Monday, 19 December 2011

"There are almost no demonstrations in Syria now, as Syrians detect a western agenda."

Interview with the spokesman of the Syrian mission to the EU.

We have been following the events in Syria. We have been watching videos of bloody protests, gun shooting, crying and dying people. How can a popular leader, as Bashar al-Assad president of Syria certainly was, especially after introducing wide reforms after his appointing in 2000, keep his position in such a situation? Lucia Mrázová decided to look to the other end of the corridor and talk to a representative of the Syrian government.
"Because we trust our people, we believe it is not
a revolution. If it was a revolution, the regime would
have fallen in the first or second month."
This week, European Stagiaires Journal brings you a very topical interview with the spokesman of the Syrian Mission to the EU. How does the representative of the Syrian government see the situation? He is convinced that no regime would kill its own people and that the responsibility for killings rests with armed foreign infiltrators.

At the beginning of December, the European Union tightened its sanctions against Syria to increase a pressure on the regime. How would you describe the current relations between Syria and the EU?

In two words: very bad. They are very bad, unfortunately. However, I think the Europeans are making a mistake because they are judging events in Syria by what they receive from the media. The media are very very subjective. Also, some big countries in the European Union, mainly France, have a special agenda for Middle East and for our country. You could see how France forced others to go to Libya. Mr. Sarkozy was badly positioned on internal issues in France. He intended to achieve something, however internally, with all the economic problems in Europe and in France, it was difficult. Instead, he thought, at least in a foreign policy he can achieve something. So, maybe he wanted to repeat the same thing with Syria.

So if we see pictures from Syria, these are only propaganda? Doesn't the regime use force and crackdown on dissent?

Yes, at the beginning there were demonstrations, they called for change, for democratic reforms. The government tried to fulfil the demands of the people, but at the same time we, the government, had to face a group of very well trained terrorists. They were and still are infiltrating into demonstrations and shooting to civilians as well as to police forces, killing here and there and blaming the government. And yes, police forces made mistakes. When you are in such a complex situation, mistakes can be made. There were demonstrations for reforms, and the government implemented several reforms. But in this situation, it is very difficult to go further with them. Now, there is kind of a civil war, but not among the population, but between governments' troops - the authority and a group of militants mainly coming from abroad – from Turkey, from the north of Lebanon, some from Jordan, with a huge support from many countries, like Turkey, some Arab countries unfortunately, from the United States.

Are you saying that videos or pictures of torture where police or armed forces intervene against civilians are twofaced? So far, statistics show that more than about 4,000 people have been killed.

In many occasions, pictures and videos were presented as if the event happened in Syria and later we discovered that it was in Iraq or in Libya. Not all that we see happening in Syria is true. Awful crimes that are committed by armed gangs are shown as if they were committed by  the authorities. There is no regime, whatever it is, that would kill its own people. It is in the interest of the regime to prevent crime and massacre.

Protests in Syria started in January and protesters asked for different reforms. However, one of the biggest demands is to allow free elections where other parties, not only the ruling Ba'ath Party, could participate. In this sense, how does it progress?

Yesterday (Note L.M.: December 12th) there were local elections in Syria. The President also confirmed that we will have legislative elections in February. Currently, a commission is working on a new constitution. The President has already said several times that he is not willing to stay if people don't want him to. Believe me, because of what is happening now the president is much more popular than before. As I said, at the beginning there were demonstrations, but today, there are almost no demonstrations anymore. People understood that foreign powers wanted to take advantage of the situation to push forward their agenda. It is not the first time that we have problems with the United States and sometimes, unfortunately, also with European countries that follow the US. In the 80s, the US supported the Muslim Brotherhood to commit the most awful crime in Syria. Between 2005 and 2008 we were accused of killing the Prime Minister of Lebanon Hariri. There were sanctions against Syria and suddenly, they said: no, it wasn't Syria, it was Hezbollah. Maybe one day they will say: no, it wasn’t Hezbollah… They are trying to put pressure on Syria to become pro-American, to give up on the Syrian Golan, you know, our land occupied by Israel, this is the main objective. Syrian people understood that there is a foreign agenda on Syria to destabilize and weaken it. Therefore, there are almost no demonstrations. The biggest demonstrations may count about 200 people today.

Will opposition parties be allowed to stand in upcoming elections?

There is already a law on political parties, adopted in August. Currently, people have been already applying the status for their political parties. It is working very well. And even today I was reading that work on the new constitution is advancing very well. There will not be this famous Article 8 saying that the Ba'ath party is a leading party anymore. Reforms may go slowly but only because of events.

But if reforms proceed, is the situation – after almost a year of demonstrations – any better today?

Unfortunately, it is not better. At the beginning of the events, security forces were not allowed to carry guns. But because hundreds of them were killed and we discovered armed infiltrators among demonstrators, the government allowed the police to have guns. Frankly we, the authority, were surprised by a huge number of armed people. For instance, the Turkish borders are very long, about 900 km, and every day and mainly at night, groups of twenty to thirty people are trying to enter Syria. We also have problems with some fractions in Lebanon which are facilitating a transfer of guns from the north of Lebanon to Syria. Many foreign newspapers, such as New York Times or Le Figaro wrote about that. This is reality, it is not our imagination. All in all, we have problems only in border regions. In cities like Damascus, there is nothing, there are no demonstrations and no armed gangs. And this is another proof that it is a problem of outsiders, not of our people.

Among protesters, a significant role is played by the young generation.  In Syria, an unemployment rate of youngsters is above the average of the Middle East, about 25 percent. Could this be a reason that they became so active on demanding political reforms in the country?

