception hall on a hilltop overlooking the lake. The ceremony was long, but very interesting.

After the keynote speech, performances and bestowing of a seemingly endless litany of awards, we finally got to the presentation of the diplomas. However when they started my family and I all gave each other a pained look when we realized that they would be reading a three-minute long bio for each of the students before they handed them their diplomas. With 86 graduating students, we knew we were still going to be there for awhile!

Friday, 13 June 2008

Dustin defeats Europe

It’s official: the turkey has defeated the treaty. I heard the news right before I boarded a plane to Zurich to attend my brother’s high school graduation tomorrow. I’m currently flying above the English channel, and as we cross over the French coastline and enter airspace over the continent, I can’t help but stare down at the land and think: what is to become of Europe?

Already this morning when it was revealed that turnout had been low, people in Brussels were fearing the worst. The conventional logic went that if there was a high turnout there would be a yes result, and a low turnout would mean a no. By tea time it was clear: Ireland has rejected the Lisbon Treaty. The news has thrown Brussels into a virtual panic. The RSS feeds on my google desktop toolbar, which are set to monitor various Euroblogs and feeds, started going nuts. The Euro came crashing down as soon as the news broke, falling to its lowest level in a month against the dollar almost instantly upon the news. Various government heads throughout Europe were rushing out with statements about what this means. Of course at the moment, nobody seems to know for sure. All that is known now, as Reuters’ Peter Graff writes, is that it looks like “a country with fewer than one percent of the EU’s 490 million population has destroyed a treaty painstakingly negotiated over years by leaders of all 27 member states.”

Monday, 9 June 2008

All eyes on Ireland

In Europe, all governments will be looking to Dublin on Thursday when the Irish people go to the polls to vote yes or no to the Lisbon EU reform treaty. It is the only referendum being held on the treaty in the EU, and if it is voted down, there will be virtual panic in Brussels that could even, in the long run, lead to the collapse of the 27-member block. As former EU commissioner Peter Sutherland commented over the weekend, this Irish vote could be the "most crucial decision in international affairs in its history."

Perhaps this is a bit of hyperbole, but it's hard to think of a vote in Ireland's history that has affected people in other countries as much as this one will. If Ireland votes no to the reform treaty it would derail the entire process, which could force the treaty to be scrapped. And if the EU can't make these changes, which it deems necessary for it to function properly, the very future and purpose of the union would likely be called into question.

Brussels has been caught off guard by last week's polling, which showed that the number of people who intend to vote 'no' and those who will vote 'yes' are now about even, with a massive amount of people still undecided. At the begining of this process, few would have expected a snag in the ratification to come from Ireland, a country that has benefitted enormously from EU membership and is one of the most pro-EU countries in the block. But, the only reason Ireland is the only nation putting the treaty approval to a public referendum isn't because it's unpopular or controversial there, but because a quirk in its constitution requires it.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Brazil devours its mother tongue

By decree of a law passed last week, Portugal will no longer use Portuguese.

Well, not the same kind of Portuguese anyway. In a highly controversial vote that’s been debated for many years, the Portuguese Parliament has effectively changed the written language of Portugal to the type of Portuguese used in Brazil. This new standardization requires a change in spelling for hundreds of words and adds three new letters to the alphabet. All books will have to be republished in Brazilian Portuguese, and school curriculums will now be taught using the new language standardization.

The change was enormously controversial because it was seen as a matter of national pride by the former colonial power. But the seven other Portuguese-speaking countries in the world - Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, East Timor, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, and Sao Tome and Principe – had already standardized to Brazilian years ago.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Last round on the underground

Having lived in the UK for awhile now, I've become pretty accustomed to scenes of mass public drunkenness. But nothing compares to the insanity of Saturday night's tube drinking party, when an estimated 50,000 people descended on London's circle line underground stations and trains to hold a booze fest the night before the new London mayor's public transport drinking ban was to go into effect.

The chaos and destruction that followed shouldn't have been surprising to anyone familiar with British drinking culture. But the complete ineptitude with which the new mayor handled the drinking ban roll-out may be just a preview of the new London.