Friday, 28 June 2013

Much ado about colouring

The Brits are in a tizzy over an EU childrens book. But their own Parliament has produced four of them.

At the last EU summit, it was olive oil. At this summit, the burning issue that UK prime minister David Cameron wanted to discuss at his post-summit press conference was even more insidious – an EU-funded colouring book.

The multilingual children's exercise book produced by the European Parliament, first reported by the Telegraph earlier this week, is called ‘Mr and Mrs MEP and their helpers'. It contains exercises centered around a day in the life of two MEPs. Cameron distributed 30 copies of the children's book to the other EU leaders at the summit, saying something had to be done to reign in this reckless EU spending.

"[The other leaders] were shocked,” he told journalists after the summit. “First of all they thought it was a hoax done by the Telegraph and I had to convince them that it was a genuine, scandalous waste of money, and pretty sexist at that as well, because Mrs MEP stops at six o clock to go shopping and Mr MEP goes on until 6:40."

The colouring book is, admittedly, pretty awful. Its layout more closely resembles an IKEA manual than children's exercises, and its depiction of Parliamentary life makes it easy fodder for mockery.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

US snooping, seen through a European PRISM

There are few things that can unite the quarrelling factions of the European Parliament, but somehow US President Barack Obama managed to accomplish it this morning. One by one, MEPs from various political factions denounced in the strongest terms the recent revelations of US government access to user activity data from internet giants like Google, Facebook and Microsoft – a programme that went under the codename PRISM.

Interestingly, it was the assurances the US President gave to the American people this weekend that seemed to infuriate the European lawmakers the most. The PRISM programme “does not apply to US citizens and it does not apply to people living the United States,” he told a press conference on 7 June. 

These words may have reassured many Americans, but they have put America's allies in an awkward position. Sites like Google and Facebook are global, after all, and widely used in Europe. If they aren't spying on Americans' internet use, then that means they are spying on people in other countries - including allies in Europe.

“What is coming from other side of the Atlantic is very worrying because they are justifying this system by saying it is not applicable to US citizens, only to foreigners,” Belgian Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt said in Strasbourg this morning. “Who are the foreigners? I think we are the foreigners, the Europeans.”

Monday, 10 June 2013

A week of border concerns

I'm on a train to Strasbourg for this week's plenary session of the European Parliament, for what promises to be a week largely focused on borders and travel. The fact that my train via Luxembourg has been plagued with delays seems appropriate given the travel/border legislation which is coming up this week.

On Wednesday MEPs will vote on two legislative packages seeking to change the EU rules on asylum seekers and Schengen area of passport-free travel. Both of these pieces of legislation were put forward in the early days of the Arab Spring, when a sudden influx of refugees from North Africa cast doubt on the EU's existing rules.

Border states like Italy, Greece and Malta said the existing rules, in which member states can return asylum-seekers to the EU country they first entered, complained that the existing system was unfair. 

Among other things, the new rules will put in place a monitoring system for any sudden influx of migrants and allow a suspension of the rules.