I think it is a phenomenon everywhere, even here in Europe. Unemployment among young people is higher than among others. Unfortunately, these people in Syria were paid to go to demonstrations. In many cities, people themselves call for the army because they have those gangs kidnapping or killing people, sometimes just for money.

By whom are they paid?

By either foreigners or by some people who wanted to change Syria but not in a democratic way.

What would you do if you were 20 and living in Syria today? Under these circumstances, it might not be possible for you to finish you university or to find a job, what would you do?

I would like to remind you that Syria is among those few countries where universities are free and even with an accommodation for about ten Euros a month. Usually, educated people have no problems with finding a job. However, we have a category of people that are either not smart enough or don't want to work at school and they don't want to go to university, thus it will be problematic for them to find a job. The economic crisis is everywhere in the world and we can't achieve full employment.

Demonstrations are highly influenced by social networks. The emerging role of Facebook or Twitter helped to mobilize masses also in Syria. Might it have been a mistake of the regime to allow such forms that are now, apparently, acting against it?

"When you are in such a complex situation, mistakes can be made."
 I believe in transparency, I believe in openness. I don’t think that we can prevent people from revolt by keeping them away from social networks or by educating them this way.

But there is still not such a transparency: for instance, when you go to internet café in Syria, you have to prove yourself by ID and after, your internet browsing is monitored anyway.

In every country, communication is under control. Even here, even in the United States. If I send you an email and it is interesting, the CIA will know what I am writing to you. This is clear. But maybe, in some countries like in ours, we don’t have that sophisticated technology… Myself, when I was in Syria, I went to internet café many times and nobody ever asked me for my ID. But I have heard that sometimes, maybe during these days, they are requesting IDs. Most educated people have internet at home and they have Facebook. In some countries like Tunisia or Egypt, regimes stopped Facebook and other ways of communication, but we did not. Because we trust our people, we believe it is not a revolution. If it was a revolution, the regime would have fallen in the first or second month. It is a small category of people manipulated by foreigners.

By the end of November, the Arab League imposed sanctions against Syria. 19 of the 22 members of the Arab League had agreed on the measures including transactions of money, travel ban for officials or suspension of some funding. How is it possible that not only Western countries but also your Arab friends turned against you?

With the Arab League, it is another story. Today, the Arab League is driven by Gulf countries, mainly by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Qatar is a tool in the hands of the United States. There are some countries that were against sanctions for Syria, like Sudan, Mauritania or Egypt. And those countries are in need of cash, so they were forced by money to change their position. Other countries, like Iraq and Algeria are trying to make the position of the Arab League' countries more reasonable. We expect a meeting on Saturday. If Syria will allow observers to come to the country, other countries will freeze sanctions. But I will tell you this: it would be funny if a country like Saudi Arabia will sanction Syria because of not reforming its  political system. In Syria, we have a woman in the post of the vice-president. We have several women as ministers, many ambassadors' women. In some sectors, like education, women represent at least 50 percent of the employees. In Saudi Arabia, a woman has no right to drive a car. They don’t have a constitution, they have never had elections. This goes for most of Gulf countries, except Kuwait. It is ridiculous to think that they behave this way because they care about human rights.

We can agree on the difficult situation in which Syrians now find themselves. But what can they hope for? How do you see a future development in Syria?

It is very complex. There are too many factors, even if you solved a problem with some Arab countries, you still have the United States, you have Israel. We have Mr. Sarkozy who wants to achieve something before the elections. If it was only an internal issue, we would solve it very easily, because the reforms are reality.

By Lucia Mrázová

OUT & ABOUT - Week 51

The BE Film Festival features 17 Belgian films from 2011, 19 to 23rd  December
Just because you are flying home in a few days to celebrate Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/New Year's, does not mean you have to stay at home this week. Brussels has plenty to offer in the next few days. And all this rain and snow is a really good excuse to go to the cinema and enjoy some films.

On Monday, December 19 at 6:30 PM, the LGBT Subcommittee is screening the award-winning film 'Contracorriente' (Undertow). Contracorriente tells the story of a Peruvian fisherman who appears to live a traditional life in a small but charming seaside village. Miguel is married to a lovely woman but also caught up in a passionate love affair with artist Santiago. The film will be introduced by human rights expert Rebeca Sevilla, who will talk about the situation of lesbians and gays in her home-country Peru and other Latin American countries. Venue: Madou Auditorium, ground floor Madou building. Entrance: FREE.

On Tuesday, December 20 at 7:00 PM, the Cineclub is showing the Polish film 'Seksmisja' (Sexmission) to mark the end of the Polish Presidency. Seksmisja is about two scientists who volunteer for a hibernation experiment and get transported 50 years into the future, when the male species has become extinct.
Venue: Madou Auditorium, ground floor Madou building. Entrance: FREE.

From December 19 to December 23rd Bozar and Cinematek will be the venue for the 7th annual BE Film Festival. BE Film Festival celebrates Belgian cinema from both Flanders and Wallonia, and will feature 18 Belgian films released in 2011. The festival launches on Monday with the world premiere of Torpedo, a film by Matthieu Donck about a man who wants to attend a meet & greet with his life long idol Eddy Merckx, but in order to do so he has to find a family first. The director and a number of cast members will be present at the screening.

Also worth seeing are: 22 Mei (December 20, 21.00 at Bozar), a thriller about a bomb explosion in a shopping mall; Noordzee Texas (December 21, 19.00 at Bozar); Smoorverliefd (December 21, 21.00 at Bozar), a romantic comedy about four women trying to find their way through the chaos of love; Les Geants (December 21, 21.00 at Cinematek), La Fee (December 22, 20.45 at Bozar); cyberthriller Pulsar (December 23, 21.00 at Bozar); and Quartier Lontain (December 23, 21.30 at Bozar), a drama about a 50-year old man who wakes up in his teenage years. Tickets: €3 for CINEMATEK, €6 for BOZAR and €9 for the opening film.

On Monday at 21.30 PM, music cafe Bonnefooi will host a gig by Netherfriends, a psyche-pop band from Chicago. Entrance: FREE

On Tuesday, the Brussels Jazz Orchestra will play a homage to Agatha Christie at Flagey together with Finnish composer Kerkko Koskinen, who used to head the rock pop band Ultra Bra, but now lends his talent to the musical reading of crime fiction. Tickets: €18 to €23.

From November 22, 2011 to March 3, 2012, The Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium is exhibiting a selection of artworks by contemporary artists such as Rik Wouters, Fritz Van Den Berghe, Salvador Dali, Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Delvaux, Joan Miro, Constant Permeke, Victor Servranckx, Georges Vantongerloo, Simon Hantaï, Henri Matisse, Jo Delahaut, Luc Tuymans and Thiery De Cordier. Tickets: €8, students €5.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

OUT & ABOUT - Week 50

Fashion pieces at Dress is More at Center for Fashion and Design, 16-18 December
The stage committee has a small gift for you. Before you go home and enjoy Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Whatever with your beloved family, you can first celebrate the holiday season with your fellow trainees at Christmas à la Stagiaires at The Marquee. On Saturday December 17th, the "crème de la crème" DJ will spin the best tunes during the whole night – you can look forwards to the best Christmas song mix. Entrance: FREE.

Thursday, December 15th is the closing evening of Nocturnes, the late night museum openings. To conclude, the Museum of Ixelles presents Mouvemologies, a choreographic production by Marie Martinez: dancers will apply Jean Dubuffet’s creative process before your very eyes, meeting this extraordinary artist in a truly original setting. A highly artistic experience offered with the collaboration of the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie. Time: 17.00-19.00. The Museum of Ixelles also features an exhibition on Jean Dubuffet’s architectural work.

Not in the mood for yet another Christmas party? Then head to Madame Moustache et son Freakshow on Friday the 16th for Fuck You It's X-mas. DJ Sand and Eric Pow B will be behind the decks to guide you through the history of electronic music. Entrance: 5.

Dress is More' pop-up sale, first edition, is taking place at the Center for Fashion and Design of Brussels near St. Catherine on the 16th, 17th and 18th of December! Alexia de Ville and Sophie Corouge join their forces to bring together a beautiful sample of the best design and fashion pieces we can find on our land: designer clothes, furniture pieces and accessories of vintage deco, jewels, a selection of books by Tropismes Bookshop, and so on. All that in an enhanced environment with cosy bar all weekend! Opening Friday from 6 to 10pm with on the decks Geoffroy Mugwump, from the label Kompakt and co-organizer of the Leftorium parties!

No more money left for a ticket to the Alps? No worries! Thanks to CitySki it is possible to go skiing in the heart of Brussels! Mont des Arts near Gare Centrale has made place for a 150m ski slope, covered in 50cm of snow. The slope is open every day from 10AM to 10PM and access to the slope costs 5 per 20 minutes. Renting ski gear (boots, ski's, helmet etc.) is €8. Entrance to the après-ski area is free.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

President of the Employers' Group of the EESC: "If I were 20 today, I wouldn’t look for a job, I would go to the streets and block them"

"Europe is my passion, Europe is my engagement."
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is a consultative body of the European Union. It represents economic and social interests in Europe and it is divided in three groups: employers, workers and various interests group (such as NGOs or professionals).

Henri Malosse has been the President of the Employers' Group since 2009. In a very expressive interview for European Stagiaires Journal on the current situation of young people and juvenile unemployment, he also talked about  what employers look for, and why he thinks the Commission is sleeping and why he would rather leave Europe if he was 20 today.

Looking at your career path we can see that you have dedicated most of your life to promoting entrepreneurship in Europe. Why did you decide totake this route?

Everything is rather related to Europe: Europe is my passion, Europe is my engagement. I don’t think we can make a career in Europe. When I am working, for me it is more of being an active and engaged European. I am very proud to represent employers but my main goal is to work for European integration,of which I believe in fully. When I was 13 or 14 years old, I started my engagement with French-German reconciliation. And when I was 20, the iron curtain was closed and traveling was very complicated. For me, it was a bit easier because I could obtain a visa, I took my car and went to Poland and Czechoslovakia. But for my friends I met there, it was not easy to visit Western Europe. Today, I see Europe’s achievements – no visas, no borders - well, not for all of us, look at the Ukraine. Therefore I am fighting for a unified Europe with no borders. And of course, I gained support from employers and from enterprises to unify Europe.

However the situation is still pretty difficult. Today, young people especially are struggling to find employment. Why do you think the problem seems to be even more visible than ever before?

I think that in the past, society was much younger. Today, we are an older society where people don’t have trust in young people. I was told by someone that I am too young to be a president of the EESC, and I am 57. Can you believe it? They believed it should be person above 60. Why not someone younger, an individual of 25 or 30 years of age? For my son, who is 25, it is difficult to be employed because people ask for experience. It is a vicious circle. When you are for instance in India or in South America, it is a value to be young. In Europe, it is a disadvantage.

Do you think internships or volunteering could be a solution and a way to gain experiences?

I don’t like employers who give non-paid jobs. I think stagiaires should be paid. Without money, it is not fair. Otherwise, it means that parents pay, which means that it is not equal – because some families can afford it, some families cannot. Therefore I think, it is not any compatible model for Europe.

So what do employers want and need today?

Unfortunately, today’s employers have difficulties placing their confidence in thefuture. As they are not confident, they think they will be secured by someone who has more experience. This is a general perspective  in Europe, what is ridiculous. Even though the economic climate is generally not bad, due to the inaction of the European institutions and mainly of the European Commission, the business climate is bad because entrepreneurs understand nothing. Look at Brussels – there is no clear message, no leadership. Where is Mr. Barroso? Yesterday I made a speech at our plenary and I said: “Give us Mr. Barroso back! Where is he? Get him back, because we cannot see him anywhere.” We need leadership and strength, but today we have no confidence. And combined with the aging population, this results in a lack of trust in the young generation. But this is completely wrong!

Where to find a solution?

I don’t see a solution in some of the technical matters. I think a solution should be more political. I very much support the European Union's effort to develop mobility. But this should not be possible just for students. It needs to reach all kinds of people. Even though Erasmus is a nice project, it covers only ten per cent of students which means only about one per cent of young Europeans, what is nothing. I think Erasmus is the only visible success of the EU of last 20 years. Some months ago I would say it was the euro, but today… Let’s see what’s going to happen with euro. But Erasmus has been accepted only just because Mr. Jacques Delores, president of the Commission, put his resignation on the table to save it. But today, Commissioners are… Last week in Paris, one Commissioner used these words, saying: we are like a sleeping cabinet. And it is like that! And I am sorry to say that but it is true of all commissioners.

What would you do if today, in circumstances of economic instability and insecurity, you were 20 again? How would you make yourself appealing to employers?

I think, if I were 20 today, I would not look for a job. I would go to the streets and I would block them. I would be a revolutionary. Because the situation today is not acceptable and I think one should not beg for a job.

But how would you feed yourself?

I would be tempted to go to some other place, to leave Europe: to go to a place where they value young generation, maybe to the US or to South America. I gave some advice to my son: to go to eastern Europe. Eastern Europe is still not as bad as it is here, in Western Europe. People are more open to youth. Because of the political changes there, transition 20 years ago, you can see younger people not only in politics but also being treated much better. This is my feeling, I may be wrong.

Recently you have announced your candidacy for the rotating presidency of the EESC. What would be your goals as a president? 

I have two answers to that. Firstly, I think in times of crisis we should work together: European member states, EU private companies and EU institutions, to reindustrialize Europe. We shouldn’t let all industry leave Europe. When we have negative commercial outraged balance, we lose jobs, we don’t produce anything. This support should be coming from a European level, especially to support innovation, education and reindustrialization. I would like that all committees would take an initiative in those three actions.
Secondly, I would like to support projects that build on the concept of a European identity, which is a crucial point. Today, because of my history, my travelling experiences and my knowledge of languages I see that the European identity is a way of being proud of something. I am French, I can be proud of that, but I can personally be proud of Europe because of what we have achieved in sixty years: peace, Schengen, the enlargement process, Europe is no longer divided. I would like to build on that, for example to make a private company be proud of being European by putting a European flag in front of their building. I also would like to extend this European identity to tourism. For example your country, Slovakia, is a wonderful country. But ask in France who knows anything about Slovakia, and they would probably think you are somewhere close to Siberia and you have some white bears over there and they wouldn’t know how beautiful your county is. So, we have to promote European tourism so that European citizens get to know Europe.

What about youth and its employment? What kind of priorities do you have in this matter?

One of my plans after being elected will be – after visiting Jean Monnet’s house discover our roots – to check all the priorities regarding employment of young people and to discuss our working programme with young people. You know, European citizens don’t trust the European institutions anymore. But they still believe in the European idea. Thus to build a project based on a European identity, EESC should be the place where all the hopes of citizens should be presented and we can assert pressure on the Commission, the Council or the Parliament to move and act.

Are those goals also a kind of a guideline for solution to the crisis?

I think the solution to the crisis is made up of two things. First, some concrete, common action from the EU, Member States and the private sector to boost the European economy, European industry, innovation, clusters, links between universities and companies, research and development. And those things should no longer be done at a national level. If we act together, we can do something, we can compete with America or China.
The second thing is to connect  citizens with what is the EU doing. Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy want a new treaty. But if they asked the public their opinion, the answer would be no. People will think that Germany and France cannot decide for us. We have to make European citizens be proud of what is going on in Europe. And that is why I see a concrete project of building European identity as a way to save this continent.

And now for a bit of a visionary question. How do you see Europe in, let's say, 50 years?

I can tell you two scenarios: positive and negative. For the positive scenario I see the United States of Europe in twenty years. Maybe not based on the model of the US, maybe on themodel of Switzerland – a confederation of states. On the other hand, the worst one: I like cinema and some years ago some low-budget film made by Africans, I don’t remember from which country. It was a sci-fi about how the world would look in 2050. In Africa, they unified all the countries, they had common institutions, and Africa became very wealthy. Europe looked disastrous: it went back to nationalism, poverty, and different types of wars between countries. Europe was divided. And Europeans took boats, and traveled to Africa to find jobs. In Africa, you could see those rich people with good cars and an expensive lifestyle. White people were cleaning sides of streets. I wish to Africa all the success, but I don’t wish this for Europe.

By Lucia Mrázová

Monday, 12 December 2011

Europe: One man down

History was made last week as European leaders almost unanimously reached an agreement on a fiscal accord designed to tackle the euro-zone debt crisis. The agreement, to be known as the ‘fiscal compact’, will set a cap of 0.5 per cent of GDP on member states' annual structural deficits, penalise countries whose public deficit goes above 3 per cent of GDP, and require member states to give up to 200 billion Euros to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a buffer for debt-stricken euro-zone members. The pact is expected to enter into effect by March 2012 and marks a move towards further European integration.

Despite the significance of the agreement to the future of the European Union (EU), journalists largely overlooked the details of the accord, focussing instead on the political scandal that played out at the summit. In the end, the European Council session in Brussels was not so much about deficits and debt, but drama and disputes, as, for the first time in its history, Britain used its right to veto. The British prime minister, David Cameron, refused to sign the treaty after his proposed safeguards for British interests were rejected by euro-zone leaders.

The three others countries that were initially hesitant about the deal: Hungary, the Czech Republic and Sweden, have now agreed to the pact, leaving Britain the only member state not participating in the inter-governmental treaty.

It is an odd time to be a Brit in Brussels. Upon arriving at my office on Friday morning, a colleague joked that I needed to clear my desk as Britain would soon be out of the EU entirely. Throughout the day, I found myself embarrassed and apologetic for the short-sighted decisions made by a government that I did not vote for. Overnight, I felt that I no longer belonged on the ninth floor of the Charlemagne building, and should instead be making my way to Gare du Midi to catch the next Eurostar back to London.

Mr Cameron’s objectives before entering the summit, were, as I see it, two-fold. Firstly, under pressure from Conservative Party backbenchers, he wanted to utilise the negotiation of a new treaty to gain leverage in bringing powers back from Brussels. Secondly, under pressure from the banks, he wanted to protect the financial services industry from the Financial Transaction Tax proposed by the European Commission. It is no coincidence that the Conservative Party’s funding from the City of London more than quadrupled from when Mr Cameron became Tory leader to when he was elected prime minister.

He failed on both counts: the 26 members of the new treaty, acting together, can easily outvote Britain. Far from protecting British interests, Mr Cameron has guaranteed that the UK will lose its influence at the top decision-making table over issues that will doubtless affect British citizens, including financial market regulation. On Friday, in Brussels, Mr Cameron replaced Mr Berlusconi as the most laughable politician on the continent, and marginalised Britain in the process.

Of course, Britain has always considered itself somewhat outside of the EU, somehow different from other Europeans. This long-standing sense of exceptionalism can be traced right through from the nation’s late arrival to the European Economic Community, 16 years after its advent, to Britain’s more recent non-participation in the single currency and the Schengen Agreement.

This notion of exceptionalism is, in my eyes, inaccurate and egocentric. The Brits tend to forget that their European neighbours, such as, France, Spain and Italy also have strong national identities, none of which are compromised by their support for the European ‘project’.

Euroscepticism is rife in the UK, fuelled by a news industry that regularly prints misinformation, partial truths and sensationalist speculation on EU matters. The press depict Brussels as Europe’s very own Mordor, an evil axis of power, greedily eating away at national sovereignty. Because of this, in the UK, few people understand what the EU does for British citizens. They only hear how much it costs them. The political elites, even those supposedly adopting a pro-European stance, such as the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrats, have done little to address this problem. After all, it is often not in their interests to educate their populace as to the benefits of membership to the European Union: Brussels serves as the perfect scapegoat when things go wrong domestically.

My relationship with European Union is very distinct from that of your average Brit. From a young age, I wanted to know what EU membership meant for the UK. I represented the country at various EU-led youth conferences and participated in the European Youth Parliament. Few young British people do this, and most are misinformed about Europe.

However, if Britain is to effectively ‘renegotiate’ its relationship with the EU, its citizens, including its young people, must be informed as to what Europe does. I am not advocating a propaganda campaign of Soviet proportion, but merely balanced and accessible information on the EU for British citizens. Unfortunately, by the time this is realised, I fear it will already be too late.

Cheerio Europe, it’s been nice knowing you.

By Sonia Jordan

Memos from Member States

France: Villepin to stand for president
The French former prime minister, Dominique de Villepin announced this week that he will stand for president in the 2012 election.

Villepin will only meet his long-time rival, the current French President, Nicolas Sarkozy , if the incumbent chooses to runs for re-election. Although recent opinion polls suggest that Mr Villepin is likely to get only 1 or 2% of the vote, his candidacy will nevertheless inconvenience the president by splitting the right-wing vote in the first round of the election.

Despite endeavours to present himself as a candidate above party politics, his new political movement, Republique solidaire, is populated with members of Sarkozy’s UMP.

Croatia: To join the EU in mid-2013
After seven years of talks, Croatia has signed a treaty to enter the European Union in mid-2013. Territorial disputes with Slovenia and demands for the arrest of war crimes suspects rendered the membership bid long and problematic.

Croatia will become the EU's second ex-Yugoslav member after Slovenia. Serbia, however, is unlikely to get official candidate status until March. While EU leaders praised Serbia for democratic reforms, they require further evidence of progress in relations with Kosovo before a final decision can be made on ascension to the EU.

Norway: Better butter up its neighbours
(Although Norway is also not a member state, I’ve snuck this story in because it was just too fun to leave out!)

Norway’s butter reserves are alarmingly low, partly as the result of a "low-carb" diet sweeping the Nordic nation which promotes a higher intake of fats. Sales have soared in the last months, up 20 per cent in October then 30 per cent in November.

In addition to increased demand, a wet summer reduced the quality of animal feed and cut milk output by 25 million litres.

Butter is selling like gold dust on Norway's auction websites, with a 250-gram piece starting at around $13, roughly four times its normal price.

In a tokenistic and surely mocking gesture, the Danes have offered the Norwegians a meagre 1,000 packets of butter.

By Sonia Jordan

EC journalism prize: stories that incite social change

Every year, the European Commission's DG for Development awards a prize to journalists who report about human rights violations all over the world. The worrying works of this year's most talented journalists again had political repercussions. The variety also shows that necessity for development is not reduced to developing countries.  

"To give a voice to those who don't have one"
- the aim of many Lorenzo Natali Prize winners
At the beginning of every reform, revolution or any other political action, a group of people is driven by an imagination of what is going wrong. Often, what is going wrong is not at all obvious. Victims are damned to remain silent. Children, the illiterate population and the poor do not have the means to raise their voice and demand their rights. Media stories are therefore an essential source of social change. Good journalists use words, angles, arguments as their missiles, destroying the reader's pleasant world views and – ideally - igniting his or her will to donate money, protest in the streets, change legislation or promote rights at the court. "The main aim is to give a voice to those who don't have one", says Javier Arcenillas, one of this year's journalists awarded the Lorenzo Natali Prize.

"The Power of Great Stories" is the reason why the European Commission every year awards the Lorenzo Natali Prize to talented journalists who have dedicated their work to the promotion of human rights, democracy and development.  Last Wednesday, December 8th, this year's prize was awarded to 17 journalists from all across the world. A jury of press and NGO representatives (i.e. European Voice, Radio France International, Amnesty International, Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism) were appointed by the DG EuropeAid and chose of the best 17 entries out of a total of 1,300.

Beyond the festive atmosphere at the Brussels Residence Palace, the short speeches of the winners revealed the impressions their investigations had left upon them: broken words, eyes filled with tears and angry gestures showed that the journalists themselves had been moved. But what political impact did their work have? Which targets did their missiles hit? Public or political impact was one of the jury's criteria, however, it was not a prerequisite for winning a prize. Still, according to the organisers, the winning reports have had quite some repercussion: they led to the adoption of legislation criminalising genital mutilation in Kurdistan, alarmed the Head of South Africa's Prosecuting Authority about 'corrective rape' of homosexuals, prompted dozens of arrests of members of a child prostitution ring in Mexico, and rescued 500 children from abuse in education centres in India.

The Grand Prize Winner, Tom Heinemann, had his TV documentary "The Micro Debt" broadcast in 14 countries. In demonstrating  how microcredit can increase rather than relieve poverty, Heinemann has joined a choir of critical voices against the microcredit system that entered the media in 2010. Still, his report led to numerous official investigations into cases of microcredit. What relevance does this report have for the Commission's development strategy? "This work provides a new light, but it is of course only one angle. So far, there are still people who believe in the benefits of microcredit for the poor. However, promoting microcredit projects is not one of our priorities at all" , states Catherine Ray, spokesperson of Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.

Universality of human rights?

According to the recent Communication 'An Agenda for Change', the future European development policy will focus on human rights, democracy and good governance. These values are believed to be universal and according to Catherine Ray, "the Arab Spring is an evidence supporting this assumption." The organizers of the award try to underline this universality by rewarding reports that treat issues on different continents and that were also published in different media all around the world.
And really, there seems to be a common agreement on current human right issues. Because in fact, the central topics covered by the 17 reports are only a few: violence connected to gender or sexual orientation, childrens' rights abuses and labour exploitation.
However, one contribution showed especially that the universality of human rights can in practice appear doubtful: the radio report by the French journalist Florence Bellone strongly criticises the UK social services. Bellone argues that the social services forced an unreasonable high number of children to be adopted in cases where parents were reportedly not capable of taking care of them. This was believed to intrude too far into the family domain. Whereas a state protecting its citizens is usually promoted in the name of development, this work shows a potentially dark side of a (too) strong social welfare state. In terms of criticizing common world views, this piece was certainly the most powerful one.
By also taking into account stories from inside Europe, the organisers express awareness of the fact that Europe must remain self-critical if it wants to set an example to other countries in defending human rights.

by Elena Fries-Tersch

We don't need a single voice, we need a choir that sings in harmony!

Interview with Maciej Popowski, Deputy Secretary General of the EEAS

"Strategical Partnerships with North Africa, the US,
Russia, China, Turkey and the Middle East
as well as horizontal approaches, such as a human rights
 policy are priorities on our agenda."
The European External Action Service (EEAS) is an independent service of the EU, however it is not considered being an institution. Rather, it serves as a diplomatic corps or a special type of a foreign ministry to the EU as well as a supportive service of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission, Catherine Ashton. European Stagiaires Journal interviewed its Deputy Secretary General, Maciej Popowski, about EEAS's current status and struggles within external relations of the EU.
Maciej Popowski has been a Polish diplomat for over twenty years now, even though he studied languages and literature. Nowadays, he belongs to the top management of the EEAS with the main responsibility for Inter-institutional Affairs.

As an independent office, the EEAS was established just recently, on December 1st, 2010. However, it is already subject to a number of speculations about its configuration, operation efficiency, and overall significance. What are the main inter-institutional issues that remain unsolved?

Since the beginning of this year we have managed to find our place. Setting up always takes time, it is quite natural. But I think that the Service is relatively stable now and the initial recruitment process is almost completed.
We have been recognized as an important partner, both, at a headquarters level and most importantly in the field, where our delegations are playing an important role, coordinating member states' efforts. In Brussels, we have a lot of interaction with the Commission. There are areas of shared competences, for example development policy, which I am looking after. Sometimes, it is a big bureaucracy, it takes time to come to an understanding, but I think we have come a long way and with numbers of joint initiatives, such as the recent Communication 'An Agenda for Change' on the future of the European development policy. We also have well established relations and a good footprint in the European Parliament. Cathy Ashton normally goes to every second session of the EP.
To sum up, the time of the very initial setting up phase is over. Nevertheless, we still have a number of challenges, in terms of policies, but I think we will be spending less and less time on managing ourselves. We will be spending more time on managing policies.

Regarding the division of power within EU institutions, there have been some question marks when it comes to the cooperation between the EEAS and the Commission. Especially in the field, when let´s say an official from DG Enlargement is appointed to a position in a delegation, whom is he subject to – to the Head of Unit in DG Enlargement or to the Head of the delegation that is representing the EEAS? Can there occur any clashes?

The Head of Delegation is ex officio member of the EEAS. Of course, in most of the delegations the majority of staff is still coming from the Commission. Thus, people coming from DG Enlargement or Development report on current matters to the original DG, but of course the Head of Delegation is always in charge and he is responsible for running of the whole house. There are still open legal questions about staff management, but this is not the major problem. The main challenges are budgetary control and scrutiny, which is why we need to work closely together with the Commission. This was also one of the main requests of the Parliament - to ensure that the Commission is really in charge of an actual disbursement of the EU funds.

To ensure impartiality, one third of the EEAS staff is originally delegated by the Member States. Two-thirds of the staff is transferred workers from the Council’s General Secretariat departments and officials of the Commission’s relevant departments. While creating the new Service, especially younger EU countries feared imbalance in terms of geographic representation within EEAS´s officials. Poland, for instance, was a country to have a strong voice. Is the situation stable now?

We are not there yet. First of all, it is a general problem that applies to many institutions. In terms of recruitment, in particular with senior staff, most of the Commission´s targets have been reached, as well as for most of the countries. When we were creating the EEAS, the percentage of the people from the relatively new member states was small and you cannot correct this by night. However, we have a number of senior staff coming from countries that joined in 2004 and 2007, including myself or Managing Director for Europe and Central Asia Miroslav Lajčák, who is Slovak. But particularly within the middle management level, we still need to improve this. We are not there yet, but it is not a forgotten issue.

The creation of the EEAS tried to ensure one voice within the European external policy. Will the EEAS ever speak with one voice when we keep following the number of statements, such as on uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, where statements were first made by the Commissioner for enlargement, later by José Manuel Barroso, later jointly by Mr. Füle and Catherine Ashton., afterwards jointly by Herman Van Rompuy, Cathy Ashton and Štefan Füle, later by the High Representative and the Commissioner jointly, and in the end the UK, Spain, France, Germany and Italy issued their joint statements as well?

We shouldn't expect that we will speak the one voice. I believe we can have several voices as long as they are in sync and follow a single script. Our role as the Service is to provide relevant players with a single script. We are not only a service of Cathy Ashton, we also serve for President Barroso and President Van Rompuy and we provide them with regular briefings and statistics – with several hundreds of briefings only for this year. So this is quite natural: they have a role to play according to Treaties, as does Cathy Ashton. Of course, we still need to engage with Member States to make sure that we have a consistent policy vis-à-vis our partners. Sometimes it is challenging and an ongoing discussion, but, again, this is a new situation. Thus, we don't need a single voice, we need a choir that sings in harmony.

Let´s turn to the recent political development: Catherine Ashton lately said that the protection of civilians in Syria is urgent. France already expressed the will of sending international troops. However, a Lybian-type no-fly-zone in out of agenda. Why is that so?

That would require a clear mandate from the United Nations, which is not the case. Indeed, for instance, the French foreign minister mentioned humanitarian corridors and there is no conclusion on this yet. But we are working very closely with the Arab League. They have adopted a very firm policy on Syria, introduced sanctions for the first time ever, suspended Syria from the Arab League and are ready to deploy civilian Arab League's observers to Syria. Now, we are ready to support them. This was discussed yesterday (Note: December 1st) by foreign ministers who had a lunch discussion with the Secretary General of the Arab League, Nabil el-Araby. In this case, this will be an Arab led effort. Back in the summer the EU also imposed sanctions, and sanctions were extended yesterday to cover more persons and more entities.

What does, in such a case, the work of the European External Action Service look like?

We have a geographical service employing people dealing with a certain region, in that case it is North Africa and Middle East and its Managing director Mr. Mingarelli, former deputy director general in DG RELEX. We also have another player, the EU special representative to the Southern Mediterranean, Bernardino Leon, who was appointed couple of months ago and his main task is to engage with the new authorities and civil societies in those countries. But depending on the situation, we mobilize different parts of the house and we manage different things. Whether we speak about crisis response in short term, or any kind of a long attending engagement, we can rely on different parts of this service. The purpose is to have everyone in a single service.

Some academics argue that the catchy phrase of an ambitious “Global Europe” has expired and that this age should be about Strategic or Selective Europe. What are the main points on the EEAS strategic agenda?

The priorities were identified by Cathy Ashton by the beginning of her mandate. We may adapt a couple of things but what she said one year ago is still very valid. First priority is to concentrate on the neighbourhood, and it was validated by events in North Africa. Furthermore, we focus on strategic partnerships, which combine traditional partners like the US, but also the new partners of emerging new governments. She has also invested heavily in building up a relationship with Russia, with China and with Turkey, which is an increasingly important player, particularly in the region of the Middle East. She has also devoted a lot of time and attention to the setting up of the Service, which is an on-going process. But I think that horizontal priorities of hers are very much reflected in what we do in the EEAS such as Human Rights Policy.

How do you see a future of the EEAS, where is it heading to?

We should be able to demonstrate our added value. That is what everybody expects. We are able to show what we, as a new Service, can do differently. We can use different instruments in coordinated ways such as development, traditional diplomacy and elements of defence policy in a single institutional framework what is a new quality. Soon, we will start programming our financial instruments for the next seven years budget as of 2014. Furthermore, we will continue our engagement in a neighbourhood area. And of course, we will work on synergy or better coordination between civilian and military actors, for example, trying to focus on security and development actors. Americans are doing the same, the World Bank is doing the same, and many European countries are very much engaged in building up that kind of an approach.

by Lucia Mrázová

Thursday, 8 December 2011

OUT & ABOUT - Week 49

Brussels Philharmonic at Flagey, Friday 19.30
The stage committee invites you to Ukraine Night. Come and celebrate the Ukraine's 20th anniversary at Fuse. From 23:00 - 24:00 the famous Ukrainian band Atmasfera will be pumping the tunes. After midnight, DJ Fat Bass will get everyone on their feet until the early morning. Tickets 5-10.

Why not go to a classical concert before you head to the Ukranian Party? This Friday Brussels Philharmonic will introduce you to a rising star, the 21-year-old Eugène Ugorski, a first-class violinist. He will play one of the best-known violin concertos of all time, by Sibelius. Stagiaires can attend this concert at the exceptionally low price of 5 euro per ticket. Send an e-mail to

Le Palais des Sciences will celebrate the last crazy Antitapas Night of the year 2011. Antitapas features free food, free haircuts, performances, live concerts by Lokomotiv and Les Fanfoireux, sets by DJ Gaetano Fabri and DJ Glitter in the Gutter, and art by Coletivo Grafico. The party takes place in the underground caves of Cureghem, Rue Jules Ruhl 2 which is only 50 meters from Metro Station Delacroix.  There is also a special nightbus from the city center to the caves and back.

Kaaistudio's presents Character Witness, the a performance inspired by the autobiographical stories of Malcolm X, Hilary Clinton, Margaret Thatcher and Ariel Sharon. They each explain or justify some of their controversial political decisions on the basis of childhood experiences. Their stories are merged into a single speech, which will be delivered by three actors. The performance is at 8PM on Friday and Saturday. Entrance: FREE.

Stage Committee plans for events? Petr knows it all

Petr Novak
Petr Novák studied Law in University of Brno in Czech Republic and at Europa-Institut, University of Saarland in Germany. This energetic, Nordic-looking guy is lately unreachable, as he runs all around Brussels to book the best places and to make the best deals for upcoming Stage events – as he became an Event Coordinator in Stage Committee. For European Stagiaires Journal, Petr disclosed the hottest news in field of events planned.

Why did you decide to stand for a position at the Stage Committee? Did you have any special intentions or maybe some expectations?

I remember Siavash, former member of the Liaison committee, sending us an E-mail and threatening we - new staigaires - won' t be able to organize any leisure activities as there isn't sufficient number of candidates for the Committee just one day before elections. I thought: you can' t let this happen. Well, of course we came here to work and to gain precious experience but we would loose our mind without any relaxation, at least I would. But seriously, while holding a speech when standing for the elections I've already mentioned that I consider myself as ''zoon politikon'' - this is one of the very few Latin expressions I know, in other words I still do like people and I still do like to be among them. I want to contribute to a bride side of our lives. One of the ways how to achieve it is to give the people an opportunity to meet with other colleagues and friends out of the office. Additionally, I have some previous experience with event organization, you can ask my friends for that.

You are in charge of all Stage Committee events. What are the main plans of the Stage Committee regarding events? Do you have some special surprises you can disclose to ESJ readers only?

I am convinced we've prepared really a rich and interesting program for you. We tried to find the right balance between fun and glance, as parties shouldn't be our only relax or interest. Let me summarize the upcoming events:

On top of what was mentioned above we support any interesting idea regarding conferences or similar events, so there might be even more surprises still coming up. This program can be obviously slightly changed as regarding dates or venues.

What about the Stage Committee team, so far, what is your impression on them and how do you see your cooperation?

Deborah, Michael, Chris and Lothar, my team. It is a bit like with a family – these are people I didn't choose (and they didn't choose me either) but we have to coexist and cooperate. We do fight sometimes, we hate each other for a while but at the end of the day, everything is fine - I like them somehow :-)

Let's turn to your personal attachment to the European Commission. What were the main reasons for you to apply for a traineeship? And so far, how do you like it?

Although I am coming from Czech Republic, famous for its euro-skeptical head of the state, Václav Klaus, I consider myself as a European. I fully supported the idea of a united Europe and I always truly believed in Europe as a federation of its many nations. With that in mind, foreign cultures and foreign languages were always of high importance to me. Already in early age I started to study German language and after I continued with English and French. I am now starting with Spanish, let’s hope I’m not too old for that.

However, I had way more intensive contact with EU law while firstly studying and latter working for one year in the Czech competition authority. That experience brought me to Europa-Institut where I truly felt working and living in an international environment and I have to say that I enjoyed it very much. At that point I was missing the last step – the possibility to gain practical experience inside of the very engine of the integration. And I have to admit I wished to have the indescribable feeling when working in multicultural environment again.

I believe whole Stage committee has some expectations of your future work for trainees as a group. But we all look at Stage Committee not for individuals but according to its performance at trips or events. What are your expectations from the new Stage Committee?

I don't know, if we will be the best as you can hardly please everyone even though it would have been nice, but I can assure you, we will try hard to be! How? We take our tasks seriously, we are very committed to what we do and despite the fact that we are all amateurs we try to be professionals in any occasion. I really think we are here for staigaires, ready to help with any kind of issue, willing to offer wide choice of activities and trying to take the outmost of stagaires' opinions. And those, for me personally, are the most important facts!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Job vacancies SC Career and Job Fair

Dear all,


Complete your already super CV with exciting and rewarding activities !

- Panel discussion
- Logistics

Add some contacts to your address book by contacting companies !

- Public authorities/ policies officer

JOIN the team and contact the officers of the activities / organisations' contact groups you are most interested in :


GROEN Elisabeth (AGRI-EXT)

Business Cards

CV Book
TARDY Alexandre (BUDG-EXT)






Panel discussions
TARDY Alexandre (BUDG-EXT)


Job Vacancies




Think Tank/ recruitment

Consultancy and Big 4

Law Firms

International organizations

PR and communication

Trade/ Business/ Banking
TARDY Alexandre (BUDG-EXT)


Public authorities/ policies

Other (on your suggestion)

Nathalie Noupadja,
For the Career team